We were supposed to be Snowbirds this winter. Snowbirds actually head south to warmer climates, but like I said in my WTH was I thinking article... we are backwards snowbirds.
We experienced our first Ice Storm (winter storm Jasper) in our Airstream. She did beautifully, but it was a bit of a rough night listening to tiny ice pellets pelting away at her - all night long. I had dreams of ice building on her rooftop and scrunching it under the weight. My husband assured me she was fine, but I am a bit of a nervous Nellie when it comes to Betty Jo (the Airstream), my protective instincts go into hyperdrive.
We unhooked from city water before the temperatures dropped. We learned that lesson early on. When we bought Betty Jo in February of 2021. Our first weekend with her in an RV park we got hit by a snowstorm in Anacortes, WA. We received over a foot of snow in just under 24 hours. A friend told us to make sure we unhook from city water. A valuable piece of advice. This was a rare occurrence. Just one of many we were going to experience, including a heat dome in the Pacific Northwest.
That weekend was a test for us newbies and a test of our decision to start this lifestyle.
The February Snow Storm of 2021
We kept the heat up during the ice store, around 64 degrees during the night. Our trailer is ducted, much like a home, and our tanks and pipes are enclosed underneath. The ducting runs through that area so when the furnace runs it warms up her underbelly - keeping everything toasty.
We woke up to her creaking and crackling as the weather started to warm up. Chunks of ice melting from her skin. I went out to check on her to find most of her was unharmed and only small chunks of ice gathered on her passenger side. Our truck, however, was caked in a thick layer of ice. And, so was Pink (the flamingo.)
The weather is warming up now and most of the ice has thawed and dripped from the surfaces of all involved. The gulls are out enjoying the lull in weather and flying over head. Waves from the Atlantic Ocean are gently rolling to shore. Life is returning to a warmer normal.
Betty Jo (the Airstream) weathered the storm beautifully and is as resilient as her namesake.
The weather this year has not been NORMAL! You can not always PLAN for it. This was a rare occurrence, normally it is in the mid-50s and upper 30s at night in this area. Many tell us, well you can just go south again, but the reality is you cannot always just pack up and MOVE. There are many factors at play. Sure, we have the ability to move, but sometimes it is safer and better to ride out a storm then to try to outrun it.
“I want to ride on one of those someday.”
As we grow older our childhood dreams fade away, forgotten as life takes over. Since I was a child I wanted to ride on an Airboat and when we hit the road with Betty Jo (the Airstream) and ended up in Florida, I remembered that dream and made plans to make it come true.
I wanted the “experience” of being on an Airboat, not a quick tourist ride. I searched and located a company committed to providing their customers with an experience — not just a ride. Their mission is to invite you to discover the beauty and the nature of the Everglades and absorb its beauty. There are no “touristy” shows, no crowded boats — just you and nature — the way it was intended.
Our guide is the sixth generation in the area and was passionate about the Everglades and introducing people to it. We picked the company, Down South Airboat Tours, because of their personalized service and because they also have access to parts of the Everglades than most of the others in the area. It was worth every penny.
The ride was more than the thrill of skimming along the water on a fast boat. The natural beauty was beyond anything I could have imagined. I was mesmerized with what this earth truly has to offer — and how much we need to respect and appreciate it.
I was surprised by the diversity of the area — from grass to forest to swampland. And by its beauty and my reaction to it.
The Everglades is an intricate system of subtropical wetlands, lakes, and rivers, originally covering more than 4,000 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of Florida. However, due to development, the Everglades has been reduced to less than half of that size,
While sometimes thought of like a giant swamp, the Everglades is technically a very slow-moving, shallow river. Because sawgrass marsh dominates this river, it was traditionally called the “River of Grass.” In fact, Native Americans living in the area called it Pahayokee, meaning the “grassy waters.
The Everglades: River of Grass
It was more than a ride on an Airboat — it was a history lesson, a deep appreciation for the area and its diverse offerings to the world, and a memory to be treasured for many years to come.
When we started this journey with Betty Jo (the Airstream) we knew there were a few places we wanted to visit, but as the journey unfolded, so did the dreams of where to next. We did not start with a Bucket List — it just evolved and keeps evolving — as does the journey.
Safe travels to all, and may you find your Bucket List dreams do come true.
After watching an episode with Long Long Honeymoon on Fort Wilderness, my husband said, “I want to go there.”
We are late bloomers to Rving so it was late in the season when I first tried to find a site. The website for reservations at Fort Wilderness was cumbersome at best. I tried a variety of dates and combinations, nothing worked. Then, one lucky day in early October (2021), I decided to try again. I tried for the week after Thanksgiving and mid-week, and it worked - I found three consecutive nights, one of the days selected just happened to be my birthday.
The levels of Campsites are:
1. Premium Meadow and Premium - good for large RVs
3. Full Hook-Up
4. Tent or pop-ups
I selected a full hook-up site.
This helpful website breaks down in detail the various levels, the loops within each level, and then the sites within the loops. Someone suggested I download the App - FWSites which provides you details for each loop then breaks down each site in a loop - size, hook-up availability, difficulty in backing in, right or left side, and a photo. The App comes in real handy at check-in. When they tell you what site is available, you can quickly look it up on the App and say yes or no. I made a list of possible sites in the four loops that fit the Full Hook-up level based on difficulty and size before we got there.
When you get to Fort Wilderness, there is a guard shack to make sure you are on a list, they then direct you to the check-in booths - stay in your vehicle. Check-in was easy and Disney-friendly.
The loops tend to be a little tight with a narrow road, and people tend to spread out. We were warned ahead of time about this. You can ask for help backing in if you feel you need it. We watched some, who were more experienced than us, and they had to make several attempts. We had a relatively easy back-in site but still made several attempts to get it, mainly due to the narrow road.
Since we were there only for a few days, we opted not to visit any Disney theme parks. We decided to enjoy Fort Wilderness and relax. The campground offers so much so if you only have a couple of days, there is a lot to enjoy. We watched fireworks from the beach by the marina. Food trucks provided dinner on our first night. They were there on Tuesday and Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30. We didn’t try it, but they have trail rides throughout the day with their horses from the Double D Ranch (you have to sign up.) They have a large swimming pool. There are restaurants at Settlement Camp (by the marina) and a few Outpost stores throughout the park with Disney souvenirs or if you need a few groceries.
We did not unhitch and decided to make use of Disney’s transportation.
You are not allowed to use a personal vehicle to drive around Fort Wilderness, so to enjoy the wonders of the campground, you have a few options:
1. Walk - It is a large park, but it is walkable. From the full hook-up sites (loops 1600-1900), it is about a 2 1/2 mile walk to the marina to catch the bus. The Meadows (where the swimming pool, playground, and a few other actives are located) is a short jaunt.
2. Bikes - If you don’t have a bike visit the Bike Barn, where they rent bikes and canoes/kayaks. There are quite a few trails to enjoy amongst the 750 acres of Pine and Cypress forest.
3. Golf Carts - I have never seen so many golf carts. You can rent them from the park and other sources or bring your own. There are so many golf carts whipping around you need to be aware of the golf cart traffic, so be careful walking around the park.
4. Bus - Disney Transportation provides buses within the campground, so if you don’t want to walk, or don’t have a bike or golf cart, just catch a bus. There are bus stops located conveniently throughout the park. And they run about every 20 minutes.
5. Hitch a Ride - this is not a legitimate form of transportation, but we often had people offer us a ride when they saw us walking, so you never know when a friendly RVer will stop and give you a lift.
How big is Disney World?
Disney’s Transportation Network consists of:
1. Disney Buses - the third largest fleet of buses in the state of Florida. With over 400 buses, the environmentally-friendly network of buses works tiredly to get visitors from one Disney location to the next. The main bus hub at Fort Wilderness is at the Outposts (by the entrance), you can catch a bus to any of Disney’s theme parks.
2. Monorail - A fun way to go from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot. For information on the Monorail and where it goes visit Disney’s website.
3. Boats/Ferrys - Much of Disney’s property is located next to the water, so Disney has a large fleet of 750 or more boats and ferries providing transportation for visitors. From Fort Wilderness, you can catch the ferry to the Magic Kingdom.
4. The Skyliner - An Innovative Twist on Flight
Discover Disney Skyliner, an incredible way to travel around Walt Disney World Resort!
Glide across the sky and add an extra dash of pixie dust to your day. This grand, state-of-the-art gondola system conveniently connects Disney's Hollywood Studios and International Gateway at Epcot to the following Resort hotels: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney's Art of Animation Resort, Disney's Pop Century Resort, and Disney's Riviera Resort.
Learn more about Disney World's Transportation
For my birthday, we decided to spend some time at Disney’s Boardwalk. To get there was an adventure in itself. We utilized most of the Disney Transportation Network. Because their network of transportation is quite massive, Disney thankfully has a great staff of people who are more than willing to guide you to your next location.
Suggestion - we asked how to get from Fort Wilderness to the Boardwalk and received a variety of instructions, so we broke up the trip by destinations, when we arrived at the next destination, we would ask a Cast Member how to get to the next one.
Our day started at Fort Wilderness
1. Caught the bus outside our loop to Settlement Camp
2. The Ferry to the Magic Kingdom. Even if you don’t plan on visiting the theme park, the ferry ride was a beautiful trip.
3. The monorail to Epcot.
4. The bus to the Boardwalk
To return to Fort Wilderness
1. We wanted to try the Skyliner, so we took it from the Boardwalk to its first stop, which was the Caribbean resort hotels.
2. Caught a bus at the resort to the Magic Kingdom. This was a long bus ride and quite crowded, FYI.
3. Once we were back at the Magic Kingdom, we caught the ferry back to Fort Wilderness.
4. The last ride we caught a bus at Settlement Camp inside Fort Wilderness to our loop.
We did not visit any of the theme parks or their rides, but we did enjoy the rides on the various forms of Disney Transportation. The best part - all of the rides were enjoyable and FREE!!!
I get asked this question quite a bit. Usually, I answer, “I didn’t have any real expectations.”
But that is not the truth, is it. I had some expectations, especially after years of watching YouTube videos and seeing posts on Facebook, something had to rub off. We tend to set our expectations to match the glamorized life of RVing seen online, but then reality isn’t always glamorous. It can be beautiful, it can also be tough.
Here are a few expectations from when we started:
1. Fear and anxiety of towing and backing in, a realistic expectation for many newbies.
2. The opportunity to visit places we only dreamed of and to discover places we didn’t know existed.
3. Expected to have more free time.
What people should be asking is, “What didn’t you expect? What were the unanticipated surprises, things you didn’t know when you started.” It is quite astonishing the unforeseen that happens, things you had no idea would exist.
Read about what we didn't expect....
In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance — when you least expect it — sets you on a course that you never planned, into a future you never imagined. — Nicholas Sparks
Life changes course over time, routing us toward a new direction, meandering along a different route, flowing and ebbing as the seasons and life change.
Back in March, just as we were starting this RV life, I wrote about Flexibility being Key, little did I know how flexible we were going to need to be.
I have never been one to shy away from change, but I am older now and change is a little more challenging than it used to be. Selling everything we own and planning a life on the road has been a BIG change, bringing an end to a long chapter with so much history. Now, we are starting the beginning of a new chapter, not yet written, yet with so many possibilities and unknowns.
Like many new RVers we had so many plans, so many dreams, so many places we wanted to visit. But life and the power of time often interfere with plans and dreams. We also recognized our limitations until we gain more experience and comfort in our abilities. We learned a lot about ourselves and what we were comfortable with on our first long journey from Anacortes to Michigan, because of this we decided to change our plans, once again.
Our original plan was to be in the northeast corner of the country by September, but we had a late start in leaving our hometown of Anacortes, WA, and didn’t make plans in advance.
We realized as we approached South Dakota that we didn’t feel quite ready for the east coast. We had rushed to get to Michigan and did not want to rush through the east coast, too. And with it getting a little too close to the winter season, we decided to change course.
“Sometimes, it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” — Drake
Our end goal was to be in the Smoky Mountains by mid to late October, which we do have planned and reserved for the last week of October. Like I said in my article, Route Planning, I usually pick a Point B and work backward to fill in the spots. Since we are no longer going to the northeast for Fall colors and instead heading to the Smoky Mountains, it made sense to change course once again. We decided we needed to meander for a while, slow it down a bit, enjoy the road, what better way to do that than to follow the Mississippi River.
We started our Mississippi journey at Clark’s Ferry Recreation Park in Montpelier, Iowa. This park is an Army Corp of Engineer park. We chose this park after reading some great reviews online and the bonus of it being right by the Mississippi River.
The park was everything the reviews mentioned and more. A delightful park with nice concrete sites, well laid out, and views of the Mississippi River. The park does not have full hook-ups, each site has power 30/50 amp, access to a water spigot, and there is a dump station conveniently located by the exit. We were there for five nights, so it was time to test our ability to conserve. Luckily the park had a building with clean and well-stocked restrooms and showers, so we used them, which saved our grey and black tanks from filling up. We used mostly paper plates so dishes were few, adding to our conservation.
Since we have started our travels I have found that some parks just “feel” right. They soothe your soul, provide a relaxing atmosphere, and you just feel comfortable and right at home, that was this park.
Unfortunately, we had to move on so we found a spot for two nights in Canton, Missouri. The Mississippi River RV Park is managed by the town of Canton. It is not much to write home about, but it does have full hook-ups on most of the sites, you can’t beat the $20 per night, and the VIEW makes it all worthwhile! You walk out your door and there is the Mississippi River plus the added bonus of the Locks and Dam #20 so you can watch barges do their jobs. This was a short stay, but well worth it.
Next destination… St. Louis, Missouri. Since I was a child I have been fascinated by St. Louis and the Arch. I don’t know why? Or, when it started? This was a destination that had to be on the Bucket List, so here we are. We found a spacious and well-laid-out city park, ran by the city of St. Peters, just outside of St. Louis. The park is named, 370 Lakeside Park, and is a large city park with a lake, an RV park, and so much to do. Another great find thanks to great reviews online. We liked it so much here, we extended our stay and added four more days.
My husband often tells people, “we don’t have plans, we have intentions” he read that somewhere, and we have found it to be so true. Our next intentions were to continue our journey down the Mississippi, ending in Memphis, but that intention is now waning. We are thinking of taking out journey through Kentucky and then down to Nashville before we head to our final destination by the Smoky Mountains.
Some days, I find it frustrating and stressful not planning ahead, not knowing where the road may take us, but part of this journey is learning to let go, to unwind, and just enjoy the route, knowing the destination will be fabulous when we finally find it.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” — Ernest Hemingway
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo