OFF THE GRID

Sorry for not writing sooner. 

September 1, I traveled to western Virginia to host at James River VA State Park.  For the first time in my camping experience, I was really off the grid.  I wasn’t able to make it the full month of September, as planned.   Yes, I am a news junkie, and having no radio or internet reception, I was going a bit mad.   In the four years, I have been a vagabond in my Airstream trailer it has been extremely rare not to have internet thanks to my AT&T hotspot.  The point of going camping is to get away from it all.  But at James River VA State Park while beautiful, was way too remote for me.   I thought I could handle being off the grid for a month, NAUGHT.  I had to drive 20 miles to Appomattox to get cell service.

After two weeks I was ready to get back to the coast, cell service, and the internet.  I prefer oceans to mountains anyway, however, rivers or lakes will do in a pinch.

Each trip into Appomattox to check-in with Mom and download email I passed this sign.  In these days of our divided country, I found this sign unsettling.  Were we ever really reunited?

August at First Landing Campground at Virginia Beach at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay was great!  I was able to swim every day after my hosting duties of cleaning out the fire pits, and I could shop at Trader Joe’s!  What’s not to like?  First Landing is my first choice for hosting in 2021.

I had a Karen’ moment on my first day.  In my lifelong camping experiences, campgrounds are generally full of white people, some flying confederate flags.  Recently, I listened to an NPR podcast Being Outdoorsy when Black or Brown, discussing why camping is so full of white people who are amazed when they see black or brown people.   Of course, we all know about the bird watcher in Central Park. 

So on my first day at First Landing, I was very surprised to see so many different ethnicities: Vietnamese, Philopenas, Koreans, browns and blacks.  Why shouldn’t everyone enjoy camping and love of the out-of-doors, regardless of ethnicity?   Go to any city park on a Sunday afternoon and see who is enjoying our public green space.

My ‘Karen’ moment came when I asked a large group of Asian campers, “is this a family gathering?”  Opps, seems there is a huge Asian population in VA, and they like to camp!   It is our diversity that makes America really GREAT!

When I lived in Washington, D.C. I often walked to the National Mall.  I was always so taken by the hundreds of tourists from all over the world who came to have their pictures taken in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.  There aren’t adequate words to explain the symbolism of our Capitol to the rest of the world.  I only hope we can survive the divisiveness of our current politics and restore our nation as a beacon of light and hope, not hate.

In the last four years, I have enjoyed some of the most beautiful places the U.S. has to offer.  Our National Parks, as well as state and local public parks, as Ken Burns, portrayed in his documentary America’s Best Idea.

I will be resuming my hosting schedule on October 1, when I  will be at Kiptopeke VA State Park.  Then on to Myrtle Beach State Park for November and December.  All with cell and internet service, and beaches, I hope.

Bailing on James River has given me time to spend with family in N.C.  Becky and I are doing door hangers for the Democratic Pary of Wake County, and I voted early!  We are also sending voters postcards.  This will be the first election I haven’t gone door-to-door to actually talk to voters. 

I will be writing more about James River, so Stay tuned.

 

 

LIFE IN THE DAYS OF COVID-19, MASKS REQUIRED

Mom is locked in at Carolina Meadows; Robin is home on Long Island; Kerry, Buzz and Connor are social distancing in Anchorage; and Becky and Chuck are allowing me to visit on my days off from campground hosting.  I am happy to report my family is all healthy.

Niece Rachel and husband Adam are excited to be moving into their new home in Madison, WI.  Nephew David and Camilla stationed in Italy are awaiting the arrival of baby #2.  Our family Zoom calls cross time zones from Italy to Alaska.

I have been extraordinarily lucky after canceling my summer road trip to Maine to get plum campground hosting assignments on short notice.  Free campsite with full hook-ups for a month, a savings of over $900+.  Maggie is camp host extraordinaire; she must say hello to every camper wagging her tail and getting lots of belly rubs.

A few dead catfish left on the bank by inconsiderate fishermen, a few toilet malfunctions, and loss of power at some campsites on super hot days, because of airconditioning and other electrical surges, so far have been my emergencies.  Campers will knock on my door, and all I do is call the on-call ranger.  I have had two wonderful campsites at Westmoreland and Occoneeche, but Henderson Point on the North Carolina side of Kerr Reservoir wasn’t a good site and I had to cancel my hosting for August.  

No worries, as soon as I left Henderson Point there was a call for a hosting slot at Virginia Beach First Landing State Park, the scheduled host had a family emergency so I will fill in.  How lucky am I?  Then on to James River VA State Park, in September and Kiptopeke VA State Park, for October.

I am making a quick trip to Ashville, NC this weekend to visit Carole Travis friend and former SEIU colleague, from six feet away!  Hope a few of the micro-breweries Ashville is famous for are open with outdoor seating?  It might be a bit cooler in the mountains, as well with less humidity.  It will take me two days to drive from Ashville to Virginia Beach.  Will be wonderful to be on the beach again!

The really great news is I am confirmed at Myrtle Beach State Park for November and December.  This is a huge park and there are 3 other hosts for over 300 campsites, and it is expensive to boot.  So free camping is totally amazing and will help with paying my green fees! 

My motto: Gas, Groceries, and Green Fees!

I am happy to report that no cleaning of bathrooms is involved in any of my assignments.  I guess that would be the only silver lining of the COVID-19, state parks are being especially careful and have hired additional cleaning staff.  At both Westmoreland and Occoneeche State Parks, my duties were simple cleaning fire pits after campers left and twice a day making the rounds to see campers were in the correct sites.  Hosts are provided with utility golf carts.

Many of these parks have cabins to rent, so if east coast friends are looking for outdoor opportunities for social distancing check out the VA park website.

With the election fast approaching, I won’t be knocking on any doors.  I have worked door-to-door campaigns in Alaska, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  I hate phone banks, so glad activists are using handwritten postcards to reach out to voters.  The NAACP provides everything you need, stamps colored pens, a script (which you know I don’t follow), and 20 names and addresses.  Easy to do from any campsite!

In closing, I hope everyone is watching Mary Chapin Carpenter’s YouTube videos Songs from Home. Singing from her kitchen with her dog and cat as the audience, she closes each episode with, “Stay safe, stay healthy, stay mighty”.  I have adopted her closing, it seems very fitting in these challenging days.  So, you know what to do, “Stay safe, stay healthy, stay mighty”.

And of course, stay tuned for my next blog please subscribe by entering your email below Maggie’s picture on the right-hand side of the webpage.  

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Tropical Storms

Wake me up from this bad dream!  I am experiencing wild and crazy dreams, more than usual.  But nothing in my dreams ever envisioned a worldwide pandemic.  

I am still enjoying my extended stay at Jensen Beach, FL, and will be here until the end of June.  Two months longer than originally planned.  If you must be socially distance and quarantined Hutchinson Island ain’t to bad.  Ocean access even when public beaches are closed, and Michelle and Duane’s pool for afternoon swims.

Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that RV rentals and sales are through the roof.  In the days of the virus, who wants to fly commercial or stay in hotels?  Check out Outdoorsy, an Air B&B for campers near you!

As I wrote earlier my summer travel plans collapsed due to the virus. I was so looking forward to seeing OH, MI, WI, and ME friends and family.   After canceling best-laid plans and numerous campground reservations, I embarked on becoming a campground host.

Campground Hosts volunteer to augment the park staff, helping clean up campsites, greeting campers, selling firewood, and monitoring campers’ compliance with rules.  Keeping dogs on their leash (did you watch the YouTube video of Central Park, yikes), no loud parties during quiet hours, and in some assignments cleaning the bathhouses. You might recall my earlier career as a fleet service worker for Alaska Airlines, cleaning the biffy!  I always felt great comradery with the janitors I served while working for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  So cleaning toilets and showers for free camping seems like a fair exchange.  I have had 28 different jobs in my lifetime, and in my experience, you can do just about anything for a short time.  Although I have always had someone else clean my homes, since the day I was able to afford it.

But I digress.  I will be spending summer and fall in North Carolina working as a campground host at three different state parks.  I hope to be able to regale you, readers with some funny stories.  I hope they will all be funny.  All within driving distance of Chapel Hill and Cary where family lives.

Beginning July 1, I will be at the Cliffs of the Neuse State ParkNamed for the impressive cliffs overlooking the Neuse River, has been a landmark for centuries. Five hiking trails explore the riverside habitats and their mature forests and lead to some quiet fishing spots along the waterway. A favorite facility for the local communities is an 11-acre swimming lake with a bathhouse, grass-covered lawn, sandy beach and diving platform with rental boats available. Expansive picnic grounds are nearby. The park has group campsites, a 32-site family campground, and 3 reservable cabins. A visitor center offers museum-quality exhibits that explore the natural and cultural history of the region, complementing regular interpretive programs.

August 1, I will move to Kerr Lake, pronounced ‘CAR’.  A collective of seven access areas scattered around the shoreline of this 50,000-acre reservoir that reaches into Virginia. Hundreds of campsites among five of the access areas offer a range of outdoor experience from RV hookups to group camps. Swimming, boating ramps and two private marinas serve boaters and the lake is renowned for excellent fishing.

September, October and November I will be at James Lake, a great time place to enjoy fall colors.  According to the NC State Park website, James Lake is best for my hiking friends, Jamie?  I will be the host at Catawba River Area that has 20 walk-in campsites, but I will have full hook-ups!

Lake James State Park offers boating, swimming and fishing in the beautiful, clear waters of the 6,812-acre lake, there are 25 miles of trails, 15 of which are open to mountain biking. Trails vary from the short, educational Holly Discovery Trail with child-friendly activities, to the more adventurous, historic section of the Overmountain Victory Trail. There are three campgrounds. The Catawba River Area has 20 walk-in campsites, many of which offer lake views. The Paddy’s Creek Area has 33 drive-to, family-friendly campsites. The remote boat-in campground on the Long Arm Peninsula offers a true outdoor adventure for those willing to paddle or steer their canoes, kayaks or powerboats to their own slice of heaven. Boat ramps at Hidden Cove and Canal Bridge on NC 126 are located between the park’s two day-use areas. And, canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals are available at the Paddy’s Creek Area from May through September.

So to my camping, hiking and RV friends – you know who you are!  I hope to see you this summer or fall in North Carolina!  To make reservations for your visit log onto ReserveAmerica.com.

AND Yes, there are golf courses nearby.

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Bay Breeze RV Park, Gulf Shores, AL

Bay Breeze, the friendliest RV Park on the Gulf.  Jerry and Paulette are resident owners to this lovely 25 space RV park on the Bon Secour Bay.  Jerry takes special pride in backing new guest into your space, which I very much appreciated.  He is a perfectionist and your rig will be straight and level.  There are other RV parks to choose from but by far, Bay Breeze is the one you will want to return to.  Located close to Gulf State Park, Kiva Dunes, Peninsula and Gulf Shores Golf Courses.  There are no permanent residents, or module homes.  This is truly a vacation RV park.  Laundry and clean toilet and shower facilities.

Worst Golf Course, Sanlan RV & Golf

Possibly the worst golf course I have ever played, Sanlan RV and Golf Resort in Lakeland, FL offers a relatively nice RV park with two swimming pools, one large enough to swim real laps. The bathrooms and showers are also large and clean, and the toilets are commercial grade. The laundry room has big washers and dryers and lots of machines, like a mini-laundromat.  The Staff, especially the park rangers, are very helpful.   However, coming and going after hours can be a problem, because they don’t give short-term visitors after-hours key cards.

I thought it would be great to stay and play golf, NAUGHT.  The golf course is absolutely dreadful. Sanlan was/is part of a working cattle ranch, cattle graze along the perimeter.  The golf course has been converted from a cattle pasture to fairways, and not well.  I doubt they moved any dirt to smooth the course out.  The fairways are dry and hard, which gives you 20 extra yards on good drives.  But riding in a cart is like bouncing across ski moguls. I hope you back is in better shape than mine?

No marshals, so 6 guys playing together, and 3 guys playing from one bag of clubs, are what I experienced on 3/18/18. At least they let me play through, but it didn’t make-up for the condition of the course. Sanlan charged $32 for 18 holes and a cart. But having just played Palm Cove in Palm City for $25, made Sanlan a total rip-off.

Also, Lakeland, FL is nothing special. I tried to find a local micro-brew (non-chain restaurant) to meet my pal Rich, who was driving home to Maryland from Tampa. Rich is a beer aficionado, but we ended up at Smokey Bones, a FL chain.

Sanlan RV & Golf Resort proves my inclination, when visiting FL stay on the coast, either east or west.  Florida is about the beach, and there are so many nice golf courses to choose from with great rates.