Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Don't Buy Anything Down Here

That's the advice a few of the locals gave me. Don't buy a boat, a car, a house or even rent something. The odds that the hurricane messed something up are too great. They only told me this after I'd hung out with those guys for a few days.

I can see where they are coming from. At first glance, the campground I'm in looks in pretty good shape. The security guard told me parts of the place were under four feet of water. There are a series of permanent trailers on the property. Most of them look undamaged from the outside. However, just about all of them have had at least some water damage.

A few have been quickly fixed and are occupied again. Others are waiting for things like new floors. A number of the residents are staying in the campground part while their trailers are being repaired. Some people just gave up. One 96 year old woman decided to abandon her place. She had someone open the place up and give everything away.

My lovely wife picked up some odds and ends herself. One was a neat little folding dolly that's perfect for hauling groceries or laundry. When she got it it was a struggle to unfold it and the wheels could barely turn. A liberal application of oil got everything running smoothly again.

The thought had crossed my mind that there might be some good sailboat deals down here. Considering how many boats were plucked out of the mangroves or raised from the bottom, I'm going to pass. I was talking to the owner of a dive boat. He'd just spent $6000 on new bottom and top paint for the boat. It was well secured, but other boats broke lose and smashed into his. He felt lucky that the boat was still afloat, but the new paint job was trashed. Apparently a lot of people did almost nothing to secure their boats.

The more I think about it, the better I like the idea of buying a boat up north and hauling it south next year. Not only were the boats not in a hurricane, they are only used a few months of the year. As long as they are winterized properly they should be in decent shape.

Those local guys really opened my eyes. It was nice of them to warn me off.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

More Food Reviews

I broke into the bucket of Mountain House dehydrated foods. My lovely wife and I tried the chicken and rice. Unlike the Wise meals we've been eating, Mountain House has real chicken in its meal. Wise uses soy products instead.

The package claims to have three servings. Nope. It's more like two and that gives each person a little over 400 calories. A hungry person could eat the whole thing without any help from anybody else. The flavor was good. The meal was satisfying. All in all the quality was excellent.

The Wise packets require 4 cups of water and a pot to cook it in. The Mountain House chicken and rice meal only needed 2 cups. On the plus side, the meal could be prepared right in the package. It's a pretty well thought out pouch. The base is wide and stable and is resealable to prevent accidents.

So far we've only tried one of the Mountain House meals. Since we are camping near a Publix supermarket, our meals can be a lot fresher.

Today we had grilled rib eye steaks, sauteed onions and peppers, baked potatoes, and sliced oranges. Once in a while it's great to break away from travel foods. Our cooler has been running full blast as we've got electric power at our site. That has allowed us to purchase foods that need better refrigeration. Soon enough we'll be back at primitive campsites. No doubt my reviews of dehydrated foods will continue then.


Monday, January 29, 2018

News Diet

Since we've been on the road, my consumption of news has been cut way back. I think I feel better for it. My Internet time has been limited so I've concentrated on taking care of business and keeping in touch with friends. The news sites are clicked on just long enough to see if we are in the middle of a nuclear war or something.

One thing caught my attention: it's a really bad flu year. People are dying and not just the old and infirm either. However, there are bad years every decade or two. This doesn't look like a Spanish Flu type disaster.

With a limited news diet, my state of mind has improved. There things that concern me, but there is also a much smaller subset of those things I can actually affect.

We'll be leaving the Keys on Thursday. My lovely wife and I have been trying to schedule some campground time. A number of reservations have been made -enough to get us started. Our camping rig can work in everything from full facility sites to more primitive campgrounds. That gives us a lot of flexibility. Always nice to have options.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Trip to the Middle Keys

The Middle Keys, how bad are they? I head everything from they are completely up and running to it looks just like the hurricane hit three days ago. My lovely wife and I decided to see for ourselves. We went down to Marathon for dinner at Burdines. Rumor has it their fries are amazing.

On the way down we saw plenty of debris on the side of the road.

We also saw places that had been totally cleaned up.

Some places like Burdines were completely up and running. They only thing really missing was their sign. A temporary painted sheet of plywood assured drivers that they were indeed open. By the way, the rumors are true: the fries truly are amazing.

It looks like a lot of housing and a fair number of businesses are gone. Long Key State Campground is a mess. Basically, the only thing left was the bath houses. There are huge piles sand, all along the waterfront, but it will be some time before those are turned into campsites.

The trip to the Middle Keys stirred up a lot of memories. We had some good times in that area. While I was saddened to see how hard they were hit, it was encouraging to see a lot of reconstruction.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Not the Forest

There's a different vibe down to Key Largo. Camping here is nothing like camping in the National Forest. One thing to keep in mind about the Keys is that land is at a premium. Private campgrounds will squeeze you in closer together. State campgrounds have more space between sites. However, since the hurricane blew most of the greenery away, I don't know if they are that much more private anymore.

I'm told the campground I'm at was under four feet of water during the storm. They did a lot of work and the place hardly looks much different than when we were here last. Of course, this is the upper Keys, and the storm wasn't as bad as the middle Keys.

While we are packed tighter together here, people tend to be real friendly. Everybody is having a good time. That makes a huge difference. We even met up with a couple who remember us from two years ago. They said they looked for us last year, but we weren't traveling last winter. We had some fun joking around two years ago and they remember.

We finally have free wifi near the main building. Electricity and water are right at our site. I bicycled over to the nearby Publix to pick up fresh food for lunch. There are a lot of stores, restaurants and services close by. The campground has a full sized heated outdoor swimming pool. It's really pleasant to float in the pool and look up at the stars.

On the more mundane side, the first night here we did laundry. That might not sound like a thrill, but being able to do laundry within walking distance of my campsite is a pleasure. My wardrobe was getting limited. Even in paradise, the laundry has to get done.

My lovely wife was able to lock in some camping spots later in the winter. One place we hadn't been to in over 10 years so we are curious to see how it changed. She's also booked us into a place we haven't been to before. That can be hit or miss, but you don't know for sure until you try.

It's been warm but very windy. Too rough out on the water to take out the kayak the next few days. However, it will calm down, so that's good.

I've been getting a lot more exercise and eating healthy. Feeling pretty happy.


Friday, January 26, 2018

Made it!

Two days on the road. Several stops along the way. One night spent at the house of my wife's old college roommate. Then a long slog across the Everglades, where we encountered long waits due to construction. However, we made it to the campground in Key Largo.

Looking forward to week of mid-70s temperatures during the day with low 70s to high 60s during the night. Sure beats the heck out of sub-zero nights predicted for back home.

Not sure where we'll end up after this, but we have a week to figure it out.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Boat Stories

I had a long talk at the campground with a guy who sails a small boat on the Great Lakes. He makes his way from Michigan to Canada, where he spends a good part of the summer. The old guy had some great photos. Unfortunately, he's got some physical problems and might have to give up sailing. He suggested that he'd be interested in selling the boat to me.

I consider it a 50/50 sort of thing. Frankly, I hope his health holds out and he can keep sailing for many more years. It's one of the things that truly brings joy to his life.

For me, the most important revelation was that my lovely wife didn't even blink when the idea of buying the boat came up. I think it's because the boat is of a style and condition that she really likes. If that boat doesn't come on the market, it's not big deal. There are plenty more out there just like them.

She's lined up a lot of house projects for the spring and summer. I must admit that most them are long overdue. However, I know we can work buying another boat into the budget somehow.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Low Power

I made the mistake of running my power too low. Then the clouds moved in and I was unable to get enough solar power to use my laptop. After two and a half weeks off-grid in the National Forest, it was bound to happen. Finally, but noon the next day there was enough sunshine to fire up the computer and get some on-line work done.

Fortunately, I'd left enough power in the batteries to run my c-pap. At least I was able to get a good night's sleep. It was cutting it close as the voltage was pretty low by morning. Also, I had enough charge left in the phone for emergencies.

In a couple days we'll be back on-grid at a private campground. I'll make sure all my batteries are topped off from the grid while we are there.

Right now my big power draw is the 12 volt cooler. I was really tempted to get a much more efficient one, but my lovely wife had an eye on the budget. We are making do with the one we have.

The oil and coolant are topped off in the van. The diesel tank and full and I topped off the veggie tank with grease. We are ready to hit the road.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Swimming Weather

The temperature finally got warm enough for swimming. While the spring stays a constant 72 degrees, it's nice to come out to warm air. Alexander springs is amazing. Lots of fish let you swim right up to them. The spring itself is awesome. There's a large sandy bottom area, some weeds around the boil itself, then a fairly deep hole where the water comes up. The water is clear and visibility is excellent.

After over two weeks of being completely on solar electric power, my batteries are getting low. Now that the temperature has warmed up, the electric cooler has been running more. It's a power hog. We'll be heading down the road on Wednesday so should be able to get by until then.

Wednesday we plan on stopping in on people we know. Not sure exactly where we'll spend the night, but we can always dry camp in a parking lot somewhere if we have to. After that it's down to a private campground in Key Largo. We'll have electric power there, so I can charge up all the batteries and run my electronics.

A guy we met at the campground has a boat we might be interested in. The boat is up north, so we would not pick it up until spring. He's bringing over some photos of it so we can check it out better. The guy would love to sell it to someone who's going to enjoy it and he seems motivated.

Also checked out another Wise dehydrated food package. This one was potatoes in a cream sauce with peppers, carrots and spices. I've got a pretty good general idea of what they are like. None of them have real meat and many use soy products instead. That can be a deal breaker for some people. A lot of the meals rely heavily on cheese sauces. They are tasty sauces, but get boring day after day. Many of the meals are similar enough that they could lead to flavor fatigue after a week or so. All in all, I find the quality good and the price reasonable. We'll be getting into the Mountain House meals soon.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Shutdowns and Water Filters

I didn't think the government shutdown would affect me, but it did. Suddenly there are fewer Federal Camping places I can stay at. I've family and friends that are now out of work and some have not been paid.

Let me get this straight. The Republicans are in charge of all three branches of government and can't keep it running? Must be the Democrats fault. Yeah, sure, there's this super majority thing in the Senate, but that's hardly an excuse. If you hold almost all the cards you can't blame it on the one card you don't hold. They certainly aren't helping themselves prepare for the midterm elections.

Okay, enough of that. This will get sorted out eventually. The stupid thing is that the whole shutdown fiasco is a made up artificial problem.

On to other things. Water filters. Before I hit the road this year I picked up a Camco RV water filter. Mine was picked up at Walmart. Just about every RV uses one. It's a high flow filter. That makes it suitable for providing water for all of an RV's need. I put it on the water spigots before filling my water jug. While it must do something, the drinking water still tastes pretty bad.

During a run into town I picked up a Sawyer water filter. At about $20 they are a bargain. These filters are popular with backpackers. They aren't high volume, but are fine for filling drinking water bottles. They made the water in the campground taste a whole lot better. So far I'm glad to have picked it up.

There is one big drawback to these filters. They fail if frozen. With the cold snap we had all the way down to Florida this year, it's not small consideration. My water jug was full of ice in the morning, so leaving the filter outside would have ruined it. Since we'll soon be heading down to Key Largo, I thing we'll be safe from that problem for a bit.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

The New Houseless

There's a few types of people who end up spending winters in southern campgrounds. A lot of them are the regulars from years ago: people who are retired, those on extended vacations, plus a scattering of more local people. Mostly those local people flood into the campgrounds on the weekends.

I'm meeting more people who don't fit those categorizes. Some folks aren't just closing their house for the winter, but are selling it and hitting the road full time. One couple that I met never did any camping before selling everything and hitting the road. Talk about jumping in with both feet. Good thing they appear to be having the time of their life.

Then there are those people who are more outside the box. One woman in particular sticks out. She has a PHD and was teaching at well known New England college. Then the financial meltdown of 2008 happened. She came to the realization that the cards are stacked against the little guy. The big banks got away with criminal activities and the taxpayer picked up the bill.

She never did anything financially irresponsible in her life. This woman decided to run up her credit cards and stiff the banks. Then she got rid of her house, most of her stuff, bought a van and hit the road. She's been living on the road ever since with no regrets.

While I don't recommend doing what she did, I completely understand where she's coming from. If more people did, the banks would spiral into the ground. I hope that keeps some bankers awake at night.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Flu Pandemic

I've been doing a lot of reading using the Kindle app on my phone. When snuggled under my sleeping bags, it's a nice way to pass the evening. Recently I read, Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.

In the book there's a flu pandemic that kills over 99% of the world's population. The flu's so fast moving that you go from sniffles to dead in two days. Unlike a lot of pandemic books, it covers things right before the flu and years after. Usually these sort of books are centered on the disaster as it unfolds. It also digs deeper in character's lives than most disaster books. Most importantly, it's very well written and enjoyable read.

For me, the book was enhanced by the fact that that right now we are going through a worse than normal flu season. It gave the book a level of reality it might not have had otherwise. Then today I read this Wall Street Journal article that points out how we are not ready for the next flu pandemic. We are actually, in some ways, worse off than we were 100 years ago. International travel is a lot quicker and easier than it was then.

In the book, by the time people realized the flu was so fatal, it has already traveled all over the planet.

There are things one can do to reduce their chances of getting sick, and we hear about them every year: hand washing, covering sneezes, rest, diet, flu shots and all that. What really works isn't practical for most people: isolation. Some person living alone on an island miles from anyone else is pretty safe from the flu. He might be in danger of going stir crazy, but that's another article.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Frozen Florida

It was a cold morning at the campground in Florida. It takes longer to make coffee when there's ice in the coffee pot. Then just when it was almost done perking I accidentally knocked the peculator off the camp stove. All was lost. Back to square one.

Good thing I wasn't in a hurry. There was enough coffee for one more batch so 20 minutes later my lovely wife and I had our cups of morning joy.

It only got to 48 degrees. It was a good day to keep a campfire going continuously. Still, it wasn't as cold as back home in New Hampshire. I could still breath without coughing my lungs out. That alone made it worth the trip. Besides, we are about to have a warming trend. I expect to be swimming soon.

My aunt came over from their winter place in The Villages. I'm glad we connected. I've been a little out of touch with that side of the family. None of them live close. In fact, my aunt told me her older brother passed away back on October and no one let me know. Years ago we used to be in much closer contact. My mother used to keep in touch with everyone so once she passed we all slowly drifted apart.

Growing up I was close to all my aunts, uncles and all my cousins. Life gets complicated and everyone moved away. However, I think that those who are left realize that if we don't reconnect now, we may never.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Reports from the food front

First another dehydrated food report. Wise Company, teriyaki rice. It has a sticky sweet sauce, carrots and bell peppers, plus other spices. Tastes a bit sweet for me, but not overpowering. So far we've found these meals to be filling, even though they are vegetarian. However, today I picked up some small cans of chicken to add to future dishes. I just miss meat.

A lot of days we've been eating just two meals. Once the sun comes out and things warm up, we have a late breakfast. In the middle of the afternoon we'll have dinner. Sometimes in the evening we'll have a snack, but often not.

My lovely wife and I went into town to pick up some groceries. My aunt and uncle are coming over for a visit. We decided to have more traditional cook out food than to open up more bags of dehydrated survival rations.

We have a couple more days of cool weather before it warms up on the weekend. Can't wait to go back to shorts. One should not have to wear long pants in Florida. Even so, I'm not shoveling so life is good.

I miss my friends and family back home. That's a good thing. Nice to have a solid community of people who will be there when we return.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Good Decision

I haven't been down here all that long, but I'm already feeling healthier. We've been eating less and getting more exercise. I've been breathing easier which makes me a happy camper. That makes it a lot more pleasurable to get more exercise. My lovely wife and I have been doing a lot of waking and I've been riding my bicycle. It's been too cool for swimming, but should warm up by the weekend.

After our stay here we are going to meaner our way further south. My lovely wife was able to book us into a campground on Key Largo for a week. There's a canoe trail that wanders through the mangroves. It will be nice to get out on the water in our kayak.

From Key Largo we'll be in a good position to check out how things are progressing in the middle and lower Keys. They've been working day and night to get things sorted out, but it's a massive job.

After our week in Key Largo our plans are pretty open. One of my daughter's will be in Florida next month for training. We hope to be able to meet up with her. My lovely wife is trying to book some days at a campground near where she's going to be.

So all in all, things are looking up.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Living the Life

It's been a bit cool for Florida, but pretty nice compared to New Hampshire. My lovely wife and I are enjoying the recreation area. We are seeing a lot of wildlife, everything from eagles to alligators. Just had a couple bundles of firewood delivered, so we are good for a nice campfire tonight.

We tried another Wise Company dehydrated dinner, an Alfredo noodle this time. It was pretty yummy. Hard to mess up noodles in a creamy sauce with a few spices. I'm not sure if I'll work my way though the bucket of Wise brand or open up the Mountain House to compare.

We were lucky to book some time at a little campground on Key Largo that we like. While it's a lot more expensive than living out in the National Forest, we will be ready for treat. Looking forward to being further south. It's on the water so we hope to do some paddling around the mangrove islands.

It's been a good trip so far -at least once we got down south. I think we made the right decision to leave the sailboat at home this year. Not towing it has allowed us to get into places we'd be unable to fit in with a trailer.

I've been giving some serious thought to what my lovely wife and I want to do in the future. As for myself, all I know is that I can't tolerate cold NH winters anymore. We are kicking around different camping ideas and different boating ideas. Of course, money is a factor, plus we have a house that needs some work when we get back. The ambulance/camper is running well, but it won't last forever. Not sure if we should drive it until the wheels fall off or sell it while it still runs well. Decisions, decisions.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Campground Moving Day

Sunday, our week was up at Juniper Springs. We've moved just 19 miles down the road to Alexander Springs. These Federal parks are nice, but you have to like primitive and minimal facilities.

So far my solar electric set up is mostly working. I've two separate systems. There's the 105 watt panel on the van roof, connected to a deep discharge battery. The campsites limit where the van can be parked so the panel is often partially shaded. My 12 volt cooler is connected to that system, but it kills the battery. I knew it would as it's a cheap cooler, not the more efficient compressor type. With that in mind the cooler just has condiments, eggs, butter and cheese. If they don't get super cold, it's no big deal.

The second system consists of a 50 watt panel, charge controller and 12 volt deep discharge battery I borrowed from my boat shed. I also have a second trolling motor battery. The batteries, charge controller and a 400 watt inverter fit into a wooden box. Since that can be placed where there's more sun, it's doing fairly well. My computer, phone, hotspot, and c-pap run off that system.

We tried our first dehydrated meal pack. It was a from the Wise Company: a cheese lasagna concoction. Of course, you don't get layered pan lasagna from a bag. It's more a sauce and noodles sort of thing. Preparation was straight forward: 4 cups boiling water, stir in mixture, turn off heat, then stir a few times while it rehydrates. To avoid crunchy noodles, go the full recommended soaking time.

So how was it? Edible. There was plenty for two hungry adults. The sauce and noodles tasted fine. There was just enough spice to give it a little bit of kick -acceptable to New Englanders but barely noticeable to Cajuns. The “meat” appeared to be a textured soy product. My wife later complained about a bit of indigestion, but I was fine. However, generally I've little problem with anything I can wrestle down my throat, so I'm not the best judge.

Looking forward to the other meals to see how they sort out.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

37 Minutes of Nuclear War

For 37 Minutes, Hawaii was dealing with nuclear war. Apparently someone pushed the wrong button at the warning center and it took that long for the problem to be corrected.

Now if you were one of those people who got the warning message, things got pretty darn real for a while. I'm betting a lot of people were thinking that they were definitely not prepared for nuclear missiles.

The story brings me back to the duck and cover days of my youth. Back in the 60s we had regular nuclear drills. Our teachers would dutifully march their classes down to the basement until the all clear was given.

Being an inquisitive kid with a pretty high reading level, I got hold of the actual civil defense booklets on nuclear war. One of the first things that jumped out at me was how poorly equipped we were at my school. There was no water or food storage. The basement had no backup power. We lacked filters for radioactive particles. The adults I talked to about all this basically told me to shut up and not worry about it.

So I had to ask myself, is this real or not? Many people said they would not want to survive a nuclear war and the end would be too quick to even notice. While that might be true for those in the immediate blast area, for others death would be a lot slower and more painful. The information on radiation poisoning was pretty scary to a little kid. Come to think of it, it's pretty scary as a grown adult. For those further out, death can be pretty painful and ugly. If if you survive the initial sickness your risk of cancer goes way up.

The incident in Hawaii shows that those duck and cover days are not over. Since the end of the cold war, they've been pushed to the back burner. However, thanks to our little tiff with N. Korea, it's all very real and possible once more.

You could look at the false alarm as just another screw up. Another way to think of it is as a test. How ready are we? I bet for a lot of Hawaiians, they thought they were not very ready at all. Scary days are here again.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Run to Civilization

I suppose we had to leave the woods sooner or later. My lovely wife was getting low on yarn so we had Google Maps direct us to a Michael's. Grabbed lunch at a Panera Bread's. Then we were off to do some much needed laundry.

The clouds were moving in so it was a good time to run errands. Sure enough, the rain came down like it does here in Florida. Fortunately, the sun usually isn't too far behind, so that's good.

My lovely wife never got a chance to practice driving the van before we left. The weather had turned snowy and road conditions were poor. She's been driving it around the campground at slow speeds. So far so good.

The campground has been pretty empty. I'm told that will change on the weekend. I don't doubt it as it was impossible to book the weekend on-line. However, we were able to extend into the weekend once we got here.

The lack of facilities keep some people away. A few people have solar panels like we do. Others run small quiet generators. They have to shut down at 10. Of course, other folks do just fine without electricity. My main concern has been having a enough power for my c-pap. So far so good. Having power for the laptop is a bonus.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Camp Coffee

This is how I roasted coffee at the campground. The grill came with the campsite. The cast iron dutch oven sits on top. A white gas camp stove provides the heat.

Heat up the dutch oven. Add beans. Check every few minutes to observe the beans and to stir them with a big spoon. When roasted enough I dump them into a clean frying pan to cool. Fan the beans a bit to blow the chaff a way, let them cool and they are good to go. Flavor is enhanced if they have a chance to rest for 12 hours or so, but they will still make decent coffee right after roasting.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Just Relaxing

Not much going on. It's very quiet here in the middle of the week. The rain came down on and off during the day. It was still shorts weather so it was all good. I'm really enjoying just being able to be outside without coughing my lungs out.

One of my Native American friends send an e-mail. He wants me to meditate by the fire for him. That I will gladly do. He spent a couple years meditating by the fire, so that means something. He had a good sized business, a house, and was married with a daughter. His wife left him, took the house, and the business was dissolved.

The guy spent some time out on an undeveloped piece of land he owned, living in a Tee Pee. My friend spent a lot of time meditating by the fire. Afterwards he opened a small art studio, gave lessons, and become an award winning artist. The guy totally changed his life. So when he says to meditate by the fire, it carries a lot of weight. Who knows where life will take a person?


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Time in the Forest

My lovely wife and I just extended our stay at this campground by another two days. We'll be here until Monday. Then we'll drive 20 miles down the road and stay another 10 days, still in the Ocala. These Federal campgrounds are roomy, remote, private, and somewhat primitive. If you want electric power, you'd better bring your own.

Being out here is perfect for what I want to do. I'm breathing easy, getting some exercise, plenty of rest and a mental health break. It's a good time and place for some contemplation. We all have pasts. Everyone, if they've lived at all, have some deep hurt that we tend to hang onto as it shaped us. We are the sum of our experiences.

The problem is that holding on to past injury stands in the way of our happiness. So I'm actively letting stuff go. I didn't think I held onto stuff all that much. They say revenge is a hot coal that burns in your hand while you wait for a chance to throw it at your enemy. However, there are things, some history, that I always go back to.

Think of it this way. In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab's obsession was the great white whale that cost him his leg. His obsession caused the loss of the ship, his life, and most of the crew's. Now there was a man who could not let things go. Imagine if when people would as him what happened to his leg he's just say, “it was bit off,” and let it go at that. He'd still have a ship and nobody would have died.

Taking care of your mental health is much neglected survival skill. It's worth doing the work. It can be hard, but it shouldn't be. We always feel better after.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Field Tests -Hotspot Device

I'm testing a few different items on this extended camping trip. Nothing like an actual field trial to see if something works or not.

Since I decided it was important to keep connected, I purchased a hotspot device to connect to the Internet.

One option is for people to configure their cell phone as a hotspot device. In fact, I did that with my cell phone. However, I've a very limited data plan so it wasn't going to be a good day to day solution.

A couple years ago I had an ATT&T hotspot device. It worked well enough. My data usage ran about $10/gig. Monthly costs ran around $100 - $120. We used a fair amount of data, even streaming some movies and music. We had a pay as you go plan. Unfortunately, that device was lost in the shipwreck.

Almost on a whim, I purchased a Straight Talk hotspot at a Walmart on the way out of town. At about $50, it was roughly half the price of the AT&T device purchased a few years earlier. I do not know the price of a comparable current AT&T device. Data costs look about the same. Time will tell how that works out in the real world.

Setup, while tedious, worked well enough. Be prepared to enter a lot of codes and information. One key thing to know, you can't activate the device without already having phone or Internet service. My solution was to use my phone's limited data capacity just long enough to do the set up.

So how does it work? So far, so good. There's surprisingly good cell phone reception in parts of the Ocala National Forest. In the coming weeks and months, I should have plenty of opportunity to test the device under various conditions and different locations.

My lovely wife and I also plan to test some of our storage foods. We have dehydrated foods from both the Wise and Mountain House companies. The idea is to eat enough of the meals to see how they pan out over time.

If my hotspot keeps working, you'll hear more about how the food measures up.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Not the worse trip south

. . . but maybe in the top three worse. We didn't get very far the first couple of days. We planned on spending one day with good friends in Maine. Due to the storm, we spent two. The visit was great. They got over a foot of snow. Road crews did a pretty good job clearing so we headed out Friday morning.

The van's windshield washer wasn't working right, so we made a lot of stops to clean the windshield. The high winds also slowed us down. That first day we only made it to Scranton PA. Temperatures were around zero with high winds. Spent the night in a truck stop. I got up at 2:30 in the morning to start the van and warm everything up. There was some concern that it would be too cold for the diesel to start if it was shut down too long.

Saturday was our big day. We made it all the way to South Carolina. We got a scare in Virginia as some trucker, for no reason I could discovered, tried to run us off the road. The first time I thought it might be an accident. The second time I could tell he was coming right at me on purpose. Scary. Made a quick exit and took some time to calm down in a coffee shop. Pretty random act of violence.

Spent another cold night in a rest area. Pushed on the next day to our campsite in Florida. My main problem was fatigue from not getting a full night's sleep. Pulled over for nap and that gave me the energy to push on.

It was really nice to get into the campground, soak in a hot shower, take another nap, and have nice cup of tea. It's also nice to get away from the bitter cold.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hunkered Down

We made it as far as southern Maine. My friends suggested we stay two nights and wait out the storm. That's exactly what we are doing.

Rather than drive through the nasty storm we are warm, dry, and supplied with good food and drink.

The road trip can resume in the morning, once the roads and wrecks are cleared. We allowed plenty of time to get south this year.

No worries.


Traveling Daze

When this posts I should be somewhere on the road heading south. It might be difficult to keep up with the blog for a bit. Some of our camping spots will be way out in the middle of nowhere, in a land beyond wifi. I'll do my best to keep up.

Packing was a chore. Very hard to do things in the cold and snow. It took a good part of the afternoon Tuesday to start the van. Cold diesels do not like to start. It took some quality time with a heater and battery charger to coax it to life. The idea was that if it ran Tuesday, it might start better on Wednesday, our planned departure day.

The van has a lot of capacity, but we pack it to the gills anyway. There are days when I want to throw a tent, sleeping bag and a frying pan in the car and just go. Then again, after we are gone a few weeks the extra comforts are going to be nice. Of course, we are bringing some toys with us too.

I received a pretty decent drone for Christmas. Maybe I'll be able to get some aerial shots.

It's tough to leave family and friends behind. On the other hand, my poor damaged lungs prevent me from enjoying outside activity on cold days. Loading the van was enough to send me into coughing fits.

Oh well, we really have to go. The killer cold was the final nail in the coffin. The water supply line froze, and the woodstove ate fuel at over twice the normal rate. The oil furnace is due for service too; it had to be manually restarted a couple days ago. I'll call the heating guy when we get back. He won't be nearly as busy as he is right now.

Onward and southward. Eventually everything will thaw out.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A boat's technological happy place

I know of a guy who used to run charters on a tall sailing ship. He had a successful business for years. One day he sold his share and got out of the business. Now he's a canoe guide for wilderness trips. His main reason for changing careers was the difference in equipment maintenance. Keeping a large sailing vessel going requires a lot of work. Modern canoes are pretty much indestructible.

He's an extreme case, but I get where he's coming from. There's a crossover point where the comforts of a boat aren't worth the effort. If you have nearly unlimited wealth, stop reading here. No doubt you have people to do the dirty jobs. For the rest of us, you've got to do a hard nosed cost/benefit analysis.

I'm always looking for the next boat. However, I'm looking for the smallest and simplest boat that will do the job. There are a lot of sailing videos out there so it's easy to see what sailors have to deal with. For many, sailing really is boat repair in exotic locations.

Let's start at the nastiest side of things: the marine head. Always be suspicious of a toilet that has a part known as a “joker valve.” Believe me, the jokes on you when it fails. Holding tanks are nasty. Pumps fail. Over time the waste hoses develop pin hole leaks and your boat develops a permanent funky smell.

Personally, I'd rather deal with a composting head. They are simpler with much less to go wrong. However, there is a learning curve. Cleaning them can be less than fun, but I put on my disposable gloves and get the job done. I've seen pump outs of regular marine heads go terribly wrong and spew black water all over the docks. Believe me, you'd much rather empty out a composting head than clean that mess up.

Things get complicated quickly the larger the boat. Air conditioning, refrigeration, water makers, extensive electronic systems, electrical systems, power winches, massive engines, generators -the list is endless. You can go sailing without any of those things. You've got to ask yourself if those systems are worth it. A person with a small simple boat goes sailing all the time. Big expensive boats are often out of the water waiting for parts and work to be done.

Some people go so far as to sail without an engine at all. While that's pretty simple, it's a bit too simple for me. That doesn't mean you need a huge motor capable of motoring across oceans. Having a small motor that can get you in and out of harbors is pretty useful. If your boat is small enough to use an outboard, it's easy enough to unbolt it and take to a shop, or to completely replace it. Sure beats waiting for a specialized mechanic to fly in with parts.

Of course, it all depends what you plan on doing with your boat. If you will spend all your time tied up to a marina, it's easy to turn it into a floating condo. If, on the other hand, you want to sail and travel, simpler is probably better.

I've used boats as an example, but there are a lot of things that can be approached with the same mindset: cars, houses, computers -anything that can get more complicated than it needs to be to get the job done.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

We live with technology

I'm amused when someone talks about how primitive man lived without technology. Some act as if everything before the computer was the dark ages. Then there are those who really don't think technology got going until the industrial age.

Humans have always been tool using animals. Stone age tools might not look like much to modern man, but they got the job done. Stone knapping is a sophisticated skill. It wasn't just any stone either. They had their favorites and knew their properties. Stone age man constructed a whole tool kit out of stone. They made cutting tools, scraping tools, pounding tools, grinding tools, arrow heads, spear heads, and so on.

Bone, wood, shells and natural fibers were formed into everything needed to provide food, shelter and clothing. Combined with the mastery of fire, man had the technology to take over the planet. We didn't just jump to the industrial age. Everything was built on what went before.

While it is possible to go into the woods with nothing and survive, it takes a vast practical knowledge of primitive skill. Also, we lived in tribes, communicated and worked together. That may have been more important than the tools themselves. We still use those interpersonal skills today. A single person in the wilderness is at a great disadvantage.

If you must survive in the wilderness, a few modern tools make all the difference. A good knife, a way to easily start a fire, a waterproof tent or even a tarp, make all the difference. Add is a cooking pot and a water bottle and you've really got something. Imagine trying to transport your drinking water across a desert in a pottery jar.

My goodness, if you want to get really fancy, add in some fish hooks, cordage, and wire for snares. For total luxury buy a cheap sleeping bag. For less than $100 you've put together a survival kit that once took the skills of a whole tribe to put together.

You don't have to build a survival kit from nothing, like they did in the stone age. A quite trip to a big box store can outfit you in pretty good shape.

Now all you have to do is to know how to use the wonderful modern equivalent of a stone age tool kit.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Progress, if slow

Everything takes longer in the cold. I was draining the house water system. The only thing left is the hot water tank. Normally that would have been done too, but I'd already suffered coughing fits due the cold. It wasn't worth it. We have a couple more days before our departure date. There is time yet.

Wednesday temperatures are supposed to get into the teens. The diesel van should be able to start and run then. I haven't even tried it with our sub zero conditions. Fortunately, my lovely wife's little Nissan Sentra fires right up, so we've been using that to run around.

It's been so cold that ski areas have closed the slopes. When it's too cold to ski, that's serious.

We have been enjoying visiting with family during this holiday season. My lovely wife and I were just kids in our early twenties when we had our three girls. For a couple of young parents, I think we did a fine job. Either that or we just got lucky. Either way, I appreciate our extended family. By the way, we've just celebrated our 39th anniversary. How cool is that?

My lovely wife and I have booked in a couple of weeks at campgrounds in Florida. That gives a place to land when we get there and some time to recover. We can figure out the rest of our stay as we go. Some people book their reservations almost a year in advance. If we do a week in advance we are doing well. Different strokes for different folks.

Of course, the reason we can book at the last minute is that some of those early birds will have to make cancellations. Life happens.

In spite of the cold and last minute issues, it's all coming together. Wednesday's somewhat milder temps should be just the break we need.