Continuing my November tour of Florida State Parks within driving distance of my home base of Gainesville, I stayed four nights at O’Leno State Park, about five miles north of High Springs, and maybe 15 minutes of I-75 and Alachua. If you want a stop on the way north or south, this is a pretty good park.
Note: When I started this vagabond life, I wrote weekly updates. After a few years, I moved on to occasional posts but they became pretty random. I’m trying something new this time around, borrowing the format my friend, Alissa, uses. She posts by campground, with details — good and bad — of the campground, the campsite, and the surrounding area. Seems like a good time to start doing new things, so here’s the first one of its kind. Oh, and here’s a link to Alissa’s travel blog.
When I finally got back on the road after 4.5 months, I didn’t go far. My first destination in this new round of adventures was a local one: Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just south of Gainesville, in Micanopy (pronounced “MIK-i-NOH-pee” in case you’re wondering). My plan was to pull the trailer out of my friends’ side yard, get new trailer tires, and check in to the campground after a Walmart run. I figured that was enough activity for one day, considering the 90F inferno that is summer in Florida.
Hitching up the trailer to the Ridgeline is a bit different than hitching up to the Outback. It’s actually easier, since I don’t have weight distribution bars any more. The routine was just enough different that I worried I might forget something so I made a checklist on my iPhone. After all, it had been weeks since I had done what used to be second nature. Little mistakes can have big effects when towing, so I wanted to start off right.
The new tires were on by 9:30AM so I had a few hours before I could show up at Paynes Prairie. Off to the local Walmart, then, to stock up on groceries. Every single person at Walmart was wearing a mask, 95% of them with nose and mouth both covered. Fear is a powerful motivator with infection and death rates on the rise here in Florida.
With a cart full of paper goods, staples, and perishables, it was time to figure out where to put everything. Oh, the joys of the Ridgeline! It holds three storage bins in the back seat and two in the truck bed, so stowing staples was a pleasure. The little fridge in the Alto, on the other hand, was stuffed to the brim. Closing the door involved a little dance of holding stuff in place till I could secure the door latch.
While the Alto was sitting in the parking lot with its solar panels exposed to the sun, I fired up the Victron solar controller app on my iPhone. I hadn’t done this since February, so I faced the inevitable software and firmware updates. Worth it, though, to see the panels were generating good wattage. Solar power was a GO.
Paynes Prairie offers about 30 trailer/RV sites with water and electric and a dozen tent sites. While the park has two bath houses, I chose to use my own bathroom and shower in this time of pandemic.
I was pleased that I hadn’t forgotten my hard-won skill at backing into a site. I turned off the engine and stepped out to survey my home for the next three nights. After months of staying in a city, I was back in my element, surrounded by tall trees and bird singing. I grinned all afternoon, despite dripping sweat as I set up my campsite. I was so happy to back in my vagabond life, even if it was only 10 miles away from where I’d been.
I left the back window shade open that first night because there was thunder and lightning. (Yes, you can fall asleep during a thunderstorm. Well, I can.) The next morning, this was my view as I woke up. No more houses blocking the trees and central air units humming away. Just me forest bathing to start the day. Ahhhhh.
My morning walk took me down to the end of the road by the boat dock. I turned right onto a little path that led to an observation deck where I could survey the whole of the lake.
Oh, look, a gator having a morning swim. I knew from kayaking here earlier in the year that there were gators; you just don’t see them most of the time. The gator sighting combined with the oppressive heat made kayaking a zero-possibility activity for me this trip. I’ll wait till I’m out of gator country to do my paddling, thank you very much.
Let’s be honest, I just threw stuff in the Alto when I moved out of the airbnb, so things were a mess. The truck has a huge amount of space compared to the Outback, so I wanted to figure out how best to store things in the bed and back seat. I’m an organizer at heart, so it was happy time for me getting everything sorted.
Remember those new tires? Before I did my first long stretch of towing, I wanted to check tire pressure and lug nuts. I unearthed my torque wrench and air compressor from the in-bed trunk and got to work. Lug nuts good, tire pressure a bit low so I pumped them up to spec. I also fixed up the hose tube that got crushed back in February. My main dump hose is stored on the back of the tongue; having a second hose is a “nice to have” for sites where the sewer hookup is far away. Trailer life is really just one long unending series of little maintenence tasks.
After three nights and a lot of prep work, Luna, Breeze, and I are ready to get out of Florida. Onward to Georgia, aiming for cooler climes in the next week or so.
- Site 8. Most sites on the outside of the loop are well-spaced with good privacy.
- Services: electric, water, dump station
- Cell service: Verizon (stronger), ATT (weaker)
- Groceries: Publix 10 min (off I-75), Walmart 15 minutes (Gainesville)
The beginning is always today.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Seeing as I’m in Gainesville (the Florida one) for the next who-knows-how-many weeks, I have been exploring the local scene. Now that bars and restaurants are all closed, the local scene is mostly what I see on my daily walks through the neighborhood.
It *is* Florida, so the flowers are all out, the temps are hitting highs in the mid 80s, and my walks are earlier in the day to avoid the heat and humidity. So if you’re still wearing puffy coats, looking at rain out your window, or just feeling like you’re a bit trapped in self-isolation, enjoy some flowers today.
Don’t bother asking me what kind of flowers these are, I am really, really bad on remembering names of people, let alone flowers!
As this pandemic gets crazier and, at times, overwhelming, it helps me to see the beauty around me. Flowers blooming, birds singing, blue skies, they all remind me that the world goes on with or without me. I find that comforting.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
Florida, as it turns out, has barrier islands, too, and that’s where I’m exploring this week. My first beach walk was fantastic – all kinds of downed trees and branches, the remnants of hurricanes that have hit this coast steadily over the years.
There are some seriously twisted shapes on this beach and I need to come back here with my good camera and play around.
This is my favorite one so far. It looks like a witch might look if a witch was a tree.
Stay tuned for more… The Coastal Images Tour has just started and all sorts of good things are bound to happen.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
(one of my favorite poets, who passed away this week)
I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved the idea of manatees. I even picked Save the Manatees for my trailer’s Florida license plate. I tried to see some last winter, but the unseasonable cold had chased them out to the Gulf and my niece and I came up empty in Crystal River. When friends camping two hours south said they’d kayaked with manatees this last week, I realized I might have a shot. I was heading south anyways to meet up with some RVing buds and the park with the manatees was literally on the way home. I practiced folding and unfolding my new Oru Kayak and then loaded it into the car, along with paddle, PFD (with whistle attached), and booties.
I woke up at 5:30AM today (thanks, end of daylight savings time) and checked the weather forecast. Rain? What??? I was so bummed. I ate breakfast, packed up, and checked out of the hotel, and decided to head for Blue Spring State Park anyways. It rained on me when I stopped at the ATM, and it was still spitting as I paid the $4 fee at the park entrance. I drove down to the boat dock and sat in the car looking at the clouds scudding overhead. And then I thought, I’m already here, I’m gonna go for it. If I get wet, well, it’s 77F so I’m not going to freeze.
I unloaded the kayak and origami’d it into kayak shape, then carried it down to the sandy beach and launched it. I should have christened it, as it was the first time it’s been in water other than the pool back in Gainesville, but I don’t have a good name yet so I skipped that part. It did feel good as I paddled around and got used to how it handled. And, oh, wow, is it easier to paddle than my almost-ex-inflatable kayak! After the kayak check, I headed over to the manatee spot.
Look, there are manatees! Mama manatee and baby manatee!
Three manatees in a row! Same mama and baby with a friend!
Manatees resting on the sandy bottom!
I would have had a photo of the one who surfaced about a foot away from me but I didn’t want to scare it away so I just stayed really still. Also, manatees are BIG and I didn’t want that one to flip turn and maybe hit my kayak.
It was SO COOL to float among the manatees. They are graceful and calm and it was like a little moving meditation thing to have them swim by me. For about 15 minutes, it was just me and them on/in the water and it was magical. One more thing checked off my bucket list, too.
I do not want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.
This one is for my friends in the Northeastern US, who got slammed by yet another snowstorm and many have lost power for a day or two (or more). March is definitely a hard month to endure such hard weather, I remember being so over it by end of February when I lived up there. So, today I took a walk around my neighborhood here in Gainesville and I am sending you all hope for better weather and a reminder that Spring will eventually come, even to Boston.
The trees will bud out, bringing those fabulous greens and pinks that are such a treat for eyes that have seen nothing but white and grey for so long.
Spring green really is the best color. It’s not really a color to me after enduring northeast winters, it’s a state of happiness that bursts out in my heart when I see the first buds, the earliest signs that warmer weather and thawing out is really on its way.
Maybe after this storm, my friends, you will see those little crocus tips bravely pushing up through the snow, and then the first tulips can’t be far behind. We don’t have either of those flowers down here, at least as far as I’ve seen, so here’s a little purple reminder that your flowers will soon be showing their colors.
Hang in there, my friends. May you get power and then warmth to melt the snow and then Spring to warm your hearts. Meanwhile, maybe this helps.
“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
As Judi Dench said in a recent advert for a BBC show, “My life is all about trees. Trees and champagne.” My friend posted that to FB with a comment about life goals. I agree.
The trees around Gainesville have been a revelation. I wasn’t thinking “trees” when I was thinking “Florida” before my arrival, but now… Yes, it is time for a meditation on trees.
This is the biggest tree in Florida. Look closely at the lower left. People have propped up a long branch with a series of wood supports, willing the tree to keep growing even as it sags (ever so gracefully) to the ground.
This is just one tree, one pine amid a forest of them. Look up, it’s a beautiful crown, full of greens and blues and light on this winter day.
The tree in the image below is hard to spot at first among all the others, so start by tracing the thickest trunk up from the ground and see its branches spreading out and away. Most of the branches in this image belong to that one tree. (And, yes, the spanish moss is a lovely touch.)
Trees. If you see Judi Dench, tell her thanks from me for the new life goals. (And champagne.)
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Week Two of the big sprint across the country continued in earnest, taking me the last third of the way from Louisiana to northern Florida. Read on for the deets.
Wed night: Bayou Segnette State Park in Louisiana was just south of the action in New Orleans so it was easy to hop on a passenger ferry that dropped me a short walk away from the French Quarter. Had to get my beignets!
Thursday morning, after surviving the drive out of New Orleans, I stopped at the Infinity Science Center, next to NASA’s Stennis Space Center just over the state line in Alabama. It had a great set of road signs…
and I got to pretend I was on Mars for a second. And the cover photo for this post (that photo at the very top) is of a training suit worn by Neil Armstrong. Wink at the moon next time you see it for him.
After seeing the Saturn V engines there, Bella wants an upgrade.
Thu and Fri night: Big Lagoon State Park in Florida was an amazing place. Swampy, with boardwalks for hiking and avoiding alligators, and a great place for photography.
It was windy but I still wanted to see the Gulf Islands National Seashore. It was quite beautiful! This beach is the Rosamond Johnson, Jr. Beach, a Korean War soldier who was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for saving two soldiers in that war before he was killed rescuing a third. Beaches were segregated in the last century, and this was one of the few beaches open to African Americans. After the Korean War ended, the local community pushed to have this beach renamed in Private Johnson’s honor.
Sat night: Falling Waters State Park in Florida was a short stop, in the campsite by 5PM and out at 8AM the next morning, bound for lunch in Tallahassee with a friend and then on to my final destination. The park itself was beautiful; this was the view out my front window.
Sunday at 4PM, I pulled up in front of my friends’ house in Gainesville. 19 days, 2600 miles, 10 campgrounds, and a big pile of gas receipts later, I’m finally done with this crazy cross-country cruise!
After all that traveling and a month or two of paperwork preparation, I was ready to visit the Florida state department of whatever and get my driver’s license and car title and registration. Two hours later, I walked out of there as a new Floridian. I don’t feel any different…
Now it’s on to new adventures, starting with a few weeks exploring Gainesville and the surrounding area. I’ve heard tales of sandhill cranes and manatees. They might be true. And if they are, you’ll see them here.
I guess I’ll know when I get there.
It’s my first full day in Florida as an almost-domiciled-here person, so I did a little sightseeing to get to know my new state. The canoe and kayak area at this park looked lovely…
… until I saw the sign warning that alligators have been spotted here. Uh, no thanks on that kayak trip, guys.
The sun was out this morning after a big rainstorm overnight, but by noon, the temperatures were dropping and the clouds were rolling in.
Before it got too cold (OK, it was down to 45F and I think that is cold considering I am in FLORIDA!), I drove over to a section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. It’s beautiful. On a warmer, less windy day, I would have walked for at least an hour. I lasted 10 minutes today. (Yes, I’m a weather wimp.)
I retreated to the happy warmth of my tiny trailer, backed into a corner spot overlooking what seems like swampland. Saw lots of birds, some pelicans overhead, and a green heron soared by and landed not 30 feet from me. Wow!
Florida is going to be interesting to explore over the next few months. I wasn’t sure what to think of it yesterday, but after today’s adventures, I think I’ll like it.
When you leave home to follow your dreams, your road will probably be riddled with potholes, not always paved in happy Technicolor bricks.