Florida: The Final ‘Destination’

After the Expo we were in a bit of a rush to get to Florida to visit my parents by mid/end-June to free them up for their new OTR adventures, so we were happy to finally reach the state line on the 11th.  This was probably the only time we’ve ever been happy to step foot onto Floridian ground 😉  Here’s how we spent the next month in the height of the crazy Florida summer.

Florida – 32 days

When we finally arrived in Fort Pickens it was after 10 pm and the gate to the park was closed.  We tried to sneak in after someone else but they were on to us and stopped their vehicle until the gate closed behind them.  We sat there for a minute when 3 more cars pulled up.  We got in line and hoped for better luck this time, we caught a break when the 2nd car yelled the code back to his friend in the car in front of us!  We punched in the code and the gate opened for us like we were any other registered camper.  The campground was packed full but we ended up finding 1 open spot so we jumped in and set up.  I was really tired but wanted to stay up a bit to see if anyone came to claim the spot as their own.  I took a solar shower in the dark and when no one came to ask us what we thought we were doing there, I went up to bed.

In the morning  we had plans to meet my childhood best friend who had just moved out there.  We packed up early and headed to Perdido Key where we soaked up the sun and friendly company for a couple of hours.  What a great beach, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet beach with easy parking; it’s also a National Park so we got in for free!  I really enjoyed the time spent with Erin; when we were kids we used to spend as much time as possible at her family’s beach house, so to lounge on the beach with the adult her while so far away from home and everyone I know was heartwarming in a way I didn’t expect.  After a few hours of baking in the sun we said our goodbyes and Tom and I decided we should just find camp.  Once we were at our site at Big Lagoon SP we quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to relax as planned because the sun was so hot and the air so thick with humidity, I didn’t even want to walk the 15 minutes to the swimming hole!  I had been ‘joking’ about getting a pool for a while now and today we had a serious conversation about the logistics of it.  Once worked out, we drove to Walmart to spend our gift certificate on a 2-ring, inflatable kiddie pool. 😀  It took 4 trips with the solar shower to fill the pool which was well worth it!  We sat squeezed in the tiny pool until the sun went down.  Something about sitting in that cool water with my [new] favorite beer (Little Kings; how cute!), the love of my life, and an awesome Pandora station that made me feel like the happiest, most luckiest girl in the world!

Happy little girl

We were headed to the fountain of youth spring in Ponce de Leon but ended up stopping in Destin Beach on the way because, like the troll under the bridge, once we passed over into Destin, the sights wouldn’t let us pas; we never made it to Ponce de Leon.  Once we saw the turquoise waters and snow-white sand of Destin, we instinctively needed rum.  We wandered the boardwalk and ran right into Harry-T’s waterfront restaurant, we bellied up to their 32oz rum drink and enjoyed every last sip, immensely!!

On our way back into Ponce de Leon we stopped at Joe Patti and got 2 lbs of steamers for a good ‘ole New England clam boil (I couldn’t go an entire summer without one!).  We found camp at Vortex Spring, which is 68° and absolutely gorgeous.  I got out our big pot (the one that we never use but I insist on carrying for some time just like this!) and filled it with sausage, onions, potatoes, corn, a bit of “secret seasoning” that we stole in a napkin from Harry-T’s, beer, and steamers.  I enjoyed every last clam I could fit in my belly, washing them down with my new favorite beer, life couldn’t get any better than this.

Just like home!

Just like home!

…But it did!!
The next morning I was packing up and what should walk right along my sight?  A Red Velvet Ant!  I couldn’t believe it!  There it was, in real life, huge, and red, and REAL!!  I chased it around for a few minutes trying to snap a good picture but the thing moved so damn fast, it was crazy!  Keep in mind, it is really a wasp not an ant so I didn’t want to piss her off too much!

Red Velvet Ant :D

Red Velvet Ant 😀

We got to the fountain of youth early and were the only people there in the chilly morning air.  The water was beautiful and we couldn’t leave without taking a dip in the spring so we both jumped into the 68° water and remained there as long as we could stand it.

The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth

Over the course of the night Tom had decided that he should exchange his new shorts for a smaller size so we had to drove back out to Destin, might as well make Harry-T’s our 1st stop!
Hello pink, delicious, oversized rum drink!  Oh, and you’re half-priced!?  Well!  Can we get these to go?
We sat on the beach and enjoyed our beautiful surroundings, this is not like any Florida either of us is used to.  After the drinks were gone we walked the boardwalk and Tom coaxed me into the sunglass store where he tried to get me to replace my sunglasses that he hated.  After an hour of back and forth (surprisingly with me denying the need for new sunglasses!) I ended up finding the most perfect pair of aviators which is a big deal for me, having a peanut-sized head I can never find sunglasses that fit correctly and aviators, although sought after for years, have always been out of the question.  I was beside myself with excitement at this find, and Tom’s eagerness to make them mine; I walked out of there with the biggest smile on my face – only one way to celebrate this: Harry-T’s!  We took 2 more 32 oz’ers to-go and headed out to find camp.  Our original planned park was full so we found Florida Caverns SP and luckily they had 1 site left!  After the day of sun and rum, I showered and passed out within minutes.

New glasses and an oversized delicious drink - who's a happy girl?

New glasses and an oversized delicious drink – who’s a happy girl?

Someone needs a new drink, and sunscreen!

Highly endorsing Harry-T's!

Highly endorsing Harry-T’s!

The next 2 days we tried our damnedest to get to Orlando, having to break the 5.5 hour drive up due to pure exhaustion from the heat and Florida sun.  We finally made it to my friend’s place but unfortunately we had to make it a quick visit because the clock was ticking on and we needed to get to my parents’ fast.  Even still, I was so happy to hug my best friend and get to spend some alone time, just the two of us, just as it had been for so many years prior – man, I’ve missed her!!

So not in my future Lol

So not in my future Lol

We kept plugging on, down the gulf coast to Cape Coral where we bypassed my parents’ house and went to what used to be my Grandmother’s place.  My parents had rented their home for 2 years and they were getting ready for their own trip (towing a 5th wheel).  It had been exactly a month since we’d slept under a roof, it was so nice to shower and sleep in clean sheets with A/C and a ceiling fan!  Oh the things you miss about a house!  While we were there Tom and my Dad installed new breaks and airbags on the truck.  It was such a great sight to see Gwen sitting level, no more butt drag!  This made me smile for days, still does!

We also got our FL driver’s licenses and registered the truck with a new vanity plate: OVLAND.  We hate to have a Florida plate but it is technically our ‘home’ state now that it’s the only address we can use and it is much cheaper and easier than RI could ever dream.  At least our plate says “Trees are cool”!

Look what we found!

Look what we found!

No more saggy butt!

No more saggy butt!

The new plate

The new plate

After a week at my parents’ we all packed up and headed down to Marathon Key where their friend was letting us use their condo for the week.  Watching my Mom pack up for the trip made me realize how much I love life on the road, everything I need is always right there with me.  No lists of items to remember, no last-minute purchases of items forgotten.  No packing coolers, no trying to get it all right in order to enjoy the trip.  We just go and whatever happens along the way is part of the experience.

The Keys were hot and humid, not much different from Cape Coral so it was nice to have another bed under a fan with A/C.  We walked the beach at sunset and sipped rum drinks oceanside.

We went for a snorkel trip out to Sombrero Reef, the 3rd largest reef in the world.  When my family was young and new, we all moved to the Bahamas for a few years and over that time we all became fixated with the underwater world.  Once back in the States we would take every opportunity to get out into the ocean but those family snorkel trips were far and few between.  I love to be out in the water with my parents, and to have Tom with us was even more awesome.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Super Moon that had lit up the sky the night before, was now reeking havoc on the ocean.  The white-capped waves rocked the boat as our Captain explained the rules and we all geared up to jump in.  I’ve never been too good on an anchored boat so I was counting the seconds until we were cleared for splash off.

As soon as I could get into that water I did, and as soon as my head came to the surface I was met with the rush of a wave letting me know that I’d better keep my face in the water today.  We swam around, took some pictures and pointed out different fish.  When my mask got foggy I tried to clear it in the water but between the waves and the current, I knew I would be better off starting fresh with a new layer of no-fog from the boat.

Tom followed me up the ladder and I stumbled my way over to the bucket and dipped my mask in.  As I stood, I realized I needed to get off this rocking boat immediately or risk a horrible case of sea-sickness.  I put all my gear back on and jumped over into the rough sea.  I swam around a bit but it was too late, I was queasy and the amount of swimming required to keep myself in front of the boat was proving to be too much.  I would let myself float until even with the stern then would kick and paddle as hard as I could until I was… well, nowhere.  I couldn’t move my body against the current, no matter how I tried I kept floating back.  I finally gave into the power of the sea and joined the amateurs hanging onto the anchor line and stole glimpses at my neighbor’s watch, groaning with the realization that I still had another 45 minutes of this to endure.  I tried my best to keep my composure, I marveled at the school of fish swimming around my head, bumping my mask.  I tried to believe that the chum they were frantically after was some sort of food and not a fellow human’s stomach bile.  I tried to look around for Tom or my parents but every time I lifted my head from the water the nausea increased.  I floated and tried to quiet my mind.

Finally, when I couldn’t take anymore, I swam over to the ladder and got out.  It was a mixture of pleasure and pain, I went over to where my parents and Tom were already seated and curled up in a ball.  “Please don’t talk to me, I’m on the edge of sickness right now.  I just need to not move or talk for a bit, sorry.”  My mom, who completely understands motion sickness, offered up some remedies to all of which I denied.  After the boat was back in motion I started to snap out of it.
I heard my Mom talking to the Captain’s Mate,
“…very scary!  Thank you so much, and on our anniversary too, imagine that!?”
I opened my eyes and caught my Mom’s eye, “What?”
“Well, the current, it was just so strong!  I couldn’t swim anymore, I just couldn’t go, they had to come save me!  Can you believe it?!”
What!?  No, I could not believe it.
My father and Tom chimed in with their versions of what had happened and I sat in awe of what I was hearing.  Apparently when Tom and I had gone back onboard to clear my mask, my father was already there but in my rush to get back into the water to ease my vertigo I had missed him.  Sitting talking to my Dad, Tom saw someone waving from the water, he alerted the Captain that it looked as though someone needed help and at the same time my father had his flippers on and was running across the deck – a big no-no, the Captain’s Mate yelled after him to remove his fins while on the boat but my father just yelled “My wife is drowning!” and ran to the ladder.  The Captain realized what was happening at this point and told my 67-year-old father to sit down as he jumped over himself.  I still cannot believe this happened, if it wasn’t for the others talking about it I would have guessed this was a nice little joke my parents and Tom had pulled on me.  But it was real and the thought of it all was enough to make me sick all over again.  Thankfully we all walked off the boat together that afternoon.

I love these guys!

I love these guys!

The rest of our time with my parents was nice, we cooked great food, drank great rum, and ate cartons of great ice cream (typical).  But we had to end this vacation at some point and 2 weeks stationary seemed like an eternity so Tom and I said goodbye and got back on the road.

We drove down to Key West and walked around for a few hours before heading back up to get a site at Bahia Honda SP.  We were right on the water which was good because it was H.O.T!  I went for a dip but the “No Swimming” signs taunted me so I got out my pool and filled it.  Tom handed me my new, super cool, purple rum sippie and I laid in the cool water watching the sun slowly make a downward arch in the sky.  I was in a heat induced stupor when all of a sudden I realized the sun was setting!  Quickly I dried and got dressed and we raced back down towards Key West.  Suddenly the sky got dark as night and rain started flowing as if someone had sliced a hole in the swollen clouds’ undersides.  Luckily we had seen enough Florida weather to know not to worry, this could all be (and probably was) just a passing “shower”.  Instead we worriedly watched the minutes click upwards on the clock, sunset was at 8:20 and it was already 7:52 and we were only on Summerland Key!  By 8:05 we were crossing the final bridge into Key West, the rain had cleared and we could tell that the sunset was beautiful… at Mallory Square which we were still a good 15 minutes from!

A rescued Frigatebird A fisherman found him floating in the water, brought him aboard and set him here to dry.

A rescued Frigatebird
A fisherman found him floating in the water, brought him aboard and set him here to dry.

The view from our site at Bahia Honda

The view from our site at Bahia Honda

Who said we didn't need a pool!?

Who said we didn’t need a pool!?

Will we even see the sunset?

Will we even see the sunset?We will if we get there in time!We will if we get there in time!

At 8:23 we pulled into the crowded parking lot, its common sense that you’d want to get here about a half hour prior to sunset time in order to actually get to see the sun set!   While we crept along in the congestion I jumped out of the car with my camera, motioned to Tom that I’d “be over there somewhere” and to come find me when he was done parking.  I rushed over to the water’s edge and took a few shots of the remnants of what was probably a very magically painted sky.  Tom found me and we walked from one street performer to the next, sipping on our homemade rum drinks, smiling gaily at each other.  We hit a couple of bars and finally ate some good cracked conch (note to Dad: “Best on the island” at the Conch Republic is true!) before calling it a night.  Sharing a vehicle 100% of the time, I actually look forward to being the designated driver now 🙂  We played my iPod with the windows down and I sang at the top of my lungs the whole hour.

The tail end

The tail endKey West Sunset FestivitiesKey West Sunset Festivities

We went right to bed when we got back, but not without noticing how awful the no-see-ums were.  Being a hot and humid Florida summer night, we were on top of the covers but I remember just before falling asleep I pulled the sheet up to my neck because I was being bit by the little flies.  By 4:45 am the fan had died and the hot air was drawing my attention to my bitten skin.  Tom heard me fussing about and we agreed it was probably better if we just packed it up right then.  In the 15 minutes it took us to get in the car, we were gnawed all over!  Tired, hot, and itchy we made our way back to the condo where my parents may or may not be, we had the key code so it was worth a shot.  But my parents truck was in the lot so the key wouldn’t be in the box and we didn’t want to bang on their door at 5:00 in the morning so we kept on driving.

We caught a wonderful sunrise that made up for any lack of sunset the night before and we stopped at a little diner for breakfast just as they were opening.  We made it to Homestead before we pulled over and hidden in the back of some parking lot took naps curled up in the front seat.

Good morning!

Good morning!Here comes the sunHere comes the sunNo turning back now!No turning back now!

We got into Miami early afternoon and it was hot.  We did the driving tour of South Beach and walked down to the water at Miami beach then headed North to Haulover Beach, which anyone who really knows me will know this is my type of beach!  I went from the hot sand to the warm water a thousand times until we got back on the road North.  Once in Ft. Lauderdale we walked the main strip and bellied up for touristy 2-for-1 bar specials.

IMG_0190

Haulover Beach

2-for-1's

2-for-1’s

Once we’d had enough we headed to camp but turned out it was strictly an RV-only camp and despite Tom’s attempt to explain the RTT as an RV, we were not allowed in and had to settle on the Ramada for the night.  If ever at this particular establishment do not eat at the restaurant no matter how tired and hungry or how tempting the free beer & wine sounds!  No amount of free drinks, which you only get one anyway, could make up for the most horrible meal you will be served!

Refreshed we headed to Peanut Island for the day.  There is camping on the Island but you have to take a water taxi to get there and no vehicles are allowed.  We found ourselves a cute little private(ish) beach and relaxed until storm clouds moved in and the lifeguards made us leave.  As the rain poured down we stood in front of the reservation desk and handed over $30.  We watched the sky from the deck and wondered if we’d just made a mistake.  The once half sunny sky was now all black and the rain didn’t look like it was ever going to stop.  When we saw the taxi at the dock we got onboard and contemplated all the way back what we should do.  The last taxi back to the island left in 15 minutes, could we get all our gear and get back on the boat?  Did we even want to?  As we pulled up to dock we decided we didn’t feel like going through the rush to get our stuff to camp on wet ground and possibly in a rain storm so we bellied up to the bar and had an early dinner while we discussed our remaining options.  Finally we landed on arriving at Tom’s parents’ a few days early.

Peanut Island before the monsoon - and my awesome rum cup!

Peanut Island before the monsoon – and my awesome rum cup!

I needed a bucket of rum after that

I needed a bucket of rum after that

Being at Tom’s parents was a nice little get-away from the heat and bugs of camping in the Florida summer.  I went through the mail we had accumulated and caught up on some other stuff that had been piling up.  Our new awning was delivered and Tom wasted no time putting it on the truck.  We had a nice visit with the Folks but the road was calling once again so off we went.

Goodbye Flinn's

Goodbye Flinn’s

We drove towards our 1st free campground, not sure what to expect, but surely weren’t expecting much.  Boy were we surprised when we saw flush toilets, showers, picnic tables (eventually we realized ours was the only site with a table) and it was really, actually free!  (Blue Cypress Lake, Yeehaw Jct, FL)  We set up in a little alcove of trees, pulling the awning over the picnic table we sat and enjoyed the wonderful breeze coming off of the water, it was so cool here!

We were so happy to be back on the road, by ourselves, and without anymore destinations/visits/deadlines, we just relaxed in the shade listening to the waves.  That is until our neighbors moved in on us.  Up went 2 canopies, 2 deep-fryers, 2 grills, a freezer with a super loud gas generator, and tables, so many tables.  We knew they were the pioneers of a larger group setting up for the long weekend and that there’d be many more to follow.  And did they ever, they came in droves throughout the night and morning, by the time we came down front the tent the entire lawn was full of people, very active and loud people.  Come to find out they are a group of friends, old and new, from Suriname and they had come here every 4th of July for the last 6 years; and we had taken the best spot, their spot.

Over the next couple days our new friends shared with us the many different flavors of their region.  Fruits that I’d only heard of, and many that I hadn’t even!  Mame, dragon fruit, and many more I can’t remember.  Also ginger beer, bacalao, and a pink coconut & lemongrass punch.  We loved these guys, what a great group of people!  But I have to say, it was very peaceful once their caravan of 25 moved out.
Silence.
Until our new neighbors rolled in a short time later.  I should have left well enough alone but they had a cat and you know I can’t resist an animal!  The ice was broken and they were hooked.  :/
There’s a difference between traveling for fun and traveling for need.  These guys were hard up and trying to turn a buck any which way they could.  We had a hell of a time shaking them and enjoying our site to ourselves but after a few lies about naps and sickness, we succeeded in having a quiet night to ourselves.  In the morning the man approached Tom with a proposition to sell him a $125 food stamp card (that was empty then but would be refilled in 1.5 months) so he could replace the flat tire they woke up to.  We took this as a sign we should move on, that we were not going to find the peace we were looking for at this campground.  We offered condolences and well-wishes to our neighbors and hit the road.

Our new awning from IronMan!

Our new awning from IronMan!

Our new friends from Suriname!

Some of our new friends from Suriname!

We restocked our food and booze and headed to Playalinda Beach in Titusville, went straight to lot 13 😉  Bonus, it is a National Park so we got in for free with our annual pass!  It was already 3 pm when we got there so after only a couple of hours we decided to find camp and come back the next day. Manatee Hammock was pretty empty and we got a great spot on the bay without any neighbors.  We watched crazy squirrels chase after our knife that smelled of peanut butter and enjoyed the hot showers.

The next morning we got out early and bought a beach umbrella for our day on the sand.  That umbrella was our savior when the morning sun became hotter and hotter as it rose in the sky.  After as long as we could stand it, we packed it up and snuck back into Manatee Hammock for showers.  Fresh and clean, nice and tan we headed North, back to my BFF in Orlando for a proper visit.

We enjoyed dinner and a nice night with her and her fiancé and their new baby.  In the morning we skipped showers and took the baby swimming.  By late early afternoon we were once again headed North towards our next visit with friends.

For the last week or so we had been searching for a Workaway host in the NC/TN/KY area now that our obligations are behind us, we have nothing but time on our hands, and our hands were getting rather restless.  We sent out a few emails but had yet to hear back from anyone with good news.  We didn’t sweat it, figuring something would come up soon enough.

We spent the day in Jacksonville with an old friend of Tom’s where we had quite a good night of guitar singalongs and awesome food.  We were so caught up in the party we hadn’t popped the tent and at about midnight we went out with an audience.  It took bout 20 minutes of drunken fumbling to get the thing up, I never saw such ridiculousness before!  Finally we retired to our humidity-soaked bed and woke up baking in the Florida sun.  Our host made a slammin breakfast with sausage and gravy, eggs, and bacon and lent us her washer and dryer.  As we did our chores and got ready to leave our hosts lounged around exactly as you should on a lazy, hungover Sunday afternoon.  I was jealous.  I wanted to laze on a couch and watch movies in the A/C!  Once we were on the road it was hot and we were slow-moving, we were barely away form the house when we sprung for a cheap motel and spent the rest of the day doing just what we wanted.  It was the nicest cheap motel I’ve ever seen (Days Inn, Kingsland, GA $50!)  I showered and caught up on internet and TV while Tom enjoyed the new Superman movie he’d been dying to see for weeks.  The next morning brought more of the same, taking full advantage of the hot water, internet, and continental breakfast.  A half hour after check-out we were on our way to Savannah.

Next post: Georgia and the Carolinas; we get down and dirty.

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