Our First RV Trip, Sunny Sanibel & Captiva Islands: A Series from Life on the Road

(Note: CLICK HERE to view my photo gallery of scenic highlights from this trip.)

We finally brought Eddie home after the buying drama and Bruce immediately wanted to take a trip — right before Christmas. As I’ve said before, working an RV into our lives right at Christmastime felt like bringing home a puppy during the holidays. I do not recommend doing either of these. Bruce wanted to go anywhere at this point, but I asked him to wait until after the holiday hoopla.

Christmas passed and we decided to make our maiden voyage in Eddie to southern Florida to visit family who was already vacationing there. Why not invite ourselves, lol? We are very close with them so we felt like we could intrude, and they were stoked we were coming. This was one of only two trips she has not taken with us, but I think she’s forgiven us by now.

We loaded up our gear and set out on a rouge mission to give Eddie a long test drive.

In all of our international and home travels, we love to use Atlas Obscura. It finds the most interesting places to visit and things to see typically off of the beaten path, just the way we like it. Our first stop, courtesy of Atlas Obscura, was new for us even though we’ve been to South Carolina countless times. Check out the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, SC. Who knew this was there? I’d never try to enter this structure, but it is super creative so good for them! Bruce and I laughed that Eddie is already broadening our horizons, even at the start of our first trip.

Everything was going great … until we stopped for gas five hours into the trip. As I sat inside with Precious, I heard Bruce outside bemoan, “No! No! No!”

My heart racing, I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“There’s hydraulic fluid spilled all over the ground!”

“Wait. What? Is it ours?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Do we need to turn back?”

“I don’t think so. Just means we won’t be able to level the RV for the entire trip.”

“Ug,” I groaned along with him.

In my previous post, I mentioned the specialist for whom we waited six weeks just to install the automatic leveling jacks because the RV with the jacks that we ordered from this dealership was never actually ordered, so we bought one off the lot very similar to ours sans the jacks. I also mentioned how I wish we had known about a third-party inspection as this issue (and many others we would learn) would have been caught.

I immediately made a repair appointment back in our home city for after we returned home (with a different company altogether, I might add). They were gracious to squeeze us in and their report was jaw-dropping. The mechanic who inspected the specialist’s work described it as “sloppy, awful, and unacceptable.”

As it turns out, the hydraulic lines were installed underneath, but never tied up. This means the lines hung dangling down below Eddie, rubbing against the tires until they ruptured. The tying step is like forgetting to zip up pants; kind of obvious and hard to miss.

Nonetheless, this was our second experience with practicing patience, and the issue was a huge deal to fix. All the existing lines had to be ripped out and new ones installed. The parts were hard to find, but the mechanic had a great idea of having them locally made. Voila! What could’ve taken several weeks only took a couple of days. Bless him!

To save our trip to Florida, at the gas station Bruce slid under the RV and temporarily tie-wrapped the lines out of the way of the tires as best he could, and we continued. It’s a good thing we were headed to flat Florida and not the mountains. Truly, the entire dynamics of the trip can change if the RV cannot level on uneven ground. Fun houses at the carnival are fun because they are voluntary and momentary. But living with a slant, in any direction, is not fun.

We used a few travel apps to help us navigate our route. Our advice is to double-check information. We made it to a site on the app that said it was a boondocking spot. Boondocking (a.k.a. dry camping) is to camp self-contained on permissible land. No electric, water, or sewer hook-ups. No amenities at all. It’s also free, so yeah, we love to boondock. At almost midnight (thanks to the hydraulic line delay), we were over-the-moon to arrive at Frank Butler Park County Park East. It was such a beautiful site right on the beach’s edge. The park was small and quiet, and there was another RV already tucked in for the night. I was very happy to see a fellow camper, safety in numbers.

It was a dream to be parked for the night right at the beach, listening to the waves lap against the shore as we fell asleep. Glorious! We awoke to a bright sunrise, and I made pancakes and bacon for our first breakfast in Eddie. I noticed a police car cruise by the two rigs, and we waved as they passed. I felt so safe!

Unfortunately, we didn’t know this is an illegal place to park. We took the app and its glowing reviews at face value (our bad), but the second time we wanted to stay there, I noticed other reviews that said overnight parking was not allowed. I called the city for clarification and, sure enough, no overnight parking. We were embarrassed that we didn’t know and learned to double-check the apps, but evidently Bruce wasn’t quite as embarrassed about the outfit he chose. Rock those socks, Babe!

We also made a common newbie error of not understanding how overflow freshwater lines work. They are necessary to keep from flooding the RV if overfilled, but drooping down, they slyly seep water out the freshwater tank while traveling down the road. Eddie basically looked like he was peeing the entire way, but we had no idea as we merrily drove in ignorant bliss down the highway. We left home with a full freshwater tank and arrived at the beach one-third full. We now know some folks tie them up, some crimp the lines, and some put valves on them. That was the first fix when we got home as we learned quickly how precious a commodity freshwater is when traveling, especially boondocking.

What a gorgeous, albeit misinformed, first night of camping in Eddie.

We were instantly hooked on boondocking. It was an awesome first impression of RV life and made the wait for him worth it.

This golden spot was just a pass-through for us as we headed toward our destination … Sanibel Island.

We met up with family and had so much fun! Being able to dip our toes in saltwater, wear shorts instead of sweats, and eat outside (staying COVID-19 safe) versus huddled inside was awesome.

I grew up in Florida and have always enjoyed coming back to see family and friends. But after a difficult 2020, starting out 2021 with fiery sunsets ablaze on the water, sailboats lazily drifting by, and palm trees branches gently swaying in the warm breeze, it was refreshing on a whole new level. We are so happy our extended family decided to vacation there and let us crash their party!

To think, if we didn’t have Eddie, we would’ve been home taking down Christmas decorations. Now we were running all over Florida making great memories with people we cherish and enjoying amazing ice cream in Captiva Island on the beach in Eddie. I’m so glad Bruce nudged me out of my comfort zone with this whole RV thing. I never considered the RV life, not even once, and can’t miss what I don’t know. Now I know!

It didn’t even matter that where we stayed near Sanibel/Cativa was, how do I say it, not what we imagined our first RV campground to look like. Not postcard-worthy, but it was safe and quiet so no complaints. We didn’t know at the time campgrounds in Florida book a year in advance. Yikes! I warned Bruce we should lower our expectations with the fact that this one had an open spot for us on such short notice. I wasn’t wrong.

We pulled in very late and learned a hard lesson, one of hundreds, if not thousands so far, about RV life. It was our first full hook-up experience (i.e., water, sewer, and electric) so Bruce ran the water and sewer lines not realizing we should leave the sewer valve closed unless dumping the black tank (i.e., the toilet tank). Let’s just say, while I was getting ready the next morning, a nasty smell like no other filled the bathroom, then the entire RV. Words cannot describe the odor. Bruce flew outside to close the valve as soon as we realized what was happening. Basically, all the other campers’ sewer smells were coming through our lines and into Eddie. Gross is an understatement! Once we finally got the smell memory out of our noses, we can laugh about it. It was a newbie error — one we will never make again.

Squeezing in one last hurrah before heading up the Gulf Coast to surprise dear friends, we had an amazing brunch at Eggcetera in the Village Shoppes in Fort Myers. The owner and staff were super fun and very accommodating and the food was eggs-traordinary. Two thumbs way up!

After family farewells, we cranked up Eddie and headed due north. In retrospect, we should’ve given them a little more notice than two hours, ha-ha. But we weren’t sure when and where we’d be, so we decided to wing it.

On the way, I was elated to stop by Farm Stores for eggnog. They have the best eggnog on the planet, and we had not had it in years.

We maneuvered Eddie into their tiny parking lot, and I literally ran with money in hand to the guy at the door only to find out their delivery truck was delayed, and they were out of stock. Boo! The adult response would be to be thankful for saving the calories. But the kid in me, who grew up on Farm Stores eggnog, felt like I just missed the ice cream truck. Oh well. Next time.

However, it was quite a thrill to drive Eddie over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge! Bruce sometimes has a fear of heights, and I was very proud of him managing it behind the wheel of a 32-foot RV. Every trip has its firsts, but this bridge still holds the record for the highest and longest bridge we’ve traversed in Eddie.

We caught up with our surprised, yet ever-gracious, friends and stood outside with masks on, socially distant. It was so weird to feel an invisible barrier between one of my closest, most long-time friends and myself, but we were so thankful to see them in person for the first time in a very long time. Thank you, RV life! Without Eddie, we never would have seen them that day. Grateful!

On our way home, we had plans to stay at our first Harvest Host. However, a terrible accident on the highway caused hours of delay which meant we would not arrive until 1 a.m. I called the very understanding host and told her we definitely want to try it again another time.

When traffic first started to slow down on the highway, all I could think about was getting to this lovely farm and staying at our first Harvest Host. However, it didn’t take long to realize just how bad the accident was and that it was more important to be concerned about the folks affected than where we would sleep. To our horror, their dog ran scared through lanes of traffic dragging its leash behind as the son chased him barefoot, weaving in and out of cars, to which his father was chasing him barefoot. People were jumping out of their cars trying to catch the petrified pup. No one could help and our hearts sank. The entire scene brought me to tears and reminded me what was important.

In lieu of the Harvest Host, we found a Cracker Barrel off the highway and stayed overnight there with seven other campers. It felt bizarre to sleep in a restaurant’s parking lot, a first for both of us. Most Cracker Barrels allow them (but not all of them and at the time we didn’t know we had to call first to verify, more newbie errors). The next day, we were so excited to stumble on Duck Donuts!

Our first taste of this sweetness was in the Outer Banks, NC and man are they good. We had to stop and grab some to share with family back home.

We arrived home with a heart full of memories, bellies full of doughnuts, and lessons learned about water lines, hydraulic lines, legit places to sleep, poop valves to keep shut, flexible plans to roll with, and being grateful for the opportunity to go in the first place.

Every trip in Eddie since has had its highs and lows. That’s just how life rolls on and off the road. It is how those are handled that makes the difference. The first and most important lesson we learned years ago doing mission work overseas is F.L.E.X.I.B.I.L.I.T.Y; without it all joy is lost, but with it, there is always a way to make it work.

Plans A, B, C and D may not work, but plans X, Y, and Z might wind up being exactly what the trip was supposed to be in the first place, whether we knew it at the time. Keeping an open mind, compromise, a positive attitude, spontaneous spirits, teamwork, knowing when to take a breath, flexibility, a great sense of humor, and endless patience are deciding factors whether a trip feels like a success.

With one trip under our belt, all things considered, we couldn’t wait to get back out on the road. The next trip right after this one had a big surprise in store for us. It was time to put away our shorts and start packing our winter gear!

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