Yes, we have a new addition to our roving family. A brand-new Class B camper van. Daniel is adamant that we will not name our new mode of transportation but I couldn’t help toying with some options. I’m kind of partial to LoonR, short for LoonR Rover. Weighing just over 11,000 lbs and just under 10 feet tall, our new baby will still require two parking spaces with his length just under 23 feet.
Joining the RV crowd was not in our plans but as Covid-19 impacted potential winter pet sitting opportunities, we decided to jump on the van wagon. We picked up LoonR at Fretz RV in Pennsylvania in mid-November, sold our Toyota 4Runner, and spent several days wandering around Pennsylvania Dutch country as we tried to figure out the new systems.
We thought our boat experience would streamline the learning curve. Nope. Our first night out, we managed to break the glass turntable in the microwave. It pays to look at the manuals – I should know this from years in I.T. where the mantra was RTM!
When the temperatures starting dropping near the freezing zone at night, we decided it was time to head south. We were initially planning on heading to Santa Barbara for a repeat housesit but COVID-19 put the kibosh on that plan.
We also thought our organizing experience from the boat would help us in organizing LoonR. Boy, were we wrong on that front! We had packed the 4Runner with all of the items that we thought we would need. It should be noted that we bought this vehicle sight unseen and had only been in an earlier version for about 20 minutes. Let’s just say we way overpacked! So much so that we ended up shipping boxes back so we had room to think. LoonR is about 1/3 the size of Gaviidae! And that’s being generous!
Being new to the RV world, I joined numerous travel focused clubs and websites. Sites like Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, Good Sam’s Club and Passport America. I downloaded apps that would help us find the cheapest diesel prices, campgrounds, National Parks, and more. The days of RVing as my parents did, with AAA Triptiks and guidebooks as the primary source of information were over. It’s the digital world now!
I found there was simply too much data, and too many apps competing to give you the “best” information. Not wanting to spend all my time researching at the expense of actually appreciating the area we travelled through, I winged it for a few of our stops.
New Bern, NC
A friend was in process of buying a boat near New Bern, North Carolina. We decided that would be a good destination and we could provide moral support in regards to the purchase. We booked LoonR into a KOA that had a lovely view of the water.
Our friend, Anne, came to visit us and then gave us the full tour of MV Scooter, a trailer-able Ranger tug. We gave her lots of encouragement and then headed down the highway – again to avoid cold temperatures. LoonR has sensitive systems. The plumbing is attached to the undercarriage and freezing temperatures could burst the pipes.
We decided to stay as close to the water as possible – just so we could breathe salt air and be close to seafood. Temperatures are also warmer near water. I picked a place near Ocean Isle because it sounded as though we’d be right on the water. We were – about 10’ away from the back doors. But the place was run-down and looked like a big, dirt parking lot. Definitely not worth the $50 a night fee but we did get an awesome sunset!
Dan’s Reunion Tour
The next stop was Bluffton, South Carolina where Dan’s friend Charlie lives. They met in Africa in the Peace Corps and Charlie, a classically trained chef, owned the best French restaurant in Hilton Head. The restaurant, Charlie’s Etoile Verte, consistently gets five-star ratings and is now run by his son and daughter. While there, we were treated to an amazing lunch at the restaurant. If you’re ever in Hilton Head, you must go there and tell Margaret or Palmer that you know us. Reservations recommended.
Charlie and his wife Nancy are the epitome of southern hospitality. We planned on staying two nights, not wanting to impose too much. We ended up staying four and 30 minutes after we left, Charlie called to see if we wanted to come back!
LoonR puttered down the road to Amelia Island, Florida to catch up with yet another friend of Dan’s, a fraternity pledge brother. After a lovely lunch outside, we continued on to a campground along the Suwannee River. This was a vintage resort, thick with Live Oak trees and Spanish moss and focused exclusively on fishing. I’m sure my grandfather probably pulled a few bass out of those waters in his day.
We crossed the Florida panhandle marveling at the flatness and the swamp-like terrain. While driving we listened to an audio book by John Grisham titled The Guardians. It was based in the Florida, Alabama, Georgia area and it provided a special appreciation for the area we travelled.
Dan spotted a lighthouse along the way, and we had a short diversion as we stopped at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and saw an amazing collection of birds and alligators.
We arrived in Panacea, Florida and stayed at our first Boondockers Welcome (BW) site. Boondockers are typically home or land owners who are fellow travelers and offer a spot on their property to stay overnight. We stayed at Gramps – and were greeted with a plate of fresh baked brownies (to-die-for good)! Gramps Place had electric hookup, water and more for their guests. For free! He would not take any money, even for the electric usage. He also gave us some tips of where to go as we travelled west that were most helpful.
The next day our route took us right next to the coast. With the winds and the surf, LoonR was covered in salt spray in no time. Our overnight stop had us parked right across from the ocean and we opened the back doors to enjoy the breezes coming in from the gulf.
We continued along the coast road to Fort Pickens State Park (suggested by Gramps) and had a lovely spot in the campground. While northerners have to worry about plowing roads from snow, the access road into the park has to be plowed to remove sand dunes that have taken over the passage way.
Neither Dan or I had ever driven along the roads of southern Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Depending upon where you are, it alternates between complete back-water to absolute tourist trap. As we went through Morgan City, Louisiana, the traffic slowed to a crawl. Needing a beverage break, Dan took the next exit only to discover there was no access back on to the interstate. It turned out to be a blessing as our trek through the less-than-ideal parts of Morgan City resulted in our merging back right at the construction bottleneck. We figured our little detour shaved about two hours off of our trip!
Short and Free
Another tip that Gramp’s had shared was about a ferry that ran across Galveston Bay on route 87. He said it ran frequently, every day of the week. In fact, the Port Bolivar Ferry runs every 15 minutes and it’s free! We drove up, drove on, and enjoyed the ride across the water. While we were enjoying our little boat ride (the total trip from load to off-load is about 20 minutes), we were entertained by dolphins in the middle of a feeding frenzy.
Our next stop was between Galveston and Surfside Beach at the Blue Water RV park that was a long spit that reached back into the inside waterway. With the backend about 5’ from the water, we spent a couple of days entertained by flocks of Egrets and Pelicans enjoying a feast of fish. It was one of our favorite stops and has been added to the ‘must do again’ list.
Continuing with Dan’s Reunion Tour, we stopped in Port Aransas, Texas to visit Pat and Sam who are friends of Dan’s from his work travels. While there, Sam and Dan installed a shelf over the driver/passenger area in LoonR to give us more storage space. Now we can whack our head in the van going forward, just like we do on Gaviidae! They also introduced us to the San Juan Restaurant where you can buy delicious breakfast tacos for $1.49 each! When Pat and Sam returned to their primary home, we stayed on for several more days enjoying some stationary time.
We also took advantage of the time and the new shelf to re-organize some of our “stuff”.
Trust Ms. Mercedes
Over the next few days, we puttered our way across south Texas and ended up stopping at a Harvest Host spot just inside the New Mexico border. Harvest Hosts (HH) are small businesses that allow you to stay overnight with the understanding that you will spend some money in exchange for a free place to stay. The HH might be a winery, brewery, orchard, or museum. I had made a reservation for a winery near La Mesa. As we were driving to our destination, we saw a sign pointing the opposite direction from where Ms. Mercedes was telling us to go.
Thinking that Mercedes was confused, we turned left and found the winery just down the road. There were Harvest Host welcome signs and we pulled into one of their designated HH spots. From there we went inside their outdoor courtyard, ordered a bottle of wine and some cheese, and sat back to enjoy the music. It was a lovely afternoon.
The next morning, we set out along the backroads of southern New Mexico. Shortly after we set out, we passed another winery. Seems that Ms. Mercedes was correct and we had gone to the wrong Harvest Hosts vineyard! Oops.
Tucson for Christmas
We arrived in Tucson just before Christmas and settled in to a very large RV/Park Model retirement village where our friends, Bob and Ilona, from Minnesota have a place. We celebrated Christmas dining al fresco next to LoonR.
Around this time, we learned that there would be extensive work that Dan and I would need to do in our roles as Harbor Report Editors for the Great Lakes Cruising Club. Rather than moving every few days and wondering whether we would have internet connectivity, we booked a month at a small RV park near the Tucson Mountains. We spent a huge amount of time in front of our respective computers but we also got in daily swims in the mostly deserted pool.
And doing our best to avoid stores, we found that we could order groceries and adult beverages online and get it delivered the same day. We also took advantage of having an address to take delivery of a hitch-mounted storage box (for our bikes) and a grill.
LoonR has allowed us to continue our nomadic lifestyle, even with Covid-19 limiting options for all. Having our own bathroom allows us to bypass gas station restrooms and grocery delivery or curbside pick-up has been a blessing. We’ve travelled from Pennsylvania to California, following the outline of the U.S. and avoiding large cities.
We’ve gotten accustomed to moving things around on a daily basis in order to free up space for sleeping, cooking, etc. Eventually we will get things adjusted so our “stuff” has permanent spots within the vehicle. Just the other day I told Dan that I couldn’t make the bed because there was a tamale in the microwave! Does that sound like a valid excuse or is it up there with ‘the dog ate my homework’?
My mother would be proud that I even thought about making the bed!
February 14, 2021 – Laguna Beach, California