We are a nomadic couple in our forties living in our RV with our dog and two cats.
We work from home for our cash, campground host for our site and utilities and we recently 'traded up' to a smaller RV (Camper Van style) to allow us more mobility and flexibility.
We completed a cross-country trip in the summer of 2015 of over 10,000 miles in about six months. We hope to complete a similar trip in 2016.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Emerald Coast Crazy Making
So, with a bushel of peaches between us, we meander down to
Florida’s Gulf Coast.
We plan on spending a couple of days wandering along US
Highway 98 starting at Panama City Beach all the way to Mobile, Alabama. There are some fantastic state parks and a
handful of beach towns that influenced me a great deal while growing up.
Destin Beach, was a family favorite for years, most of my
summertime memories are split between my grandparents in Salt Lake City and our
little beach condo in Destin. We stayed
at the Holidome for years, until they opened SunDestin in 1985, where you could buy a condo and rent
it out for most of the year to pay your mortgage while saving the prime dates
for your own personal retreat, or you could rent aforementioned condo for a
week or two at premium prices.
There wasn’t much to do in Destin back in those days, except
play at the beach or at the tacky Big Kahuna water park across the street- not
that we minded hanging out at the beach all day and all night. That was always perfectly
fine by me.
Flash forward 27 years to major freneticism…
From Panama City Beach all the way to Gulf Shores, the
summer crowds fill the newly paved and widened streets, which are flanked on
both sides by brand new shopping malls and master planned inclusive communities,
major resort hotel chains with architecture to rival that of Vegas. Anything
and everything that one could want is crammed into every possible open space,
all competing for your attention (and dollars), while crowding out the ocean
views and powdery white sand.
There was not a single space at any RV park or campground to
be had for sixty miles. It was hot and muggy and threatening to rain, which
meant that, not only would we be hot, sticky and uncomfortable while
boondocking (sleeping in your RV or camper in a spot- usually at a Walmart or
truck stop- while not plugged into shore power. In other words, no A/C), but
there was a likely chance that we would have to either close our windows and
nearly suffocate if it started to rain, or risk soaking all of our bedding in
So, while only the second day into our RV adventure, we gave
in and found a shitty beach motel that had one vacancy (it was also Friday
night- the third one of the summer- great timing) for the low, low price of
$120. When we pulled into our parking
space, the neighbor in the next room, was sitting out on the sidewalk, drinking
beer and throwing trash into the bay to see if he could make it from his seat
to the water. He was also yelling at his girlfriend about pizza, and he had a stack of cans as a testament to how long he had been
The motel was shabby and run down, but, to it’s credit, the
sheets and bedding were clean and new, if nothing else in the room was. There
was also a large raptor feather tucked lovingly into the lights above the
mirror- we don’t know to this day if some kid found a Pelican feather and forgot
about it when they checked out, or if it was some kind of ritualistic symbolism.
All I know is that it was the first time I ever slept in a hotel room with a
Shitty hotel room in Ft. Walton Beach
Eager to get the hell out of the craziness of the Gulf Coast, we made a bee line for Gulf Shores and
turned inland to Foley, AL in a bid to hit Mobile before dark. The heat and
humidity were unbearable and between the terrible crowds and stifling weather, we never once managed to
put a toe to ocean. We just moved into survival mode and ran for solid ground.
We did enjoy some parts of the coast and I asked Katrina to
allow us to visit again when the weather and the crowds were both more manageable.
We did notice that our coach A/C- which we had promised to use
for only emergencies in a bid to save gas and keep us acclimated to the outside
temperatures so that we could boondock more comfortably (a notion that lasted
36 hours into the trip)- was not as cold as it was earlier in the day. I
remembered the previous owner warning me that the coach A/C needed to be
charged once in a while. He had it checked out and swore that there was no
leak, but we would need to get some XYZ123 (R134) once a summer to charge it. Since
I never planned to use the A/C, because air conditioning is for wussies, I
brushed aside the thought.
We found an auto parts store and ($50 later) had the XYZ123
(R134) canister and doohickey (charging
system) in hand, we charged the system all by ourselves. The helpful employee mentioned
that the compressor was charged because the conduction hose (uh-huh?) was cold,
but he noticed that the Schrader valve was leaking (yes, of course, the
shredder bulb is leaking, yes…) and would just need to be replaced to stop the
leak, which was very slow and nothing to worry about anyway.
He also mentioned that we should have the A/C on Max setting
for the first few minutes to cool the
cab down enough for the A/C not to labor… I have literally lived without A/C
for the last four years and completely forgot about MAX. I had it on bi-level
in 101 degree heat because I wanted it to blow on my feet to keep the cat under
my driver’s seat cold- yes, I have a cat under my seat at all times while
driving… and he needs to be cool… he’s fat and black and he pants when he gets
too hot, so I have it on bi-level, dammit…
We decided (now that we were cool and comfortable) to catch
up with US 98 again and drive around Point Clear, through Fairhope and into
Mobile, AL. Katrina was never really keen
on the drive through Mobile, but after twenty-two years together, I wanted to
share with her a part of my history from before we met. I know so much about
her youth and childhood, simply because we’ve lived less than 30 miles from her
childhood homes for most of our marriage, and I wanted those fragmented pieces of
my life BK (my own take on the Greco-Roman calendar) to finally fall into place
as shared experiences.
I am so glad that she agreed to see Fairhope and Mobile
because, much to our mutual shock, she was enchanted by both communities.
Fairhope is a well-to-do, resort style area in Baldwin County, across the bay
from Mobile, and many of the elite live
over there, in large homes with well-manicured lawns. But the town proper and
the neighborhood surrounding it, are much like St. Augustine or Park City-
clean, artsy shops set in a beautiful outdoor setting flanked by historic
There are wide sidewalks and biking trails everywhere- which
is weirdly one of Katrina’s most adamant requirements for our next city to
settle in. There must be sidewalks and easy-to-use multi purpose paths around
the city. It’s the one things that keeps Myrtle Beach from the top of her list
and, as much as she loves it there, the lack of user-friendly (meaning, that
the walkways go somewhere that you actually
want to go) walkways are at the very top of her cons list for Myrtle Beach.
Mobile has changed a great deal in the last twenty-three
years, but the historic district is still charming, if a bit more run-down than
I remembered. I lived in four places in three years in Mobile, and we visited
them all, one by one.
The house where I lived on Dauphin Street. it's now a law office.
The visit for me was surreal, because my memories were
selective and established- meaning that, in my mind, nothing had changed in 23
years and the day-to-day details of life in Mobile had become hazy and
indistinct. I knew that Mobile had changed- cities change drastically in as
little as six months- but with no frame of reference, I had no concept for what
Changing the neural pathways of memory is an uncomfortable, if
fascinating experience. I kept marveling at things I had forgotten about or remembered
incorrectly- or simply remembered differently at nineteen versus what I perceived
at forty-two. The trip created a mental conundrum in my head that was kind of
cool to witness, first-hand. Feeling my
mind sort and assimilate the new sensory information on such a large scale was
titillating. I felt my perception change a little bit and I am grateful to have shared that
experience with Katrina.
Next episode: Chickasabogue; Instinct on the Atchafalaya,
and the rest of the Gulf Coast…