May 1 was our start date for the grand expedition. We got everything loaded up, set up, and hitched up a few minutes before 11:00am. That was a little bit later than expected, but we weren’t in any hurry, so it wasn’t a problem. The odometer read 1790 when we pulled away from our storage location – about 1400 of those miles were put on before we took delivery, since they drove it from the manufacturing plant in Indiana to the dealer in Fort Myers. We put the rest on before the big trip while driving to and from Wellington to visit my brothers Keith and Ray, and on our shakedown cruise.
A few rookie mistakes surfaced early. As we were making the first right hand turn, I put on the turn signal and it dawned on me that I forgot to turn on the wireless light bar, and we hadn’t tested the lights on our toad. Of course there was no place to stop at that point, so we continued on. Upon making our first left hand turn, a loud crash made it quite clear that we had also forgotten to lock the refrigerator closed – the half gallon of milk and a few other things tumbled onto the floor. Luckily, nothing broke and no harm done, but we are now going to make a complete before takeoff checklist so stuff like that doesn’t happen again. No doubt we’ll find other mistakes we can make.
We found a place to stop after a mile or so and got the lights working and tested. Refrigerator reloaded and now locked, we headed onto I-75 North towards our first stop, Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland, Florida.
We stopped at a rest stop for lunch, and on the walkaround before leaving, I discovered that we had also left the windows open in the Jeep. Fortunately, we had only encountered some light rain for a few minutes during the morning drive, so again, no harm done. The poor toad does get covered with dust when behind the motorhome, and the slightest rain sprays all over it, so it’s going to be one dirty vehicle.
The Dutch Star is not exactly a joy to drive, but it’s not bad, either. It requires continual steering input to keep it in the center of the lane, and with a width of 8 ½ feet, that’s more important and more difficult than it is in a passenger car. It is pretty susceptible to crosswinds, too, and today we had winds that judging from the way the flags we saw were snapping around, were about 15-20. When a big truck passes, it also tends to blow the coach around a bit, and since that truck is only a few feet away, it’s a good idea to pay close attention while that’s happening.
The Dutch Star accelerates very slowly compared to any light-duty passenger vehicle. It has a 450 horsepower, 9 liter six-cylinder Cummins ISL diesel, with 1100 foot-pounds of torque (or something like that), but when its loaded and the Jeep is hitched up, there’s 44,000 pounds to move. From a standing start, you almost always simply floor it and wait for it to get up to speed. My estimate is 0 to 60 in 30 seconds. I’ll have to get out a sundial and time it someday.
On the plus side, there is almost no engine noise. You can feel something way back there making it go, but you can’t really hear it. A comfortable cruise speed is about 64 miles per hour, and at that speed in top gear (it has a six-speed Allison transmission) it is turning over 1600 RPM. There is a bit of tire noise, and some creaking from the cabinetry and accessories, but it isn’t bothersome at all. The stereo system is pretty lame – two 5” speakers up above your head. Sounds pretty tinny.
Considering that it is moving about 10 times the weight of an average car, fuel economy isn’t that bad. The trip computer reported that we got 7.4 miles per gallon over the 316 miles that we travelled. We arrived at the campground at about 5:40. I think we would have been about an hour earlier except we got some bad advice from our GPS and ended up on a road with dozens of long, Florida-style red lights.
The campground is quite nice. Unusually for a state park, it has full hookups (50 amp electrical service, water, and sewer). We managed to get everything set up without wrecking anything, and then Therese cooked a delicious spinach and cheese stuffed steak dinner (purchased ready- to-cook from Publix supermarket) in the convection oven.
After dinner, we went on a walk around the campground just as it was getting dark. We saw deer, an armadillo, and a toad, but the most memorable wildlife was an aggressive bee or wasp (too dark to tell which) that followed Therese around for a half mile. Finally it landed on her and was bravely dispatched by her fearless husband.
We found that not only is there no wifi here, there isn’t any cell service either. The hardship of it all! I’ll have to publish this blog after we return to some semblance of civilization.
We’re going to stick around here for another day. There’s a river/pond where manatee are alleged to hang out sometimes, hence the name of the park. We’ll look for ‘em and let you know.
On Tuesday, we took a walk over to the spring that Manatee Springs its name. The spring is impressive – about 25 feet deep, crystal clear and flowing strongly. The sign said that between 50 and 150 million gallons of water a day flow out of it into the Suwannee River, making it a “first magnitude” spring.
We saw a variety of land and water wildlife – deer, armadillos, heron, some other hawk-like bird, and toads. At first, we thought we were seeing baby deer, since they were only half the size of their Pennsylvania cousins. Later we concluded that they must be of a smaller species (mule deer?) since we never saw one more than waist high. In the water were some 2 foot catfish in the spring, and then when we got down to the Suwannee river, we saw some bluish 4 or 5 foot fish of some kind, and we saw some 3 or 4 foot sturgeons jumping a few feet out of the water. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed our walk (I don’t think we could have called it a hike) all around.
We went for a drive into town in the afternoon to pick up a few things we forgot. We got back into cell coverage and got a bunch of e-mails and text messages on our phones. On Tuesday evening, I turned on my iPad and discovered that it was getting some reception. I guess that must be because it’s Verizon and our phones are AT&T. It still wasn’t good enough to get reasonable data transmission, so this post will still have to wait until we’re someplace in civilization.
Ok, it’s May 3, we are on our way to another Florida State Park, Florida Caverns. We are stopped at a rest area, and got good enough cellular data signal to post this.