Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taking the long way to Florida

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Since I had just made the long drive to Florida in March, I wasn’t eager to take the most direct route there again.  Fall had come and gone in Chicago already and I still felt as if I had not gotten enough time with pretty fall foliage.  I thought the Ozarks and north central Arkansas might have some good color around this time of year, so I programmed the GPS to southeast Missouri, and off Millie and I went for 6 weeks of snowbirding to Florida via the long way.

Weather was  very strange on my way down to Missouri.  I got a late start (like usual) and didn’t leave Chicago until nearly dinnertime.  The rain had held off while I was loading up the Winnebago, but as soon as we got onto the interstate, the clouds let loose with torrential rains and thunderstorms.  After 2 hours of driving thru non-stop rain, I pulled off to a rest stop to check the weather radar on my iPhone to see just how big a storm this was.   The radar image was hysterical—it was nothing more than a thin line of intense storms, but that lined up directly over the whole length of I-55 from Chicago to Springfield!  Perfect timing!

By the time we reached our familiar Litchfield, IL Wal-Mart parking lot, the storms had finally passed, and our overnight was quiet and comfortable.  (Quite a difference from the last time I overnighted in this lot back in the winter of 2007!)

The next morning, I awoke to near-dead batteries.  Who knew you actually had to refill lead acid batteries from time to time!  Mine were bone-dry, so I spent the morning trying to figure out if I should try to refill them, just buy new ones, or accelerate my plans to upgrade them to more heavy-duty 6 volt batteries.  I decided to try the simple/fast solution first—refilling them to see if they’d then recharge.  After putting nearly a gallon of distilled water into both batteries, and driving a full day to Missouri, they charged surprisingly well (certainly not the capacity they had before, but it was enough to last thru the night.

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We rolled into the Alley Spring Campground near Eminence, MO surprised to discover only 2 other campers in the whole place and no camp hosts or rangers anywhere to be found.  The entrance station had no after-hours pay envelopes or payment container, yet the campground still showed being open.  So, I went ahead and found a lovely spot right on the banks of the Jacks Fork river, and figured if someone wanted payment, they’d come and ask.  30 minutes later, a park service pickup with 2 rangers drove through my loop, but to my surprise, they never asked for payment or checked my rig.  So, I guess it was official…my stay here was free!

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As night fell, a number of large hawks flew over me and towards the almost-full moon.  After dinner, it was pitch black outside, and the winds were starting to kick up quite a bit.  I knew storms were on the way again, but didn’t know much more.  That’s when I discovered that the canyon I was in had no cellphone service and no TV.  My mind started wondering where exactly that Arkansas campground had been located where all those campers died this past spring due to flash flooding.  Crazy what your brain can do when it’s dark and windy outside, and you’re the only camper in your campground loop…with no means of communication to the outside world!   Dumb, dumb, dumb!!!

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With the light of dawn, I awoke to calm winds and a serene crystal clear Jacks Fork river.  I now felt much better about selecting this campground after all.   Later in the day, as we were driving listening to the news, I learned that a bizarre huge windstorm had crossed the entire Midwest the night before with some towns getting tornado-strength winds and a report of one RV dealer being devastated when the winds knocked over all their motorhomes and trailers on the lot.  In hindsight, snuggling into this little canyon, was not such a bad move after all.

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