Little Moments

We often get asked why we decided to go on the road. Why we gave up our dream home and left our jobs behind. We generally get into discussions about life and death. The uncertainty each day brings, that life should really be lived to it’s fullest. We hear people say they wish they could do what we are doing and really you can do anything you put your heart and mind into. We still can’t believe where we are now but we are and we wouldn’t change a thing.

But, one of the things that keeps us motivated to continue our adventures and our travels are the little moments. The little moments we get with people, new friends we make and most importantly with family we don’t get to see very often. Yes, the landscapes, birds, and just the traveling alone is motivation enough but seeing family makes every mile that much more worth it. We have family spread across the country and some of them we haven’t seen (or even met) in quite some time.

We recently spent some time in Weatherford, Texas with Jeff’s cousin Amy and her sweet little family. We hadn’t seen Amy in quite a few years and neither of us had met her husband or their adorable little girl either. They were all over joyed to have us in their home and were wonderful hosts as well. We stayed up late talking, watching TV and playing with their little girl. Amy even brought out some old photographs from when they were kids to look at, it was really great. The Berry’s fed us unbelievably well, our tummy’s were so full each day. Jeff and I had such a great time there, it was hard to leave.

Tucson, Arizona is where our travels took us next. Jeff’s sister Pam and her sweet family live here. We arrived in Tucson on Wednesday morning, just in time for their youngest to get out of kindergarten. We wanted to surprise the girls, so we sat in Pam’s car while she fetched Annabelle from school. We did this again later that afternoon when it was time to pick up their oldest, Maddy, from school. It was a priceless moment to see the expressions on their faces. While on our way to pick Maddy up, Annabelle held my hand and rested her head on my shoulder the whole way there.  The girls seem really excited for us to be here. (or maybe just excited about the dog 😉) We plan on visiting here in Arizona for awhile and we’re both very happy to be able to spend time Pam and her family.

Family is helping map our travels really. After Arizona, we have my niece and her husband in California to see, Jeff’s Grammy in Oregon (as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins), and Jeff’s other sister Rachel and her sweet family in Washington. Each one of these visits will be special as we don’t get see everyone as much as we’d like to. And it will be little moments and memories shared with them that helps keep us going on our adventures.

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Us with the girls
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Annabelle and Uncle Jeff ‘hunting’ for lizards.
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Maddy holding Leonard

Entertainment on the Road

Vanna is proving to be quite the beast on the road! She’s been pretty amazing to us so far and we’re getting more and more acquainted to life on the road. Walmart parking lots, public restrooms, long stretches of road, and dirty feet are becoming quite familiar. Routine is a big key in keeping things going smoothly in such tight quarters, Jeff and I work really well as a team and I think that also helps. Of course we’ve had a few days where we’ve been a bit cranky to each other but that’s expected when you’re in a van for hours.

Finding entertainment has been a fun challenge for us. There are days where we have no particular destination, so we just drive aimlessly looking for something to do. We use to just go for drives all the time back home for no reason and would be completely content with our day but now with living in the van the aimless driving can get a little frustrating. Jeff’s really good at randomly making noises or poking me if it gets too quiet in here but I can’t say that I’m really any better so music has been a great savior there. We also recently bought a crossword puzzle book, which we can do together while driving and it passes time quite well.

Since we’re on a budget, we often search online for free things to do within the city we are in, or spend a lot of time at city parks relaxing if we are done driving. Art festivals are a great way to spend the day in a nice town and usually have freed admission. We have also found some cities offer free admission into some museums as well. We do hike or go on a lot of nature trails as well. We also like walking around downtown of older towns to look at the old architecture.

And of course there is an array of nightlife activities in most cities, but again we’re trying to conserve our cash. It would be easy to spend all our money on going out eat and getting drinks but we’ve been trying really hard to only eat the food we buy at the grocery store. We have spoiled ourselves a couple times, no restaurants just fast food. And Jeff’s mom sent money to us specifically for food so we got a gift card at Subway, nice treat once in awhile when we’re really feeling hungry. (thank you again!)

When we park Vanna for the night, but we’re not quite ready for sleep, we do have books and our computers to ease our restless minds. Jeff will often go over photos, and I try to write. Walmart also offers free WiFi, so when we’re parked there we can connect to Netflix or stream something to watch before bed.

Some days life on the road can seem boring but honestly it’s one the most exciting things I’ve done. All places we’re seeing, people meeting, and family we’re seeing. It’s all such a great experience!

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Annoying Jeff with the shark claw
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Dinner and a movie
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Manko seems quite impressed with our crossword time

 

 

Florida: part 2

After our exploration of the Everglades, we headed North up the East coast of Florida, or so I thought. My back was really hurting so I decided to crawl in the back and lay on our bed, I had no intentions of napping but quickly fell asleep as I snuggling with the dog. Well, I’m normally in charge of helping Jeff navigate so he doesn’t wreck while looking at the atlas or the phone, I had thought he knew where we were going when I crawled in the back, but awoke to the sound of a ladies voice. Some how Jeff got onto a toll road that was taking us back to Naples, the complete opposite way we were heading! As I laid in bed I could hear him trying to explain where we going and she insisted we had to pay the toll and to continue. Frustrated Jeff paid the $3 and we went on the parkway. Luckily about 20 miles into the drive there was a rest stop and we where able to turn around and go on the right way, just $3 less in our pockets.

We continued our way up the coast, going onto Jupiter for a jaw dropping drive. The houses there were huge and it’s amazing what people can do when they have too much money to spend. We were also able to find a couple parks we could take Manko to, I have felt so bad she has been cooped up in the van while we enjoy the beach. It was also Jeff’s birthday, so we decided to splurge and we got a hotel in Fort Pierce. It was nice to sleep on a big bed and lounge in jammies without worrying someone may peer through the van windows. We caught up on ‘The Walking Dead’ and just relaxed for the evening, it was great!

Jeff and I were both really wanting to go camping, so we decided to head to the Ocala National Forest. On our map it shows the forest has a giant brackish lake, Lake George, so we were determined to find the lake. In Idaho we’re used to easily getting to just about every lake, creek, river and stream. And camping is also very easy to access in our home state, free camping at that too. Well, as we were driving into the forest we were noticing, camping may not be as easy as we thought. We found a state park in the forest, however it did not allow dogs at all, so that was out. There was one or two pay campsites, however we’re really trying to save our cash and they looked pretty full too. A lot of the prime lake areas were private land with homes, so we kept driving. I finally found some roads on my phone that looked like they would take us to the lake and we started going. At first it seemed easy but then the roads got sandier and coming from Idaho we’re not too familiar with driving in sand and especially with 2-wheel drive. Realizing we weren’t going to make it to the lake and we may get lost, we decided to find a pull out spot for the night. Like I’ve said before, Florida forests are very dense and much different than what we’re use to. The areas are often so thick, there are hardly any walking paths for exploring. We tried to walk around but ended up just sitting in the van discussing how much we loved and missed the mountains.

We headed to the Daytona area in the morning to visit with my younger siblings. I saw my siblings a couple years ago when they came to Idaho, however Jeff has never met them, so I was really excited for our visit. We arrived at my brother’s place and we were greeted with open arms. They had just moved into a new apartment just days before, but my brother and his girlfriend were the most gracious and wonderful hosts. We were able to park our van at their place and stayed for a couple days, we felt so comfortable there. My sister came over one night as well and we all had a big dinner and shared great conversations. Jeff and I really enjoyed our time there.

We spent about 12 days or so in Florida soaking up the sun and found a lot of birds. We never found a manatee but did see a lot of gators. We also learned about ‘no see ums’ and we’re so glad to not have those in Idaho! Florida was beautiful but we’re now onto to explore a new area.

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Jeff and I with my younger brother Chris and his girlfriend Brittany (forgot to get a photo w/ my sister)

Florida: part one

We’ve been spending time going down the West Coast of Florida making our way to the Everglades. It’s been a lovely drive, stopping at various parks and just about any place looking for Manatees on this silly quest to find one. No such luck yet! We have seen plenty of gators though, some in the strangest of places too.

We stayed at a state park while making our trek down, Hillsborough River State Park. It was lovely, the forests in Florida are so dense and beautiful, Jeff and I keep waiting for monkeys to jump out. (Some of the birds even sound like monkeys.) Our stay at the state park was for only one night, but we were able to explore a bit the night we stayed and met a nice family while we were walking about. The next morning we were stuck in the van due to rain but we got showers and that made our rainy day all better!

We’ve also been spending time exploring different cities, and walking along a few different beaches. The beaches have been great birding areas for us, one of the funniest birds we’ve seen was a ‘Monk Parakeet’ or a Quaker. As bird lovers, we also have a pet parrot so it was funny to see a bird we’d generally see in the pet shop outside building a nest.

Our dog Manko has been able to enjoy some time at the beach too. We took her to a dog beach past Fort Meyers Beach and she had a blast! At first we thought she’d be miserable as it was windy and she’s a little bit of a princess but as soon as she realized the leash was off and she could run, she was off! She’s been cooped up in the van for so long, a lot of the areas we’ve been exploring haven’t allowed dogs so we were excited about this beach. She met some friends, ran and ran and ran. It was great to see her be a dog for a little while.

We finally made our way all way down to the Everglades! Our first night we stayed in the Big Cypress area, parking our van in lot for back country parking. We were nervous we’d get told to move as it wasn’t a real campground, but I think one of the best parts of living in the van is people don’t always realize you’re in there. We weren’t bothered at all that night, only noises of some critter investigating our smells around the van. The next morning we drove into the actual Everglades National Park, stopping at the various visitors centers, then one of the big boardwalks however we were rained out and ended up sitting in the van for quite some time watching people and birds. Given our weather situation we decided to stay in the van for the day driving around and ended up at the Flamingo campground at the very end of the park.

We had planned on originally going on this big trip of ours in June but had decided last minute to leave sooner and one of the reasons was that we read the ‘dry season’ at the park would be better for bugs (aka relentless mosquitoes) A park ranger had warned us the Flamingo area had more bugs then the other campground we were originally going to stay at but that one didn’t have showers and we’d have to drive the 30 miles to Flamingo for showers anyway. So we figured a few extra bugs would be worth the 30 miles and the showers. Since it had poured rain pretty much all day, the mosquitoes were everywhere and it seemed that no amount of bug spray kept them away. So we quickly made dinner and spent the rest of the night in the van. We were entertained though with about a dozen Black Vultures going campground to campground scavenging, they truly are vultures.

Our second day at the Everglades was a much nicer day, no rain and the sun shined down on us with lots of warmth! We made our way back through the park, very eagerly looking for that Florida Panther. We found lots of birds, of course many gators and stopped on the side of the road two separate times for a soft shelled turtles. The park is very pretty, some areas even look like an Africa Savannah, giraffe and elephants should be stampeding through. Or the other areas of hammocks and swampy lands are so dense, you can only imagine what is lurking around the corner or peering through the vines at you.

There are many things to there at the park but only a few if you’re only exploring by foot. They offer many areas for canoes/kayaks etc. We only explored by foot so we felt there was so much more to be seen. If you’ve ever wanted to go, you definitely should, there really is no other place like it. And we must recommend going during the dry season if you don’t want to be pestered with those relentless mosquitoes!

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Yes, please swim with caution
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The ‘Monk Parakeet’ building his nest
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Warning signs everywhere, ‘Vultures may destroy your car’
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So many beautiful birds on our walks
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Soft Shelled Turtle, so ugly he’s cute!

Mucus, Pepto and the Open Road

Something that probably never crossed our minds when planning this adventure was the chance of one of us or even both of us becoming sick while on the road. We were worried about how I would tolerate the traveling as far as my back and pain was concerned, but getting sick never crossed our minds.

I happened to have gotten a head cold right before we left, which of course would happen to me. The cold lasted for about ten days or so, just the typical head cold symptoms of congestion, coughing, etc. Jeff then got it too and he’s the captain of this vessel. So, with the captain sick, we were stuck. We moved on slowly through towns or suburbs, stopping in grocery store parking lots or parks to let him rest. Jeff’s head cold finally gave way after a few days and we were able to really continue onward with our travels.

As we were both finally starting to feel better, we were getting excited again about being in Florida. The area is so beautiful and the forests are so dense. Well, we rejoiced a bit too soon as a little flu bug or something decided to torment our bellies. We weren’t quite sure what was causing us to feel so ill though. Our diets had been completely turned upside down, the stress from traveling maybe, or even the water we refilled with at that last state park? Who knows?

We did know that living in a van and not having the luxury to use your own bathroom was something we truly missed. I had the blessing to have been in a campground with facilities when I became ill, however Jeff has not. This ‘bug’ has hit him much harder and he’s had to use many public restrooms and most recently vomited outside the van in the Walmart parking lot.

Pepto and Imodium have since become our friends. We are both feeling much better and after this little bout, we have decided if this will become a new life style for us then we may be trading Vanna for a small RV. When you’re feeling ill, having a bathroom, even if just a small one is better than using a truck stop restroom that has seen more truckers than a toilet wand.