Way *way* down upon the Suwannee River…

… we joined a Y2V (A Year To Volunteer) work crew for a 2-week service project at Stephen C Foster State Park.

It was so remote (audience: How remote was it?)… it was so remote that it took almost 25 minutes to drive to the nearest town with a store, and that one and only store was a Dollar General.

Cell service was about as reliable as a stoner delivering pizza, and wifi at the campground trading post was about as strong as rest stop toilet paper, so we did not spend a lot of time online.

But that was bearable. We were busy working, making new friends, spotting wildlife, and enjoying the solitude. Here it is in a nutshell.

How We Got Hooked (blame it on the a a a a a alcohol)

It started with a meet-up at a Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville, TX.
We invited two friends (Phil & Stacy of You, Me & The RV)
and they invited two friends (Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer),
and the more I heard about the Y2V mission, and the more I drank, the more ambitious I became.
My inner voice slurred, “We haf schkills. We haf thah kine o time. Lesssh do thish!”
And that is how we signed our asses up for not one, not two, but three Y2V projects — and have since added a fourth.
Would anybody else like to drink with me?
Wine clearly makes me believe I have superpowers.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

The Worker Bees of Y2V

There were 30 of us, all RVers, mostly couples. Most stayed the entire duration of the project (Jan. 25 – Feb. 5, 2021), and a few came and went. Some already had Y2V experience under their tool belts, and some were newbies like us.

There were retirees from a wide variety of backgrounds, a sampling of which includes military veterans, nurses, teachers, a business owner, a contractor, and even a pair of NASA engineers.

I won’t even try to calculate the combined years of home improvement, building, and fix-it experience. Tim has about 40, and he was one of the younger men on the job, so there were several lifetimes worth of skills and knowledge in play every single day.

The Honey-Do’s? Honeys Did — And Then Some

We were given 5 projects by the park. Our team completed those + 20 more, and still finished a day early! A sampling of the tasks:

  • Parking lot striping
  • New AC/exhaust system in maintenance shop
  • 3 new camp host sites (timbers, leveling, graveling)
  • Sanding and painting metal cabin doors
  • Sanding and painting porch & walkway rails
  • Installing new flooring in guest cottages
  • Sanding and painting rocking chairs 
  • Cleaning AC drip stains & touch-up painting in guest cottages
  • Replacing fire rings in campground loops
Our first morning meeting included a hilarious recap of the COVID safety rules we’d all previously agreed via e-mail to uphold.
Because all of us were there in RVs, Shar’s summary was simple:
If the person you’re working next to is not someone who wakes up with you,
you should be wearing a mask.
In addition, we observed social distancing rules, agreed to no indoor socializing or RV tours, and we held only one communal dinner, which was served by masked & gloved helpers rather than the usual potluck buffet style.
The new camp host sites at the beginning…

… in the middle …
… and at the end.
Almost.
Tim & I weren’t on the gravel-spreading team, and I forgot to go back and take a pic of the completed sites.
Earned my stripes on the deck whitewashing crew.
And now I have a pair of painting tights for future projects!
And bonus: they draw the eye downward from this hot mess of an ensemble.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.
~flips dust-caked curls and clomps away~
Tim and Jeff on the Cabin 10 flooring team
Tim, Scott, Susan, Jeff and Phil holding the last piece, which we all signed on the underside before Scott installed it beneath the sink.
Meet Mike & Ginny.
Ginny had been retired for like 20 minutes, and was probably not expecting her retirement to include rocking chairs so soon.
But “Old Folks at Home” is one of Stephen C. Foster’s most famous songs, and we were at the state park named for him, so it kind of fit the theme.
Tim and I took on fire ring replacement.
The old rusted ones were anchored in cement, so we had to dig, wrestle, and swear all that out before installing the new ones.
By about the fourth one my shoulders were aching, but stepping on a fire ant hill distracted me from that rather quickly. Good times.
Less than a week after we all left, word came down from above: we rocked.

The park itself shouted out some love too.

Oh, And We Had Fun

“Have fun!” is in fact codified in Y2V’s core values, and we were nothing if not obedient. Even while we worked, we joked around and kept each other entertained, and also made lasting friendships.

But there was also ample time for campfires & cocktails, hiking & biking, wildlife spotting, boating, and more (yes, socially distanced or masked or both).

The work schedule was not strict — roughly 9-4 each weekday, with a lunch break — and we were advised to take time off as needed for things like ouchy muscles or injuries, personal errands, and especially for any symptoms of illness.

Having the weekend off allowed us time to explore the park ourselves, and also kept our tools, paint, dust, and noise from creating mayhem for park guests during peak visitation days.

‘Twas a gator-spottin’ bike ride along the Suwannee Sill. We saw some!
The park treated us to ranger guided boat rides along the river.
We saw lots of birds, a few more alligators, and two otters (or it might have been the same otter twice).
Finally!
At the end of Week 2, we watched one of the park’s resident black bears investigate the yard of one of the park residences.
Girls, when they’re not busy using the tools and fixing the things, just want to have fun.
So we did.
There were also… ummm… dance lessons?
Kind of hard to tell who’s the instructor and who’s the student here.

UPDATE, 02/17/21: Now that the footage is live, I can divulge that yes, those were dance lessons, and here’s why we needed them! That’s me in the yellow safety vest; Tim’s behind me in the back row, wearing a red flannel shirt. If you make it all the way to the 4:30 mark, you’ll see how I live to be an embarrassment to our sons and any future generations.


Tomorrow we head to Tennessee for the next Y2V project, at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The to-do list includes building bridges, clearing and re-routing trails, and painting maintenance buildings.

Can’t wait to see some of our friends again, meet new members of the crew, and knock that list right out of the park. Hahaha! Out of the park. Get it? I crack myself up.


To learn more about A Year to Volunteer and their upcoming projects, visit them on


Stephen C Foster State Park was our first service project with Y2V. Others were/will be 


Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 4th quarter 2020

For a period of travel predominantly dictated by where we had to be, rather than where we wanted to go, there were many more hidden gems in the mix than we expected to find. Come examine them with us? 

The very short version of the story is that attempts to fix my left shoulder kept us in Texas. Attempts to fix the RV sent us to Indiana.

The same description applies to both situations: we’re not exactly sure what’s wrong, but something definitely isn’t right. Both are being examined and treated by experts; we just don’t want to publicize details on either until we can include the end of the story — or at least see it from where we stand. Stay tuned.

We went from TX to KS to IN to TN to FL, and added our 41st RV state with that 5-day stop in Kansas.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3143 
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)

Texas

Our home base for most of October and November really was a base, namely Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The RV park there is safe and spacious, convenient to our doctors and my family, and easy on the budget. Tim served for 25 years, so military bases feel like home to us no matter where they are.

And it felt even more like home on Thanksgiving, when we got one of our boys and his girl, who drove down from Austin for the big meal.

That said, the noise level at Fort Sam is a little high (frequent trains, occasional choppers) and the scenery really isn’t… scenic. So when we had longish breaks between appointments, we went AWOL with a few side trips.

Side Trip 1: our site at Hickory Creek Park, near Dallas, offered one of the best yards we’ve ever had.
We liked it so much we’ve booked a return stay in May, for a Dallas-area wedding.
Sunrises were definitely worth the wake-up.
Side Trip 2: The friends whose land we stayed on in Wyoming are working as camp hosts just south of Dallas for the winter, so we stopped for an overnight visit, and were treated to the usual photo opportunity with their littlest doggo, Henley.
We’ve got history, as you can see in this collage from August.

Side Trip 3: Crane’s Mill Park, Canyon Lake

Side Trip 4: An overnight at the little known but very delightful Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, a Harvest Hosts location in New Braunfels
Side Trip 5: We spent the night at another Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville. As it turned out, our friends, Phil & Stacy of You, Me & the RV, were parked nearby, and they brought their friends, Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer over for an evening of wine tasting and plan hatching.
More on that below, in the “Where to next?” section.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

Finally, on December 1, we were bound for somewhere outside Texas.

Destination: the DRV Factory Service Center, in northern Indiana. I know. Everyone’s favorite winter vacation spot. Don’t be jealous. It was the opening they had, and we needed it, so we took it.

But first, we stopped in… Texas. Big state. And if we’re heading north or west from San Antonio to get out of it, we end up stopping for the night within its borders.

Eisenhower State Park is not in Oklahoma…
… but you can see it from there.
A short walk down the embankment behind our site yielded this view of the dam along Hwy 91, just north of the Texas border.

Kansas

When Tim was evaluating various routes to Indiana, he discovered that we could stay in yet another Eisenhower State Park. And since liking Ike that much would allow us to add another RVisited state to our list, we made a reservation at the Kansas version.

Our back-in site on the tip of a peninsula offered 180 degrees of lake views.
December sunset — with a visitor

Indiana

After a stop at MORryde in Elkhart for a suspension check, we then had 3 nights available before our service appointment at DRV in Howe the following week. We could have split the stay between the two parking lots and paid nothing, but we seized the opportunity to go somewhere quieter and prettier.

Hello, Indiana Dunes State Park.
We found lots of RV sites available in December, there on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Surprise?
The trails were nearly deserted, and the weather was chilly, but sunny enough for hiking on our first couple of days.
And since the state park is enclosed within Indiana Dunes National Park, we explored a fair amount of those trails too. So starkly beautiful at that time of year.
But then more typical weather arrived, and as soon the RV was done, we aimed our nose southward again.

Tennessee

We realized when we crossed into Tennessee, that we hadn’t been back since we left after our Amazon CamperForce gig three years ago.
Our 3-night stay at Harrison Bay State Park was far more enjoyable.

Florida

For the holidays, we’re moochdocking in a friend’s driveway near Pensacola. We’ve stayed here before, and we were greeted by the same cat, who just happens to bear the same name as our late canine companion, Lola.

She’s a vocal one.
Plus, there are foster puppies here this year, and I’ve been getting lots of snuggles.

Where to next?

After a quick run back to San Antonio in January, we plan to spend a significant part of early 2021 in Georgia and Tennessee, doing service work with A Year To Volunteer. When we met founders Phil & Shar in November, we knew right away that their mission meshed well with our own values, so we registered for three of their upcoming projects. After so many rewarding stays in state parks over the years, we are excited by this opportunity to give back — with what sounds like a lot of sweat equity.

I’ll try my best to blog about each project individually, and as ever, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.

Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded.
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level.
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.