Greetings to you all!
I am attempting right now, with some difficulty, to type this blog as I bump my way along the I75 in Georgia. Looking up from my keyboard I can see that we’ve just passed Perry which, if I remember the map correctly, puts us somewhere in the northern region of the state (more than likely I am wrong about this though).
We have just ticked over in to hour five on the road today, having started out this morning from The Villages down in Florida. There is very little to say about my surroundings right now, except that according to the last three billboards; the way and the truth belongs to Jesus Christ; seat belts save lives; and there is chicken ‘worth stopping for’ at the upcoming Gas and Go. The most picturesque views from today have actually come from the grass verges down in Florida where spring has truly sprung in the form of vivid lilac, violet, and fuchsia-coloured wildflowers.
I should take this moment to apologise for the gap between blog entries, my last being written in January and I can see from the corner of my eye that the calendar now reads April (and actually, almost May). I’m not really sure what happened there apart from the fact I guess I didn’t feel there was anything overly exciting to write about in the months in between.
Spending yet another winter in Florida, travelling the same roads, and seeing more or less the same things, well, it just felt like it wasn’t worth boring anyone with. Anything of note that happened, well, it was only of note to me.
But as a brief summary for you all…
We graced Key West with our presence for a second season.
It was sweltering and the effects of the heat did my mood no good at all. I gained another year around the sun and got older. Loops treated me to a wonderful birthday lunch on an exclusive island resort, which really was a touching surprise, and then topped it off by buying me the first piece of jewelry he’s ever given me – a Compass Rose necklace that I took a fancy too. I fell hook, line, and sinker for the story that goes with it; it should guide me forward in life, wherever I am supposed to go. I guess I’m still very much in uncertainty about where my life is headed and feel I can use all the help I can get- I’m even happy to seek help from a magical piece of metal!
Of course no trip to the south of Florida is complete without a stop-over to see our friends Bunny and Phil, who this time had some exciting news that made my heart tingle with joy – they decided to get married and invited Loops and I to share in their special day. When I stop and take a moment to think about it, Bunny and I (and Loops to be fair), met in the most delightfully unusual circumstances while hiking the AT over six years ago now. And for Bunny and I especially, we have formed a bond that is no doubt life-long, and really the only true enduring friendship (minus Loops) that I took away from my hike. For two people separated by an ocean, we have managed to maintain an incredibly strong relationship that I really do marvel at and I felt incredibly honoured to be a witness to their marriage and to spend the day with them celebrating.
Other notable Florida events? Having the opportunity to visit two small sections of the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades National Park (and gain two more stamps for the passport…) After spending what seemed an extended period where I felt I wasn’t getting out and physically enjoying the environment as much as I should have (it really was a hot winter in Florida, believe me); I slightly forced the issue with both Loops and myself, and we took an afternoon car ride through some of Big Cypress looking for wildlife, and then an 18 mile round trip bike ride in Shark Valley, part of the Everglades, doing the same.
Both were thoroughly enjoyable for different reasons.
The car ride was a relaxing immersion into a dry swamp area and came with a written mile marker guide telling you what to look out for; cue me delivering information to Loops in my best David Attenborough impression. We saw a multitude of alligators and birds along the drive and even met two biologists searching for Burmese Pythons (an invasive species they are trying to control).
Our Shark Valley ride on the other hand was a physical challenge to be sure, the sun was blazing and although flat, 18 miles is still a fair distance to ride in such heat. However, it was a perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with wildlife in a way that being encased in a car just won’t allow, with your senses of touch, smell and sound coming alive. You couldn’t cycle more than 30 seconds without running in to some type of bird or animal species, which of course I then had to stop and photograph.
The cycle path follows a thin ribbon of waterway and of course that means the presence of alligators – I counted at least four different occasions where I almost toppled off my bike or ran Loops off the path, after being startled and almost having a heart attack, by seeing huge bulky gators sat in the grass not more than a metre away from me as I rode past. But it was marvellous – one of the best experiences I have had in Florida over the years.
And finally in our winter round-up, I would like to point out a specific state park that we visited and enjoyed thoroughly – Jonathan Dickinson State Park, near Jupiter. Not only was the RV park itself pleasant (although Loops did see an RV catch fire while he was there, a bay fire, and no-one was hurt), the general outdoor amenities were fantastic. It you enjoy biking, walking or water activities, this is a must visit destination in Florida; it even lays claim to the highest point in Florida south of Lake Okeechobee – Hobe Mountain (don’t get too excited, it’s only 86 feet above sea level, not nose bleed inducing for sure).
They have a number of cycle paths that are either concrete or off-road( for those who enjoy a more strenuous type of biking). They have trails through the sandy scrubland which have bumps and turns you must navigate, and even provide a ‘training’ area for trails to test your skills before you set out into the wilderness.
Now, the Blue Bandit is not designed for that type of biking, but I did enjoy cycling the concrete paths (one of which actually is part of the Florida Trail that runs through the park). It gave me an opportunity to do a fair bit of bird watching; I got to see Florida Scrub Jays which are very specific in their habitat requirements and are not wide spread, I also saw a couple of Bald Eagle chicks on the nest with their parents and a Red Shouldered Hawk. Additionally there are tons of smaller birds and mammals around and I even spied a Gopher Tortoise!
But what makes this all even better, because I’m a sucker for this type of thing, is that the park runs a Challenge Coin photo contest of sorts. They provide a list of about eight different animal related ‘items’ that can be found around the grounds (examples include a photo of a live scrub jay and a picture of a gopher tortoise burrow) and ask you to photograph five of them to prove you have found or seen them, and if you do this, they give you a really nice coin to commemorate your achievement.
I couldn’t resist of course!
And that was pretty much it for our winter Florida excursions.
My time in the state was cut a little short by a slightly unexpected trip home to England for a month in March. The tenants who had been living in my flat for the past three years were moving out, and my mum decided to move in. Not a problem in itself, but it meant I had to go and assess the condition of my flat and get it ready for my mum.
Six weeks, and rather a lot of money, later, it was ready for her to inhabit. After having to scrub clean and redecorate every inch of the place, including four new floor coverings, all new light fixtures, new plumbing fixtures, new decking, new garden stone work, and a cattery; I’ve decided I am never, ever again renting out my property. I have absolutely had it with tenants who can’t look after and keep clean the place that is supposed to be their home.
And so that brings us up to date and our travels today.
We are headed for the state of Tennessee, a land known for its whiskey, country music, and green hills.
Well, for the next five months or so, this will be our ‘home’. With big plans on the horizon for next year (have I mentioned the idea of Alaska to you yet?), and while diesel prices are increasing at an alarmingly fast rate, this seems to be a good time to stop, take a breath and take stock. Loops and I, once I get him fully on board with the plan, would like to take a longer travel trip next year which could include some more remote terrain. In order to make this happen, we need to get Belle in tip top shape to ensure, as best we can, that we limit our chances of having a major mechanical failure in the back of beyond. And that of course requires cash. So this year we are sacrificing our normal wanderings in order for me to do some more workamping, which will allow for our maintenance and improvements to the bus.
I’ve been lucky enough to find a campground in the Land between the Lakes National Recreation Area that requires some help in their camp store for the summer season, and they’ve kindly offered to give me a go. So this is where we are headed to today.
We have no idea what awaits. This is new to both Loops and I. He’s secretly hoping for no trees overhanging the bus, a flat pad, satellite and wi-fi connection. I’m just hoping the people like me, I can do the job without messing up too badly and that I learn to count change correctly (different coins, people!)
So watch this space for news….