Throughout our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I have often camped in spots with little or no light pollution, allowing us to
marvel at the heavens above. We have been thrilled to sit in the warm sun under bright blue skies, and to watch the moon and countless stars at night. Prior posts have captured the transition from day to night, as the sun dips over the horizon. It’s a fabulous perspective on the world around us.
But this week Betty & I enjoyed another perspective. We vicariously experienced the universe as seen through the eyes of astronauts like Chris Hadfield and Roberta Bondar. As we toured the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, we were able to get up close and personal with the various rockets and space craft used to move beyond the earth’s gravity into the vast worlds above. While we watched the “Journey To Space 3D” in the IMAX theatre, the “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted”, and travelled beyond the gates by bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, I couldn’t help but hum the David Bowie tune – ”Space Oddity” – immortalized by Chris Hadfield on his space flight:
“Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you…”
The pics on this post capture a little of what we saw last week. Perfectionist tendencies would require me to accurately caption what you are seeing, but that would require a little more research, as I’m still a bit vague about the up close difference in appearance between a rocket, a space ship and a missile, all of which we saw. Lol.
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do…”
Hope you can appreciate your perspective on planet earth, wherever you find yourself this week!
After exploring the series of small islands that make up the extreme south east corner of the U.S.A., Betty & I have finally turned our home-on-wheels to face the north again. The journey north to Winnipeg is expected to take at least two more months, with the actual date subject to spring forecasts for Manitoba. Call us when the snow is all gone… Lol.
As we bake in southern Florida’s tropical weather, it seems strange to watch the dire predictions and reports of extreme weather in states and provinces to the north. Next week we will visit Cape Canaveral and learn about space exploration, but already it feels like we are in a different world!
We didn’t make reservations in advance for the Gold Coast portion of Florida, from Miami to West Palm Beach, so
Betty & I have been dividing our time between three campsites this week. Using each as a base camp, we have been driving up and down the coast, mainly on the small coastal road known as A1A.
I use the qualifier “mainly” because The Donald was at Mar-a-Lago this week in Palm Beach, and the police, secret service, coast guard, and lots of others in and out of uniform, had A1A closed
from Palm Beach to Southern Blvd. We were surprised and disappointed that the President didn’t invite us over for lunch, but I guess the police who spoke to us at one of the check-points didn’t pass on our travel schedule. Maybe when we get up to Washington. Lol.
In any event, it was fun to drive past many of the places we have previously visited, or seen in movies or television programs. All those Miami Vice and CSI Miami episodes ran through our minds as we drove past
the art deco buildings of Miami Beach, and the yacht clubs, golf courses, private homes, and exotic condos from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton, to Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, and all the other beaches in between.
Our stay on the Gold Coast isn’t over yet, but as we start to head north, Betty & I wonder how long it will really take us to travel from this unreal world, back to the real world again. In the meantime…
Well over a year ago, Betty & I began plans for the Florida Keys portion of our overlandish odyssey. We had previously visited the Keys by car, staying in a small motel in Marathon, Florida, roughly half way between Key Largo and
Key West. On that trip we had seen amazing Florida State Parks that backed onto the Atlantic Ocean. Some had campsites that
contained at least one palm, a picnic table, fire pit, and sandy beach. Nirvana! Our goal was to spend two weeks in each park (the maximum allowed), moving up and down the Keys based on availability. This turned out to be wishful thinking!
Reservations for each of the State Parks in the Keys can be made 11 months in advance. I researched the campgrounds and chose preferred sites and dates at each. We were in Quartzsite, Arizona 11 months ago, so I got up before 5 am each morning (yawn) in order to book the sites as they became available at 8 am Floridatime. If I clicked on the booking a minute early, the site was available but the message said it was too early to
reserve. If I clicked 1 second past the hour, the site was already booked by someone else. This happened nearly every day for 3 – 4 weeks, until I realized that I would never have the speedy connection required to beat the competition. From time to time I checked back, and one day I found one night available at Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon: March 1, 2019. So our Keys adventure was built around that one booking.
Betty & I were able to get into Boyd’s Key West Campground for two nights prior to our Curry Hammock stay, and that gave us a chance to cross
the 42 bridges that lead down to the southern tip of Florida to do some touring around Key West first. We have to say the adventure was amazing, whetting our appetite to return again some day. Following are a few pictures that help tell the story of our joyous journey:
Yes, visiting the sunny, steamy Florida Keys, with
temperatures in the high 80’s f. every day (while the weather back in Winnipeg was well below freezing) was wishful thinking. Betty & I hope that all who wistfully read this might have an opportunity to do their own wishful thinking and enjoy this funtastic sunny tiny tip of Florida some day!
Note: for some reason, some of our best pics (taken in portrait) will not rotate & load. If I figure it out, this post will be updated. We also ate the Key Lime Pie too fast to get pictures, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. lol G.R.
Betty & I ended our last posting with a certain uncertainty. We knew we would continue south to the Florida Keys, but still had just over a week before our Key West reservations. Given the noted issues in finding a place in a hot rv market, where might we find ourselves? (not psychologically or spiritually, but geographically speaking. Lol.)
You might remember that we met Heath last summer at his Boondockers Welcome site on Prince Edward Island. As often happens when we compare notes about places to see and things to do, Heath told us about an out-of-the-way state forest campground in Florida, hosted by a wonderful couple named Orville & Arlene. It took us a while to find Picayune Strand State Forest, just east of Naples, Florida, but when we did, we were in for a pleasant surprise!
On the site of the original “buy swampland in Florida” scam, the state has reclaimed a large tract of land, returning it to its natural wild tropical condition. Picayune Strand State Forest campground is a small unserviced park down a back gravel road, which served us just fine! With the sun shining down on us all week – temperatures in the high 80s f (low 30s c) – our solar panels worked their magic to keep us in power. About
80’ from our campsite were a series of faucets providing non-potable water for horses that came to visit. When the horses were not there, we were able to run our hose over to provide water for our toilet & shower. At $10./night, we spent a great 8 days at this site. Orville & Arlene were wonderful hosts, and it was fun to meet the other campers, including Americans from colder northern states, and Canadians from Ontario & Quebec.
Within driving distance were a number of beaches, and we explored them all, from Bonita Beach in the north, to Naples Pier and Marco Island to the south. It was interesting to drive down the coastal roads, checking out the elaborate homes and landscaping of properties both backing onto the Gulf, and on the many inland waterways throughout Naples.
Today we drove through Big Cyprus National Park, and are now in the Long Pine Key campground of Everglades National Park. Our “America The Beautiful” pass is still valid, and we are set up in a gorgeous site for $18.
Tomorrow we expect to make the drive over the 42 bridges that span the islands from Key Largo to Key West. The forecast calls for more hot sunny days, so I guess this might be the place to find ourselves psychologically, spiritually, AND geographically. Lol.
Addendum: As mentioned, Picayune Strand was the site of the infamous “swampland in Florida” scam, perpetrated by an unscrupulous real estate developer who promised to make that portion of the state great for its inhabitants by “draining the swamp” and “creating the largest subdivision in the world”. In a brochure published by the Florida Forest Service we read:
“Potential buyers were shown the land from the air during dry season, and many lots were sold to people who never saw their land from the ground. Few homes were built in the subdivision named “Golden Gate Estates” due to the lack of electricity and high summer water levels.”
The plans looked great at first glance, but lacked the necessary depth of study to ensure a balanced sustainable approach for the land and all of its inhabitants.
The article goes on to describe the adverse effect on the ecosystem created by the unscrupulous flim flam man, and the years of effort required to restore the environment that was damaged by this scam artist. Aren’t we all glad to have learned an important lesson from this little piece of history? lol
After Betty & I said good bye to our family at Disney World, we were hoping for a little beach time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Since we didn’t have any reservations, we just hoped to find a quiet spot once we got there. Well, it turned out that a lot of other snowbirds had the same idea, and beach/camping spots were few and far between. Whenever we thought we had found a good spot, it turned out we were wrong. For a while at least…
We continued west from Orlando to Tampa, over to Clearwater & up the coast road past Dunedin, to Crystal Beach. After finding nothing but congestion, we turned south to St. Petersburg, and as we were starting to lose sunlight, we bit the bullet & checked into the KOA there at $126./night – ouch! The next morning we headed south to Bradenton and crossed over to the coastal road by Bradenton Beach, following this scenic route through beautiful Sarasota, and then back to the mainland. All of the state parks we checked were full, but we thought we’d have luck at an Army Corp of Engineers park east of Fort Myers.
On arrival at W.P. Franklin North we found a beautiful little campground with a vacant spot. Unfortunately when we checked, the spot was reserved, and all current occupants had made their reservations six months in advance. No spontaneity here! Our gps and free campground directory told us that a Walmart 18 miles away allowed overnight parking. But when we arrived it was signed for no overnight parking, so we were on the road again. Fortunately, we found a large rest area on I75, south of Fort Myers, and spent a night there reconnoitring.
When we checked the Boondockers Welcome site, we found a palm tree farm on Pine Island, west of Cape Coral, that allowed us to stay for 5 nights. We also found an acreage east of Fort Myers, near LaBelle, Florida, that agreed to a 2 night stay following that. We have found both to be tropical paradises!
Mike and Deb have a palm farm at the end of a quiet road in Bokeelia, Florida. It was the perfect spot to relax and unwind after our Disney visit, and Mike turned out to be an amazingly gracious host. He described all the exotic plants and palms on his property (I should have taken better notes. Lol), and we used this island get-away as our base camp to go exploring.
In addition to driving up and down the island, on Mike’s recommendation we headed up the coast to Siesta Beach, just south of Sarasota. Having visited many great beaches around North America, we took the claim of this being the #1 beach in the USA with a grain of salt (or sand – lol) until we got there. The beach is wide and long, covered in talcum
powder fine white sand. The adjacent free parking lot was huge, and the beach access easy, even for those with mobility issues. We reviewed the criteria for the #1 rating, and fully agreed that it is not just local hype. What a great find!
From Pine Island we headed about one hour east to Larry’s Boondocker Welcome site near
LaBelle, Florida. It is a beautiful acreage backing onto a river that serves as an inland waterway connection between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It has been fun to watch the nearby bridge open and ships make the east or westbound passage along this quiet waterway. Last night we sat around a campfire near the water’s edge with our host and other campers, swapping tales about our adventures. Today our thermostat is reading 87f, and Betty is out under a nearby tree, enjoying the light tropical breeze. As soon as I finish this post, the stunning views, fresh air and sunshine will lure me out also.
Betty & I still don’t know where we will go from here. We may get lost in Florida again, but for now we have found a little piece of tropical paradise, and are fully enjoying it!
Is it real, or is it fake? While that is the question most asked about political news these days, our family has been constantly challenged this week to understand what we are seeing and experiencing. We are in Disney World! (And it’s hard to tell the difference between here and Washington, D.C. lol)
One might think that, as we get older, we become more calloused and jaded. But as Betty & I shared the Disney experience with our daughter Valerie, her husband Kevin, and our two wonderful granddaughters – Isabella & Georgia – we found this imaginary world to be quite the wondrous ride – both literally and figuratively.
First of all, Florida’s Disney complex is huge! Expressways channelled Betty & me from Sherwood Forest RV Resort in Kissimmee, Florida to each of the four parks we attended: Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. On “days off” we also visited Disney Springs shopping area and Port Orleans Resort Riverside, the Disney hotel complex where our kids & grandkids stayed. Once at each park, we either took a tram, elevated train, or boat to get to and from the
actual attractions. Thousands of visitors make their way to and through each of the parks each day, and Disney has the people-moving business down to a science – extremely well organized and efficient!
At Hollywood Studios the Penner family used “fast passes” to reduce wait times for rides such as the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.
We all enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and meeting up with Star Wars characters, among other attractions.
At Animal Kingdom we took the Kilimanjaro Safari ride through the lush African savanna, viewing such exotic animals as giraffes,
elephants, lions and wildebeests along the way. We also visited Asia, Discovery Island, and
Pandora- the World of Avatar. The Penners road a speeding train through the Himalayan Mountains and down Mt. Everest, while Betty & I watched from a safe
distance. The day ended with another great fireworks display over Discovery River.
In the Magic Kingdom, we walked down Main Street, U.S.A. to the Disney castle that we all watched on TV Sunday nights, back in the
day… During our visit we were greeted by Disney characters, and took in a couple of
parades down Main Street.
We attended a hilarious show called “Monsters Laugh Floor” and I was (un)lucky enough to be singled out on screen on a number of
occasions as ‘that guy’. After visiting Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, we stayed around for the most spectacular fireworks display ever!
At Epcot, we toured Future World West, including a train ride through the Living With The Land Presentation, showing an
amazing variety of fruits and vegetables grown in controlled, ideal, sustainable conditions.
In Future World East we experienced a lift off and trip to Mars in Mission: Space, and rode the Chevrolet Test Track, checking out recent cars produced by that company.
We passed Canada, had lunch in the United Kingdom, walked through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy (among others). We ate dinner in Japan and watched the evening fireworks from France. Another astounding adventure in this unreal world!
As a special treat, we all had brunch with some of the most famous Disney cast members, and finished up with arcade games in Valerie & Kevin’s hotel.
Throughout Disney World, we saw real people dressed up and acting like cartoon characters. And we saw “lifelike” animated robotics imitating humans. In one park, the exotic animals were all real, while in another they looked, sounded, and acted real, but were fake. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. How much was real, and how much was fake? We
couldn’t tell! In all parks we were issued 3D glasses for some of the presentations, which not only brought the screen images to life, but were accompanied by rain/mist/spit (whatever the intended moisture), vibrating
seats, and smells that made the experience far more realistic. Some theatres also included real and/or robotic characters, just to further confuse our senses.
For sure, Disney World is a fantasy land. But we saw real people of every age, culture, and ethnicity laughing, hugging and enjoying family time in this environment. Maybe it’s the kind of fantasy world in which we should all aspire to live more often…
I suppose it could be argued that any time we are still breathing is the time of our lives. But as Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we both feel very blessed by this time we have together. Yesterday was another birthday – not a big milestone date, just a regular one like the (too) many before it – but it always causes one to pause and consider where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.
Where we are currently is Far Reach Ranch, just north of Orlando, Florida. It is a family owned and operated blueberry farm that participates in the Harvest Host program. Today Betty & I had the opportunity to sample and purchase a variety of jams and honeys made on the farm, and look forward
to a quiet night here, before we join our kids and grandkids for an anticipated less quiet, high energy Disney visit, starting tomorrow.
Since our last post, we left site 30 at Cyprus Glen for a fabulous weekend visit with a Boondockers Welcome host in Floral City, Florida. Cindy and Regis extended
the kind of hospitality that we have come to expect from this great program. It turned out that we had left Winnipeg without the key to unlock Betty’s bike from the back of our motorhome, so Regis, who previously owned a bike shop, graciously agreed to cut the lock off for us. Somewhere along the way, unbeknownst to us because of the bike cover, my rear wheel had become severely bent out of shape, and Regis was able to recommend a local bike mechanic who trued it back up on short notice. Since both our bikes had been locked together, we are now free to go for rides again. Yeah! Super serendipity!
We then returned to Withlacoochee State Forest Cyprus Glen campground, this time to site 27, for five more nights, enjoying the unique jungle-like sights and sounds of this quiet central Florida forest. BTW, the site is quite unlevel, as are many of the others, even though they are all equipped with 50 amp electrical service, water, picnic table and fire ring. It had rained for a day before we arrived, and the
back wheels of our motorhome sank into the parking spot’s gravel up to our axles. If it wasn’t for our hydraulic lifters – which are working fine now – we would have required a tow truck to get us out! Thank goodness for our levellers, boards, and snow shovel that allowed us to dig out. Who knew that the snow shovel would come in handy down here in Florida. Lol.
For my birthday yesterday, Betty & I drove into Orlando, and finally bought a new set of golf clubs to fit the closet built for that purpose. LOL. We also had a great visit with our old next door neighbours from Winnipeg, Robert & Lorraine, who now winter in a well-appointed resort complex near Orlando’s convention centre. It was fun to talk about our families, where we are, where we have been, and where we are going from here. Just like the past, the future is not likely to be all smooth sailing for us, but for now as we continue our bucket-list adventure, Betty & I agree that we are having the time of our lives. Here’s hoping that you are also!
Addendum: Some people might think that, to qualify as “the time of your life”, one must participate in a high energy, adrenalin-producing activity like bungy jumping or sky diving, where you are reaching out to cheat death. But I can’t help but think back to a poem memorized in public school. Daffodils, by William Wordsworth, ends with the verse:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
These days, bliss can be found just as much in solitude and admiration of the world around us, as in the fast-paced activities of our culture. Our lives seem to have a combination of both just now, and Betty & I are happy to have this time of our lives.
Cheap, cheap. Is that the sound of birds in the tall trees around us? Or is that just us not opening our wallets so much? LOL. In comparison to Texas and Arizona, Betty & I have learned that Florida can be an expensive state for RVers. We have already committed to a week near Disney World with our kids & grandkids at $69./night, and have a reservation at a Key West campground for double that rate. But otherwise, will we be able to do Florida on a reasonably cheap budget, or will we blow out the bank account?
Before we left Winnipeg, we purchased on-line “The Wright Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds” in the United States, and have been using it, the “Free camping Near Me” website, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome, to help reduce our accommodation expenses.
While BLM land is popular and available in New Mexico & Arizona, Florida has a number of other low-cost options. In addition to state parks, which are plentiful but often just plain full this time of year, Florida has Wildlife Management Areas, National Forests, and State Forests which often allow camping. This week we have been exploring the forests, and hope that our luck continues in finding great, cheap, accessible campsites.
After Tate’s Hell State Forest ($9.17/night), we went to Ocala North RV Park($38.70/night) because it was on our route, available, and we needed to dump and do laundry. It turned out to be a very well-kept full-service private park with level, cement pads, and included cable tv and excellent wi-fi. Bonus! It was also located in Reddick, Florida – a bastardization of our last name that we see sometimes when people have trouble with …och (the proper Scottish spelling. LOL.)
The wi-fi allowed us to research other inexpensive (Betty doesn’t want to give the impression we’re cheap. Lol) camping options, and ended up at the Big Bass Campground (site #13) in
Ocala National Forest ($10./night). We weren’t sure if the campground would be open, because of the federal government shut-down, but there was no gate across, and we used an honour system box to deposit our camping fee. While the site itself didn’t have services, there was potable water nearby, as well as bathrooms, garbage bins, and a dump station.
Before and after Ocala National Forest we stopped at two famous Florida flea markets. One was called “The Market of Marion” at Belleview, Fl., and the other “Swap O Rama” atWebster, Fl.. On the thrifty theme, I was there in search of a new set of golf
clubs, as I had previously seen cheap, cheap clubs at Belleview on an earlier visit with Betty’s brother, Jack. Unfortunately, I had no luck this time, but we did pick up some fresh fruit and vegies while there. BTW, on the food topic, while we still have been bbq-ing rib eye with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus from time to time, we also have been slumming it sometimes with a variety of Bush’s Beans on toast…
We are now in Cypress Glen Campground Withlacoochee State Forest ($13.45/night) site #30, which includes 50 amp service and water at the site. Many of the campsites in this
area are sloped side to side, or front to back, so would be hard to level our motorhome. Fortunately, site #30 is reasonably flat, with boards needed under only 2 wheels. We are looking forward to visiting the Gulf coast from here, but also having a quiet stay in this tranquil forest, with only the chirp of birds ringing in our ears. Cheap, cheap!
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees – with not a breath of wind – a large, quiet, remote campsite.
That’s what greeted Betty & me today as we arrived at site 21 in Tate’s Hell State Forest, near Tallahassee, Florida. It’s about as far from hell as one could imagine!
After leaving Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, Florida yesterday, we drove along the Gulf coast to a Harvest Host location – Three Oaks Winery– northwest of Panama City. Having read and heard of the severity of Hurricane Michael in October, we were surprised to see little or no damage on our journey. The winery is only open on weekends in January, so the owners confirmed by phone that we would have the parking lot to ourselves for a restful, free evening.
Today was another story. As we made the short drive from the winery to Panama City, we began to see more and more garbage on the roadsides, and wondered if there was some sort of sanitation strike in the area. But once
we reached highway 98 and began to follow the Gulf coastline eastward, we saw incredible destruction along the way. With Mexico Beach as its apparent epicentre, Hurricane Michael ripped out almost everything in its path – from homes, to stores, to offices, to schools, to churches, to whole
forests. Most structures that remain standing are covered by blue tarps, awaiting roof replacements. The highway was washed away at many
points, and we zig-zagged around pilons placed near temporary patches. The road was reduced to one lane in a number of locations as crews worked to restore a major artery. In the meantime, we waited in long lines as traffic alternated through the construction zones.
For Betty & me it was no more than a minor inconvenience. But we couldn’t help but think of the hell experienced by those who lived through the hurricane, and the ongoing nightmare of trying to rebuild lives in a beautiful spot that is so vulnerable to
the extreme forces of nature. As we drove, we saw a lot of dazed looks on the faces of those we passed. But we also saw work crew after work crew beginning the rebuilding
process. Our hopes and prayers are that those in the Florida Panhandle who suffered through this extremely destructive event will have the resilience to experience blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind for a while.