How’s that for alliteration?
Let’s recap the upswing trying to get out of Florida. The weather, sights, and people are so awesome in the Sunshine State that we got distracted and spent more time there than we had planned. But that is the beauty of free form traveling. If we find somewhere we like, we stay longer. Many RVers we’ve met think we’re crazy for this (and maybe we are) because many book their campsites a year in advance. Meh. We like a little more freedom than that. However, this did prove a little challenging as we tried to exit Florida.
On January 30th, we left Midway Campground at the Big Cypress National Preserve and took a drive down Alligator Alley AKA Tamiami Trail. I am not exaggerating when I say we saw at least one hundred “gatahs” (as Ross says it) on the side of the road. People are idiots and would swerve off the road to stop and look at them. Never mind that we are towing a 13,000lb tiny house on wheels behind you. Dingbat drivers! Don’t emergency brake unless there is an emergency! Rant over. We drove north and stayed at Lake Manatee State Park in Bradenton, Florida. Only one night and one site were available. We snatched it up and didn’t even unhitch. We spent most of that afternoon and evening entertaining the many curious campers. We highly recommend this state park to anyone wanting nice, private campsites.
The next day we headed to Hillsborough River State Park in Thornotosassa, Florida. One night, one site available again. Although we’re grateful for the night’s stay, this was not our favorite campground. We had to get real creative to park. It definitely wasn’t big rig friendly and honestly caused way more stress than it was worth. Time to get somewhere fun and spacious. A couple weeks prior, I had gone online to Florida’s Water Management Districts (WMD) website and easily reserved a FREE off-grid site. We stayed at Flying Eagle WMD in Inverness, Florida. It is a 1,600-acre nature preserve that we had all to ourselves. There were no other campers in the entire place so we had plenty of room at our equestrian campsite. By the way, if you ever plan to go to Florida’s WMD with a tiny house on wheels or RV, equestrian campsites are the ones that are big enough to host your rig. This is a little-known resource that we were so grateful for. If you want more info on how to do this, contact us here or on Facebook! We stayed two nights and explored the area. It was wonderful to be completely off-grid and away from people for some peace and quiet. However, our tall tiny house (street legal at 13 feet, 5 inches) navigating a bumpy dirt road and low-hanging branches was fun to drive in and out. Did I write fun? No, fun is not the correct description. Again, big props to Ross’s most excellent driving skills. My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it.
Keeping with the FREE theme, we moved on from our free WMD to a free Harvest Host stay in Tallahassee, FL. We were able to park at the Tallahassee Auto Museum, which is a massive collection of… collections. Mr. DeVoe Moore is the owner/collector and has a fascinating life story. We paid a minimal admission price to see an amazing assortment of everything: classic cars, motorcycles, Batmobiles, golf clubs, boat motors, knives, guns, dolls, cash registers, calculators, etc. Basically, if you can name it, he collects it and has every variation of it. I was completely enthralled and curious as to how someone can have so many varied interests and the money to be able to collect them all. We highly recommend it if you’re in the area.
Next, we headed to another free Harvest Host site at Three Oaks Winery in Vernon, Florida. It’s a small place north of Panama City. A lovely lady and her husband own the winery and store. She is a hoot. I am telling you, go for the free wine tasting, buy a bottle of their Carlos, and ask her to tell you the Forrest Gump goes to Heaven joke. That alone is worth the stop.
Let’s stop and count here. That’s… five days in a row of being off-grid running solely on our solar system, water catchment system, and occasionally a little boost from our Honda Companion 2000i generator. Want one? Get it here: HONDA EU2000i Companion Inverter Generator, 1600W
It is still very much a learning curve. Trying to fully understand the intricacies of our solar system is a challenge at times. We’re working on it. Anyhow, Ross noted that we’ve been in Florida for a month and we haven’t really been to a beach. He’s got a point. We decided to head to the Gulf in the panhandle. We love the Florida State Parks (still not cheap, but less expensive than RV resorts in this popular state). We decided to head to Grayton State Park. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and we could not have happened upon a more awesome location. We parked, set up, and took the bikes out. Side note: Have we mentioned our bike-babies yet? Ok, quickly. Aside from my man, my pups, and my tiny house, these bikes are my loves. Breck at Breck’s Bicycle Shop in Bowling Green, KY (www.brecksbikeshop.com) hooked us up with some killer Specialized mountain bikes. We’ll go into major details in a later post for all the bike geeks who are interested. Oh, I heart my bike. Back to business. At Grayton, we biked everywhere. I now completely understand why may people have to 30A bumper stickers. 30A is the road that runs parallel to the beach in the panhandle. There are such cute shops, cafes, and restaurants along this road. No wonder it is a major vacation destination. We went to an awesome coffee shop, Bad Ass Coffee, for a caffeine binge before biking to The Red Bar. This local place was crawling with people from all walks of life. It was a nice social scene, so we pre-Super Bowled here before biking to The Craft Bar to watch the first half of the [crazy] game and get some grub. Seriously though, that was a fun game to watch, right? We biked back to the tiny house at Grayton to hang out with the pups and watch the insane ending to the Super Bowl. Ever wonder if we have problems parking our THoW? Up until this point, February 6th, I would have told you no. We haven’t had any major issues until then. We were supposed to move sites at Grayton (a consequence of not reserving early, free form travel, etc.). Well… we tried. We tried for close to an hour to back the beast into our new assigned spot. Nope. Not gonna happen. The site was at a perfect perpendicular T with no entrance angle. Without total destruction of the trees or the tiny, we were not going to get in there. And with no other open sites, we had to leave. The people in the front office were so sweet and understanding. They called up the road for us to see if they had any available sites, which, thankfully, they did. So, we headed off to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Although Grayton was nice (and cheaper), Topsail was so worth the change. It was truly a blessing in disguise. We parked, unhitched, set up, drove into to Destin for errands, came back, and entertained lots of curious campers for the rest of the evening. The next morning, we biked the ¾ mile to the beach and relaxed and read then biked into town for some lunch.
I miss the Florida weather, y’all. Sunshine all the time. But it was about this time at lunch that the sky began to darken. Hmm. Time to bike back home to the park. We got home safely and dry (no worries), but then the bottom fell out of the sky. Remember the tornado and bad weather that hit east New Orleans? Yeahhhh. That was the weather we got in the Florida panhandle. On the bright side, our water catchment system filled up well. And the tiny house (and solar panels) survived our first hail storm. Yep. HAIL. Dang it. Not any bigger than a Gobstopper (aww, remember Gobstoppers?), but hail that could do damage nonetheless. We survived. Tiny survived. It’s all good.
I guess it’s time to leave Florida. The rest of the U.S., you’ve got a lot to live up to. Whatcha got?