I have had good intentions for blogging us here – and it finally feels like we are settled. We arrived two weeks ago – Oct. 17 – after leaving Fort Rucker on the 16th. We opted for leisurely travel, splitting the 421 miles into two days, which was an excellent decision.
Our mid-point travel stop was in Lake City, FL at the Casey Jones RV park on SR 47 at exit 423 off I75. This is a good overnight stopping point if you are traveling I75 south.
We arrived at MacDill at 1410 hrs., and were settled into our spot at 1645 hrs. This was a pretty amazing feat, all things considered. Our site, #91, in the main campground was a little – no – a lot tight. Our neighbors in site #92 had left their shiny new Mustang parked within about a foot of our parking pad, and had left for the day. The main campground is truly more of an RV park, with very small lots, minimal parking, and pretty tight space for backing in. Our choice on arrival was to go find a parking lot to wait until our neighbor came home, or to try and park around the car. Thanks to Bill’s outstanding driving skill, and with the help of another neighbor providing spotting assistance; we successfully parked in our designated site. Our neighbors returned home several hours later and offered (mild) apologies for parking so close.
The campground rules allow for 2 vehicles per site, which equates to very little yard, especially when you factor in a large picnic table. An especially (un)attractive yard decoration is your neighbor’s sewer connection which ends up very near your picnic table!
The weather here is hot and humid – more about that later. Coupled with the cramped conditions, I wasn’t a particularly happy camper. However, we were near the water and there was no snow in the forecast. The beach here is really small. More appropriate for sitting under one of the shelters and looking over at St. Petersburg. A bonus though – a fenced dog park on the beach! Piper really enjoys this.
We quickly fell back into our habit of walking and accumulating 10,000 steps a day. One of those walks took us about 1.5 miles to the second campground – the “Annex”. The sites are more spread out, there is room to breathe, and you are not looking in your neighbor’s windows every time you look out your windows. We discussed the option of requesting the Annex next year and decided that would be our plan. Then we decided to be really bold and ask if there was any chance we could be moved this year. You’ve probably heard the old saw – “if you don’t ask, the answer will always be No”? Well, within about 3 hours of asking, we received a phone call! We were given the choice of several sites to pick from. We gratefully selected one, and Friday was moving day again.
Life in the Annex has been delightful! Amenity-wise – there isn’t much. No bathrooms/shower house facilities, and no laundry. We go to the main campground for that. The trade-off is completely worth it. Neighbors are pleasant, and the atmosphere is more “camperish”. If you are into socializing and not needing much yard space, the Main is for you. Laid back and comfortable? Aim for the Annex!
Life on base is good. The public address system here is phenomenal! We listen to Reveille at 0600, the noon whistle, Retreat/National Anthem at 1700, and Taps at 2200. On the weekend, it’s just Taps. At both campgrounds, we are responsible for lawn maintenance. They have mowers and weed whips – and supply the fuel. We’ve heard that we can also get 2 cups of grass seed per site if we want to have a nicer yard.
On the afternoon that we moved to the Annex we saw this gorgeous Bald Eagle here at the Annex. That had special significance for me, and I was truly grateful to see him.
We’ve done some serious learning here, though. The heat is intense, and the sun relentless. So are the mosquitoes and fire ants. Bill has waged war – with moderate mosquito success and excellent success with the ants. We’ve both had several ant bites that fueled the fire of revenge. Mosquitoes and no see’ums are a pain, and encourages one to stay inside at dawn and dusk. Deep Woods Off seems to be the cologne of choice in these parts.
As far as the heat, we attacked that problem also. Even with two air conditioners and the ceiling fan, we were having trouble keeping cool. Here are some of the things we have learned:
- Park your vehicle so the sun is at the back side and use the reflective shields for the windows. Don’t leave things like membership cards or CDs in your vehicle if you don’t want them warped. Similarly, gummy bears and juji fruits will melt into little sugar puddles.
- Oscillating fans on the floor provide some comfort and relief for pets (and humans).
- A sunscreen that attaches to your awning makes a huge difference. That coupled with a box fan allows you to be outside longer and enjoy the beauty around you.
- Reflective insulation for the windows! We used a heat gun, just out of curiosity. Shooting the bare window – temp on the window surface was 118 degrees. Outside temp was 89 degrees. With the blackout shades pulled, the temp dropped about 10 degrees when we shot the surface of the shade. After covering the windows that get direct sun contact, we lowered the temp to 87-90 degrees. Pulling the shades over the covered windows lowered the surface temp to 82 degrees. All in all, a good investment! We used 3M Command solutions to attach the insulation, so it’s easy to remove and reinstall as the sun changes.
- Plan your activity wisely. Through trial and error, we make sure we are out walking by 0900 – 0930 at the latest. That way, we can get around 3-4 miles in before it gets uncomfortable. We usually take a leisurely stroll in the evening.
- Cook outside when able. We have set up a little cooking station outside for the Instant Pot, Air Fryer, Crockpot and Grill. Yes, we are using convenience cookers! Menu planning and meal prepping are great – because when mealtime rolls around, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about cooking in the heat. For example, this week we will have a breakfast quiche (enough for several mornings), white bean and kale soup with smoked turkey, homemade Tonkotsu ramen, 7-layer salad, Tex-Mex layered salad, chef salad, and boneless short ribs. There is usually enough for leftovers for lunches, and we have a light sandwich sometimes.
- Hydrate!!! – Yourself and your pets! More than just water – make sure you are getting some electrolytes.
- Be aware of the wildlife. Haven’t seen any alligators yet, although signs are posted. We have seen a couple snakes and hear that Diamondback Rattlers live in the neighborhood. Bill did perform a wildlife rescue – and we never did figure out why the turtle wanted to cross the road!
- Keep your grass cut short! There is a weed/wildflower that has a really pretty yellow flower. When the flower dies, it is replaced with these horrible lethal spiky burrs that are worse than Legos for human feet, and not any better for puppy paws. Then there are the half-moon shaped little black burrs that attach to your clothing and require a great deal of effort to pry off. In the washing machine, they will automatically seek out and attach themselves to your towels, washcloths, and the inside of your socks and underwear.
All in all, it’s been an adventure. MacDill has a lot to offer. If you’re a golfer – the Annex abuts the golf course. If you’re in socializing and happy hour – opportunities are abundant. The Outdoor Recreation offers discounts for golf, bowling, skeet, boat rentals, kayak/canoe/SUP rentals. There are Game Nights, Dining Outings, Book Clubs, Sewing/Quilting group. There is a fantastic walking/running path. Commissary and Exchange are on base – there is very little reason to venture off base unless you want to. Fellow campers are very friendly. They have a policy that you can stay for 180 days, but then must leave for 180 days – and applies to everyone (even active duty). The whole base, and especially the campground is very clean, well-kept. Not a lot of concern with trees and limb damage. Noise is not an issue.
We’re looking forward to new sights and new adventures!
Total miles from Fort Rucker – 421 miles, plus an additional 118 miles exploring.