After spending 7 nights away from our "home" (for now) campground in Florida waiting out Hurricane Irma, it was time to assess whether we could leave Mississippi and start making our way back. Two websites we found extremely helpful in making that decision were Florida 511 and Gasbuddy.
Florida 511 gives real-time information on highways in the state, including congestion, incidents such as crashes and disabled vehicles, and also allows clicking on numerous traffic cameras to see for yourself what is going on out there. We found this site while on the road evacuating Florida and were able to watch for upcoming road conditions while we traveled to see if we'd need to find alternate routes due to traffic hotspots. Then for several days before we left our hurricane hole in Mississippi, we checked several times a day to see how Interstates 10 east and 75 south were faring, as those were our planned route back.
The first couple of days after Irma cut a swath through the entire state of Florida, I-75 south looked really jammed up (red) from everyone trying to return home. The storm hit the northern part of Florida in the wee hours of Monday morning, and by Wednesday, I-75 was starting to look better, so this helped confirm our decision to leave on Thursday morning. We wouldn't hit I-75 until Friday morning, allowing even more time for traffic to clear out.
Gasbuddy was also helpful since we'd heard about numerous gas stations running out of fuel -- or not having the electricity to pump it -- in the days immediately before and after the hurricane. After Irma, Gasbuddy put up a special tracking site with this information. By Wednesday, it appeared that gas was getting delivered again, although supplies were much better along the interstates than on the back roads. There were still many stations that reported being out of fuel (especially diesel) or electricity, but just as many did have it, so we felt comfortable in making our getaway. Pearl is gas-powered, so we wouldn't need the scarcer diesel.
The night before we left, not knowing exactly how far we'd get, I made a list of about six campgrounds along I-10 that would be possibilities for our one-night stay on the road. We didn't want to get reservations as that would lock us into driving a certain amount of miles, and what if roads were much worse (or better) than we anticipated? We just don't like to be locked in if we can help it. One campground that looked to be in about the right spot didn't even take reservations, so we put that one at the top of our "preferred" list.
As it turned out, although traffic was steady and heavy at times on I-10, we did make it to that campground, although it was a bit longer day than we prefer, just over 400 miles total (we prefer 200!), and we lost an hour when we crossed from central time to eastern time. But it was still light, and the campground had a couple of pull-through sites available when we arrived.
But all was not as expected in our full-hookup site. Before Barry even got the levelers down, a woman from a nearby site came by to tell us that the campground didn't have power or water due to the hurricane. A tree had taken down the power lines during the storm three days earlier. Oops! That was something we hadn't anticipated in Florida's panhandle.
We briefly considered moving on to the next campground on our list, but Barry was very tired of driving at that point, so even though we were a bit rusty at it as we've had hookups for months, we knew we could dry camp/boondock in a pinch. Pearl has a generator, after all, and we have paper plates and cups as backup. Our only issue was not having fresh water in Pearl's water tank as we'd expected to have a water hookup, but we had enough drinking water for one night and could just take sponge baths during our short stay. It was decided: We were staying put.
A Camper's World is nothing fancy, but the location is super convenient, right off I-10 near Lamont (no, I hadn't heard of it either!). It is a smaller campground (29-31 sites, depending on which source you read) and offers full hookup, 50-amp pull-through sites, as well as 30-amp back-in sites. There's a pool, clubhouse, and laundry room, none of which we checked out. Check-in is on the honor system as there is no host on site. Campsites are $30/night for Good Sam members, though that too is on the honor system, a few dollars more if you're not a member (we are). The roads in the campground are sand and sites are grass. Kinda basic, but fine for a night.
We didn't bother trying our satellite dish since we were back in the trees, but clearer sites nearer the interstate would be able to get a signal (along with more road noise). We did pick up quite a few over-the-air TV stations with our antenna, and we had a strong Verizon 4G LTE signal.
Some of the campers here had been here through the hurricane, while others were in the process of heading home, as we were. The woman who told us about the power being out said she lived in the campground, so I am sure she was more than ready to have the power and water back!
After pulling out our paper plates and getting settled in, we heard a rumble of traffic on the road in and had a look out.
What to our wondering eyes would appear but the beautiful site of several Duke Energy trucks rolling up. Exactly who you want to see at a time like this!
We could tell that folks who had been there longer than us were excited, as they gathered on one of the site's patios to watch the workers. Seemed like the perfect time for a happy hour!
Within an hour, we had power and water back on! We knew the exact moment that happened as we saw and heard the other campers dancing and yelling -- and one of them came by to let us know. We wouldn't be dry camping after all!
Other than that, our trip back was pretty uneventful. Our second day on the road was shorter (just over 200 miles), and I-75 south was not too bad in the morning, though there were plenty of folks heading south, including lots of work trucks to help with hurricane damage recovery. We had no problem getting gas either day. We were back in Winter Garden in time for a late lunch.
In our next post we'll share what we saw when we returned to Winter Garden, so stay tuned!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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