As we settled into life in RI during the spring and summer of 2020, we knew that many state parks had already shut down, some private parks had done the same or were operating at reduced capacities and the RV market was beginning to boom because people were seeking safer methods of travel.
Fewer open campgrounds and parks plus an increase in the number of new RV’ers would ultimately result in reduced availability of places to stay. Booking reservations, especially in any of the touristy destinations, might be really tough during the winter months of 2020 and 2021. Therefore, in June when Sun RV Resorts announced a special three month winter deal at several of their resorts, we jumped at the opportunity to snag a long term reservation in one of our favorite areas. Plus the rate was great averaging out to about $28/night. Staying in one place for three months is definitely not our normal modus operandi but obviously these weren’t normal times.
Pandion Ridge RV Resort, a Sun RV Resort in Orange Beach, AL, would be our “home” from January 1st to April 1st. This was our second time at this resort – last March we had a week long reservation but when the news of the pandemic hit the airwaves, we cut our stay short leaving after five days to hurriedly head back to RI.
The entrance to Pandion Ridge is beautiful with it’s huge metallic, brightly shining eagle. But that lovely curb appeal was spoiled by the scene directly across the street next to The Wharf.
Wrecked overturned boats, tree stumps and other vegetative debris, scraps of wood and metal, wrecked appliances and who knows what else were strewn across the landscape! It was a dumping place for much of what was left behind after Hurricane Sally ravaged the Gulf Shores area on September 16, 2020.
Huge trucks, bull dozers and shredders worked continuously (loudly and noisily) to shred the vegetative debris into huge mounds of mulch, pulverize the boats and appliances or remove the debris, not just when we first arrived but the entire time we were there. Barges would make their way along Portage Creek Canals to docks behind the area, where trucks would load the mulch to be shipped to power plants as fuel. And to think all of this was still going on six months after the fact! My guess is that it probably still hasn’t ended even after our departure in April!
Be aware that if you plan to make a reservation here, short term reservations can be made on-line, allowing for the selection of a specific site. However, long term reservations can only be made by calling the office. What we learned later and found rather strange was that long term renters can not request a specific site but only the type of site (lakefront, pine view, pull through, back-in, etc.). The specific site would be assigned by the office staff. That policy seemed backward to us. Shouldn’t long term visitors have their choice of the best sites?
Anyway, when we arrived there, check in was quick and easy with no in person check-in required. A package was waiting for us taped to the office door that included a resort map showing our assigned pull in (pine view site #20), resort rules/regulations and a receipt for our stay. Although our assigned site was a little closer to adjacent sites than our site from last year, it was still a nice spot. At least we had lots of privacy in front of our coach as we faced the woods. Not so much on either side though due to the total lack of any shrubbery.
Since leaving Spartan in MI at the end of October, we had been searching for warmer temps. Did we find it here? Heck no, at least during the first month! Chilly and damp and on several days, downright cold! A low of 24º on a couple of nights! BRRRR! Several times the temps back in RI were warmer than those in AL! C’mon, what’s with that? Not to worry though eventually it did warm up so we could enjoy a few days in the 70’s.
First there was the bird…..
Tap, tap, tap, tap…tap, tap, tap, tap…tap, tap, tap, tap. Non-stop, never ending. Huh, what is that? One of our favorite birds – a beautiful, bright red male Cardinal was the culprit.
Was he in love with himself, or thinking he was claiming his territory by attacking what he thought was another bird? He would sit on our entry step pecking at the polished stainless steel trim below the door, or perch on the side mirror arms, attacking the side mirrors. If he wasn’t at our coach, he was at any other coach with shiny metal near us. Initially amusing? Yes. Cute? Sure. Annoying listening to it constantly every day from morning to night? Absolutely! Anywhere he could see his reflection was the target of his pecking. A little research after we left produced this article about the behavior. Even Sparky who was at first entranced with watching the bird through the screen door quickly lost interest. Bet he was wishing the cardinal would permanently fly away and be replaced by a squirrel!
Then there was a bike….
Biking the over 15 miles of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail has always been one of our favorite activities whenever we have visited the area. But over the past few years, my eagerness to ride had waned considerably. Besides the fact that my existing bike, which had served me well for many years since the mid-90’s, somehow had a bent and cracked wheel caused when a tree and the wheel of the bike sitting on the bike rack accidentally met each other, not gonna say who was driving when that event occurred. But even before that unfortunate incident happened, not being a spry chicken anymore, each year it was becoming more and more uncomfortable riding it. The low handlebars caused my neck and shoulders to ache plus in general I felt unsafe on it. Swinging my legs over the high crossbar (it was a man’s bike) while dismounting would cause my legs and/or my feet to get tangled on the bar or the pedals and over I would go! More humiliating than hurtful. Who ever said getting older is fun???
But that was soon rectified when my belated Christmas present, a new Six Three Zero bicycle that we ordered on-line arrived mid-January. What sold us on this particular brand of bike was their free shipping, their 100% satisfaction guarantee and their “test drive” policy. As long as you buy it directly from them, try your bike for 365 days, if you don’t love it, send it back (they’ll pay the shipping and there are no restocking fees) even if it shows signs of wear (scratches or dents). After doing a lot of research on their website, we ordered an EVRYJourney 26″ 7 Speed Step-through Touring Hybrid Bike. After one spin around the resort, I knew we had made the right decision. I love it!
So on one beautiful, sunny day we headed for the trail system. To get there from Pandion there is a 3/4 mile connecting trail of which about a quarter mile is an elevated boardwalk traversing a cypress swamp. Neither the weather nor my new bike could cure my nervousness of bicycling on the boardwalk which is a narrow five feet wide with no railing. Barely wide enough for a single bike never mind two bikes passing each other in opposite directions. Add a wider recumbent bike to the mix (of which there were many at pandion) and there’s a potential for disaster. Visions of falling into the swamp and being impaled by a cypress knee terrified me, so instead my bike and I became best buddy walking companions for the length of the boardwalk! After that, it was a wonderful ride on that gorgeous day riding (approximately 8 miles) on the paved Branyon Backcountry Trail.
Followed by walks on a bog boardwalk, in a park and on a pier….
Located about 20 miles northwest of Pandion Ridge on County Road 17 near Fairhope is the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog And Estuary. Although it was a pretty day for a walk on the boardwalk, unfortunately, what you see in this article is not what we saw. Unlike our first visit here in 2012 where we did see a couple of pitcher plants, it was way too early in the season this year to see anything blooming. Oh well, maybe next time!
After that, we drove to Fairhope, one of our favorite small towns in AL. Since it was around lunchtime, it would have been awesome to stop at one of our favorite local restaurants, Panini Pete’s for a bite to eat but, once again thanks to Covid, that was not to be this year. But there’s more to do in Fairhope besides eating. It was a lovely day for a stroll in Utopia Park on the bluff overlooking the Municipal Pier.
The Municipal Pier was open, but with signs recommending social distancing and stating that the rest rooms were closed. The once popular Pier Bar and Grill seen in the center of the photo had permanently shut down as a result of the pandemic.
It was quickly evident that Hurricane Sally had wreaked havoc here as well. Several power boats were partially submerged and a few sailboats were totally submerged – only their masts could be seen sticking out of the water. Keep in mind this was 6 months after the hurricane, so we were very surprised that there still no signs of any salvage activity.
A Shopping Spree At A Seafood Market…
Being die hard New England seafood lovers, a visit to Billy’s Seafood Market in Bon Secour was a must (read our post about our first visit there). At least for me, Rob hasn’t been a big fan of shrimp lately. On our first visit, which happened to be a Monday, it was pretty crowded, perhaps because it is closed on Sunday.
A pound of Royal Red shrimp, a pound of large shrimp, a pint of shucked oysters and a piece of salmon swam (well, more like rode) home with us.
For the next several evenings, we feasted on steamed shrimp, parmesan baked oysters, and our favorite poached salmon with dill and sour cream sauce. Yum! Fortunately the delicate, lobster like flavor of the Royal Reds dipped in melted butter made a shrimp believer out of Rob once again so we returned a second time before our departure to buy more Royals and more large shrimp.
A Visit to Buc-ee’s, a convenience store on steroids….
Say what??? A 50,000 square foot convenience store? A gas station with 120 fueling stations? And the world’s cleanest rest rooms so if you want to “Potty Like A Rock Star”, you have a place to go! Hmmmm, how can they make that claim? Do they have an official bathroom committee that has visited every bathroom in the world to allow them to judge each and every one? Guess someone does as they have won awards for having the cleanest bathrooms!
The name of this wonder of the world is Buc-ees which was founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek in Texas. Currently there are over 40 locations scattered in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida but there are other locations in other states planned or currently under development.
The Robertsdale, AL store which opened in January of 2019 is about 26 miles from Pandion Ridge at the intersection of I-10 and the Baldwin Beach Express. Since we had never stopped at one during our travels in Texas, we had to visit it to see if all the hoopla was true.
Too funny, at the entrance to the store was a bronze statue of Buc-ee Beaver outfitted with a mask. BTW, the name was formed by merging the name of the owner’s childhood Labrador Retriever, Buck with the image of Ipana toothpaste’s animated mascot, Bucky Beaver.
Our first reaction as we walked in the door was WOW! Although we can’t attest to the cleanliness of the rest rooms, as we tried to comprehend the scene in front of us we quickly could understand all the hype.
Inside there are lots of yummy foods to choose from at the grab and go area for either breakfast or lunch. The offering included a wide variety of freshly made items ranging from a brisket burrito, sausage and egg biscuits or croissants, tacos, Rueben sandwiches, and a choice of sweet or savory Czech kolaches. Like us, you are probably wondering what the heck is a kolache? Well, the sweet version is reminiscent of a Danish with a portion of fruit surrounded by puffy dough and the savory variety is similar to a “pig in a blanket” with a full-sized sausage, cheese, and even jalapeno slices wrapped in a sweet bread.
Looking for an appetizer or entree for dinner? Find delicious selections from their prepared food or deli section. For the sweet-a-holics, there’s a handmade fudge counter. Looking for a beverage? Lots to choose from at their coffee /soda bar. And there’s even an extensive wine section. And more displays of snack foods than you can imagine! Try some of their Beaver Nuggets (bites of caramel, sugar, and butter-coated corn puffs) or Buc-ee Nug-ees (a savory version of Beaver Nuggets, with a Spicy powdery cheese-flavored coating). Or for more standard fare, select a package of dried fruits, sugar roasted pecans or even one of their many flavors of jerky. Not interested in any of those? Don’t worry there is so much more.
We tried a sausage kolache which was good but a bit bland, and bought some frozen bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers which were very good. On other occasions we stopped for breakfast picking up a couple of sausage and egg croissants which were quite filling and tasty.
Not hungry? Well, there’s plenty of other stuff to command your attention. Peruse the BBQ grills and assorted accessories. Or perhaps the bathing suits, T-shirts or baby clothes. Or buy a special unique gift for yourself or a special someone in their gift section. Trust me, you’ll want to spend spend hours at this destination pitstop!
Outside be sure to fill up your tank because it is the cheapest around, including ethanol free gas at some locations and of course diesel. We have an EFS TSD logistics discount card which is currently getting us about 60 cents a gallon off the cash price at TA/Petro truck stops, but there were none in the area or along our route. Buc-ee’s diesel price at this time was $2.61 or about 10 cents higher than the closest TA, but about 40 cents less per gallon than the other local options. Commercial trucks are not permitted, but RV’s are allowed. There is decent room for maneuvering a big rig but it can get a little challenging if its busy (which it often is).
And finally the shot of serenity…
Since we are technically FL residents, we were eager to be vaccinated during our three month stay. We figured that should be easy because Orange Beach is a mere 5 miles from the Florida border. Being over 65, I became eligible under FL guidelines mid-January allowing me to snag an appointment on-line at a Publix supermarket in Pensacola, FL (about an hour’s drive) for the Moderna vaccine. My second appointment was automatically scheduled for mid-February. Except for a sore arm after both shots and feeling tired and not quite right after the second shot, everything was easy peasy.
Unfortunately Rob was 10 months shy of eligibility in FL so we weren’t able to schedule an appointment for him. As we followed news of the pandemic in RI, it appeared that the state was having difficulty with the distribution of the vaccine and the eligibility requirements were far behind Florida’s. Most importantly to us, the vaccine was only being given to RI residents which would mean that Rob would be ineligible there. Returning home wouldn’t be an option for us until he was vaccinated, so we would have to stay in or near FL for however long it would take. Although scheduling his appointment was a little more difficult and stressful (I’ll spare you the details), he eventually had both vaccinations, also at a Pensacola Publix in March. He had a slight reaction to the second shot with a slight temp and a few aches. But overall no big deal.
Who would have thought that getting jabbed with a needle would bring such peace and serenity, but it did! Definitely reduced the stress levels, maybe life would soon get back to somewhat normal.
During our last trip to Pensacola for Rob’s second shot, we decided to return to Joe Patti’s Seafood Market. I say return because we had been here back in 2016 but for some reason had never been back. Rob had worked with a fellow Entegra owner, Stu, who also stayed at Pandion for a week, on his eRVin automation project. Because Stu raved about their crab cakes, we decided to stop there. In addition to buying four crab cakes, we bought more shucked oysters and another 1-1/2 pounds of Royal Reds which were cheaper than they were at Billy’s.
Despite the fact that there were lots of Royal Reds in the case, the girl serving us said she would get them from “out back”. Didn’t think much of it, in our experience back north that usually means you are getting fresher product. Back on the coach, I cooked the shrimp the exact same way as the ones we had bought at Billy’s. Boy, were we disappointed! Mushy with an off smell and taste. Into the trash they went! Guess “out back” at Joe Patti’s has a different connotation! The crab cakes were good but another trip here won’t be in the cards for us in the future. Later, other friends commented that they also sensed a decline in the quality from Joe Patti’s.
So the end of our three month stay seemed to sneak up on us and was there before we knew it. Our next reservation began on April 2nd so we extended our stay at Pandion by one day. Finally we were ready to move on!