Sunday, December 9, 2012

Day 87 - And So It Ends

The whale seemed suitably frosty after her night in the parking lot, we were suitably rested and it seemed like a good idea to just go home.  The scenery seemed unremarkable to me.  What I once saw as a mountain range looked like a little bump on the horizon.
 The Hudson River looked pretty in the morning sunshine.  This was the first toll that we had seen for quite a while.  After more than 11,000 miles of roads I still do not understand what needs to be a toll road and why.  What makes a bridge I have to pay $12 to cross any better than the bridge I crossed for free?
It is cold again.  The sky looks a kind of weak blue, the leaves are gone and there were patches of snow off the road.  I'm back to taking pictures through the windshield because it is just too cold to open the window.  But I'm not very interested in documenting this part of the journey so we aren't likely to freeze.  It isn't that I've lost my enthusiasm but rather the route has lost that allure of the unexplored and I just can't think of anything to say about it (therefore I need no photos to illustrate my point).

Years ago I was given the job of family navigator (a job which I take seriously).  We've taken many road trips and on some of those I did some driving so Brett was forced to navigate.  On one trip during his stint as direction giver he suddenly asked "is this Hartford?".  The answer was a firm "no" (we were somewhere like Worcester by that time) and that question has been asked on many a drive since then  (much to Brett's chagrin).  So as not to lose another opportunity I would like to say once and for all "Brett, THIS is Hartford!".

While driving along and pretty much ignoring New England, I was doing some list making.  One of the most fun, useful things that I took along on this journey (other than Brett) was my iPhone.  Of course it is always good to be able to make a phone call when  you need to (the reception was super almost everywhere - only a small area in the big trees in northern California was without ATandT reception).  It was also fun to just be able to think of a question (I wonder what that thing is?) and look up the answer right then (oh, it is the Mississippi River).  So often, I've had questions intending to ask somebody when we stopped and never getting around to it.  Far and away the best feature was "the little camera that could".  I took my big boy Canon with me and got it out to take photos at several locations but I was never without the iPhone and had it with me for all those goofy moments when I just had to have a picture (and those sneaky moments when the Canon would have given me away).  I didn't intend to document the trip using it but I'm very happy with the results.  I even remembered the video mode from time to time.
Apps that I am really glad I had:
  • Blogger:  I took my laptop and it has a broadband receiver but I didn't always have a signal.  I was able to fill in the gaps using the iPhone.  Those days featured shorter entries (because I can't type for beans on that little screen) but they did get an entry.
  • Facebook:  I love being able to keep up with family and friends even while we were away.  And it was so much fun posting random entries as we made our way around.
  • Mail:  Love being able to keep up with family and friends while we were away.
  • BofA:  I didn't worry about being able to pay the bills while we were traveling.  We ran out of cash long before we thought we would and I didn't have to worry about where to find an ATM either.
  • Maps:  I didn't update to iOS6 because I love Google maps.  We've got a GPS that does most of the heavy lifting but this app is great for just locating yourself.
  • GasBuddy:  The truck runs on diesel.  When we aren't on the interstate it isn't always apparent where the diesel is.  GasBuddy took care of that.  It also lists prices, distance to the station and a picture of the place so you can figure out if you can get the whale in or not.  I did learn that if you are in farming country, you will be able to find diesel because farm equipment runs on diesel.
  • Allstays Camp and RV:  Enter a place name and up comes a map showing all the camping places around there (and rest areas, and gas stations, and Camping Worlds, etc.) or just bring up the map and watch your progress down the road as well as see what camping type places are nearby.  When you've picked the name of a place, click to get user reviews.   
  • Roadside Attractions:  Because you need to know that the world's smallest post office is 10 miles down the road.
  • Yelp:  We didn't eat out every day but it did help me find interesting places or make a quick check for reviews when we were near a spot and wondered what the popular opinion of it was.
  • Snapseed:  This is a dandy piece of photo editing software.  For me, a big part of the fun of taking pics is messing with them afterwards.  I can mess with them to my heart's content.
  • Photosynth:  I love panoramas.  This software lets me do panos with my iPhone.  I did a lot of them.
  • iBird PRO: The most expensive software on my phone.  We used this quite often to identify the birds we were admiring.  If you like to bird watch and need help with the names, I highly recommend this.  It is worth the cost.

Crossing this bridge is like crossing the drawbridge over the moat and entering the castle once more.  We are home (even if we have several more hours to drive before we reach the house).  It has taken me an extra week to finish up the blog for this trip because I needed to have a little time to think about how I felt about it ending.  My heart didn't give me as much leeway.  We stopped at the New Hampshire Welcome Center once we got to I95.  I intended to just hop out of the truck and go in.  Instead I sat there and cried.  And I am still not sure why.  Maybe I knew that I would miss being the "hero" of a driving day; getting that high five from Brett when we managed to arrive exactly where we intended to go (he knows how to get home from here).  Or that I would miss having him tell me "you found us another great place to visit".  Or miss having him excitedly say "picture, picture now" as we drove by something interesting.  Or miss having him say "I liked your blog today".  This trip was a way to shine and now I know I will feel less lustrous as we go about the daily business of living our lives.  That's it - I will miss having each day be exceptional.

But there were 87 exceptional days all in a row where I did and saw and laughed and learned.  This is a land of contrasts.
  • Wet and dry:  It rained as we left home, it rained overnight a couple of times and then for over 80 days it was dry. Fire danger = high, no water in the rivers.
  • Hot and cold:  18 degrees at Yellowstone where we learned to unhook the water hose or else have to deal with a 25 foot icicle.  100+ degrees in the Mojave where we had to hang a bath towel over the front door window so that the air conditioning would keep it almost comfortable.
  • Green and brown:  Amber waves of grain indeed (at least corn) to absolute nothing in some of the deserts
  • High and low:  8,000ft in Yellowstone and 6 ft in Florida
  • Exclusive and inclusive:  From "Keep Out" "Private" "No Beach Access" to all the glorious state and national parks open to all.
  • Rich and poor:  A beautiful, private home in Naples, FL and the very modest dwellings on tribal lands
  • Love and hate:  A billboard that suggested "Forgive" and one that demanded "Vote for the Mormon, not the moron"
  • City and country:  Please don't make me have to go through Chicago ever again but please let me spend another day admiring Yellowstone
 The trip is over but the journey is not.  The past 3 months featured the new and exciting.  The next 3 months will feature the more familiar.

There is one question I will ask - when can we go again?

There is one thing that I learned (though I think I knew it and it was simply reinforced).

It's a wonderful world.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day 86 - Ashland, VA to Wilkes-Barre, PA

Do not wait until the last possible minute to do winterizing and think you have all the right stuff and will know how to do it on your new 5th wheel. You will not. Then you will have to call somebody and then you will wait and wait and wait. And finally a nice man will come and help you. It wasn't anything we did wrong. There were some parts broken/missing but now they are fixed and the pipes are full of pink stuff.

Then at 1pm you will begin your drive for the day. This after getting up at 6am hoping for an early start.

Highway robbery is a vending machine that charges 2.50 for a little bag of Swedish fish! Shame on you West Virginia. You don't get the price until you make your selection. But it does accept credit cards. The only thing I offered was my back.

At 8pm we checked in to a Hampton Inn in Wilkes Barre, PA. There are no good camping options in the northeast at this time of year. With no water in the whale, the idea of a night in a WalMart parking lot just did not appeal. So we sleep on land again after 3 months! The whale looks forlorn out in the parking lot (she needs 6 spaces). 
 It is cold here and there is a little snow on the ground. The scenery looks as I remember it. I don't feel the urge to comment about it except to say that familiar does have its good side - it reminds me of home. But I am happiest and most curious when approaching the new and the unknown. I have had wanderlust my entire life and am so lucky to be able to satisfy some of those traveling urges now.

I believe we will see home again tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Day 85 - Florence, SC to Ashland, VA

It is most definitely the wind down phase of the trip.  Day 85 dawned sunny but chilly and we made haste to put some more northward miles behind us.  It was a quiet morning driving through South Carolina.  When we finally got to South of the Border, I was happy for it as the signs do get tiresome.  This seemed much less fascinating to me than did Wall Drug; possibly because I'd never seen Wall Drug or the procession of signs leading to it.  I've seen Pedro more times than I really want.  Here's one last look.

We stopped at a rest area this morning and the truck we parked next to had a very friendly driver.  When Brett got out, the driver said "could I have eggs and bacon?".  It is nice to travel with one's own kitchen.

The miles rolled by.  Traffic wasn't very bad today; mostly well-behaved tractor trailers.  We stopped for lunch somewhere in North Carolina.  As with every other lunch stop, we try to get a spot on the very end so that we can open the main slide.  This allows us to sit at the dining room table and eat like the civilized folks we hope people think we are.  Today wasn't a very busy day at the rest area and we had plenty of room to "stretch out".  Ham and cheese sandwiches all around.

We are listening to the audio version of Game of Thrones.  We started it when Lowell was still with us on the way out to Seattle.  But conversations were very lively and the scenery was all new and interesting, and the book fell by the wayside.  Now that we are covering familiar ground again, it was time to get the book back out.  Since it's been a while, we had some trouble getting connected with the story again (there are a LOT of characters) but seem to be all caught up and are enjoying it once more. 

We have stopped in Ashland, VA for the night at a KOA that is fairly close to the highway.  It's primary appeal is that it is open year round.  But the staff is friendly and the grounds look very well tended.  Temperatures are due to go below freezing tonight and we have orders to disconnect the water so as not to risk frozen pipes.  We will be draining the tanks and putting in the pink anti-freeze before we leave here tomorrow.  That should have us all set for the winter ahead.  Of course it also means that my restroom on wheels will no longer be operational so I'll have to use the public restrooms along with everybody else for the rest of the journey.  Ah well.

Only a few days left!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day 84 - Fernandina Beach, FL to Florence, SC

It was overcast this morning but a bit warmer than yesterday.  Perfectly fine weather to get folded up, get the tanks dumped and start heading north.  Fort Clinch is a beautiful park and we really hope to return soon.  But for today, it was farewell.  We stopped by the ranger station on the way out in order to put a few more postcards in the mail.  We have been sending a few to Aiden and Conor as we have been traveling but for some reason just didn't get any done for a while.  They probably wonder what has happened to us.  We are fine, just a little slow with the correspondence.

We had a slightly later start than intended because Brett met some people who had Alaska plates on their motorhome and he needed to hear their story.  They do live in Alaska but they keep their motorhome in Oregon at a friend's house since it is so expensive to buy gas in Canada.  When they want to travel in it, they fly down to Oregon.

We have done this portion of the drive more times than I can remember so it is hard to be enthused or surprised by what I see.  But this morning was cloudy with showers and the plants near Brunswick, GA did look a bit mysterious in their setting today.  We had the first big rain of the entire trip today.  While we did have some evening rain at the beginning and a few splatters here and there, this was the first day that we had a steady rain while driving.  Fortunately, we just bought new wiper blades so the view (what little there was) was streak free.

Our intent is to simply drive the miles but not at an exhausting pace.  So we will probably keep to about 300 miles a day and just find a spot near the highway to over night.  This evening we are in Florence, SC at a sorry little campground (Florence RV Park) that has seen better days.  The main office building has the a-frame shape of the KOA offices although this is not a KOA.  If it is an "ex" KOA, I wonder how bad it had to be to fall from grace. The sites are very narrow and I'm sure it would be congested if it were full.  It definitely is not my idea of a destination spot but will be fine for one night.   We can see and hear I95 from here but since it is raining, all the doors, windows and shades are shut.  We shall be safe in our cave for the duration. 

This was the view from the doorway just after we got set up.  There is a little pond past the trees that was full of Canada geese but other than that, I can think of nothing charming to mention.  It has filled up a bit since then with other folks who I presume are only staying here because it is near the highway and on the way to someplace warm.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 83 – Fort Clinch State Park, FL

Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are such lovely spots.  We only had today to look around so we wanted to make it count.  Of course, there were a few errands to be done first.  We needed to get some groceries and since we were out of milk it was a good time to go out for breakfast first.  We don’t have Huddle House at home but they seem to be all over the place in Florida.  I know it feels like I am breaking my pledge to avoid chain restaurants but, again, I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt because we’ve never been to one.  May I say that whoever invented biscuits with sausage gravy should receive a medal?  

We had to get some of the pink (non-toxic) antifreeze for the whale.  It will be a game of cat and mouse with the weather.  At some point as we head further north, we have to drain out all of the water and put the pink stuff into the pipes.  We don’t want to do it too soon because then it won’t be as convenient to camp (somebody has to get up and use the bathroom quite a few times at night) and it seems wrong to stay in a hotel when you’ve got a big 5th wheel with you.  Last year we made it all the way home with weather in the 40’s and didn’t have to do the winterizing until we were in our own driveway.  It doesn’t look like that will be the case this year.  Now we have adequate supplies to keep fed for the rest of our drive home (I think).  

We decided to visit Fort Clinch this afternoon.  In 1842, the US government purchased a tract of land on the northern end of Amelia Island at the Florida-Georgia border.  A military installation was to be built on the property to guard the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, protect coastal and interior shipping, and defend the deep water port of Fernandina Florida.  Construction began in 1847.  When you approach the fort you see a sign “Imagine – You are stepping into the past.  The year is 1864 and the Civil War is in progress.  Ahead of you is a masonry fort under construction.  Union soldiers are involved in the building of the fort.  Ask them questions about the life they lead stationed at Fort Clinch.  Follow the path into 1864.”  And so we did.

The fort is beautifully reconstructed and contains furnishings in the proper style for the period.  There are cannons, and cannonballs and it is possible to walk into most of the buildings, most of the rooms, many of the tunnels and to climb some of the stairs.  We spent quite a long time exploring inside the fort and then walking on the ramparts to see and touch all the cannon. 

 While we were on the ramparts we saw a Trident submarine sailing down the channel (with her tractor boat) and going out to sea.  She came from Kings Bay Naval Submarine base in Georgia.  While I enjoyed exploring the fort, I must say that since I have never seen a submarine in the wild before, she was my favorite sighting of the day.  As we were by the cannon when we saw her, Brett wondered if he should fire but then noticed the American flag and felt confident that she was one of ours.

My favorite sign of the day: it was in the kitchen of the fort.  “No spitting in kitchen” sounds like good advice.

After several hours of touring, we biked back home to get a snack and then hopped back on the bike to go see the other campground here which is located on the ocean side of the park.  Along the way we discovered the half mile long, concrete fishing pier and walked part of the way out on it.  A half a mile looks very long when it is going out into the ocean.  People catch everything from pin fish to tarpon from the pier.  We thought that the ocean campground did not look nearly as appealing as our river side campground and were glad that the sites available were riverside.  Brett says that we biked 3 miles or so today but I’m sure that it was more like 30 miles.  Really!  

 We got back home in time to go down to the river and watch the sunset.  The sunset tonight was glorious.  I really, really want to come back to this park.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 82 - Melbourne Beach, FL to Fernandina Beach, FL

We took flat Stanley out for a few photos this morning since we got home after dark yesterday. It was chilly (47ish) but nice and sunny.

The drive up route A1A this morning was fairly enjoyable - not too much traffic early on and a few glimpses of the ocean to be had.

Today we set foot (or wheel) on I95N. Whenever I see signs for 95 I always feel like I am practically home (or that at least I can find my way home). So even though there are some days left on this outing I am feeling like it is winding down. But back to I95. The traffic was terrible. We saw more accidents today (5) than in our entire trip. Most of them were tailgaters smashing the rear of the car ahead of them. And one looked like 2 cars tried to move into the middle lane from left and right at the same time. Average speed for a big stretch was 12mph. And I'm getting tired of exclaiming "Brakes! Lots of brakes! Stop!". If Lowell is reading this I know that he is flailing his arms illustratively.

Fortunately we stopped for lunch and a potty brake before the slow going. Brett said he didn't need a nap but would just put his feet up while I finished eating. I think he needed a nap. We have such a rough schedule!

Fort Clinch State Park has a beach campground and a riverside campground. We are riverside. The site is huge and surrounded by live oaks. After setup we took a bike ride to check things out. There is a fort and museum which we took a quick peek at and will visit more thoroughly tomorrow.

So far I have learned that the fort construction was begun around 1840. It was built just in case because it sits on an important ship channel. There were never any hostile shots fired from the fort. Also there were 3 beacons marking the channel. These are gone but the remains of one oil house can still be seen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 81 - Ft. Pierce, FL

It was 47 degrees at 6am. Some Southern dogs seem to feel the cold. Our neighbors had their hound dressed in a long sleeved T with the cuffs rolled up so as not to trip him. He might have been a little embarrassed.

I told Brett this morning that I waned to see somebody I know today. As luck would have it we were scheduled to visit my lovely cousin Beth. We had a wonderful visit with her, her husband John, her son John and his wife Darla.

There was a nice lunch at the club and then a nice afternoon of talking and laughing. I feel much refreshed.

Beth passed a Flat Stanley into our care. We are to take photos of him along the rest of our travels and send those to a school along with information about the place where he was photographed. Too bad we didn't get him sooner; we've covered a lot of territory.

We are relaxing this evening watching the movie Broken Arrow which was filmed in Sedona, AZ. We bought it while we were visiting there.

We have to leave here in the morning. I am sorry that there wasn't more time to explore but we will return.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 80 - Naples, FL to Melbourne Beach, FL

We headed from the west to the east coast of Florida today.  After a bit of congestion and traffic up through Ft. Myers, we settled into some pretty, agricultural areas.  Some observations:
First prize for the most original use of something other than concrete for a sound barrier along an interstate goes to this formation seen on I75 near Naples, FL.  The barricade is terraced and has plantings all over it; hedges, trees and flowers.

Even if you drive the speed limit on a non-interstate, you will attract a following.  This morning as we were toodling down some road or other we encountered a pickup truck pulling a trailer full of vegetables.  He was doing 50 in a 65 zone.  Since we are 53 feet long, we didn't really have an opportunity for a passing maneuver so we remained just behind him.  At intervals, our followers passed us, pulled ahead and saw that it really wasn't the geezer in the 5th wheel who was slowing things up.  Ha!  These vegetable towing pickup trucks park alongside the road, set up a tent and sell produce.  I know because we stopped at one of the stands.
These fellows were parked next to a huge citrus grove (whose oranges are not yet completely ripe).  I never know if I'm getting a good deal or getting ripped off when I buy from these vendors but I choose to think it is good.  We got 6 oranges, 6 ears of corn and a bag of green beans.

I needed to ride through central Florida again to be reminded that there are agricultural lands a plenty.  But I still don't understand sod farms.  Horses and cattle are all over the place.

Just east of the little town of Okeechobee (which is also very near the lake of the same name), we came upon this little restaurant.  There was a huge parking lot full of cars and air boats and a big sign announcing "Land Owner Not Responsible for Theft, Loss, Damage.  Park At Your Own Risk".  It was past lunch time so we decided to do just that and risk it.  The place was busy with a lot of old people (like us) and road workers.  A waitress told us to sit where we liked and that we wanted the special.  Who were we to argue?  We got the special which was a buffet that included salad, biscuits, corn bread, fried turkey (which is just as good as southern fried chicken), mashed potatoes, green beans (cooked the southern way - over), corn on the cob and gravy.  We did indeed want the special.  The waitress chatted with us for a bit.  She said that the area is "country".  There are cattle and cowboys and Indians.  She said there are a lot of ranches around the area but that you won't see the ranch houses from the road.  These ranches are often 20 miles off the main road.  People, she said, like to live away from the crowds.  I felt better for being amongst the cows and horses and pastures.

Our destination today was Sebastian Inlet State Park.  This is located in Melbourne Beach, FL and is not too far from Vero Beach.  The word "beach" features in many of the place names we drove through.  Except for a glimpse of water from a couple of the higher bridges, it would be impossible to tell.  Route A1A took us where we needed to go. The ocean side is lined with vegetative barriers (so as not to see the mansions), gate houses (so as not to approach the mansions) and the beautiful luxury homes that completely obscure access and sight of the ocean.  The sea only became visible once we approached a nature preserve and the state park. 

There was a very nice volunteer at the park gate (from Boston) who directed us to the proper place for campground registration.  A very grumpy ranger gave us our paperwork and directions to the site.  The campground is full.  We were lucky to get this site for two nights.  The reservation information said our site would hold a 40 foot rig and it does (just).  It took maybe three tries to get situated in a manner that would allow the slides to open and keep the bedroom out of the road.  Now there must be some manly, camper creed that says "you must park in one pass or you are a failure".  Poor Brett fussed over this until I told him to quit it.  If anybody is at fault for the parking predicament it would be the person directing the driver (i.e., me). 

After we got through taking and assigning blame for parking and having a bit of a nap, we took a walk to explore the park.  This is a very heavily used park (at least this afternoon).  Although the picture doesn't show the crowds, it does show fishermen and the bridge and fishing pier in the distance.  A fish doesn't stand a chance here.  Between the fisher folk (on land, on the piers and in boats) and the pelicans, if you've got fins and scales you are probably somebody's dinner.  This is the Indian River lagoon.  The bridge goes over the inlet and the Atlantic Ocean is on the other side.  We walked down to the bridge and out on to all the piers.  Along the way we saw a manatee!  Somebody pointed it out.  I've never seen a manatee in the wild until today.  Then I got to watch the pelicans dive bombing for fish.  On the ocean side pier, we saw an osprey quietly sitting (almost next to a fisherman) on a cement wall with a fish in his mouth.  He let us stand and watch him for quite some time.  Further past the bridge there is a pier that goes out into the ocean.  Brett walked the whole way out but it was windy and wavy and the waves were breaking over the pier so I stopped midway.   This did not save me from the wet and I got sprayed just the same when a big wave broke closer to shore.

This little girl was watching the manatee too.  We chose just the right time for our first exploration.  The sun was setting so the light has that beautiful pink tinge.  The sunset happened while we were out on the pier under the bridge and then we walked back to the campground in the twilight.  Magical.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day 79 - Thanksgiving

For our feast today we will be having turkey breast cooked in the crock pot. It is crocking away while I am fortunate enough to be sitting outside in the warmth reading.

The campground got rather full last night. It looks like there will be a lot of turkey day revelers about. This includes a tribe across the way who have brought along a gas powered remote controlled car that sounds a bit like a soprano tank. I hope the crash it soon or a couple dozen margaritas may be in order. Coffee And was in order - that's what we call coffee with Ryan's Irish Creme. I didn't think that 11:15am was too early to get started with it.

Should I be feeling nervous about the increase in the number of vultures circling overhead? We also saw a stork flying by. That's something I don't get to say every day.

Sitting outside has many advantages. It enables Brett's inner super hero for one. He just dashed off to tell a departing motorhome that they left their antenna up. They will be thankful, he will feel useful.

This is Fox. He is 26 years old and was given to Lowell by my sister as his very first Christmas gift. Lowell saw a pic from that first day and says he doesn't remember Fox ever looking that good. Except for the year that he went missing under a mattress, Fox is always there. He has been a stowaway on several trips with his boy, he has been to Lowell's high school graduation and delivered Lowell to graduate school. Now (poor substitute that I am) he travels with me. I am thankful for Fox. He is a good listener.

Somebody told me today that if someone does something nice for you it is better if they thought it up by themselves. So you lose points with this person if you invite them to do something and they later discover that it was at somebody else's suggestion. Let's see - if i give this person a scarf and then tell them that Joe Doe mentioned that you needed one, not only do I become the loser but so does Joe Doe because he ruined my chance to think it up in the first place. This way of looking at the world, of keeping score, frightens me. I am thankful that I do not have the same attitude.

Dinner was a success. I feel duly stuffed. But we went for two walks today so that should count for something.

I talked to my friend Kate today too. We hoped to see them on our way north but our paths will not be crossing on this trip. Darn!

We leave here in the morning headed for Florida's east coast. This has been a nice place to stay.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 78 - Collier Seminole State Park, FL

So if somebody told you they were going to clip their toenails and feed the worms, wouldn't you assume that worms eat toenails? Apparently those tasks were mutually exclusive. He has no idea whether worms like toenails or not.

It will be a Thanksgiving spent in a tropical place. Oh yeah. Our new friends have reservations for the holiday do at the Ritz Carlton. We have opted to cook a small feast here. So that meant a trip to the market. I set my alarm for 7:30am thinking to beat the food shopping mobs. Then I thought better of it. It's not like I have a pressing engagement elsewhere! So I let my driver sleep in. Even though the store was a bit crowded we got what we needed without much trouble.

A nice way to spend some time the day before thanksgiving is to sit in your lounge chair outside and read. Then take a bike ride.

Then walk on the tropical palm hammock trail out into the Florida wilderness. No venomous or man eating creatures were spotted by us. But our neighbors had to be rescued by a ranger when the bike path got filled up with a sun bathing mama gator and her baby. Yikes!

The trail we took had lots of interpretive signs. Thank you Florida state parks. Without the signs I never would have recognized wild coffee or known that it can be brewed into a beverage that can be recognized as coffee (albeit not mountain grown). We have walked along quite a few jungle boardwalks on this trip. I might cringe a little at the beginning of each as deepest, darkest Florida doesn't say "safe and welcoming" to me. But each walk has been very interesting.

The day use area of the park is pretty. There are tables, a restroom and a nice spot for fishing. Those royal palms make it seem so inviting. We saw a few people canoeing today - you can rent boats at the park.

Time to relax some more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 77 - Naples, FL

It was cloudy and cool for most of the day. Brett did a little more work on the bike and the brakes don't sound like a dying goose anymore. So we took a pedal around the campground. There is a very nice day use area with picnic tables, fishing and boating. Pity we don't have the kayaks along. We have been to a lot of places in Florida where there seems to be good boating.

The nice people we met at site #116 over the weekend invited us to their home for dinner tonight. Pat and Larry are a wonderful couple. They are our age so we seemed to have a lot in common to talk about. We had wine, cheese and crackers, salad, burgers, baked beans, cheesecake and coffee. It was a treat to be in a real house after so many weeks and to enjoy the company of new friends.

I'm sure it was incredibly rude of me but while everybody else was out by the pool I took a few pictures inside the house. The entry room features a Steinway grand piano into which the Steinway folks built a player piano roll.

There was so much beautiful art work but my favorite by far is the original Toulouse-Lautrec Divan Japonais poster. This was owned by Pat's aunt and given to them as a wedding present.

Pat insisted that Brett try out their massage chair. Brett said it gave a great massage but possibly punctured a lung. He's such a drama queen!

Larry plays Flamenco guitar and treated us to a concert. After some more traditional pieces he played House of the Rising Sun and then a couple of Simon and Garfunkel. I never sing out loud in front of people but I did tonight. It was great fun. And the dogs didn't even howl at me!

They are planning to come to Maine in their motorhome and I hope that we will be able to return their hospitality. They are lovely people.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 76 - Everglades National Park, FL

When we drove through Naples on our way to the campground I saw several yellow "panther crossing" signs. I thought these must be a joke, like having a flamingo crossing sign on your driveway. Nope, the Florida panther is critically endangered. The population is about 100 (up from only 30 in the 1990's). Their favorite habitat is slash pine with saw palmetto understory. Much of this habitat has been destroyed in favor of housing. The only place most people have seen a panther is dead on the highway. The cats try to cross the road to seek out habitat and get hypnotized by car lights. We drove on a stretch of US41 today that had wildlife sensor detection. Big signs flash lights when the presence of an animal is detected.

Birds! There are a ton of birds here already and it isn't even prime migrating season yet. We saw an enormous flock of swallows - hundreds of them. The huge wading birds are all over the place - egrets, herons, storks also kingfishers and vultures. Some great egrets were flying too low across the road this morning. We narrowly missed a messy bird/truck collision.

We had reservations for the 9am tram tour at the Shark Valley Visitors Center. We got there in plenty of time even allowing time for Brett to rescue a neighboring camper with a dead battery. Maybe the early hour was to blame but there were a lot of grumpy people in the world this morning. The convenience store clerk, the park ranger at the entrance gate, the gift shop clerk, the hostess at the lunch restaurant were all surly. But it didn't spoil my day.

The early tour was a good one to take. There were only 9 passengers. Tons of wildlife to see. Most impressive were the gators. Several were very large and right next to the tram. The tram travels a 15 mile loop through the saw grass prairie. You can also bike the loop. The guide calls cyclists "meals on wheels". I don't know why there aren't gator incidents every day! Only once has a person been attacked. A nine year old Brazilian boy fell off his bike onto a gator which then bit him and took him into a death roll. The boy's mother beat the gator with her binoculars and somehow freed her son.

Burmese Pythons are a problem. They've eaten all the bunnies. The big ones can eat birds, deer and gators. There seems to be no good way to get rid of them. The tour guide had photos he took yesterday of a gator eating a 13 foot python. The vultures had it all cleaned up today.

The Shark River Valley really is a valley. At 17 feet it is lower in elevation than Miami or Ft Myers. But it looked pretty flat to me.

There are 43 different kinds of mosquitoes here. I think I've been bitten by every one of them. I'll be lucky if I don't have Yellow Fever by the time we leave here.

We were able to climb a 65 foot observation tower and could see 15 miles in all directions. Wonderful view of the Everglades from there.

We stopped for lunch at the Miccosukee Restaurant. The tribe has several businesses in the area. The restaurant offered gator and frog but the native food we sampled was bread - pan bread and fry bread. I think it was the same dough but one was baked in a pan and the other deep fried. And then there was spam! Yup, I got the spam too.

We also drove over to the Gulf Coast Visitors Center in Everglades City. They have boat rides into the Ten Thousand and we are considering doing that. Maybe tomorrow.

Home again, laundry done and relaxing has commenced.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 75 - Collier Seminole State Park, FL

Sunday is a big coming and going day at a campground. We have new neighbors on both sides. A big shiny Pace Arrow motorhome from Massachusetts on one side.

  Some tenters with enough electrical cord to light up the entire state on the other side. The Pace Arrow is a nice motorhome but I wish it wasn't my view for the rest of the visit. Fortunately we plan on a few outings.

Our old neighbors were out this morning doing yoga and playing the flute. We just HAD to go talk to them. They own a home in Naples and invited us over for dinner on Tuesday. It should be an interesting evening.

For 75 days I managed to avoid going to a WalMart. That streak ended this morning. But we got what we needed fairly quickly and got out before I had to scream. I do not like those huge stores, I do not like the crowds and the noise. The Naples area is full of people who are "haves". I was surprised to learn that there are three WalMarts here.

One of the things we needed to get was new brake pads for the bike. So Brett got to do some puttering this afternoon getting them installed.

Our peaceful afternoon was broken by incredibly loud rock music. What camper in his right mind would do this? The bass is shaking the whale. Turns out it wasn't another camper. The music was coming from a biker bar a couple of miles down the road.

We were up way too late last night watching The Wire per Lowell's recommendation. It is a good show. We must retire earlier though as we have booked a 9am tram tour at Everglades National Park. Don't want to miss that.