Why leave a good site?


Normally when we get somewhere we spend relatively little time at the campground. Except for when we are in national parks, we’re usually just maintaining a site as a base of operations while we go do other things.  But a few parks are exceptions, such as this one.   I don’t want to rub it in for my northern readers, who have recently been plunged into the harsh reality of a long dark winter with the end of Daylight Savings Times and the beginning of November gloom in many areas … but it has been so ideal here at Henderson Beach that we’ve simply had no motivation to go elsewhere.

I mean, the weather is perfect, the campground is half empty, there are no bugs, the beach conditions are superb, and absolutely nothing has happened to disturb the peace all week.  Why would we leave?

destin-campsite-1.jpgIn fact, that’s the question we have been asking ourselves today.  I paid for four nights and that means are scheduled to leave on Thursday.  But we’ve kicked around some ideas for our next week and realized that we really could stay here for one more day before the weekend crowds show up.  So I’ll go to the campground office in the morning and see if they’ve already sold our site to someone else.

It’s a nice site, but then they are all nice here.  We’ve got a huge curved pull-through that could easily fit two Airstreams our length.  The natural Florida seaside greenery provides a nice privacy hedge.  We could be nudists in the trailer all day with the curtains open and nobody would notice.  Sounds like fun, but at night it’s a little chilly for that.

destin-watching-sunset.jpgWith no motivation to leave the campground, our trips afield have been limited to laundry and a half-day I spent at the local Panera Bread borrowing their high-speed Internet.   If we get tired of being around the Airstream, the beach is a three-minute scenic stroll down the boardwalk.  destin-sunset.jpgEvery day we’ve gone there in the late afternoon to search for shells and build sand castles, and stayed until the last vestiges of the orange sun sink into the sea around 5 o’clock.

So today we roused ourselves around lunchtime to at least see something in Destin, and that something was a gelato shop.  Gelato, as they will tell you, is 93% fat-free, which might make it sound healthy but doesn’t that mean it’s 7% fat? Well, no matter, gelato is really good stuff and we eat it whenever we encounter a city that has it. Half the fun of gelato is that it comes in a wild variety of flavors, so making your choice is a momentous decision worthy of a solid ten minutes of pondering and sampling.

destin-testing-gelato.jpgEventually I settled on two scoops of creme caramel, while Emma got a hazelnut chocolate on top and frozen vanilla with mixed berry on the bottom.  Eleanor had pistachio, chocolate with hot chili pepper, and Italian butter pecan.  All were good, but I thought the chili spice in the chocolate was a little over the top.  Eleanor loved it.

It was tempting to bring a quart home with us, but our little RV freezer is already packed full.  Eleanor has been stocking up on various “things” in freezer bags. I can’t tell what anything is, except the ones that are clearly labeled, and even those are mysterious to me.  They’re not actual ready-to-eat foods, they’re all ingredients of other things. So I’m basically shut out of the freezer, because I don’t have a clue what to do with mirepoix and such things.  It’s a test of trust — I have to be confident that someday all of those odd little packages will become fantastic edible meals on nights when we are boondocking and need something for dinner that is convenient and good.

Having completed our obligatory expedition onto the strip of Emerald Coast Parkway (Rt 98) that defines Destin, we felt justified in returning to the Airstream and the beach.  Emma built one more small castle (doomed by the rising tide, as all of them have been) before sunset and that was it for the day.

Nights are becoming noticeably longer, even down here in Florida.  This time of year we tend to watch more movies, because it’s usually chilly outside after sunset even in the south, and there’s often little else to do after dark in the kinds of places we camp.  When we were full-timing, this was the most challenging time of year.  It’s hard to keep an active kid entertained and not exploding with excess energy all winter in 200 square feet.  Sightings of available child-playmates are rare in campgrounds this time of year. Looking back, I wonder how we did it.

Looking down the road, I see some things between here and Tucson that I am looking forward to, but the next 600 miles or so won’t be much fun.  As I mentioned before, we’re going to give Louisiana a pass this time through.  (I lived in Baton Rouge for five years and explored the state quite a bit, so it’s not a huge loss this time.)   That means we’re facing some long dull days in the car.  It’s easier to stay right here at the white sandy beach than face the reality of our next few hops.  It would be nice to stay here and soak up the sunshine & peace forever. But reality intrudes on every fantasy eventually, and the long nights are a hint that we need to get going.

Henderson Beach State Park


On this trip I’ve been trying a new model of travel, where we try to make fewer stops and stay longer.  In the past, we had a tendency to move on fairly regularly, often every 2-3 days.  That worked for our needs when were full-timing, but now I find that I need longer pauses between towing days in order to get a reasonable amount of work done.

So having left the Sword Swallowers’ Wedding in southern Georgia, we decided to take a few days on the Florida panhandle to visit some of the nicest beaches anywhere.   A few years ago we would have stayed two days and moved on, but this time I prepaid for four nights.  The plan was to settle in and have plenty of time to enjoy the beach at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, FL — between bouts of work.

That has worked out well so far.  I’ve been working for about six hours in the morning and early afternoon while Emma does her school work, then we all cut out for a couple of hours at the beach, and then after sunset (5 p.m. right now), I have some time in the evening to do a bit more of the office chores.

I’ve said it before, but it’s really nice to stay in the Airstream at a Florida beachfront state park.  There are several good ones in the panhandle, including St George Island, St. Joe’s, St. Andrew’s, Grayton, Topsail, and Henderson.  We’ve stayed at four of them so far, and it’s hard to pick a favorite since they’re all spectacular in their own way. Our campsite is a short walk down a boardwalk over the dunes, to the beach.

And the sand of the panhandle is unlike any other I’ve seen in North America: stunning 99% pure white quartz.  It squeaks under your feet, and feels like soft sugar.  I always want to take a truckload home with me. The water is clear, and it combines with the white sand to yield that sort of blue-green idyllic surf that you usually only see in movies.


Last night we were graced by a visit from Alison Turner, a photographer who is currently traveling the US with a tent and her dog Max.  Alison has lately been providing photos to Airstream Life, and you’ll see her work in our upcoming issues with increasing frequency.  She had emailed me from Tallahassee, and I invited her to join us at Henderson Beach.  A few hours later she was here having dinner in our Airstream.  It’s amazing what she has been able to do with just a tent and her friendly personality.  It takes a durable person to travel that way, and I have to respect her for it — even though she admitted she missed her bed and is in a bit of a hurry to get home to California!

The weather forecast for Destin this week is just about perfect.  We’re getting days in the 70s, nights in the 50s, and nothing but sunshine and dry air.  Amazingly, this is the “off season,” so there are plenty of available spaces in the campground most days for $30 per night.  The beach is virtually empty all day despite balmy breezes and dolphins jumping off shore, because it’s “too cold” for locals.  Nobody but northerners gets in the water now, but for us it is the peak of summer and we’ve got the whole place to ourselves.

destin-fl-sunset-beach-house-2010-11.jpgFor those who are interested in the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill, we can report that we’ve spotted no tar balls, oil sheen, or much of anything else.  A careful eye will see pinhead-sized clumps of tar at some places, but if you weren’t thinking about it you wouldn’t notice them.  We had to search for a few minutes to collect a handful of little tar bits, which is great because it would be hard to find a bigger insult to these pristine white sands than to be mucked up with oil residue.

We have made a strategic decision to zip through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana on this trip. Corpus Christi has been a stop we’ve long wanted to make, and every time we go through Texas we skip it.  Well, not this time.  We’ll go camping on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore.

But to make the time for that detour, something had to go. When we leave here on Thursday, we will have just about two weeks left and we still have 1,825 miles to go, counting the trip to Corpus Christi.  So our routine will be zoom-zoom … long pause … zoom-zoom … long pause … zoom zoom & then we’ll be home.

Alison asked us last night if we were looking forward to getting back to Tucson, and both Eleanor and I said: “Yes and no.”  It will be nice to stretch out in the comforts of our larger home base, but we’ll miss the invigoration of visiting different places and people.  It has always been that way, and I suppose that’s why we never stay parked for too long.

Sword swallowers’ wedding

We’re heading west.  From here on, the Airstream’s nose will be pointed into the wind, heading for the sunset, and home base.

Our Disney World vacation complete, we zipped up to Green Cove Springs and got our business done there, spent a night, and moved onward to Thomasville GA (about 30 miles north of Tallahassee) for the event of the season: The Sword Swallowers’ Wedding.

sword-swallowers-wedding-poster2.jpgAfter many years together, our friends Alex and Charon have finally tied the knot in a very lovely ceremony of their own design.  At least, that’s what I was told.  Since we had to drive about 180 miles to get to the wedding site, we didn’t actually make it there in time to see it ourselves.  We arrived about three hours after the actual event, just in time to see a few toasts and help eat the leftovers.  (I’m sure it was very nice, but I have to admit it’s more my speed to just show up for the food.  I’m sort of heathen that way.)

Still, it was worth the detour from I-10 to drop in and see our friends on their very happy day.  We won’t see them again until we meet up in California after Christmas.  Being both trailerites and sideshow folk, Alex and Charon have a very interesting circle of friends.  I always feel very ordinary when surrounded by their other, more colorful, artistic and talented associates.  This event was no different.  When we arrived they were all arranged in the living room clothed in fantastic garb, a mix of Victorian and Renaissance with little touches and symbols ranging from Oddfellows to motorcycle clubs.  As always, everyone was friendly, talkative, and fun, and they quickly made us feel at home.

We have a copy of the “wedding invitation,” an old fashioned letterpress poster, which will be framed and added to our treasured collection of road memorabilia.  It’s not every day you get invited to a wedding like this.  No swords were swallowed (Alex commented to Charon, “You’re not working today”) but it was still wonderfully unusual.

The hosts of the wedding were kind enough to offer courtesy parking on the street in front of their house, complete with an electrical cord.  We’ll spend the night here and then mosey back down to the panhandle of Florida.  I need to get back to work (making up for taking vacation last week) and so I’d like to find a comfortable spot to settle in for a few days.  There are several great beachfront state parks between Port St Joe and Pensacola, and we’ll be arriving on a Sunday afternoon in the off-season, so our chances of scoring a spot are excellent.

The climate has turned cool rather suddenly.  We were experiencing humid days in the mid-80s last week, until a cold front came through on Friday morning and turned northern Florida into something more like North Carolina.  Now it’s dipping into the upper 30s at night, and days are barely breaking 60.  We’ll be running the catalytic heater all night tonight and probably for the next several nights.  Tomorrow I will have to find some place to pick up a tank of propane.  I still don’t know where we are headed exactly, but Fall has finally caught up with us, and that may be the biggest factor in our trip planning from here on.

Lost in Disney World

universal-orlando-editor.jpgThe blog is sort of on hiatus this week, as we are taking a vacation.  During the 11-day marathon stay in Tampa, I finished 98% of the work that I’m required to do in order to see an issue of Airstream Life to successful completion, just in time for us to head to Disney World’s Ft. Wilderness Campground for five nights of camping.

For me, a true vacation in the Airstream is almost over-the-top self-indulgence.  To be sure, nearly every day we spend in it is an adventure of some sort, even though I have to work as we go.  It’s even more special in those rare times when I can disregard the daily flood of emails and not worry about some impending deadline — at least, not much.  I get to see the Airstream as most other people see it.

At times like this I think, “No wonder people are so in love with their RVs.”  They see them only in the good times, when they are breaking away for a quiet weekend at their favorite park, or traveling, or on vacation.  The shape of the Airstream is so visually unique that just stepping inside brings up associations with good times and relaxation. Even with all of the tribulations of work and ordinary life that have happened to us while traveling in it, I still see the Airstream as a marvelous escape craft.

universal-orlando-ascii.jpgI put the blog on hold for the past few days because we are having a Disney vacation. If you’ve ever been here, you know what that means.  It’s a surreal experience, like Las Vegas, but with life-size cartoon characters instead of slot machines. Cynically, I could say that the end result is the same (pockets emptied as quickly as if they’d used a Shop Vac), but you don’t come here to worry about money.  You come here to forget about the real world and, as Wally Byam said, “Mentally lose one’s self.”  It’s easy to get lost here.  So in the interest of getting lost for a while, I’ve dropped the habit of writing about our experiences, in favor of simply having experiences.

We will re-emerge tomorrow and find ourselves again.  This is our fourth day in the theme parks and I’m starting to feel like it’s time to rejoin the real world.  Some rapid travels will be the first order of business. I hate rushing but Friday and Saturday will inevitably be high-speed days.  We need to complete a couple more pieces of business up in Green Cove Springs, then point the Airstream west for the next three weeks. After that we should be free to slow down a little and make some good stops from the Florida panhandle through New Mexico.