Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Notwithstanding yesterday's post, which I only just uploaded a few minutes ago, we did not make it as far as the gulf coast today. We are, instead, spending our Mardi Gras at the Wal-Mart in Milton, Florida (map), just east of Pensacola.

When we have no internet access to deliver our morning newspapers and comics, or email to catch up on, etc., we tend to get an earlier start. Today, however, we did not get far from the campground before our first stop -- the visitor center and cave entrance. We signed up for a 10:00 tour, and were the only two patrons. The ranger was tickled pink to have a small tour with a pair of cave veterans, and we got the full monty, with views of formations that, with larger groups, she bypasses. For that reason, our 45-minute tour stretched to nearly an hour, and then we took a 15-minute nature trail afterwards through the hardwood hammock.

I have to say that we were quite surprised by the beauty of this cave. It is tempting to think, at some level, that if you've seen a couple each of dry and wet caves, that you've seen them all, but, really, each cave is unique. Today we saw many examples of a type of formation that we had never seen before -- rimstone pools. Fascinating and beautiful at the same time. In any case, between the tour and the walk, it was nearly noon by the time we rolled out of the park.

As is usual for us, we elected to stay on US90, shunning the nearby I-10. Slow going through the handful of towns, and, to top it off, we got snoozy around 2ish, and stopped at a lovely city park in Crestview for an hour or so.

The last Mobile Ferry we wanted to take was the 4:15. There is a 5:45, but it would put us on Dauphin Island in the dark. So we spent some time during our rest stop scoping out stopping places shy of the ferry. Our first choice was Alabama's Gulf State Park, which, remarkably, is open for camping (and is not full of FEMA trailers). However, unsurprisingly, they were fully booked tonight when I called. Our second choice, Gulf Islands National Seashore, has no operating campgrounds. What wasn't already closed indefinitely from Ivan was wiped out by Katrina.

That left us with urban camping in Pensacola, or trying to get in to one of the handful of commercial parks along Gulf Shores. The traffic heading in to Pensacola made the decision for us, and we stopped here. Our Mardi Gras celebration will, thus, have to be limited to dining and drinks at the Ruby Tuesday across the parking lot. I'm wearing my beads anyway, in case a fais do-do breaks out.

Yesterday someone posted the following question in the comments:
Odyssey, while a magnificent "beast," seems to require a lot of compromises as to where you can go, and frustrations as to where you can stay. That, along with the engine problems and other glitches, would make a large diesel-pusher daunting to we less intrepid travelers. If you had it all to do over again, would you still elect to go the Odyssey route, or would you choose a somewhat smaller RV?

I'd like to answer here, because I don't think many people go to the comments, but probably several folks would like to hear the answer. The answer is a resounding "hell yes" we would do Odyssey all over again. At some point, I intend to post a post-deployment analysis on our main web site of what specific things in Odyssey are perfect and what things need improvement or we would have done differently. Until I get around to that, though, I can tell you that we feel it is mostly perfect and only a couple of really minor details would be changed if we could.

Also, I want to clarify that, mostly, we don't have to compromise about where we go and are not frustrated by limitations on where we stay. It is inevitable that, here in the blog, you will hear me grouse about things like getting stuck, low clearances, and the like. What you don't hear me say often, but is the truth, is that we go pretty much wherever we want and we are able to stay most of the places we want to stay. The sorts of problems that we have tend to stem more from our preferences (for example, in favor of state and national parks and against commercial RV parks) and our refusal to plan trips in the exacting detail required to make advance reservations. We would have these same issues in a Class-B van conversion, with, really, only a small handful of additional sites opening up for us in a smaller rig.

Also, bear in mind that Odyssey is our home full-time. There is no back-up home someplace where we can retreat or even keep things. While it seems large for an RV (but it is by no means the largest thing out there -- 45' coaches abound, as do immense 5th wheels which combine with tow rigs to exceed 60'), it is incredibly small for a house. Every full-timer makes compromises between living space, storage capacity, weight, maneuverability, and operating expense. We are very, very happy with how well Odyssey fits in to our own ideal place on the continuum.

In other words, to give a shorter answer: I don't think a smaller coach could have met our needs, and I am certain beyond doubt that anything ready-made and off-the-shelf would not deliver the boondocking features and performance that we require and that Odyssey delivers in spades.

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