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HURRICANE IRMA — DAMAGED US ALL

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The most serious hurricane damage, was not physical…

Hurricane Irma caused millions of dollars worth of damage, as she roared savagely through our state. Very few manmade structures were not impacted in some negative way. Giant trees, that had stood for centuries, were torn from the ground and left toppled to the ground, gasping for breath. Countless species of wildlife were thrown into survival mode and our utility infrastructure was devastated as well. Tons of raw sewage flushed from septic tanks and sewers and the storm drains were no match for the rapidly rising water. Major escape routes were left at a standstill and gasoline, ice and drinking water became more valuable that gold. Millions of frightened eyes were glued to television screens and ears strained to hear the latest report on the radio. Text messages were flashing “Red Alert’s” and weather radio alarms were screaming with every passing moment… Cell phone signals from the spotty system were deluged with called from worried relatives up north, trying to verify the safety of their loved ones…

The more people we love, the more opportunities to worry.

Our decision to “RUN” north, ahead of the storm, was not an easy choice.

We were relying on meteorological reports and our memories of losing our in home in 2005 to hurricane Charlie. We had no desire to be here for a replay… In the horror that was Charlie, we remained in our home terrified as the roof was torn off and our neighborhood — leveled. I will never forget the fear I felt for Lucy, Aimee and baby Alexis, as we sat in our Suburban, closed up in our dark garage, listening to the terrible shrieks of the wind and sound of falling trees and pouring rain… We decided back then that we would not voluntarily “Go through another one”.

South bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I’m south bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

We left for home on Thursday, September 14th, nervous about the conditions we might encounter…

We were anxious  to survey the damage at our waterfront beach house and start the process of recovery. One big question was – “Will we have electricity at our home?” (more on that later) Our first day was marred by a vehicle breakdown, shortly after we hit the road. We were making good time, on excellent roads, with almost no traffic. I scan my mirrors frequently – learned in my pilot days – to stay aware of any eminent threat. My heart sank as I checked the rearview mirror and saw an enormous cloud of SMOKE. There was no one behind us… the smoke was coming from Voyageur. “Holy Shit!”  I yelled. I knew it was catastrophic. Lucy exclaimed “Are we on fire?” her thoughts were for the safety of “Ava” our African gray parrot and “Amelia”, our daughters beta fish. Lucy knew our cage bound bird and bowl bound fish had no chance of escape without our assistance.

“Are we on fire?”… exclaimed a terrified Lucy…

I immediately slowed and turned into the first cross road. It was “Sloan Road”. A quick survey revealed there was NO fire. The smoke was from automatic transmission fluid that escaped from the disconnected transmission cooling line. The fluid that sprayed onto the hot exhaust pipe and a huge cloud of smoke ensued. First fear alleviated – we were not “On fire”. My heart sank for two reasons, 1. We were dead in the water, until the loose hose was reattached and new ATF added and 2. The hose had come off once before and I had not done my due diligence by adding a better hose bibb. No time for self abuse now, how am I going to get this van back in running condition, in the middle of nowhere? It was all my fault.

“Howdy. Do you happen to have any automatic transmission fluid I could buy?”

As luck (or GOD) would have it, James Head was mowing his lawn just a few hundred feet away. He asked me what I needed and I, very embarrassedly, explained my plight. He said he “had no fluid” and immediately offered to drive me to a “nearby” auto parts store. (It was twenty four miles round-trip) While I explained the reason for our southbound travel, our conversation turned to our religious beliefs and how his two adult sons had recently “accepted Christ”. James too was a believer. I was touched by the story the kind stranger told of his walk with the Lord and what it meant to him to see both of his sons “Saved”. The NAPA store – he was a frequent customer – had everything I needed to replace the lost fluid. I even had the presence of mind to buy a special funnel to prevent a spill, as I added the fluid. When we returned to Lucy, Ava and Amelia, James slid under the van with me to survey the problem. As it turned out, James was a retired corporate mechanic with forty-four years of experience keeping vehicles rolling. In addition, both of his sons were circle-track racers who campaigned very well built and maintained dirt track cars. His huge barn was a complete mechanic/machine shop.

“This is the wrong hose fitting.” James explained…

I told James the truth. I knew the fitting was bad and had decided to just make do, instead of replacing the fitting with a proper one. He accepted my confession without judgement and started to consider alternatives to fix the problem. I already felt bad enough and was glad he didn’t pour on “burning coals”. James did not have the “right” fitting in his shop, so he decided to alter my existing hose bibb, to eliminate any more problems in the future. He took the fitting to his shop, made the necessary alteration and returned shortly with the modified hose bibb, two new hose clamps and a roll of teflon tape.

James Head,  “Our Angel” didn’t have the right part – so he just modified my original one. Fantastic! “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40

In only a few more minutes, the modified hose fitting was installed and the appropriate amount of ATFC was added. We then proceeded to his outdoor shop sink, “Super Orange” hand-cleaner and dry shop towels to complete the “paperwork”. We both agreed we love the smell of the hand-cleaner because it always meant the “job was done”…

The entire experience was made much less horrifying, by this Godly man and his willingness to help a stranger…

Wrong again… the engine would not start… I knew “It was ALL my fault.”

A few months ago, the same situation had occurred. The engine would turn over just fine, but it would not start. I used my scanner to determine the problem was a faulty Camshaft Position Sensor. Full of confidence, I ordered a replacement part and planned to replace the CPS. As it turned out, on each subsequent attempt to drive the van before the new part arrived, it started and ran. No problem. Chalking it up to a one-time fluke  – I put the new part in my parts bin and didn’t bother installing it.

I had this part, safely stored in my shop, instead of doing the right-thing and installing it.

Our vehicle finally running again, we set our next destination into our GPS and drove off with happy hearts. We were on the way home. We had planned to drive to a campsite at “Yellow Jacket RV Park” but fatigue got the best of us and we settled for any-port-in-a-storm. We started scanning ahead for the first campground that was open. Lucky for us, it was “Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park”. A large part of the park was closed, due to hurricane damage, but they had a nice drive-through site available and we took it. In only a matter of minutes were plugged in, setup and headed for a hot shower. It had been a very long day (Not as long as the next one). The soothing hot water helped to relieve our stress and our feelings turned to hunger. The “SOS Cafe”, located right in the park, provided delicious food at reasonable prices and for those so inclined, it was “Karaoke Night”.

Delicious food, bottomless pitchers of Sweetea, friendly attentive waitstaff and very relaxing atmosphere. 

SOS, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, campground provided a safe retreat with electricity and hot showers. We were fortunate to find an open campsite. The majority of the campground, that was reopened following the storm, was almost full of hurricane refugees, like us.

We were up early next morning to continue our trip south. We decided to make another stop at the “SOS CAFE” before leaving the park. We both ate large, delicious breakfasts and left feeling ready for the day. We had reservations at our favorite campground, Silver Lake, in the Withalacoochee State Forest.  Lucy and I had reservations for three days at site-16 – our favorite. We were very excited about spending three days enjoying the cool waters of the lake and launching Camo-Tow for some sedate river cruising…

As it turned out – this was not to be. More vehicle problems took over…

Hungry again, we stopped at another favorite eatery, Riverside Cafe in Nobleton, Florida. From there it would only be a fifteen minute drive to our campsite. WRONG! When we finished our lunch and returned to our Roadtrek, it would not start. It just kept turning over, the battery was new, but the 5.9 V-8 wouldn’t fire up. Deja Vous………………

For over three hours the van sat in the hot sun defying every attempt to start it. We began calling AAA immediately and request a tow to Chillston’s Garage in Floral City, Florida. I forgot about the identical problem that had occurred months ago and sat baffled at the reluctance to start. Finally I hooked up my scanner again and got a fault code for Defective Camshaft Position Sensor. Crap. Again, it was ALL my fault. Remembering our 200 mile towing feature on our Premier RV AAA coverage, we spent hours on the phone trying to arrange a tow for our van and boat trailer. This was frustrating and pointless. While I was on hold with AAA, Lucy decided to go out and check on Ava and Amelia. I said “Why don’t you try it one more time.”…

VROOOOOOOOM! MIRACLE! She fired right up…

I was filled with mixed emotion. On the one hand, exuberant that our vehicle was running, on the other hand, disappointed that we would not be going to Silver Lake. We were afraid to shut it off again for fear it would not restart. With a full tank of gas onboard and ten spare gallons, in two gas cans, in the boat, we drove the entire 165 miles home without turning the van off. With every passing mile –  we suffered with the knowledge that it might stall again, leaving us stranded on a deserted country road, totally in the dark, miles from home. The tension was almost unbearable. Our conversation was limited by our unspoken fears and we drove on in relative silence.

Danger Behind Us…. At first we were unaware of the danger that followed us…

We stopped for a bite to eat at a fast food joint and left the motor running. When we finished our meal, darkness had fallen and it was time to turn on the lights. I confidently pulled the headlight switch expecting two bright shafts of light from the two new headlights I had recently installed. WHAT? There was no comforting twin beams of light when I pulled the switch. Total darkness continued. DAMN DAMN DAMN! I realized at that moment, that I had never installed the brand new headlight switch that I bought when this intermittent problem had occurred in the past. We NEVER drive at night and I had forgotten all about the previous time I had to “wiggle the switch”. Wiggle it I did and we were finally greeted by the glowing HEADlights…

This new switch shouild have been installed months before our hurricane escape. I was just to lazy…

Our WAZE App set our course over miles of narrow, winding backroads through darkened farm fields…

We drove on nervous for an unexpected outage from the defective switch. We drove past several small homes, totally dark, with no illumination, due to the power outage. We were truly in the dark… Again it was ALL my fault. Worst thing of all, guess what was at home in my shop right next to my new CPS? Yes. You guessed it. A brand new headlight switch. I had not installed it because “We never drive at night.” and “Its a big job. I have to remove part of the dash.” Now I felt like an even bigger FOOL. Was this the worst that could happen? Oh no no no. Read on my friends…

Stopping for a roadside pee break, I noticed no taillights on the van, or boat trailer. SHIT!

Again, I lamented, in utter embarrassment. This was, ALLLLLLL my fault. What am I going to do? Still hours from home. Totally dark two-lane roads and nothing to warn approaching drivers of our presence, except for the small reflectors that would glow in the light of the overtaking headlights. I knew we would be driving more slowly than any overtaking vehicles and I was terrified at the thought of making the remaining night-drive home. There was nothing I could do. If we could even find a place to pull over on the narrow roads we had no idea if the van would start again in the morning. With no other choice, I taped a small flashlight to the rear of our van and drove on in the inky, all encompassing blackness. We drove on in silence each of us lost in our own private thoughts of guilt, worry and dread. Through it all, Lucy never showed a bit of anger at my stupidity. She was the perfect example of a loving Christian mate… Believe me – I was angry enough at myself to make up for her forgiveness…

How come no van or TRAILER lights? Again. ALL My fault.

These brand new LED TRAILER Lights, purchased for our Camo-Tow trailer did no good at all sitting on my shelf. Will I ever learn? Procrastination is a sin.

I bought these new lights for our trailer several months ago. Why didn’t I install them you ask? Well, I was concentrating on the restoration of my Land Rover “BELUGA BUILD” and we NEVER tow the trailer at night. I am such a dumb ass. Lucy was right.

So….. This week I will be busy; installing new Camshaft Position Sensor, Installing new headlight switch, Installing new trailer lights, welding up our broken spare tire mount and wearing a very embarrassed, red face, while gorging myself on HUMBLE PIE. Lucy, I am so very sorry…

We did make it home safely, arriving at 1:00am… No thanks to me.

Our pool cage screen was blown out and our AC did not turn on.

 

Tons of yard debris, lots of tree damage, but our electric power was on.

Our air conditioning man, Scott Baker, of SCOTT AIR, arrived bright and early, on our first morning home and restored our cooling. We spent our Homecoming Night (Thursday) in our nice cool Roadtrek. We both slept like babies, happy to be safely home, thankful for our minimal damage, and praying for others not so fortunate. I learned lots of lessons on this trip and reconfirmed one undeniable truth….

I have the best spouse in the world… Thank you Lord.

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The Lord was with us. Escape from hurricane IRMA.

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Fight or flight? We chose flight…

We left home, in our 1999 Roadtrek camper with a lot of faith and a little angst. Unsure of our destination, but firm on our direction – NORTH! As time passed we learned that one of our daughters had been discharged from a local hospital early… High anxiety.

Amanda was discharged from her hospital stay one day after we fled. She was on her own…

When we left home they told us she would be kept “until the threat of the hurricane had passed”. Wrong. She was discharged against her will, with no place to go. We knew she was resourceful, but had no way to confirm her safety. Amanda was totally — on her own… Our prayers increased.

We used the WAZE app and stayed well clear of the parking lot that was I-75

We stuck to the backroads and had no traffic at all. Even though we were in “Flight” mode, the incredible scenery kept us enthralled and the knowledge that we were moving farther from harms way lessened our anxiety…

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The looming storm made our exodus even more urgent.

Our initial destination, was Silver Lake Campground in Brooksville, Florida. This beautiful park is holds of fifty years of happy memories, for Lucy and me. Once again, it proved to be our solace. We even got our favorite campsite… Number sixteen…

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Our favorite lakefront campsite, number sixteen, was the perfect overnight spot.

The next morning, backroads beckoned again and we shifted our GPS to points further north…

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If you have not used the “WAZE” app, give it a try. We love it…

An old campground, Deer Run, appeared, just as we were both feeling the need for a break from the road…

Just as God must have planned, we rented the LAST campsite. Once plugged in we settled down to unwind, attempted to contact family and friends by phone and social media and then enjoyed a full nights sleep… We discussed our future travel plans as we sipped our morning coffee.

First thought was to head to Frank Jackson State Park in Opp, Alabama, but they were full.

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There is just something about a journey on a tree lined dirt road that elicits joy from within…

Lucy and I loved traveling the dirt roads and marveled at the scenery.

As we were trying to decide where to “run”, our close friend Mandy Walker invited us to join them in Byron, Georgia. Fantastic.

We found an open gas station, filled our tank and set our WAZE App to head for safe haven in Byron.

The womenfolk, Mandy, Leigh, Alicia,

The trip was wonderful and we arrived to big hugs from our daughter Alicia, happy grandchildren and the entire Walker family. Mandy’s estate was the perfect place to feel; safe, loved and relieved. She even had an empty outbuilding that was a perfect shelter for our Gheenoe “Camo-Tow”. While MiMI Lucy relaxed with the girls in the big house, I called it a night and went to bed…

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“Voyageur” our venerable Roadtrek made a perfect hideaway.

Next morning we awoke to beautiful weather, cool temps and clear skies.

There was no indication of the fury that was hurricane IRMA. Soon after we woke, Mandy told us that our old friend Ryan Jones and his mate Krissy had invited us for a cook out. Man-O-man. That was wonderful news after a week of fear and doubt. As the hurricane continued its destructive path toward our home in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, Lucy and I were treated as honored guests at the Jones estate.

Tender and juicy pork loin and chicken quarters dissapeared quickly. Ryna cooked enough for a small army. We ate like one…

Bryan had three different kinds of meat in his smoker and plenty of beverages to keep our throats from getting dry, while we shared hours of wonderful conversation and fond memories.

The highlight for me, was getting to know Krissy, Riley (four years old) and Hunter (one year old) better. First time meetings for me.

Ryan relly knows how to handle his meat…

Ryan gave me a big bag of his “Secret Rub” to use when we return home. Fantastic!

Ryan gave us tour of his beautiful new Class-A, motorcoach and Krissy invited us to “Make ourselves at home” in their spacious abode. Chickens in the yard and a horse next door made the scary hurricane seem even farther away…

There were happy, laughing, kids of all ages, filling our space with joy. We continued our lively gabfest with the delicious aroma of smoking meat fueling our hunger to the max.

Krissy’s potato salad and Ryan;s perfectly seasoned and smoked meat  were definitely in competition for “What did you like best?”…

Four year old “Riley” was kind of shy at first, but by the time we left she and I were best friends. I already miss her.

It was an incredible joy to spend time with Ryan, Krissy, Riley and Hunter…

This little family is built on “Cherish, Honor and Love”. I cannot recall a time when I felt more at peace and at home.

Krissy and Ryan are true achievers. They plan their work and work their plans. If God had given me a son, I wish he would have been just like Ryan Jones…

Lucy and I have no idea what will greet us when we return to our home, but as for now… It is well with my soul….

 

Very first fish!

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Pam said “Terry has never caught a fish on his own rod.”

When I heard this, my mission was ON. Terry would catch his first fish, on his own rod, while fishing out of “Camo-Tow”. In case some of you are first time visitors to “Five Spoke Wheel” I must explain that Pam and Terry are new friends, who have completed two years of overland travel, in a custom built Land Rover Defender camper. They are a delightful couple from Wales, whom we met on a recent Land Rover camping trip to Holder Mine. They have been staying with us for a few days, here at O.O.C.

Sanibel Causeway Island Park

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“Freddy” on the left and “Voyageur” catching some rays…

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful place to set-up a beachhead, right on the Gulf of Mexico. “Sanibel Island Causeway Park” is one of the last places where you can park right next to the water. There is ample parking, some shaded by gorgeous Southern Pines and the rest fully open to satisfy the desires of sun-worshippers. Lucy and I , always concerned about preventing skin cancer, chose the shade… Just after we finished setting up Pam told us she “Really wanted to sit in the sun.” She reminded us that the weather in Wales is frequently; cloudy, rainy and cold… We offered to relocate, but she said she was fine…

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l to r: Pam, Terry and my Lucy.

The beach was well attended, but there was still plenty of room for all. Terry’s Land Rover Defender “Freddy” attracts attention wherever he parks it. Our beachfront location was no exception. Terry answered questions for the many curious people who strolled by and posed for several photographs. The custom vehicle, equipped with right hand drive, is not only a fine rolling-home, it is a great conversation piece… “Voyageur”, our trusty Roadtrek, was quite hurt, as she got nowhere near as much attention. There was however, one jovial beach goer, who offered to swap his Honda Element for our well equipped camper – “straight up”. We declined his offer… We sat in the shade, enjoyed a few ice-cold adult beverages and planned our fishing strategy.

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Our salty little yacht “Camo-Tow” was in full “Fishing” mode

We were all ready for some hardcore fishing. A quick stop at a local bait shop and my bait bucket was brimming with two dozen, very lively shrimp. The shrimp were dying to get on the end of one of our hooks and give it all for the cause. The weather was ideal for the little Gheenoe. Comfy swivel seats, convenient rod-holders and a wide beam, combine to provide an ideal fishing-platform. There is no boat ramp at the park. No problem for our little craft. I unhitched the trailer from Voyageur and Terry and I simply rolled it into the surf for the launch. I wish we would have taken some photographs. Pulling it back out of the water required a bit more effort, but it was actually no problem for we two incredibly strong, senior citizens, Camo-Tow is equipped with a 6.6 horsepower outboard that provides a proper cruising speed while only sipping a tiny bit of petrol…

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“Then you twist it around six times and run it back through the double loop” I explained…

Terry confessed he just did not have much experience with a rod in his hand. First lesson was to demonstrate one of the proper monofilament line fishing knots – guaranteed not to pull loose. On the third try, I finally got it right. I heard a few chuckles (with a British accent) over my multiple attempts. Terry opined “It was a good idea showing me how not to tie it first.” Ha Ha Ha… We set up our fishing rigs on the beach, so we would be ready to drop our hooks immediately…

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“Terry, be sure you put plenty of sun-screen on your head!” Cautions Pam

Camo-Tow, our 15′ 4″ Gheenoe, while small in size, is huge in fishing comfort, stability and good looks.  ;O) We carried everything we needed with a “no-frills attitude”…

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A hearty “Bon Voyage” and we were off on our three hour tour

FISH ON!

There was very little breeze, calm waters and the tide was perfect for catching… I wish I had taken some actual fishing photos, but we were too busy pulling them in… We set up to drift through the deepwater channel, normally a very productive method. In this case, 30 minutes of hardcore beer drinking and drowning shrimp, resulted in no fish. I cranked up the outboard and motored a half mile to a new location. Thirty seconds after Terry’s bait hit the water WHAM! “FISH ON!” He hooked and landed his first fish. Catching it on his brand new, open face spinning rig, made it even more special. It was a nice 1.5 pound Speckled Sea Trout. Perfect size for the skillet and one notch down on his four-fish bag limit

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Speckled Sea Trout

The scrappy little Speckled Sea Trout hit hard and fight bravely. All to no avail. Our British Buddy landed all but one. The fish is one of our favorite for a crispy Southern fish fry. In only a few minutes we had caught our “limit’ and the two dozen shrimp I had bought were gone. There was a lot of excited hollering and yelling, some in a stately Wales accent, and a good bit of Florida Crack caterwalling. It was a wonderful fishing trip with enough fish in the box, for a fantastic seafood dinner. I cleaned them on the side of the boat and left the entrails for the crabs. Terry had a wall-to-wall grin that lasted for the rest of the day. We couldn’t wait to return to the waiting women and show off our catch. They both admitted equal amounts of surprise and appreciation. “I can’t believe you caught all those fish.” Pam commented…

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Terry’s happy smile, lit up the entire beach

Good friends, Good fishing and Good fun!

These are not big fish. Each was carefully measured with my trusty fish-ruler, to make sure they were “legal” Terry did catch the two largest trout, but we didn’t get a proper photo. These little beauties produce a tender, sweet meat, with very few bones. I made a batch of “hush puppies”, a first time treat for our friends from the United Kingdom. There was nothing left on the platters when we left the table… All in all a perfect day at the beach. We hung around for most of the afternoon and then retrieved Camo-Tow and headed for O.O.C.

My mouth was already watering…

As I thought of the delicious dinner to come…

Peace and love, “Spokesman” Dave

This little motorhome is “Bad Ass”.

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I know, I know… I shouldn’t talk about a donkey here on WordPress. Somehow it just fits.

I have been a bad Blogger. Seems having fun, while traveling around may have muddled my brain. We have been camping in Voyageur since Friday. Started off at Silver Lake Recreation area and then moved here to Chassahowitzka River Campground.  The weather has been perfect. Plenty of sunny days and nice late evening rain. The only bad thing was… I lost my new camera. Still have not ordered another one. I would love suggestions for a waterproof, lightweight, digital camera…

I am going to post this one photo from my phone and then launch Camo-Tow for some fishing. Soon as Lucy and I are back at Site 17, I will post a proper “BLOG”. I don’t want her too get angry. She is Readsy to hit the river NOW.

The Chassahowitzka River is crystal clear. Lots of fish and other aquatic life. I bought a long handled crab net at the campground store and we hope to boil up some tasty Blue Crabs this evening… Liz and Doreen are doing a marvelous job of running the campground and making us feel right at home. The facilities are pristine and the traffic low. As long as you don’t mind DEET spray on your exposed body-parts, sitting out by the fire in the lush tropical rainforest surroundings is stellar… “GONE FISHIN”…

Spokesman Dave

Chaza a whatski?

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Now I am getting excited…

Lucy was browsing Kevin Mim’s website “Visitflorida.com” and she decided she wanted us to do a nice camping trip to Chassahowitzka River campground. We will drive our Roadtrek “Voyageur”, towing our little Gheenoe, “Camo-Tow” . It will be the perfect combination for cruising and fishing this gorgeous central Florida river…

“VOYAGEUR”

Our Roadtrek, 190 Popular,  is compact, fuel-efficient and fully self-contained. After previously owning many different sizes and models of recreational vehicles we decided that this one would provide the most bang for our retirement bucks… She will pull “Camo-Tow” just fine…

“CAMO-TOW”

The little, thirteen foot Gheenoe, is extremely stable and moves along nicely when powered by a single gas-sipping, 6.6 horsepower, Johnson outboard…

She also handles extremely well when paddled with a pair of double bladed kayak paddles. Camo-Tow floats nicely in as little as six inches of water. Narrow enough for the; creeks, estuaries and rivers we prefer and yet stable enough to allow the male occupant to safely stand for any personal needs.  ;O)

Perfect platform for preparing some of Lucy’s healthy, delicious, waterborne snacks…

“SIERRA”

Admiral “Sierra” gives it two paws up”… She is right at home in the bow, or lounging midships.

“Camo-Tow” is so well camouflaged the hardest part is often, finding her for our return trip home…

Have any of you camped or boated on the Chassahowitzka River? Any other Gheenoe owners out there? I would love to hear about your experiences…

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