This is Joy (our van) and the gang - Em, Jay, and Hoggle!

This is Joy (our van) and the gang -
Em, Jay, and Hoggle!

We purchased a ’97 Ford E150 High-top Conversion Van for $3,000 to go on a road trip adventure around the country. We decided to name her Joy since she represents an 
opportunity to bring more joy into our lives by escaping the rat race for awhile. Here is a photo with our new ride when we first bought her!

The rest of the blog posts will be in reverse chronological order. Hope you enjoy reading about our retrofit process and van adventure! We welcome and encourage comments and questions. Thanks for reading!

This post is a shout out of gratitude to all our family and friends who have been awesome to us along the way so far. We are just getting started, but already we feel so fortunate to have such great people in our lives who care about us and have hosted or helped us out in some way on this trip. We’ve enjoyed all our visits with everyone so much so far and want thank you all again for all of your hospitality and kindness!! We are looking forward to all of our future visits with other folks as well. Nothing like traveling all around to help you remember how many important people you have in your life scattered all over the place. :) 

jon and em at hammock sink - leon sinks-3

GUESS WHAT EVERYBODY?! We finally took the time to figure out how to insert videos into our blog. It isn’t something we can do a ton because it uses a lot of our available internet bandwidth, but when we are at a free wifi spot we can use theirs to get it done. So…get ready for a wild ride of pics AND vids included on this exciting post about the Leon Sinks hike in the Apalachicola National Forest!

Leon Sinks is just south of Tallahassee, FL in the Apalachicola National Forest. We rolled up at around 10am on a cloudy, cool, late April day and took the easy 3 or so mile loop trail that meanders around a lattice of old logging roads to a dozen or so sink holes (or sinks.)

Hiking with Jay and Hoggle at the Leon Sinks

The sink holes are formed when limestone below the surface is dissolved until the land above gives way.  Hammock Sink - leon sinks-3Dry sinks are not full of water – except when there is a lot of rain. Wet sinks are full of the water from Florida’s aquifer.  The difference geologically between the two is that wet sinks are deep enough to reach the aquifer.

The Leon Sinks area features a few of each. The highlight of the wet sinks had to be hammock sink, which its crystal clear water and nice boardwalk.

This sink is connected through an underwater cave system with Wakulla Springs, about 10 miles away – which we visited yesterday.

The area also features a number of groves of Magnolia trees.  We’ve only seen these in parks and in cities and never in the wild.  There were some really big and pretty specimens here.

Near the end of the loop trail you end up at a creek that ends in a sink hole.  The debris that floats to the top swirls around like a toilet bowl as the creek empties into the sink and flows underground for about 30 feet to emerge just on the other side of the trail.  It’s truly unique and something we’d never seen before.  Jay called it the “junk drain.”

The “lost creek” at Leon Sinks

Em on the boardwalk - leon sinks-3

At the end of the main loop you can go on the swamp trail, which was over run with water from the recent rains.  Instead we went straight back to the trailhead, which traverses over a boardwalk through a swamp called Center Swamp. The water had so much tannin in it (like the stuff that makes black tea dark) it looked nearly onyx black at the surface. It’s a little hard to tell in the photo because of the reflection of the trees, but it was super cool looking.

swamy rail-3

Jon in gopher sink-11Finally, at the end of the loop you reach Gopher sink where Jay decided to take a little dip. The Gopher Sink has underwater caves and the whole area used to be underneath the ocean.




All in all Leon sinks is well worth the $3 admission fee.  Good hike. Four thumbs up between the two of us. Check it out if you are in the area.

IMG_20140418_213500055We went back to Tampa to stay with Farrah a couple more nights after our stay in Bradenton. The weather was really rainy, so we had some time to catch up on The Walking Dead. Good season! We also went to a bar and ate dinner with Farrah and her Uncle Lee. As usual in Tampa everyone was looking really spiffy, even just going to a local brewery. Image seems pretty important here, as Farrah has attested too. We are pretty casual folks and after this final night out we decided officially that we don’t fit in here in Tampa very well. It’s a pretty city though, particularly the bay/downtown area. If we were to live in FL I think we’d have to take up some water sports. Canoeing, paddle boarding, kite surfing…

Hwy 98-19 Swamp Florida  -3In the morning we got all packed up, said goodbye to Farrah, and hit the road up toward Apalachicola National Forest (near Tallahassee).  The drive between Perry and Newport, FL was particularly cool. It’s logged, but it’s also swampy and desolate. Here is a picture of a creek in the area that Jay waded into. The under sole of the creek beneath it’s brown, tea-like slow moving water was squishy and pleasantly comfortable beneath his feet. 

IMG_20140419_162832394The turn out of Perry also marked the first time we are heading West, in the best way we can define it – highway directions. It’s a trip along the gulf and out to the west coast from here!






Jon in Wakulla springs florida-2On the way to our final destination – Leon Sinks State Geological Area, we stopped at Wakulla Springs State Park. This natural spring, of which Florida has numerous, flows thousands of gallons per hour out of the ground and eventually into the ocean. They’ve set up a swimming area in which Jay took part in. It was overcast and somewhat chilly, but the water was pretty warm, and the current noticeable. The rains for the last few days certainly increased the flow. Some people said they saw manatees, but we didn’t see any.

IMG_20140419_190639369_HDRWhen we arrived at Leon Sinks State Natural Area we realized that there was no camping there, and the park attendant wouldn’t bend the rules and allow us to park the van overnight in the parking lot. So we drove a few miles down the road to Apalachicola State Forrest and found us a nice dirt road – well sand road – since we’re in Florida. Here is where we spent our first night in finally sleeping in the van.


Em re-organized the interior for a couple hours and got everything into its semi-final place while Jay cooked up some canned soup and leftover lasagna for dinner.Molly at campsite #1-2

Overall, it was a very peaceful night, all quiet except for the peaceful throng of frogs to keep us company. We all slept well, and we let Hoggle snuggle with us all night. A good start to vandwelling.

em camp

Aunt Jan's place with palm trees-1Em’s Aunt Jan and her husband Glenn invited us to stay at their new house in Bradenton, FL. This is a picture of their backyard, it’s on the Bradenton river.  Jan landscaped the whole thing – it’s really beautiful.

In the evening we went to Bradenton Beach for dinner and got a seat right on the beach as the sun was setting.

em on bradenton beach

dinner at bradenton







Jay and Hoggle on Ft Desoto Beach-3Bradenton Beach Sunset-3The next day we took a trip out to Fort Desoto, across the sunshine skyway bridge across Tampa Bay.  We went on the dog friendly beach they had there, so Hoggle was allowed to come along (the rest of the beaches in this area don’t allow pups).  In typical Hoggle fashion he has no interest in the water. The only thing Hoggle will do in water is swim frantically out of the water.

Fort Desoto was another coastal fort in a long series we’ll probably see on our trip around the gulf. They had some big canons.


Ft Desoto-4EDIT – THIS JUST IN: Jay corrected my statement above and said that technically, the fort had big mortars, not canons, and that it would sound ignorant if I said canons. So for those of you who give a shit, the fort had mortars…not canons. And for those of you, like me, who have no clue about the difference between mortars and canons – mortars evidently lob things up in the air to hit an indirect target, while canons fire directly at a target. Good to know. Very good to know. Thank you Jay for keeping us all on target (har har, get it, on target??)


<–  Em standing next to a MORTAR. Signed, Jay.



As of now we have gone the furthest East (Charleston, SC:  32°45’26.1″N  79°51’26.5″W) and South (Bradenton, FL:  27°28’12.5″N 82°42’02.6″W) that  we plan to travel during this trip.  We will be heading (at a leisurely pace) to the west coast from here!

Grandma Becky and Hoggle-1We said goodbye to Grandma Becky and hit the road. But not before Hoggle got a chance to sit with her. Even as a cat person her whole life, Grandma could not resist Hoggle’s charm. We were happy she liked him.

Hoggle in the hot carWe drove to Tampa the morning of the April 13th. It was kind of a hot drive. Jay likes to forgo air conditioning in order to save on gas. Em likes some A/C. Hoggle prefers A/C too (see photo for evidence) – so that’s two against one. Em offered the compromise of driving slower on the highway to compensate, which she feels was very fair. But Jay is still pissy about it. Em found that driving 10 under the speed limit is kind of relaxing.  Because there is no real probability of passing anyone at that speed, you just sit there in the slow lane, letting all the crazies going the speed limit fly on past.

Emand Jon at Tampa breweryWe arrived in the afternoon and spent a little time at Al Lopez park before meeting Farrah, Em’s childhood friend, at her condo. She then was gracious enough to take us to a comedy show at the Improv Comedy Club in the Ybor City district of Tampa.  It was called the “Down and Dirty” show for adults only, and it was appropriately named.





April 14th

Em and Jon canoeing (6)Today featured a daring adventure today: canoeing on the Hillsborough River at John B Sargent Memorial Wilderness Park.  We rented a canoe from a great outfit called Canoe Escape.  If you’re ever in Tampa go rent canoes from them and canoe this river!  Jay took the back, Farrah the front, and Em chilled in the middle drinking bud light limes and challenging kayakers to races.

Farrah and Em canoeing (3)We were only out for an hour and a half but we probably saw twenty alligators.  They were sunning on logs, on rocks, swimming in the river next to us, all over the place.  It was awesome.  There were also numerous bird life like blue herons.




Farrah and Em in Tampa-5After canoeing we went to downtown Tampa and had dinner on the bay.  Hoggle mostly behaved himself in the dog friendly city of Tampa.  Farrah told us that Tampa is ranked as the most vain city in the country.  And we could kinda tell.  Everyone was dressed really nice.  And if you are exercising you have to look good and look good doing it.  We would not fit in in a place like this.  Farrah says people were giving us dirty looks for wearing canoeing clothes.

We walked along the Bayshore Boulevard after dinner.  We walked through a defense industry convention on the way there.  There were a lot of corporate stooges talking their stooge talk there.  It sadly reminded Jay of his past days, and probably some future ones, where he was on engineering business like this.  Though this particular convention was quite the boondoggle it seemed.

April 15

Jon and Hoggle snuggling-1We are finding out that our energy level is pretty low.  We are getting enough sleep, but being on the road at different places every other night is taking its toll on our old-foggy bodies.  It might be even taking a toll on Hoggle too.

Emwith the egg breakfast at F arrah's house-1We spent all of today lounging around.  Except we made a nice egg breakfast.  Em and Farrah did laundry though and Jay shaved his hair.  We brought along our clippers so we can cut his hair for free.


Colombian hot dog-1For dinner Farrah ran and picked up some Colombian hot dogs.  They consist of a hot dog, bacon, shredded chicken, melted cheese, crushed up potato chips, and pineapple sauce. Jay liked his alright, but they did not agree with Em’s stomach at all. She was sick for the next few hours. :( It curtailed our plans to drive to Bradenton to stay with Em’s Aunt Jan that night. Farrah felt really awful for “poisoning” Em with what, in retrospect, she deemed as being “probably the dirtiest food that Tampa has to offer.” Hahaha.

On a bright note though, Farrah, who has always had horrible pet allergies has been tolerating Hoggle’s presence really well due to her allergy shots and steroids!! We are super excited for her that the medicines are working and that our visit isn’t putting her into the hospital with an asthma attack (this has actually happened before when Em and Farrah were kids). She even got to cuddle with him some.

Grandma Becky makes a mean breakfast. She had the bacon cooking before we were even up.  After filling up on that, eggs, fruit, and her homemade strawberry and guava jelly (she’s very crafty), we headed out to a day full of activities she planned for us. 

Devil’s Millhopper Sinkhole

Devil's Millhopper Sinkhole-4The first was Devil’s Millhopper Sinkhole. Florida is filled with sinkholes. Sometimes they swallow up houses. But this one has been around for quite a while.  It’s deep, hundreds of feet. This time of year it is full of this cool blue water. The water comes from runoff and eventually seeps into Florida’s aquifer.  There is a stairway all the way down.  I don’t think you can swim in this one, but we’ve heard of others where divers go to the bottom of these things. 

Jon at Devil's Millhopper-1This was the first time we had a chance to really try out Hoggle’s backpack. It worked really well. He didn’t fuss at all for the 30 minute or so trip up and down the sinkhole. 

Grandma Becky stayed at the top this time, understandably not wanting to tackle all the stairs. She told us as kids she would take cardboard and slide down the hole to the bottom. But now it’s roped off and there are threatening signs to not go off-path. 





Paynes Prairie – La Chua trail

becky em

Paynes Prairie was once a lake until a sinkhole opened up and drained the whole thing. Now it’s a big prairie and swamp.

On the north side of the prairie is the La Chua trail.  It’s a half mile paved/boardwalk trail to a sink, and then a grass walkway out into the prairie.  The trail is known for its gators, which we saw a few.  There are a lot of birds, something called a pig frog (which fooled us into thinking we were hearing the wild boar that roam there), and some wild horses, even a couple of pretty newborn babies. The biggest gator we had ever seen out in the wild was just laying on the side of the trail. It’s almost as if the gators are tame.

Jon with Alligators on Paynes Prarie-1We also used Hoggle’s pack on this trail too in order to sneak him in as dogs were not allowed. Even the gators were fooled by our Hoggle subterfuge backpack. Good thing too, as I’m sure Hoggle would’ve make a tasty snack. The backpack hid him pretty well, which is good to know. And we devised an intricate system of standing in strategic positions to hide him from the numerous trail guide volunteers out that day.

 em horsesWiiiillllllllllddddddddd horses couldn’t drag me aaaawaaaayy! … I will ride them, someday.

Butterfly Forest

em butterflyAfter some lunch Grandma Becky took us over to the butterfly rainforest on the University of Florida’s campus. Here is where Hoggle’s luck with his backpack ran out. They wanted us to check (store) the large external frame backpack before they let us into the forest (not realizing that there was a wiener stowaway tucked inside). So Jay made an excuse for needing to get some things out of the pack first and gracefully ducked outside. Grandma graciously volunteered to look after Hoggle for us on a bench outside while we looked at the Butterflies.  

There were a ton of really cool butterflies. Jay got some good pictures of some of them. They must have liked Em a lot because a few of them landed on her. We’ve heard that this means she is pure of heart and spirit…  Jay must not be because the only one that landed on him was on his old muddy boot.

Butterfly Forrest-5Butterfly Forrest-17Butterfly Forrest-14

After all that touring we went back home and Grandma still had the energy to quickly whip up a lasagna dinner to feed us and Em’s aunt, uncle, and cousins.

em stones

Other Compelling News

Jay has found himself to also be a traveling computer technician.  He’s set-up/fixed/optimized his mom’s, Em’s parents, and Grandma Becky’s computers.  It’s the least we can do when people are being such wonderful hosts to us! 



DSC_6840We made the two hour drive down to Jacksonville to meet Em’s Aunt Reba for lunch. We were glad to be able to catch up with her before she started her trek back to her new house in Marianna! It was awesome seeing her and getting the scoop on her goings on.

We then made the drive out to Alachua, FL to stay with Em’s Grandma who she hadn’t seen since 2007.  She made us a great chicken dinner which reminded Jay of his grandma’s meals. She also made some home made strawberry jelly that we get to take with us, which was really delicious.  For dessert, a classic – banana pudding.

We got to see pictures of Grandma’s trips to Hong Kong and Brazil. She’s a world traveler and has more energy at the age of 76 than we do! We can only hope to have something close to her health and vitality at that age.

Grandma has several new adventures on the horizon. She wants to sell her townhouses and go travel on a rail trip across the United States, go on a two-week road trip in order to get to a port to go on an Alaskan cruise, and also to take a river cruise down the Blue Danube. We hope she is able seize the day and do all of that, and we also hope one of her trips takes her out our way to CO to visit sometime soon!

Joy Updates

So far, after the accident with leaving the solar panel unplugged, it has had no problem keeping up with the fridge.  It’s getting warm and sunny during the last few days in Savannah and now Florida.  The reflectix keeps it pretty cool in the van.  As much as a metal box in the full sunlight can.  No more mechanical problems either. The A/C is working to, so old rust valves that Jay used to isolate the rear A/C evaporator unit are holding pressure. 

Hoggle Update

This just in, Hoggle misses his old couches and is angry with us for getting rid of them. He seeks out other people’s couches everywhere we go and looks at us like, “Guys…where the hell are my couches?!?! You HAD to know that I loved those couches!” Hopefully he will adjust to life without couches. It’s going to be tough.


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