Sunday, January 29, 2017

#19 - Sunday, 29 January 2017 | Lake Park, Georgia

Happy Sunday Funday from the Georgia/Florida state line. I'm sipping my coffee from the cozy comfort of The Wheelhouse where I spent my first night last night in an RV park in Lake Park, Georgia. I intend to stay here again tonight before heading into Florida for a four night stay in Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. A bit of a cold spell has hit the southeast, but it's still a lot nicer here than back in Chicagoland and I'm finally in my new nomadic home on the road. The temperature is 44ºF /7ºC in the predawn dark of morning, with a high today of 62ºF/17ºC predicted.

I ended up in this park in a random, care-free sort of way. I had pre-booked my time in the central Florida state park, and knew I'd have to stay in hotels for the first two nights of the journey south. With my stuff covering the floor in the RV I needed to get someplace comparatively warm and comfortable for the first campsite set-up and organizing everything. So, with stops in Bowling Green and Macon, I ended up in southern Georgia. I drove along completely chill and with no worries or destination.

In Tifton, Georgia I stopped for a late morning Starbucks. The only coffee I had had was foul and dismal murk drank early in the morning in my Macon hotel. As I pulled into the adjacent restaurant's lot, which would provide for parking my rig, I noticed a hawk perched on a low-hanging wire above a wood fence nearby. I got my super telephoto lens out and captured a few images. It swooped down towards the ground behind the fence and I took advantage of the cover to move closer. As I did I noticed that there was a little creek that the fence had blocked my view of. I snapped a couple more exposures as the hawk sat on the bank of the canal.

Inside the Starbucks I flipped through my Good Sam RV Travel Guide, a phonebook-sized directory to RV parks nationwide. I phoned a few in central Florida to inquire about weekend availability, but to no surprise everyone was completely booked during this snowbird season. I ended up hanging out at the Starbucks for about an hour and a half, taking advantage of the wi-fi to stay connected. Still with no destination in mind I continued toward the state line.

I mentioned before how your view while driving in southern Georgia and northern Florida becomes inundated with a barrage of billboards, and how many of these are religious and "pro-life". As I approached Valdosta, the last significant city before Florida, the conservative propaganda became accompanied by an increasing assault of tourist advertisements and signs for local businesses. One billboard of interest was for a tire repair company that specialized in RV and trucks. With a tire still to have repaired I paid attention and exited I-75 to find it. Unfortunately, the south is largely closed on the weekends, something that I recalled from my time living in Nashville. Back on the interstate and barreling toward Florida, I saw the billboards for Camping World. This is a national chain of RV dealers and camping supplies and I remembered from my recent truck-only trip south that it had its own RV park right next door. When I drove by a couple weeks ago I had noted that it looked very nice and was it a great location for a respite before reaching Florida. I quickly thought that it had the added benefit of being somewhere I could buy supplies or parts should I need to do anything during my first set-up of The Wheelhouse.

I pulled in and saw a sign to register at the main Camping World building back up the road. I walked up to the store. Camping World owns Good Sam and I am a member of this discount and benefit club. They said if I paid the $27 to extend my membership for another year I would get a free night's stay. Pretty sweet deal for a full-hookup site (water, electricity, wi-fi). I entered the park and saw swans a beautiful pond and big old trees draped with Spanish moss. I liked it. I found a pull-thru site long enough and got to work setting up camp while trying to remember everything I was told during my orientation during my delivery of The Wheelhouse back north at General RV. I would be filling tanks, connecting power, dropping stabilizer jacks, extending my two slide-outs and more. Once everything was good to go I noticed a leak in the rear of the RV. I had turned on the pump and water heater and it was hot water dumping onto the campsite in a steady stream. I grabbed my toolbox to tighten the fitting. Apparently when General finished their testing and blew out the Wheelhouse plumbing to void it of water for freezing conditions something wasn't properly tightened. A neighbor came by to investigate my leak.

front slide-out is the head of my full queen bed
rear slide-out is the sleeper sofa

front door enters the bedroom
rear door is main entrance - kitchen is in rear, bathroom is just behind bedroom

"Goose", the General RV employee who had conducted my orientation gave sage advice. Always introduce yourself to your neighbors even if you, like me, prefer to keep to yourself. You never know who might be your best friend in a time of need. Jim, as the pony-tailed and grey-haired and bearded guy introduced himself, wanted to re-crimp the attachment and inspect the fittings for me. He builds motorcycles and is one of those guys who is only happy when he has a wrench in his hand. It turns out he had lost his wife less than a year ago and was headed to Florida three weeks ago when he stopped at this park and never left. He now is the new owner! Amazing story and I got many more details, but that's the synopsis in a couple of sentences. I returned to my work of unpacking boxes and tubs and filling the cabinets of The Wheelhouse. Jim and I would chat again later when an amazing coach pulled into the site beside me. We introduced ourselves to the Georgia businessman who got out and stood slack-jawed looking at what basically was a rock star tour bus style camper pulling a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee car behind it for shuttling out to dinner and errands. He was happy to revel us with details of his posh glamping vehicle and we discovered that it cost ... brace yourself ... $520,000.

A half a million dollars worth of glamping coach
The other side is a full-length slide out
This rig sold for almost seven times what I paid for truck and RV

As I continued putting everything away, I used my nice little three-burner stove to heat up some lentil & vegetable soup. Later I had canned dolphin-safe tuna on crackers and was a happy bunny. I searched for local TV channels and ended up watching some X-Games snowmobile tricks while carrying on with my work. I had a serene first sleep in my new bed. I had intended to put my own Sealy mattress in The Wheelhouse, but it came with a nice firm pillow-top mattress and a comforter that matches the bedroom curtains. I set the thermostat low at about 60º because I am camping after all :) I love sleeping when it is cool and I am on crisp sheets beneath a few blankets. Today I am going to extend my stay here for another night and finish putting everything away. 

All the best! M

Saturday, January 28, 2017

#18 - Saturday, 28 January 2017 | Macon, Georgia

1/26 - Hoffman Estates, IL to Bowling Green, KY

Total Miles: 432.6
Time on Road: 7:56 (time for repair 2:00+)

1/27 - BG to Macon, GA

Total Miles: 382.5
Time on Road: 7:22

Happy birthday to my sister Erika! 

Yesterday was a bit more adventure than I had hoped for. I headed out the door of Bowling Green, Kentucky's Country Inn & Suites and climbed in the rig. I began to pull away and heard an odd noise. Then a guy came running alongside me shouting. My Wheelhouse had a flat. It's a tandem axle trailer so with three good wheels it took a moment to notice, but sure enough the right rear tire of the trailer was on the rim. Fortunately I had only driven about 100 yards. I have multiple road assistance plans and called Coach-Net, which is owned by Coachmen RV, the manufacturer of The Wheelhouse. Two hours and zero dollars later my spare had been installed by someone other than me. I could have done it faster myself, I suppose, but I was in no hurry and you have to take advantage of the things you pay for. 

Valuable Lesson Learned: When I had a bass boat I was very good at checking everything before driving away. I would inspect tires, wheels, tie-downs, etc. You never know when something may go wrong or some punk/prankster/vandal might do something like remove straps or loosen winch. This morning I did a thorough walk-through using my RV checklist to ensure all doors and hatches were locked and the tires and hitch were perfect.

Thankfully the drive to Macon, Georgia was fairly uneventful, but I was behind my usual schedule and ran smack dab into Atlanta's evening rush hour. It was after 8 pm by the time I returned to the Best Western Riverside Inn in Macon where I had stayed last week. No, I didn't sleep in the RV. The weather has cooled in the southeast and it won't be until I hit Florida today that I'll finally sleep in the Wheelhouse. In addition to the chilly night here (about freezing), my RV floor is covered with boxes to unpack so it will be a project to "move in". I will do that barefoot in shorts and T-shirt somewhere.

My rig is about 53' long ... the trailer alone is 53' behind this Freightliner

Friday, January 27, 2017

#17 - Friday, 27 January 2017 | Bowling Green, Kentucky

#roadtripusa2017 has now officially begun! 

It will be interrupted by my February 8-26 trip to Kuching and Langkawi, but yesterday I left Chicagoland with "The Wheelhouse" – my 31' travel trailer – in tow. Once the RV was delivered earlier in the week I had planned to leave Sunday morning after my family returned from their holiday in Riviera Maya, Mexico, but icy and cold conditions and no place to park the rig combined to make me leave yesterday morning. In the back of my mind I think I had hoped that I'd be able to back the travel trailer into my sister's driveway to load and organize, but it is far too narrow and I realized that my eagerness had left me in a bind. When I picked it up on Wednesday I began to load it, but became very stressed about having no place to park it overnight, and that worry was exacerbated by the dreary fog and cold rain of the day. I loaded what I could and took a test drive on the highway where I found a truck stop where I could do some unpacking inside. Eventually I decided I had no choice but to park it on the street in front of my stepdad's house. I could block his drive and park overlapping the parkway in front of his neighbors. However, his side is the no parking side where fire hydrants are located. I resigned myself to accept the parking ticket and went to bed early, very anxious and restless. 

Yesterday dawned with no angry neighbors and no police department fine. When I say dawned I mean the wee hours before dawn as I am an early riser always, and had gone to bed very early the night before intending to wake early and get shit done. It was 2 a.m. and I drove to my sister's house in Huntley to load the rest of my gear. In the dark of predawn I was able to park in the alley beside her business house and load everything. I then headed back to Joel's house to load the rest after a stop at Starbucks and Walmart. It was a cold and icy morning and the weather forecast was for dropping temperatures. Trucks were everywhere salting the streets. Even though it would mean leaving my parrot Jesse alone for 48 hours, I knew that my best plan was to avoid the weather and rig parking and hassle and get on the road. One week ago I had stayed at this Country Inn & Suites by Carlson in Bowling Green, Kentucky and loved the hotel. I decided to book last night here and start getting myself back to warmth. Today I have a return to Macon, Georgia planned, but as it has cooled off there to where overnight temps will be close to freezing I will either have to go farther south or stay in a hotel for one more night. Starting Monday night I have a campsite reserved at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida where I was originally planning to start this road trip. The only sites available were in the equestrian area so I imagine my RV will be among musky scents and whinnying. I'll be there four nights unpacking my things and doing some hiking. Winter weather has returned throughout the U.S. and temps in Florida will be cooler than when I was there just over a week ago. The furnace in my RV will actually run during the night. On February 4 I will park The Wheelhouse at a storage facility in Ocala, Florida and return to Chicagoland for my trip to Borneo and Malaysia. It won't be cool there.

Hopefully you keep up on my Instagram posts, but here are some photos my rig:

about to leave the lot at General RV Center, Huntley, IL
Practicing backing in a vacant lot
Unnamed truck & "The Wheelhouse"
Coachmen RV Freedom Express Liberty Edition 276RKDSLE
31 1/2 feet, 7800 lbs. loaded

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

#16 - Wednesday, 25 January 2017 | Hoffman Estates, Illinois

It's not often that I blog at 2:25 a.m., but here I am. Today is the day I've been waiting for and it is going to be a busy one. I went to sleep very early and have woken earlier and probably will just stay up now. I have a 9:30 appointment to pick up my travel trailer and want to load up my truck with stuff beforehand. There's much to learn so they have an orientation and I plan on staying at the RV dealer as long as it takes to cover every feature to my liking. My belongings have been stored at my sister's second house where she is opening a business and there are workers there this week while she's in Riviera Maya so it will be best for me to move some stuff out before their work day begins.

One of the most surprising things about buying my new truck and RV is the fact that apparently dealers have no clue when factories ship to them. The RV is one month late. When I made the purchase they promised delivery "by Christmas". The truck was also a bit late. The truck surprised both dealer and me when it arrived at Tom Peck Ford. They had arranged to trade for an identical one located out of state and were pursuing that when my new ride magically arrived one Monday morning. With the travel trailer they gave me a factory completion date of January 17 and I started calling after that to check on anticipated pick up date. General RV had no clue and said they'd get back to me but didn't. I called again Monday to bug them and was told they'd call and get back to me. When they did it was to tell me that it had arrived on Saturday and they just discovered that. One hand has no clue what the other is doing!

All the pieces of the puzzle are finally together, albeit it about a month after I had hoped. My plan is to head back to Florida beginning Sunday morning. I'll take three days to get down there, overnighting at free spots like truck stops and then have a four night campsite reservation at Kissimmee Prairie State Park. That is the same place I had a reservation for earlier in the month that I had to abandon. I'll do a little snake hunting and getting used to RV life, and then on February 4 will drop the travel trailer off at a storage facility in Ocala where it will sit for a month while I head back to Chicago and fly to Kuching, Borneo and Langkawi, Malaysia.

As always, keep an eye on my Instagram feed for photos. I'll try to blog again later with a photo of the big rig, but I'll definitely post a pic or two on Insta shortly after picking it up.

All the best, M

Friday, January 20, 2017

#15 - Thursday, 19 January 2017 | Bowling Green, Kentucky

My little sortie to Florida to break in the new truck and familiarize myself with it is coming to a close. I am in Bowling Green, Kentucky having breakfast in my hotel and will soon begin the six and a half hour journey back to Chicagoland. Yesterday, I left the very warm Macon, Georgia after getting my first oil change and drove north listening to the third book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, Book 3 - A Storm of Swords). I stopped at a rest area in southern Tennessee near Monteagle. The weather was significant cooler, especially for someone still garbed in t-shirt, shorts and sandals. It was a bit of a sad visit there as my late and beloved dog Taylor was from Monteagle and I rescued her when I was living in Nashville. The weather had become gloomy and so was my mood thinking of memories of my amazing pooch. She really was the best friend. 

The weather turned worst south of Nashville and it became difficult to see in the downpour. Accidents caused traffic delays and my ETA at my Bowling Green hotel got later and later. I had thought about having lunch in my old Nashville hometown, but decided to forge ahead and have a late lunch/early dinner upon arrival at my destination, which is what I had been doing the past few days. The Country Inn & Suites Hotel is by far the nicest of the trip, but I didn't get to enjoy the amenities as after my early dinner I just showered and laid in bed writing a letter to someone very special. Then I dozed off early and woke at like 2 a.m. with a pounding headache. I likely didn't drink enough water during yesterday's drive.

Before I made it to Kentucky I called my salesman at General RV and inquired about the status of my travel trailer. It apparently was completed at the factory this week as scheduled and was now at the distribution center in Indiana. It's close by and I am awaiting word on when I can pick it up.

I hope you have had a chance to enjoy the photos I posted on Instagram during the trip. I hope to resume my southern travels before long and it is now less than 20 days until I leave for Borneo & Malaysia. 

All the best, M

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#14 - Thursday, 19 January 2017 | Macon, Georgia

At 5 a.m. I began my return drive and arrived at Best Western Riverside Inn in Macon, Georgia by 3 p.m. The hotel was being renovated and carpet installers were hard at work. They found me a nice clean king room that had been finished and I loaded in my gear. The first thing on my agenda was to get my truck washed. It still had vulture poo on it from Everglades National Park! I did a web search and found a car wash just a mile down the road from the hotel. Along the way I spotted an Applebee's and chose it for an early dinner. Afterward, I pecked at my laptop and watched a little Netflix and again passed out early. This morning I am going to hang at the hotel for a little while to write and such as I have a fairly short drive today to get to Bowling Green, Kentucky. If I had left when I woke at 5 to get ahead of the Atlanta traffic I would have arrived in Kentucky far too early. Therefore, I have decided to linger in Macon until after traffic in the city of Atlanta to the north should have dissipated. I have now passed 2000 miles on the truck and want to go get my first oil change before I continue my drive north.

Total miles driven: 614.5
Total time on the road: 8.5 hours
Departure location: Florida City, Florida
Arrival location: Macon, Georgia

All the best, M

#13 - Wednesday, 18 January 2017 | Florida City, Florida

Tuesday I ventured to the Keys, but never planned to go very far. I had already decided to save Marathon and Key West for when I had more time. With no destination in mind, I drove south on U.S. 1 from Homestead through Florida City and out to Key Largo. I continued through Tavernier and on to Islamorada. The name Islamorada means "village of islands" and locals don't pronounce the first part "eesla" as in La Isla Bonita, but rather as eye-la as in Isla Fisher. The village of about 6500 people is situated on Tea Table Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key and Plantation Key. 

Islamorada is where the Netflix series Bloodline is set, and I have enjoyed the first two seasons and am hoping for a third. I stopped at a very nice Starbucks that is attached to the Post Card Inn. I don't think I have often enjoyed my Americano as much as I did then. I was relaxed, in a beautiful spot and had no schedule. The weather was perfect and the surroundings serene.

While I stayed at my sister Lisa's house after my house closing I had read one of her zillion books. In the guest room where I slept, there was a travel guide for southern Florida. I used Notes on my iPhone to record some spots in the Florida Keys I wished to visit. One lunch spot on my list was Islamorada's Hog Heaven Sports Bar & Grill. It looks like a cool spot when you pull into the sandy parking lot, and as you enter the spacious roadhouse style "sports" bar. However, when you pass through the indoors area to the rear bar and seating area you are greeted with a pretty harbor and a spectacular ocean view. I ordered a local craft beer–Islamorada Beer Company Ale–and guacamole and chips. For lunch my server Nike (that's what he called himself and he had gold bling around his neck and earring, etc. with the Nike logo!) recommended the hogfish tacos and they were delicious. I had another ale and walked along their harbor to a beach that protected the Hog Heaven cove. 

Hog Heaven Sports Bar & Grill, Islamorada, Florida Keys

After my incredible chillaxing, I drove back northeast to Key Largo. There I visited John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. As I drove in green iguanas scurried from the roadside into the forest cover. The first iguana I had seen on the trip was DOR (dead on road) just as my southern lanes of U.S. 1 descended into the Keys. In the park I watched people kayaking and snorkeling while others relaxed on the beach. There were a couple of nature trails and I walked them. The prize photograph was of a Spiny Orbweaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis).

Gasteracantha cancriformis, Key Largo, Florida

I had stayed at the Floridian Hotel in Homestead, Florida for the past three nights and it was adequate. However, it was a bit dingy for my liking and the wifi was poor and the bed horribly soft. So, after my visit to Pennekamp State Park, I drove back north to Florida City, which lies just south of Homestead and is the final town before the Keys. There I had booked a room at the Fairway Inn. It was cheaper and cleaner and the bed, while still too soft for me, was the best of the trip. I showered and laid in the bed processing images, replying to email and writing a personal letter and a couple of post cards. I probably was asleep by 7 and woke at 4 ready to hit the road back toward Chicago. After driving to southern Florida in only two days, I wanted to take three for the return and by 5 a.m. was on my way to Macon, Georgia.

All the best, M

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

#12 - Tuesday, 17 January 2017 | Homestead, Florida

I'm already falling behind on my daily blogging. Sunday I visited Biscayne National Park and yesterday was spent in Everglades National Park. I will return to both when I have more time and #roadtripusa2017 is officially underway. I am just glad I was able to make a quick trip to the subtropics and enjoy my new truck. 

Biscayne is a maritime park and to truly experience it you need to get on and across the water. There are boat trips and many visitors use kayaks, canoes or powered boats to access and camp on the outlying islands that are part of this national park. When I return I intend to rent a kayak and explore the mangroves and creeks cut into the shore. During this initial visit I just walked the boardwalk where the visitor center is located and chatted with fishermen and photographed pelicans. Those fishing were after mangrove (or grey) snapper and striped mullet is also caught. Yesterday I returned to the Everglades. I have posted some images from the day on Instagram. I was fortunate to see osprey, American crocodiles, alligators, anhingas, great blue herons and more. I had a veggie burger lunch in the cafe at Flamingo Visitor Center at the southern tip of Everglades National Park. 

When I returned to my hotel in the afternoon I actually took a dip in the outdoor! swimming pool. This morning I check out of my hotel in Homestead. I probably will return to Everglades, but may instead take a drive out to Key Largo. I have decided that going further along the Keys will have to be saved for when I have nothing but time. I am staying in this area tonight, but am moving to the neighboring town of Florida City to a hotel that hopefully has better wi-fi and from where I will start heading north tomorrow morning. I have decided to take three days for the return trip instead of two very long days. Tomorrow night I will be in Macon, Georgia and from there will continue north into the chill. 

Today is the day that my Coachmen RV 276RKDSLE Freedom Express Liberty Edition travel trailer is scheduled to be completed. I'm just guessing that it will take another week to be ready for pickup at my dealer. When I get back to Chicago I will do some more organizing and look forward to finally being able to load the RV and prepare for the official launch of #roadtripusa2017.

All the best, M

Sunday, January 15, 2017

#11 - Saturday, 14 January 2017 | Homestead, Florida

If you read the previous two blog entries you'll know that the second day of the road trip south was killer. When I woke this morning I felt as run down as I have in a long time and my head still ached. I had hoped to fall back asleep but instead endured another poor hotel lobby breakfast before heading to Everglades National Park. I wasn't up for much activity and knew today would be mostly about resting. But I had time to kill before I would be able to check into the Floridian Hotel in Homestead, so I did a little shopping at a Target I had spotted near my Cutler Bay La Quinta Inn, and then I drove down toward Homestead and into Everglades National Park.

In the park I paid the $25 entrance fee, which is good for seven days and I'll use today or tomorrow when I am up for hiking. This visit was about visiting the two campgrounds and the visitor center and just doing a bit of bird-watching before I could get into my next hotel room and nap. The only trail I hiked was the Mahogany Hammock. During my last visit some years ago I had found a nice everglades rat snake on the trail, but this time I only spotted 2017's first reptile – a green anole. I stopped at the Anhinga Trail parking lot, but decided not to hike as the parking area is inundated by black vultures. Signs warn you of the damage they can do to your vehicle and most of the cars had blue tarps bungee-corded over the roofs and hoods. There was no way I was going to get a scratch on my new ride! I wanted to walk the area, but decided I'd spend the time protecting my truck when I felt much better and would be able to enjoy the trails. The skies were overcast and intermittent rains fell so another day would be better regardless.

I returned to Homestead and found the hotel at about 2 pm, but the lady at the front desk was determined to enforce the 3 pm check-in time. So I did a little more shopping in the area while I waited. Once I got in the room I didn't leave and a nap was followed by watching a bit of TV before sleeping through the night. The weather here is wonderful and my room sits next to the outdoor pool. I normally only swim in natural bodies of water, but it is tempting to soak my road weary bones in the evil chlorine. We'll see .... M

#10 - Friday, 13 January 2017 | Cutler Bay, Florida

I passed out exhausted the night before and slept later than I expected in the Radisson Marietta hotel room. I realized that I now wouldn't make it to my next hotel in Cutler Bay, Florida until night and would have to contend with some morning rush hour traffic in Atlanta. Cutler Bay is a southwestern suburb of Miami where I had booked a room at La Quinta. It's northeast of Homestead–the gateway to Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys. I wanted to base myself around Homestead for this quick one-week reconnaissance trip to southern Florida, but Cutler Bay was close enough for crashing for one night upon arrival.

I'll spare you the details but today's drive was much less pleasant than that of day one. I was tired and fought a headache all day. I needed coffee but worried I was drinking too much. I drank as much water as possible and swallowed more than a few Tylenol. I don't like much about Florida. To be honest, the only thing I like is the wildlife. That's why I'm here ... oh, and for the glorious winter weather. Driving in southern Georgia was relaxing and I listened to my audiobook while taking in the billboards advertising pecans and peaches. Of course, the roadside signs in this area also are dominated by the religious, conservative and anti-abortion. These giant gaudy preaching signs begin to dominate the landscape and don't relent once you are in northern Florida. In Florida they are even more plentiful but wrestle for space among the increasing tourist attraction billboards. My head throbbed and miles became more of a struggle. Darkness eventually fell and I didn't mind as Florida isn't much to look at. I was glad once I got on the Florida Turnpike. I drove its full length for $20 in tolls, but the road is good and the service centers spaced every forty-five minutes should you need a restroom, fuel, food or to surround yourself with Floridian travelers. 

My struggle continued and I fought a pounding head for each remaining hour to my destination. Traffic jams caused by accidents slowed my progress. It wasn't until 9:30 pm that I finally arrived at my hotel. I felt dizzy and weak. But two days of driving were behind me. I had made it safely and the temperature was 75ºF. I had dressed in shorts and stood outside in just a t-shirt and shorts feeling warmer than I had in a long time.

My night's sleep was restless and I awoke at 3:30 a.m. At 6 a.m. I set my alarm for 11 and hoped I could get some more sleep before checkout. Of course, it was not to be. I gave up by 8 and headed downstairs for a dismal breakfast. The coffee was poor and I had a bowl of cereal, a banana and a few hard-boiled eggs. I did not feel good at all and knew I'd have to fill the time before 3 pm check-in at my next accommodation in Homestead. I decided I would head to Everglades National Park for some recon, but would not do much in the way of hiking or photography. I wanted to check out the park's two campgrounds that have RV spaces for when I return to Florida in the coming weeks. I stopped in the visitor center and bought a postcard and a snack. I ended up hiking the Mahogany Hammock trail where I saw the first reptile of #roadtripusa2017. Of course, it was the ubiquitous green anole common in southeastern U.S.A. But reptiles mean warmth and are my jam. I was elated as I paused to photograph him. 

At 3 p.m. I checked into the Floridian Hotel in Homestead and will stay for three nights. I have to be back "home" by Saturday morning to take care of my parrot Jesse after my sister Lisa and bonus dad Joel leave for a holiday in Riviera Maya near Cancun, Mexico with my brother-in-law Randy. I've tried to think of what I want to do during this short stay that would be easier now when I don't have the RV to think of. To be honest, I am still undecided. I would like to go to Biscayne N.P. and already add a second national park to this nascent road trip. My goal really was just to get on the road to the lifestyle I love and seek warmth. I also want to dial in my camera gear for the year's adventures. I'm considering being a tourist and visiting Jungle Island to do some photography. Of course, I will return to Everglades N.P. and on Monday might drive to Key West. This is just a pleasure trip to do some preliminary scouting and get used to the truck, plus get some camera practice in after not doing much photography during the brutal Chicago winter. My whole year will be about going wherever the wind blows me, and I need to give myself no deadlines. All I know is I want to take three days to drive home after the two days south was a bit too much. And that means heading north Thursday morning.

Double rainbow and palm trees.
Rest stop north of Orlando on the Florida Turnpike

Reminder: I will only post the odd photo to this blog. As #roadtripusa2017 continues, look for most photos at my @jacobipix Instagram.

All the best, M

Total miles driven: 689.8
Total time on the road: 11.5 hours
Departure location: Marietta, Georgia
Arrival location: Cutler Bay, Florida

#9 - Thursday, 12 January 2017 | Marietta, Georgia

Finally a post from another state! Full disclosure, however – I am actually writing this on Sunday morning from Homestead, Florida. I am playing catch up on the blog as I was too exhausted after the long drive south to type.

Last Monday morning's phone call informing me that my truck had arrived was a complete surprise. My original plan of being in Florida before the end of 2016 and ringing in the New Year from Key West seemed like a distant memory. I had actually resigned myself to the fact that I'd likely just have to wait for the RV to be ready before my #roadtripusa2017 would commence. As soon as I was able I was off to Tom Peck Ford, and that afternoon I drove off in my new ride. I knew then that I would hit the road and seek warmth. In text messages I told my sister Lisa that I would head to Florida on Friday morning and her response was "why wait?". I did want to leave immediately, but I had purchased a Protector package for the truck that would have to be applied. On Wednesday I exchanged the new truck for a loaner car while they applied treatments to the interior, the undercarriage and the truck's finish. I packed my camera backpack and a suitcase and was off at 3 a.m. Thursday morning.

The truck practically drives itself. It is so smooth and powerful. As I drove I tried to familiarize myself with each bell and whistle. The cruise control not only allows you to choose speed, but it can be set to maintain a specific distance from the vehicle in front of you. There are controls to adjust the accelerator and brake pedals to your liking. It has Apple Car Play so nine primary apps are easy accessible on the 8" touch screen control screen. I had it reading incoming texts to me and dictated my replies, which were read back to me and appended to prior to sending. I listen to audiobooks while I drive and the Audible app is included. Although the truck has its own navigation system that is voice-activated, I chose to use Maps from my iPhone as it loads directions from my Expedia app and its features were great during the drive.

white gold 2017 Ford F-150 XLT Chrome 4x4
with 3.5L EcoBoost Twin-Turbo V6 and 10-speed automatic transmission

My as of yet unnamed truck sits at a Georgia rest stop with young magnolia trees as a background.

I left Chicagoland at 3 a.m. and the roads were icy. As I progressed south through Indiana rains were frequent, but the roads were good. I watched the thermometer climb and soon was down to just a t-shirt. After several hours of driving I became very tired and pulled into a rest area and grabbed my favorite pillow. I dozed in the reclined driver's seat and after an hour or so was again soaring down the highway, listening to the second Game of Thrones novel A Clash of Kings. I've read all five of the current GoT novels, but sold them as I liquidated unneeded possessions. I will always be a man of the printed book, but today I do most of my reading on my iPad Kindle app and for road trips enjoy audiobooks. The novels are about 1000 pages each and the audiobooks over thirty hours in length, so long road trips are the perfect time for George R.R. Martin's complex stories.

Vegetarian options are scarce while living on the highway, and I have returned to a diet excluding meat. Truth be told, I am still eating fish meat as sushi is my favorite food and I worry about not getting enough protein for a big man who hikes. I definitely won't return to being vegan as I get used to fake sausage and such and love quinoa or black bean burgers, but faux cheese is just bad. For lunch I found a Pizza Hut buffet and had a crappy salad, slices of veggie pizza and garlic breadsticks. 

It was a long, long day but I was happy in my luxurious new truck, heading south to warmer climes and spectacular wildlife. I had a nice room reserved at the Radisson Hotel in Marietta, just north of Atlanta. I only stopped for coffee and places to discharge processed coffee. My new truck has the maximum trailer towing package, which includes a 36 gallon fuel tank. I only have to stop to refuel once a day. It was about 8 pm before I made it to the hotel. It was 69ºF. I had a light dinner and two bottles of Samuel Adams in the hotel bar. I hoped to be on the road again early the next morning but – spoiler alert – I slept in.

All the best, M

Total miles driven: 725.3
Total time on the road: 12.5 hours
Departure location: Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Arrival location: Marietta, Georgia

Monday, January 9, 2017

#8 - Monday, 9 January 2017 | Hoffman Estates, Illinois

This morning I was surprised by a text message informing me that my truck had finally arrived at the dealer in Huntley, IL. The dealer had no idea it was coming and had prepared to work a trade with an out of state dealer in order to meet the January 17 deadline I gave them based on the production date for my travel trailer. I spent a couple hours at the dealer at midday and spent the afternoon familiarizing myself with my new vehicle.

My stepdad Joel, sister Lisa and brother-in-law Randy are going to Riviera Maya near Cancun, Mexico on January 20th. Since my parrot Jesse is a resident at Joel's house until I return from Asia on February 25, and Joel is headed to Mexico, I have to be back to take care of her by the 21st. So I will spend tomorrow installing my bed rug and tonneau cover. Wednesday the truck will be getting body and interior treatments and I'll pack and prepare to depart. Then I will leave here Thursday and drive to the Atlanta area. On Friday I will drive to southwest of Miami. Then I will spend the weekend and the beginning of next week exploring the Everglades and Keys. I once thought I'd spend all of January in southern Florida and am just going for a week or so now because I need to hit the road and seek some warmth.

I'll be back in the Chicago area by Saturday the 21st, which is pretty close to when my RV should be ready. I'll then spend a few days getting it all loaded and organized and then make a return to Florida for some more exploring. I'll be storing the RV near Tampa by about February 4th and then return to Chicago yet again for my Asia trip.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

#7 - Sunday, 8 January 2017 | Huntley, Illinois

This blog is still in its early days and readers are few and far between. However, I am committed to growing it and using it to journal during my travels. I have decided to make a magnetic sign for the back of my travel trailer that will have my Instagram/Twitter (@jacobipix) and the URI to this blog. Once I am posting about my hikes, animal sightings and such, hopefully the blog keywords will also draw new readers in. In the meantime, I ask the few of you who are reading to share via social media and the like.

As I wrote in the last entry, now that spending all of January in southern Florida was a dream unrealized I am making the best of the opportunity I have. Unfortunately, making two trips south before my trip to Asia has become increasingly unlikely as well. I probably will just resign myself to spending time with family and friends and preparing for my adventures while I wait until I have both truck and RV to leave. Although the truck being also delayed has been a great disappointment, I will make the best of it and wait until I have both truck and travel trailer before heading south. Yesterday the Ford dealer found an identical truck (color and features) in another state and has put in a trade request. Tomorrow their Ford rep will tell them when the originally ordered vehicle should arrive and if it wouldn't make it by January 17, the day the RV is supposed to be completed, hopefully the out of state dealer will be willing to trade.

Today is the 8th and that means that it is exactly one month until I depart for Asia. I just was texting with my best mate Mark about our plans. I am excited about visiting Sarawak, Borneo for the first time and especially eager to trek in Bako National Park. There are so many amazing creatures there I wish to point a lens toward. Proboscis monkeys, orangutans, silver langurs, tree vipers, river dolphins, crocodiles, and assorted spiders are among the animals I seek. After Borneo we will be on Langkawi Island, Malaysia where I visited two years ago. There we will also find amazing animals like colugos, lorises, spectacled (dusky) langurs, butterfly agamas, flying lizards, water monitors and tarantulas. Those of you who follow my Instagram (@jacobipix) may have seen my organized camera gear all laid out yesterday.

We will have a group of 14 in Sarawak and my dear friends Ray & Angela Hale will be joining us in Langkawi. We have several birthdays to celebrate and have hired a boat for the Andaman Sea. Our captain is a German woman named Eva who we hired two years ago. Her sailing craft has a full bar and we are served appetizers and mini meals all day long with unlimited drinks. Mark and I love treading water in the ocean while drinking a cold can of Tiger lager. Last time we saw sea otters swimming nearby and it was exhilarating. I am extremely sensitive to motion sickness and was very apprehensive about the boat trip two years ago. However, the sea off Langkawi is calm and with Dramamine I had no worries and we had an amazing day diving off the second level of the boat into the ocean and exploring little islands.

All the best, MJ

Thursday, January 5, 2017

#6 - Thursday, 5 January 2017 | Hoffman Estates, Illinois

Another Thursday has dawned and I am still in Illinois. It wasn't part of the plan to blog only on Thursdays, but it seems that has been the story of the past three weeks. I had intended to post much more often, from much warmer and scenic climes. But, here I am, still driving a 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD and still hoping for the phone call from Tom Peck Ford that will upgrade me to a shiny new white gold truck.

I've begun reading a book called AWOL on the Appalachian Trail (2010, David Miller). The "AT", as it is known among the thru-hiker community, and those who weren't fortunate enough to make its end and gain that title, begins atop Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is 2200 miles that takes most six months to cover averaging twelve miles per day. Only 20% or so who attempt the AT succeed. It is seldom a stroll on flat ground and has numerous vertical ascents as it crosses summits along the way that make it a greater distance. Maybe it will be my 2018 adventure. Regardless, the reading is only making me yearn to hit the road even more.

It's currently 9ºF here 25 miles west of Chicago, which is -15ºC for my friends from more progressive countries. In Homestead, Florida–the gateway to the Everglades and Keys–it is 72ºF/22ºC and going up to 83ºF/28ºF. You do the math. Yearning increased.

Today is the 5th and that means it is exactly seven months until my birthday. The significance of that is my desire to spend that anniversary in the pristine wilderness of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. I've traveled in all 48 contiguous states, and only have Alaska and Hawaii remaining to see the entire U.S. I have a great deal of snake and spider hunting to do in the next seven months so each day I remain in winter conditions is a day less in the field. Alaska will be more about scenery and birds and mammals. The invertebrates will be savage mosquitoes and deer flies.

The delay of the arrival of my travel trailer has jumbled my itinerary. I had hoped to have over a month in Florida with both RV and truck before returning to Chicago to fly to Asia on February 8. Now my plan is to head to Florida in the truck within 24 hours of driving it off the lot, stopping in Atlanta for the first night along the way. I've been told the RV will come off the factory line on January 17. Guessing that it would be another week before it was delivered to the dealer and prepped, I am guessing that I'll have to leave southern Florida around the 23rd to head back here, pick up the RV and spend a day or two loading it and then I'll head back to Florida for a short time, store the RV near Tampa and return by the 7th to prepare for my two days worth of flights that will take me to Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and, finally, Kuching, Borneo. I'm arriving on my mate Mark's birthday and the first night in Borneo we are both getting traditional tribal hand-tapped tattoos. Mark already has eight or so and has no machine work on his body. I have about 80 hours worth of machine work on my arms and legs. This will be my first hand-tapped. After five days or so in Borneo, our entire group will be flying back to Kuala Lumpur on the Malaysian mainland to catch our short flight to Langkawi Island off the west coast, close to Thailand. The temperature there right now? Today's high will be 32ºC, which is 89ºF to Americans.

All the best, MJ