Marcia’s RV Travels: Florida and the Southeast Coast

RV travels

Marcia and Mike Neundorfer spent two and a half weeks in January traveling Florida and the Southeast coast in an Advanced RV. They spent all but three nights of the road trip in the motor home. This is Marcia’s reflection on their RV travels:

Friday, January 12, 2018: Can’t escape the cold

We depart Cleveland in “Escape” around noon, in a rush to get ahead of the storm blowing in.  This morning the temperature dropped from 50 degrees to 30 and the rain turned to sleet. We hope that driving south will bring us warmer weather, but when we stop at 6 pm at a closed truck weigh station between Cincinnati and Lexington, it is 22 degrees and snowing.

Saturday, January 13, 2018:  Still can’t escape the cold

At 6:50 am, Mike hears the furnace turn off.  It is 14 degrees and windy, so this is not good.  We recently put the latest Lithium battery system in Escape, but we did not install the battery heating system, since we knew we would be testing these batteries on this “warm” trip to Florida.  To protect themselves from charging and discharging in cold weather, which shortens battery life, these batteries automatically shut down.  We drive to a Love’s truck stop and they put us in a warm bay.  After a long breakfast at Hardees, the batteries are warm enough to supply van power, but have not reached minimum charging temperature (43 degrees).  Luckily, we still have plenty of battery power for the day.

At 3 pm, we stop in Chattanooga at my sister’s house where we planned to spend the night, but it is still below freezing and the batteries are not charging.  At 5:30 pm, they are at 27% and a minimum of 40 degrees, so we get back on the road.  At 10:30 pm, south of Macon, Georgia, the batteries have reached temperature and are fully charged.  We pull into a Pilot Flying J, get the RV washed, and stay the night in their parking lot.

Sunday, January 14, 2018:  Tallahassee, Florida and Cedar Key

We stay warm through the night, but outside it is barely above freezing.  For breakfast, we follow the signs for Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, Georgia. With peach and pecan trees extending in straight lines for miles, we arrive at a large barn like building and are welcomed by a friendly staff.  After breakfast, the manager (from Buffalo) takes us on a private tour of their peach packing area.  On the way back to I-75, we pull next to a barn, falling down over the old Ford truck inside—its peach hauling days long over.

Class B RV

Travel Southeast Coast

Continuing south, at Cordele we exit I-75 for a more rural experience on Route 33. We pass cotton fields and pecan orchards into Florida.  At tiny Monticello, we stop for lunch at Monticello Pie, “Local Food, Local People.”  We walk around the town’s rotary and city hall.  At Perkins Opera House, built in 1870 and still hosting performances, Mike asks the guy in the office about visiting Tallahassee. He calls his friend who runs a tour service there and she agrees to take us on walking tour of Tallahassee in 45 minutes.

Monticello, Florida

Beth is great.  She takes us through the downtown historic district, explaining how Tallahassee became the capital of Florida.  She shows us the “first” churches built by slaves, 200-year-old live oak trees, and an old cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried. We walk around the Florida State Capital Complex, looking up at the 22-story new capital building and the 1902 historic capital, with candy cane striped awnings

Florida Landmarks

On Beth’s recommendation, we drive down to Cedar Key, arriving at 8 pm. We “camp” in the parking lot next to the city park and walk over to the Island Hotel and Restaurant, established in 1859, for a beer and burger.  In the morning, it is only 37 degrees.  A guy from a condo across the street tells us he is surprised by two things:  that we were allowed to stay the night in that lot and that he was he did not hear a generator.  We realize that one reason we get away with parking anyplace is that we do not use a generator, which makes us more stealth.

For breakfast we walk to Annie’s Café, a tiny, weathered, wooden shack with one small space heater for heat.  We poke around the harbor at low tide and walk through the community garden.  We enjoy this funky town, which seems like a small, less developed Key West.  The shower in the camper feels great.  On the way out of town, we hike through Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve and Birding Trail.

Cedar Key Restaurants

Cedar Key Landmark

We arrive at the Tampa SuperShow around 4:30 pm and we are grateful that George Mauro from Humble Road has secured us a camping spot at the fairgrounds next to his Class B.  These were the only spaces available, too small for the big rigs, but perfect for us.  We meet James and Stefany Adinaro from FitRV for dinner in Brandon at Boca, a good farm-to-table restaurant.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018:  Industry Day at the Tampa RV SuperShow

Today is Industry Day at the Tampa RV SuperShow.  We do the rounds of the show, see a few old friends, and show Escape to a potential client. We go to dinner with Otis and Nick from Silverleaf.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018: Manatees, St. Petersburg and Sarasota

We show the RV to a couple from south of Tampa, then drive down to Apollo Beach to visit the Manatee Viewing Center. We take about a ½ mile walk out to a 50-ft. observation tower with a great 360-degree view of  Tampa and the coastal islands to the north and west, and mangroves and palm trees to the south and east. We loop back on the boardwalk to the protected marine reserve maintained by TECO Big Bend Power Plant.  On this cold day, masses of manatees are huddled together at the plant’s warm outlet waters.  These big brown-grey blobs hardly move, except for the occasional flap of their tails and a pop up of their small noses for air.

Apollo Beach Manatees

For a late lunch, we eat at Circles Waterfront Restaurant, TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant for Apollo Beach. In St. Petersburg, we stop for a short visit with our friends Nancy and Roy Bookbinder, the Piedmont blues performer who travels the country in a Class B.

Visit St. Petersburg

We camp on the street bordering Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida.

Lido Beach Sarasota Camping

Thursday, January 18, 2018:  Chris Craft in Sarasota, Florida

Why does 37 degrees in Florida feel so much colder than it feels in Cleveland?  We bundle up and walk down to Lido Beach Resort for coffee and the newspaper, make a smoothie in the camper and head out to visit Chris Craft.

Mercedes Sprinter RV

Chris Craft, a high-end boat builder since 1874, is now located near the airport in Sarasota.  We had left a message yesterday, requesting a visit with the president, who is a friend of a friend, but did not receive an answer, so we just show up.  The kind receptionist contacts the V.P. of Sales, who generously shows us a slide show of the history of Chris Craft, discusses the current business and then takes us on a tour of every department. At the end, he introduces us to the two owners, who come out to see our RV.

Chris Craft

Class B Motorhome

We head further south, hike in Oscar Scherer State Park north of Nokomis and spend the night at a Walmart in Port Charlotte.

Friday, January 19, 2018: Fort Myers, Florida and Sanibel Island

In Fort Myers, Florida we stop at our friends Dave and Carol’s, and go with them to a tiny, good old-fashioned breakfast spot. From there, we drive to Sanibel Island to visit our friends Barbara and Zack.  We find their condo on the east side of the island, with a view of the Gulf and a short walk to the beach.  We think we will visit a few hours, but at their kind invitation we decide to move into their cabana on the first floor.  We go to dinner in Fort Myers at the Cracker Box, a tiny, quirky place with live music.  Dave and Carol, and friends of Barbara and Zack’s, join us.

Cracker Box Fort Myers

Saturday, January 20, 2018:  Ding Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge

Mike and I walk the Sanibel eastern beach, joining the many shell seekers.  We have a lovely breakfast at Barbara and Zack’s and then Zack takes us to Ding Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge, about 10 minutes from their condo.  Zack stops at the best bird viewing places and helps us identify the many shore and wading birds.  Barbara takes photographs and moves the car ahead, while Mike and I walk along Wildlife Road. For dinner, we go to an excellent French restaurant on Sanibel.

Ding Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge

Sanibel Eastern Beach

Sunday, January 21, 2018:  Seashell Museum

We walk/run the Sanibel beach down to the lighthouse, have another excellent breakfast at Barbara and Zack’s, and go to the Seashell Museum. We are fascinated by both the science and art of seashells and the creatures that live inside them, all so well displayed here.  In the late afternoon, Mike and I have a swim in the pool and then enjoy grilled lamb chops at Barbara and Zack’s.

Monday, January 22, 2018:  West coast to East Coast, Florida

What we thought would be a few hours visit with Barbara and Zack on Sanibel, now has turned into three days.  We hate to leave, but midmorning we head back to Dave and Carol’s to watch the video of their cruise through the Northwest Passage. We drive down to the Edison/Ford Winter Estate, but decide that we don’t have enough time to enjoy it.  We head across Alligator Alley to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, get groceries at Whole Foods, and stop for the night in the parking lot of the Original Pancake House, where in the morning we will meet a friend for breakfast.  Just as we are settling down for the night, we hear a loud knock on the camper side door.  Mike answers in a deep, aggressive voice.  There is no response.  Mike goes out, while I have 911 ready on the cell phone.  No one is there and there is no more knocking.  This is the first time this has happened. It might have been someone leaving the bar next door.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018:  Fort Lauderdale, Florida and a parking ticket

Despite the late knock on the door, we sleep well.  We meet our friend for breakfast and then head north up A1A.  At Lauderdale-on-the-Sea, we park on a street side, pay the meter, and take an hour beach walk.  When we get back, we find a $25 ticket, saying that motor home parking is not allowed here.  There was no sign indicating this and our camper fit within the lines of the parking space.  We go into the Chamber of Commerce across the street and they suggest we park in their lot and walk up two blocks to City Hall to dispute the ticket. The woman at the City Hall desk takes our complaint and says she will have her supervisor call us.  We have a good lunch near the pier. On the way out of town, we get the first call from an assertive administrator insisting that we must pay the ticket.  Mike complains again that there was no way of knowing that we were in violation.  In a few minutes, we get a second call from a more accommodating person, saying the ticket is excused.  We drive about 100 miles south of St. Augustine and stay the night at a Flying J. I work on my blog, with the passenger seat turned around and my feet up on the adjustable foot stool.

Custom RV

Wednesday, January 24, 2018:  Jekyll Island and Hilton Head

Near St. Augustine, we meet a friend for coffee and then continue north to Jekyll Island, Georgia. My maternal grandmother and grandfather met here about 1908. She was a governess for one of the original prominent families who started the Jekyll Island Club in the 1880’s as an exclusive Gilded Era retreat.  My grandfather was the master of the harbor where these families docked their yachts after sailing from northern ports.  We do a tour of the historical center, pass the partially restored “cottage” where my grandmother worked in the winter season, and then hike Driftwood Beach, voted one of America’s 10 Most Romantic Beaches.

Jekyll Island, Georgia Driftwood Beach

We continue to Hilton Head and meet friends for dinner there.  We spend the night at the Hilton Head Walmart, tucked between pine trees and magnolias, like the best of South Carolina campsites.

Thursday, January 25, 2018: To the Outer Banks, North Carolina

We get coffee at a Hilton Head Dunkin’ Donuts and catch up using their WiFi.  We take two laps around the lake at the center of Jarvis Creek Park and see two alligators sunning themselves on the bank.  We drive to North Carolina and spend the night in a Food Lion parking lot in Whitesville.

Friday, January 26, 2018:  Deserted Beach and Ocracoke Island

We drive to Wilmington, North Carolina, stop at their downtown Dunkin’ Donuts, and walk the River Walk.

Wilmington, North Carolina Travel

East of Jacksonville near Camp Lejeune, we stop at another Food Lion for a few groceries and the checkout clerk recommends the Cuban sandwiches at La Cocina next door.  They are excellent.  At Cedar Island, while waiting for the ferry out to Ocracoke Island, we walk the deserted sandy beach at low tide in our down jackets and hats.

RV Camper Van

Visit Ocracoke Island

Okracoke Island Sea Grass

After a 2-hour ferry ride, we arrive at Ocracoke Island in the dark.  We drive down the main street looking for life on this cold January night.  We stop at one place with lights on and discover a new brewery that describes itself as “Sorta Open.”  We order a couple of beers.  At the bar, a young guy from South Africa tells us that if we want food, we can order from a Mexican place down the street and bring it back.  Mike calls them, and although they say they are closing, they agree to fix us some food.  Mike drives down to this tiny roadside trailer and brings back the best burritos we’ve ever had.  We spend the night in the Visitor Center parking lot.

Saturday, January 27, 2018:  Ocracoke to Cape Hatteras

It is a sunny, 55-degree morning and we find Magic Bean Coffee open. We drive up Ocracoke Island, stopping at a beach where as far as we can see there are no people or even footsteps.

Orcacoke Island Beaches

We catch the ferry from Ocracoke to Cape Hatteras and continue to drive with Pamlico Sound to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  We stop at Pea Island National Wildlife Reserve and do a 4mile hike on the nature trail around the inland lake.

Pea Island National Wildlife Reserve

At the Wright Brothers National Memorial just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, we find the Visitor Center closed for renovations, but we take a quick look through the temporary center commemorating the 1903 first airplane flight by the brothers from Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur. Out on the field, just beyond the two barns where they lived and worked, granite markers indicate the take-off and landing points of four flights that day, the farthest being 852 feet in 59 seconds.  It seems so short, but this was the first manned, powered and controlled flight of an airplane.

At Virginia Beach, we meet clients for dinner at their restaurant Mahi Mah, a delicious, busy Asian fusion place located in the ocean front Ramada, which they own. They offer us an ocean view room, but we turn them down.  We are comfortable in the camper, like our own bed, and don’t want to schlepp our stuff, so we camp in the parking lot.

Sunday, January 28, 2018:  Monticello

After free coffee from the Ramada, we head up the street to Neptune’s statue on the Virginia Beach boardwalk.

Virginia Beach Boardwalk Landmark

The “boardwalk” is a wide, concrete sidewalk, with a separate concrete bike lane.  On this cool, rainy morning, people are out jogging. We head to Charlottesville to visit Monticello.

At the Monticello Visitor Center, an inviting, two-level wooden complex, we view a good introductory film on Thomas Jefferson.   We take the shuttle bus up to the mountaintop on which Jefferson’s home is situated. We explore the cellar passage, where the stables, ice house, and wine and beer cellars were located.  For the house tour, our guide is excellent, answering questions and explaining the architecture of the home and the background of its contents and residents.  He presents the paradox of Jefferson’s statement that “all men are created equal” and his being a slaveholder all his life.  We walk Mulberry Row, where the slave quarters were and end up at Jefferson’s grave.

Monticello Jefferson Statue

We continue west and stop for the night just before we reach the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Monday, January 29, 2018:  Sad encounter on the Blue Ridge, Roanoke and home

In the morning mist, we get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and for the first 30 minutes we see one bicyclist and one car.  As the fog lifts, we stop at a few overlooks to see the vistas opening up below.  One hour into our drive, off the road and down the embankment, we see a red Chevy Blazer with the front end smashed into a tree.  We stop and scramble down the hill.  The car is locked, but through the window we see a man’s body, sprawled face down across the front seat.  Mike hurries back to the camper to get the instrument for breaking a window in an emergency.  I watch the man’s back and detect no sign of breathing, so we decide there is no need to break the window.  We call 911.  A park employee happens by and he radios in.  We wait about 40 minutes for a police car and fire engine to arrive.  It appears that the man died before the car went off the road.

We arrive about an hour late at our friends’ home near Roanoke.  After brunch, seeing the temperatures in the high twenties all the way to Cleveland, we decide to drive all the way home.  We arrive at 9:30 pm.

It was a good trip traveling through Florida and the Southeast coast, seeing many friends, clients and potential clients.  We did not use any campgrounds, never plugged in, and dumped twice.  We rarely made plans more than a day ahead. We enjoyed many places, old and new, and once again appreciated the ability to travel so comfortably and flexibly in Escape.


To purchase Escape for your own travels, learn more about the  vehicle here.

3 replies
  1. Kevin Cook
    Kevin Cook says:

    Thank you for posting your stories. I enjoyed reading it. Sorry about the end of the story!! Please keep posting stories.

  2. Gary C. Mah
    Gary C. Mah says:

    I always enjoy the honesty and up beat approach to the problem solving. Life is not perfect but you have the frame of mind to deal with it.In all fairness the testing of new equipment and innovations is an important part of moving from concept to offering. I look forward to testing my flexibility and enjoying the journey as much as the destination as you have been doing.


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