Some time in the the wilderness

Most often on our trip so far, our most memorable camping experiences had come from unexpected sites that we had either found online, or had recommended to us from people we had met along the way.Waking up in Wilderness Landing, it was hard to believe that this hidden gem, found along a beaten up dirt track, had acres of land to camp at, with recently refurbished toilet and shower facilities. All for free!

It was a bit crowded

As with Anderson Pond, the campsite was located near a military air base. And throughout the day, trainee helicopter pilots flew overhead, following the Blackwater River as part of their training route.We were going to go on a walk that morning to explore the sites, however, throughout the morning, we had a flurry of campers who had been staying at the site more permanently, come over to see who the new folk were in the old looking van. It seemed we weren’t finished with our social responsibilities.We had gotten to know Our site ‘neighbour’ Terry pretty well the previous evening, and continued to spend the morning getting to know him better. He was a retired welder, who had worked for the military and NASA during his career.Just before heading out to get supplies, Willow spotted another coolant leak from our cooling system. It seemed the jubilee clips were having a tough time trying to hold together our adapted cooling system.

Our cooling system has more holes than a golf course

I think Terry was in a state of shock when Willow took command, climbing underneath the van, ratchet in hand to solve the problem. I wasn’t completely redundant… a large bolt of the front suspension had worked itself loose, and So I was able to do my bit as the lump with a big breaker bar!

Needed a bit of elbow grease

Van pipes once again secure, we headed out to the local grocery store to buy a few supplies. Easily excited when shopping, we both couldn’t believe our eyes at the ridiculously low prices in ‘Picknsave’. They are a small chain of shops that only add 10% to the cost price of items, and so everything inside was available at a very affordable price. What a great business model!

Popping to the shop

Stocked up for a night of probably drinking around a camp fire, we headed back to our spot and started collecting wood for a night’s worth of fire.Me and Terry enjoyed being hunter gatherers a bit too much. Spending a good twenty minutes hacking, pulling and pushing on a dead tree, until it eventually subsided and gave way. We would both feel the effects of that in the morning!

Clearing some dead wood

With the tree down, it still needed to be chopped into smaller sizes. After a spirited effort, hacking away at it for at least twenty minutes, my patience failed me and I chucked the whole end of the tree onto the fire. I would then shift it along every so often, when the fire at burnt away the end.

Chopping
Team work

That evening, we were joined by Kate and Paul around the fire, as we talked about life around the camp fire. In the distance, wild coyotes howled in a distant forest.Certainly not a bad way to kill time waiting for the itinerant mechanic to return.We woke on Tuesday, originally planning on meeting Colin. However, we were both enjoying the luxury of our temporary location. A quick text message later, and we were all set to meet Colin on the Wednesday, which was handy, as Kenny had invited us to an American cook out in the evening.

Hard at work

Aimee was loving the freedom of the area around us, once again climbing up trees, only to howl at us when she arrived at a branch, only to realise that she couldn’t get back down. Lucky for us, she mainly stopped at a branch, only once did we require Willow to climb onto my shoulders to rescue her.

It’s not going to end well
Has anybody got a ladder?

After a quick chat with another camper named Tony, who made some recommendations for our trip out west, we decided to make a break for the riverside walk, before the day flittered away once more.Equipped in her harness, we once again brought Aimee along for the walk, hoping for a repeat of her excellent walking skills the previous weekend.

Trainee copter pilot
Peace and quiet

After a brief walk, we arrived at a small beach, next to the river. As a result of her mad tree climbing escapades earlier on in the day; Aimee was finding the walk tiring and had little interest of entertaining the idea of being near water.

Pretty beach
Calm before the storm

I wasn’t expecting what would happen next…

Whilst wadding our into the shallow water to take some pictures. I was disturbed a panicked scream.

“AIMEEEEE,”

I turned to see Willow racing off back the boardwalk that led us from the campsite. Willow no longer holding Aimee’s lead. I caught a quick glimpse of Aimee darting away from us, her retractable lead, retracting back towards her at a lightning speed.

Not really comprehending what was happening, I chased after them both. I caught up to Willow at the start of the boardwalk, no sign of Aimee!I still didn’t have the faintest of idea what had happened. Willow had lost track of Aimee, who had bolted way ahead of her.With no sign of her in the open campground, we stopped to check behind us.

‘Amazingly’, Willow spotted a very distressed kitted hanging off the boardwalk. She must have tried to escape the lead handle by jumping off the metre high board walk. Somehow the handle had managed to wrap around the post, causing her to dangle in midair.

Pulling her back up, I checked to make sure she hadn’t suffered any serious injuries. Unhurt, but obviously shaken, we quickly took her back to Ruby. Within a few minutes of excessive fuss and treats, she had calmed down and was purring uncontrollably… Unlike Willow, who was also visibly shaken by the experience.

It turned out that Aimee had typically tangled her lead around the leg of a bench. She pulled whilst Willow was trying to pass the lead around the leg to untangle it, pulling it out of her hand and causing the following melee.

We thought it best to leave Aimee behind, whilst we carried on the rest of the trail by ourselves. Not wanting to traumatise the poor animal any further than we already had.

The trail was impeccably well maintained and easy to follow, which was useful as phone signal was not brilliant in our hidden getaway.The regular roar of the training helicopters passed overhead, as the next bunch of trainees honed their pilot skills.

We made it back to the van, to be greeted by a very excitable kitten. She had clearly forgotten all about her harrowing experience as she threw herself back up the surrounding trees.

Not really planning for a BBQ, we didn’t really have anything that would be adequate to eat, forcing us to improvise some vegetarian burgers using some tinned beans.

Whilst Willow set about creating strange burgers, I threw together a weird salsa using the remaining star fruit we had received from Lynne.

Joining the already formed circle of other campers, I can only imagine what they must have thought about this weird homemade food brought over by the odd English people.

Group meal

The star fruit salsa seemed to be well received, and Willow’s burger creations were delicious. We also had lashings of mash, corn bread, corn on the cob and a potatoes salad. It was a total carb fest and I loved it!

We spent the rest of the evening around a fire, discussing our favourite movies.

It turned out that we weren’t very well educated with classic movies.We had brought Aimee over and she was having a ball bothering Kenny’s two dogs.

Eventually the carbs caught up with everyone, and so our last night with our new temporary community had come to an end. It’s amazing how easy it is to make meaningful connections with people when you are living in a camper.

Life seemed much simpler away from the hustle and bustle of our former city life.

I woke to the now familiar sound of the training helicopters hovering overhead. That would probably be the only thing I wouldn’t miss from the campsite.

We both made the most of the free facilities on last time, again not knowing where our next shower would come from.

We once again packed up our basics lives and headed over to Kenny, who helped us top up our water before we set off.

Top camp host
Preparing to leave

After exchanging details with everyone, we said goodbye and hit the road once more. Our problematic sliding door had an appointment with the itinerant mechanic, who would have the vehicle come to him for a change, making him just the mechanic I suppose?

We agreed to meet Colin in the historic district of Pensacola, which was five minutes away from the Pensacola Bay Centre arena we visited five nights before.

Pulling into a drive way for a small law firm, Colin informed us that he had met the owner Jack years ago to help him with his VW and they had remained close friends ever since.

We both felt a mix of excitement and apprehension, as our sliding door had been a pain in our @## since we had first bought the van. Willow had spent a lot of time and money on the van, and it was vastly improved from the first day where we dropped it because it barely slid along the track. If this guy we had first met a couple of days ago in an Interstate rest area could help us figure out how to improve our sliding door so that it would close from the inside, then we would be forever in his debt!

One of the main issues we had previously faced was not knowing what the door should have originally have looked like. Before we bought her, Ruby had been on the receiving end of an abusive relationship, and her sliding door had seemed to have suffered to worst of the abuse.

Thankfully, Colin had his bus with him, which was also a late bay design. Not only that, but as his job involved driving around America to guide and empower other VW owners, his van was immaculate. His van was probably the closest anyone would ever get to experiencing a stock van, straight off the production line.

After removing our sliding door, we compared the two doors. Closing Colin’s door was almost an erotic experience compared to our door!

Work begins
Door’s off

The first noticeable concern was our top ‘roller’ for the track. It wasn’t even a roller. What it was, was a bolt which someone had rounded the edges off. The thing was supposed to spin, whilst gliding along the top track. I doubt our ‘custom’ part had ever spun a day in it’s creation. Our sliding door bared a closer resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster.

Bodged roller

Other noticeable problems involve missing rubber components and misaligned brackets, which had again be bodged together so badly that I was surprised Willow had ever managed to make our door close at all!

Lock wasn’t’t aligned correctly
Not looking healthy

With problems identified, Colin made a few phone calls, whilst we enjoyed a cup of coffee brought to us by Jack. He even made sure Aimee had food and water to keep her occupied.Colin was able to locate a friend with a late bay that we could head over to that afternoon to harvest for parts. Leaving us with a bit of time to clean out and re-grease the runners, and make a few adjustments that would help the door when we had acquired the replacement organs.

With the adjustments made, we temporarily refitted the door and followed Colin in his van to see a guy called Don about some parts.Following Colin’s van, it was not surprising to see how fantastically it ran. It had hardly seemed to have lost any of the power the vans would have had when leaving the factory.

We arrived at Don’s and set about finding the required parts to correct our door.

Firstly, we did the easy job of adding the rubber guide which is meant to direct the door into the closing position.Our main problem was the strange roller which they had fitted. Whoever did the work had drilled out the bracket to fit it, meaning that their would be too much play in the door for it to work properly. The Germans had planned these doors intricately, meaning that a slight altercation could throw the whole mechanics off. To make matters worse, one of the captive nuts which holds the bracket had broke, and the genius who worked on our door had drilled a new hole into the bracket. This meant that our only alternative was to drill a similar hole into the replacement bracket to get it to fit.

We can rebuild it
Swapping bits’

You still keeping up at this point?

Don had a garage to work on VW’s and so we set about drilling a new hole. We were also losing the light, which would not help us if we failed to get the door repaired by then. Between the three of us! We were able to carefully measure the new hole and drilled it perfectly. The replacement bracket fitted our van, complete with a roller which we had been stripped and regressed. With the door back on, it was the moment of truth. Would our door close from the inside. The anticipation was nerve wrecking, as the door was tested for the first time.

BANG!!

As the door shut, it caught on something and popped back open.

It was tried a couple more times, by all of us, in the hope that it was just one of us closing it incorrectly.

At this point the light was begining to fail us. Colin believed that we needed to adjust the cable to help the for pull in more. After playing around with it for a while, we did manage to get the door to shut smoothly, however, we were still unable to close it from the inside.

Thankful for all of his hard work, we said goodbye to Colin, agreeing to meet up the following day to grab bite to eat.

We headed to a nearby Pizza Hut for something to eat and to use some WiFi to find a suitable place to eat.

Exhausted, we found a spot about twenty minutes from Pensacola, and pulled up for a quiet night.