Travel dates :: January 7 – 16, 2016
After leaving the Florida Keys (see our Christmas in the Keys post here) we spent most of January jumping around the western coast of Florida – it feels like a blur and was honestly a bit of stressful time. Our water pump was on the fritz (suddenly no water pressure and it sounded horrible) so we had a repair appointment January 8 in Fort Myers, Florida.
We stayed at WP Franklin campground the night before and we loved it. It’s a Corp of Engineers campground and we found it to be clean, affordable and close to Fort Myers.
We brought the trailer into the repair shop at North Trail RV for what we were told would be a one-day appointment. Worst case scenario they’d just replace the water pump which would only take a couple hours – and they said they had the water pump in stock.
While the trailer was in the shop we spent the day exploring Sanibel Island. Our first stop was the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center – which was a fantastic place – don’t miss it if you are in the area.
Great educational exhibits – especially for children and the kids did the Junior Ranger badge program here. This was our first blue and gold badge and I think it’s still one of the kid’s favorites!
After the J.N. Ding Darling visitor’s center we did the 4-mile wildlife drive within the refuge. I think it cost $5 per car and it was amazing – I would definitely recommend the drive. There are lots of trails along the drive and we saw so many birds and animals.
I’ve never seen such a variety of birds on a wildlife drive before – we really enjoyed it. I think this is an Anhinga – isn’t it beautiful?
Not far from the Anhinga was this alligator. . . just keeping an eye on things. . .photo taken with zoom lens, I’m not foolish enough to get this close to a gator.
We saw a few alligators, lots of birds (see chart above) and even a big school of fish. It was a fantastic drive and easily worth the cost in our opinion.
Then we ate the best broasted chicken ever at a little place called the Pecking Order thanks to a recommendation from Yelp. We got a bucket of chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy and macaroni and cheese. Served family style. The kids devoured it – I think Liam had FOUR pieces of chicken . . . it was the best “southern” cooking we’d had on the trip so far.
We got a call shortly after lunch that our trailer was ready for pick-up. The repair rep told me we needed a new water pump (duh) and they didn’t have it in stock (doh) so they would have to order it. They could fix it Saturday, January 16. Say what, that was 10 days from now!?! This was not how we had planned things. We were supposed to be up in Tampa for the next couple weeks with my dear friend and her family. RV spots are HARD to come by in the Fort Meyers area – completely booked – and we already had Tampa reservations. Sigh.
We stayed one more night at WP Franklin campground before heading to Tampa for the week. . .with plans to head back down to Fort Myers on January 15 for the repair (huge pain. . . but we had very few options at this point).
In Tampa, we stayed at one of my favorite campgrounds, Fort De Soto campground. This place is gorgeous. Surrounded by water, it’s quiet and filled with tons of birds, plus it has great fishing. There are two different sides in the main Fort De Soto campground – we spent the first part of the week on the mangrove side.
The other side has a seawall and a bit more of a ledge.
We like the ledge side because it’s easier to go fishing and I love being able to see all the water birds. But this side is a bit trickier if you have younger kids (I’d worry they’d fall into the water).
We spent a lot of our time in Tampa that week hanging out with one of my best childhood friends from Alaska, who now lives in Tampa with her family. It was so wonderful to see our kids playing together.
We visited De Soto National Memorial Park and earned Junior Ranger badges and we watched the newest Star Wars at the movie theater. We did lots of school work, we got hair cuts, we went grocery shopping, we washed the Airstream and we just got caught up on life.
After our week in Tampa, we headed back to Fort Myers for our repair. We had 4-day reservation at a local RV park – we selected it for convenience because it was so close to the repair facility. But this reservation turned out to be a disaster. Due to all the rain they’d had in the area our spot was flooded, muddy and impossible for us to stay at. It just was NOT going to work, not at all. More rain was expected that night (a big storm actually) so we would have just kept sinking into this spot overnight. We couldn’t stay here and they had no other suitable spots.
So we SCRAMBLED to try and find another place to stay (it’s Friday night before our appointment) – ANY openings in the area. We ended up nearly 30 miles south of our repair place – honestly the closest opening – at a charming place called Sanctuary RV Park.
The next morning we got up early and dropped off our trailer at the RV shop for what should be an easy water pump repair. Thanks to our ASTC.org membership we went to the Fort Meyers children’s museum Imaginarium for FREE.
We spent the morning there and got a call around 11 to come pick up our trailer. Good news, the repair rep says, your trailer is ready to pick up! The water pump wasn’t broken – it was just a kink in the hose and we fixed it. Say what!?! You’re telling me we just rearranged our entire schedule and drove an extra few hundred miles to come BACK to the repair shop for a kink in the hose!?!
We drove right over to the North Trail RV and inspected the trailer. I turned the water pump on. . . ran some water, turned the water off and the water pump didn’t shut off. Typically an RV water pump will turn on briefly and pressurize the system – but after it’s pressurized it shuts off until you turn on a faucet (then it turns back on to pump the water out). Well whatever they did to our water pump to “fix” a supposed kink it also made it run continuously. What a joke.
I politely told the North Trail RV repair rep – this is not fixed. This is not how a water pump works. Please replace it with the water pump Airstream sent you. We will be back in a few hours to pick it up.
Right around dinner time we get the call that the trailer is fixed – they replaced the water pump. I also got a long story about how Airstream sent them the wrong water pump but they had the exact one they needed in stock (now they have it in stock? How convenient), so they were able to fix it with that one. I don’t believe it for a second, not any of it. I was not impressed with the continuously CHANGING stories from the North Trail RV repair rep. I plan to write more about the repair process later – about advocating for yourself when working with RV shops and working with your manufacturer to ensure things are done correctly.
But even though we weren’t pleased with our experience at North Trail RV the end result was the new water pump was working. . . and it seemed to be working correctly.
So we left the repair shop around 5 p.m. with our trailer and headed to our campground reservation for the night. We had made this reservation over the phone earlier in the day – one of the only spots we could find in the area. They assured us it was big enough for our trailer and “not flooded.” We arrived to another horrible spot. It was squeezed between two trailers (it was like a half spot), had about 15 feet of concrete and the rest was mud and soggy grass. This simply would not work. The area was expecting a major storm system that night – this would be a huge puddle of mud by the following morning and we would be stuck, I’m certain of it. Sigh.
So here it is Saturday night and we don’t have a place to stay. We left this RV park and kept driving north.
Talk about stressful. We are always good about having places to stay – but because our initial 4-day reservation fell through we were really flying by the seat of our pants.
After heading north a bit we pulled into a Walmart parking lot so that I could make some more phone calls. While helping Jeremy park the trailer near the edge of the parking lot, by a large field, I stepped in a pile of fire ants. Those little buggers filled into my TOM shoes and I could not believe the pain. Jeremy thought he ran over my foot because I immediately dropped to the ground grabbing my foot.
Seriously, could this day get any more stressful?
Why. . . yes. . .yes, it could. . . .
After a dozen more phone calls I found a private RV park with an opening about 90 miles north, Sun-N-Fun, that was $80 a night. It was their last spot. I would have probably paid triple the cost because we needed a spot so badly. And I knew there was a storm headed to the area that night.
We pulled into Sun-N-Fun around 7 p.m. and set up in the dark. This was the FIRST time since hitting the road that we have ever set up camp in the dark. It was the first time we’d had two different reservations fall through and no place to be. But it worked out. . . because this place was DREAMY. For the short couple hours before bedtime – we sat in the family hot tub, swam in the heated Olympic size pool and soaked away the stress of the day. This place was fancy, clean, beautiful and we were safely parked for the night.
The big storm we were expecting started in the middle of the night . . . and a tornado ended up touching down nearby (read my post about the tornado here). We spent a good part of the night in the RV bath house waiting out tornado warnings. I was so GRATEFUL that we landed where we did that night. So grateful we weren’t in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. So grateful we were not in some shady RV park that wouldn’t have had an adequate bath house, but thankfully in a legit RV community with a sturdy bath house.
This day will go down in history as probably one of the most stressful days on the road. At the end of the day it’s just part of the experience and we can now look back and almost laugh at how crazy the day unfolded. Almost.
Some people might throw in the towel and say this type of day would keep them from hitting the road full-time. But when you plan properly and pay attention to weather – these situations will rarely arise. It really was a series of unfortunate events that made this day stressful – but you know what!?! We figured it out.
We got up the next day and headed north to Myakka State park and got back into the magic of exploring and traveling. . . more on this later. . . .
Do you have a stressful travel story you want to share?
margaret foster says
LOVE hearing of your adventures on the road, Heather (and seeing pics of the kids, scenery, etc)! Glad you’re all safe and having such a great family experience!
Ahhh thank you Margaret! I love that we’re still connected. . .and love that you’re following along!
There is a saying: “life happens while you are making other plans.” Keep on keeping on! And, you’ll have an “adventure” to talk about when you’re sitting in your rocking chair at the old folks home.
It’s true Caro! We do our best to plan and the rest is out of our control. We just work as a team to figure it out and make the best of any situation. I still wouldn’t give up this lifestyle for anything – the pros are so worth the cons. And frankly we had a lot more stressful days in the house!
This does sound stressful. We are getting ready to buy a new travel trailer, and it is not fun! For us it is trying to find a bunk that will hold our 5’10 and growing 14 year old. I was wondering if you could add a page of your favorite rv stuff? I was thinking about the towels you had mentioned. We are taking 3 boys to Yellowstone this summer.
That’s going to be a tough one Kim! Most of the bunks are set up for small kids. Our bunks won’t work forever – the top bunk is too small for a young teenager so we’ll have to make the dinette into a bed or something when we get to that point. Do you have any trailers that might work that you are considering?
We are looking at a Cougar 31SQBWE it ha an “L” bed which would give him an 8 foot bed. Dealers keep telling us that at 14 he will not want to camp with us for long.but let’s just say we know our son. The draw back with the cougar is the bunk is 28″ wide. Even for our very skinny son we are not sure that is enough. The hunt continues .
Follow your gut. Dealers have a way of talking a lot of people into things. You know what you want, I bet you’ll find it!
Robin Sm says
Hey, Clarke family. We’re the Smith family and we took a year-long RV Road Trip in 2011-2012. Here’s our stressful travel story which happened while visiting the UP of Michigan…
Thanks for sharing your story Robin!
Just ONE of our most stressful RV stories is when a squirrel wanted to come live with us and was in the walls and roof of the RV for a good 3 months. After each trip, we thought he was gone and we would go out again and guess what….still with us! He drove us crazy. He was also getting into the trailer and exploring. We set a big rat trap and when we were off and about he came in and set it off (didn’t get him) but he ate the nuts! It was a nice day so we had the windows open and that darn thing was so scared when that rat trap went off he ate a huge hole in our window screen to escape. You would think that would have been the end….but we weren’t that lucky. Once again, at 3 am you hear the squirrel running the length of the trailer in the ceiling and getting in the nose of the 5th wheel near where we sleep. Finally purchased a live trap (on one of our trips) and caught him! We drove a few miles and let him go..but we swear we saw him chasing after us! This was a costly and stressful experience. That was a huge test on our marriage…..but we survived and can now laugh about it!
Terry – That sounds terrible and so stressful! Glad you finally got him out. 🙂
It looks like that North Trail RV is incompetent. Thanks for letting me know. At least your water pressure is finally fixed! What a hassle.
Grace – Sure thing! Thanks for following along with us!
My throat is closing because my Airstream has been at North Trail since January 4. We came back to Va. for January and February , have reservations in early March and am holding my breath that it will all work out! We have stayed at Franklin Locks,Fort DeSoto , Myakka River,Oscar Scherer in that area.Repairs are always a challenge !
Hopefully your trailer is fine. I have a lot more to the story than what I got into in this post – but they were ridiculous from day one. I really had to advocate for us, including calling Airstream at one point because the repair rep wasn’t going to have the parts in time. I think he waited too long to order them – and Airstream agreed to overnight them at their expense – so that we wouldn’t have to schedule the repair out farther. Airstream was awesome, North Trail was not.
Debra Flick says
Ours is an insurance claim ,$17,000 to be exact .3 panels damaged by a tree at Myakka . They have the check. Kind of changed our winter plans for certain ! I love reading of your family adventures ! Your kids are so blessed !
Oh no!! Did a tree fall on it? I hope they fix you up right. We loved Myakka!
cecile chappell says
I read your adventures with your family and think , Oh she is too busy to hear anything I might say, But this time I want to say what a dear child you are. Yes I know the stress but you find the silver lining! God Bless all of you.
Cecile – I’m so glad you commented – we love reading comments from people following our adventures. I’m definitely not too busy to read them. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words!
Sean Slattery says
Small world. My family (wife and two girls) and I were just up in Florida, looking at RVs for a grand road trip and after a lot of deliberation ended up looking at Airstreams at North Trail RV several times. We’ve been exploring options but having a bunk house of some kind really makes sense with a 14 and 10 year olds. We were leaning towards a 28′ model but couldn’t really work out sleeping arrangements so we’re now favoring the 30FB Bunk model like you have. In your travels, has the length or weight or maybe turning radius of your trailer caused you issues to the point where you said “if only we had a shorter trailer”? Thank you and I’m sure our paths will cross out there somewhere.