Monthly Archives: April 2021

Final Chapter?

I’m getting ready to start out on my third “Good Adventure.” It will be the next to last. The first adventure detailed here was my retirement and eight wonderful years living in the Republic of Panama. The biggest adventure while there was transiting The Canal in 2014.

When health problems, COPD, made me decide to repatriate I bought a small sailboat and spent the next four years doing some cruising, but mainly living at anchor off of Anna Maria Island, Florida a bit south of Tampa Bay. During that adventure I rode out Hurricane Irma tucked so safely away in the mangroves that I actually slept through the height of the storm. 

I knew the end of this adventure was coming to an end when I rode out Tropical Storm Eta at anchor. I was in semi-protected water by the Coquina North Boat Ramp where I was in a bit of lee from the worst of the wave action because of Leftis Key a quarter mile south of my location. Those who were up in the main anchorage off the Bridge Street Pier didn’t fare as well. NINE boats, including that of my friends Shawn and Pete, sank.

One problem I had down at the lower anchorage was an engineless, 28-foot Carver power boat that was constantly dragging anchor. One day they came within 20 feet of drifting down on to me.

They stopped RIGHT OVER where my anchor was buried in the sand! I’d gone up to check for chaffing of my anchor rode where it went over the side and to think about letting out more line to avoid the dragging boat if necessary. My COPD is such that in the short distance from the cockpit to the bow and back, perhaps 20 feet round-trip, I had to spend five minutes gasping desperately for my breathing to return to normal. THAT was when I said “I can’t do this anymore. I have to move ashore.” If something had gone seriously tits-up I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

When I posted this on Facebook a “Friend” wrote that he had a spot off the Saint Johns River in central Florida where I could keep both a boat and a van. So I took him up on the offer. Another friend, who owns a boat rental business on Anna Maria Island, towed me over to DeBary, and here I sit tied to the bank of a canal deep in the swamp. SO DEEP that alligators are constant neighbors and there was a black bear within 25 feet of my gangplank one afternoon! It’s also over three miles to the nearest paved road.

Of course my first instinct was to think of buying a cargo van to convert to camping. I enlisted a nephew who is a total gear head who lives in North Carolina to search for one. But then an old friend offered me, FREE, his 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Sport. It has NEW tires, a NEW, not rebuilt, starter, a NEW a/c compressor and a bunch of other goodies. I brought it up to the swamp recently.

Now, believe me, I’m VERY grateful to have gotten this car, and the idea I’m about to expound on only occurred to me AFTER I’d brought the car to the swamp. 

I want to do some land cruising. I’ve been around the eastern half of the United States by water. It’s called “The Great Loop.” It’s time to see what’s on the land side of the shoreline after a lifetime on the water. I had talked about throwing my tri-fold mattress in the back along with the 12-volt fridge and taking off for the summer. But I began to realize this isn’t the vehicle I need to do that. And there are a lot of reasons.

One, it’s a Mitsubishi. I’ve always remembered a remark my dad made when one of my brothers was contemplating buying a Peugot…”Good luck getting it fixed in East Podunk!” I feel it would be the same with the Mitsubishi in West Whatthehell, Wyoming. Not that I ever plan on going to Wyoming, you understand. Hell, Dick Cheney could be out hunting there. On the other hand, something like a Honda or a Toyota would be fixable just about anywhere in North America.

I’ve ditched the idea, for now, of a large van and am downsizing the idea. I think, after lots of web browsing and searching, the vehicle I want is a mini-van. Since most of my initial travels will be in the eastern part of the country with not nearly as many National Parks or other Federal lands to perch on, and campgrounds can easily eat up the monthly SS check “Stealth” overnighting will be essential. A minivan “blends in” with everything and would surely reduce the chances of getting the dreaded midnight “knock.”

Here are some of the downsides of the Montero Sport…

No roof rack. So adding a carrier isn’t possible. I think that’s going to be a necessity since I’m going to want to have things like a tent. I mean there are campground that REQUIRE you to have a tent so you pop one up and then sleep in the van. A tent is also a place you can poop in private or cook supper when it’s raining. I looked on Amazon for roof racks that aren’t permanent and none of the ones offered even got a 50% five star rating. 

While mine isn’t one, the Montero Sport also came in a 4 wheel drive version. The body on both are the same but with the 4 wheel version larger sized tired are common and the body is built to take them. That means the wheel wells are HUGE in order to take them and they intrude into the available space behind the front seats. Makes setting up living quarters difficult even with the rear seats removed. 

There are no roof rails. I think they’re important because somewhere along the line, and soon, I suspect, I’ll want to get one of those roof pods to carry things like a tent and an awning. An awning makes things comfortable but there needs to be an attachment point on the van and that’s usually a roof rail. Also, the roof pod is a place to secure a solar panel. I have a 100-watt solid panel and a 160-watt flex panel I’m going to be taking along.

Looking at various van-living sites I’ve found these are considered the best minivans for camping conversion: 

Toyota Sienna

Nissan Quest

Mazda 5

Chrysler Pacifica

Kia Sedona

Honda Odyssey

Dodge Grand Caravan

Ford Transit Connect

Ram ProMaster City

Mercedes-Benz Metris

If I could afford to buy a Mercedes I wouldn’t be writing any of this, so scratch that one.

After spending hours online looking at the rating for various minivans I’ve narrowed my search to these three: Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, and the Kia Sedona. The Kia comes in a distant third, however even though it offers the largest interior and has many fans. 

In that twilight zone just before dropping off into full-blown sleep the outline for the next “Good Adventure” came to mind. It combines land and water aspects. In the autumn of 1974 I took a 43-foot Hatteras tri-cabin from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale via the Great Lakes. Well, three of them, anyway. I traveled the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie before entering the Erie Canal. But that’s just three of the five Great Lakes. I need to get on the other two, Ontario and Superior. So, why not take a road trip and do a huge loop? Leave Florida, visit family in North Carolina and Virginia and travel up to Lake Ontario. Rent a boat up there and go for a ride. One down. 

I got my passport renewal application the other day. Renew the passport and run up into Canada and visit a Facebook friend who lives in the town with the longest freshwater beach in the world. It’s on Georgian Bay, a rustic and scenic part of Lake Huron. Roy has a great houseboat he built and sells plans for with several being built even overseas. Perhaps I could get a day trip with him.

From there I’d mosey on over to Lake Superior, rent another boat and hit the water topping off the list. 

After that I’d go to Wyoming, Minnesota, or thereabouts and wander down legendary Highway 61. It would, like Bob Dylan’s song, be “Revisited.” I lived right on Highway 61 for two years while attending college in Canton, Missouri. Could stop in at the old alma mater, even. Then roam on down to New Orleans which is the terminus of the route. I even know where there’s a small concrete cenotaph marking the spot. 

I would hit as many national and state parks and US Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds as possible. Also try and find FB “friends” along the way where I could crash in their driveways for a night. One of the groups I run has a couple of thousand members (that number completely blows me away) and I bet there are some along the route, too.

We’ll see what happens.


Filed under Minivan Camping, Uncategorized, Van Camping