3. I got the call!…January/February.2021

Since I’d rushed down to Orlando, I’d decided I would take my time going back home. I wanted to see the Gulf Coast again…a sunset & a sunrise for sure.  I’d need to keep a check on the weather once it was time to go north, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up mild winter Florida weather yet.

Day 1 heading home…
I drove towards Tampa heading to find a Cuban sandwich.  I ended up at Cigar City brewingone of their taprooms I hadnt been to before.  It maybe wasnt the most authentic Cubano, but they do get their bread from the authentic Cuban bakery, hand cut all their meats & I could order a really good beer to go along with it.  (Id finally stopped leaking tearsit creeps waitstaff out when you sit at your table & cry).  I ate 1/2 the sandwich & drank the whole beeryum!

I then went to try one more brewerya new one to me called Angry Chair where I drank a really good Imperial stout.

Then I drove to Honeymoon Island State Park.  I think this is my 3rd time to visit here….last time there was a bunch of hurricane damage & part of it was closed. But, it’s a lovely park & wasn’t ever crowded.  But, today it looked like Spring Break.  I walked & walked & walked…trying to get away from the crowd & escape my melancholy mood over leaving the littles.  The damage from the last hurricane is still evident & probably will be for many years…but I like the ruggedness of it.  The beach is white sand but very rocky.  And, I finished off the 2nd half of my sandwich.yum.

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Florida has some amazing sunsets!

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And it was time to watch the sky fill with color!

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So wonderful!

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Before you drive over the bridge back to the mainland, there are pullouts for fisherman.  No overnight parking here, but it looked like a great place to kill a few hours before trying to find a place to sleep for the night.  It was a gorgeous sky with a big bright ‘snow moon’.  It was full & lighting up the water with it’s reflection.  So, I pulled over & spent a three hours just sitting in the back of Camper with the back end open, staring up at the night sky!

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Day 2 heading home…
North of Tarpon Springs would be all new exploring for me, until I hit the forest.Ive done that trip through the Panhandle before.

Florida is practically impossible for boondock camping like I do in the West.  So, I always know, the nights are going to be a challenge.  It wasn’t surprising that I didn’t get much sleep last night…it was wild.  I was parking lot camping…my least favorite kind, but sometimes that’s all there is.  I was in one spot for awhile, then after a couple of hours moved a few miles up the road to another lot where there was a 24 hour restaurant.  Then I heard fighting between two guys a couple of cars away from me.  Hoping they wouldn’t shoot each other, or miss & hit me, I was relieved when after about 20 minutes they zoomed off in their cars.  About an hour later, they were back but the fight wasn’t between the guys, it was 4 women.  And boy could they yell & go at each other.  I quickly left & moved on up the road.  Some nights just go that way. (This is what all those people that tell me "they’d love to travel & camp like I do” should read this.  Most nights are wonderful, but like anything in life, some nights just suck.)

But, it got me up & on the road super early & set me up for some ‘trip magic”!  I stopped & bought much needed coffee at one of the hundreds of Starbucks I drove by & took a random turn to a community park called Hudson Beach.  They had a swing, a view & a surprise or two.

I had arrived just in time to watch the moonset.  It was breathtaking!

And then 3 dolphins swam around & around & around (not a super shot, but hey…a full moon set with a bit of a dolphin in the foreground?  I was ‘over the moon’ excited about it!).  For about 45 minutes I watched the moon fall into the ocean, & these dolphins play….wow! wow! wow!

Then I decided to treat myself to breakfast. I was now driving near the smaller towns that ring that northeast side of the Gulf Coast. I Googled & found a pretty boring looking but well recommended place for breakfast called the Silver Dolphin.  But, you can’t screw up breakfast too much, so I parked & went in right as they opened.  I was delighted to see a fun & quirky back patio right next to the river.  The waiter said the special today was BOGO Mimosa’s…I said yes.  It was a beautiful morning, I was a bit tired, but it was wonderful food & great ambiance.

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It was time to find a beach to chill out on for a few hours.  I drove up the road to the Pine Island Alfred McKethan Park.  It was early, but I could tell it would get crowded soon.  I laid out my blanket, set out my chair & did what I always do at beaches….stare into the water.  I always bring a book, but rarely read it.  And, so I stared.  Then I got up & walked.  The sun was getting hotter, so after about 3 hours, I packed up & left.  The line of cars waiting to get in was crazy & I made someone really happy when they grabbed my parking space.

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Beautiful clear warm water that was shallow for a long way out into the Gulf.

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I wasn’t hungry but I’d read about a unique place up the road called “The Freezer”…a tiki bar with fresh seafood.  Seemed like I shouldn’t pass it up.  It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but when I got there, the parking lot was practically full & tons of motorcycles too.  The bar is in an old Seafood Freezer place.  But, when I walked in, one of those giant annoying signs greeted me…”Cash Only” (which I’d read in my research & could handle) & “We only serve beer & wine”…Seriously?  How can it call itself a Tiki bar?  Then I looked around at the mass of humanity.  None of the servers or bartenders or anyone walking in from the parking lot was masked…not one person other than me.

So, I left.

I drove out to check out Cedar Key & a park nearby.  I hiked for about 2.5 miles on most of a trail, missed the sign about Private Property, but made it out alive.

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I wasn’t impressed by Cedar Key at all.  The super overpriced restaurants we’re filled with long lines of people waiting outside.  I’d really wanted to eat some fresh seafood here & was getting hungry by now.  I checked out the menus in spite of the crowd, but nothing seemed worth the wait…and again…most people weren’t wearing masks.  I had some hummus in Camper, so I sat & ate that while I looked at a map.  I needed to to find someplace to sleep tonight.

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I use several camping apps on my phone to find a site, & one of them had great reviews for a campground run by a convenience store called Rockys.  It was a 10 minute drive from where I currently was, so I called to see if they had an opening for tonight.  They were very nice, but said since I was camping in a vehicle, I wasn’t allowed to camp in the campground (I didn’t get snarky & ask is I was in a $80,000 Mercedes Sprinter VAN if I was allowed) but offered me a parking spot in their parking lot next to the campground entrance…for free.  I said thank you & in about 15 minutes, was backed in to a dark little spot & a happy camper.

Day 3 heading home…
At 4:30 am I was wide awake & so it wasn’t a problem, when at 5am a pick up truck pulled into the spot right next to me.  I’m sure the guy just thought I was a parked vehicle…not someone sleeping inside.  After about 15 minutes, someone picked him up & they took off.  And, I thought it was time for me to take off too.  I was very hesitant however, since I knew I had about 50 miles of driving through one of the few forested areas in Florida.  I’ve been through this one before, & refused to find camping inside…it just seems creepy.  But, this morning my hesitation was because of deer.  Its the main reason I have quit driving so much at night in areas where deer outnumber the people.  But I took off anyway.

In the span of 50 miles, I counted at least 40 deer.  To say the least, I drove slower than I normally do, but honked my horn a good deal of the way.  There aren’t many homes & no businesses out here…mostly just deer.  There are warning signs for black bear, but I’ve never seen one.  This morning, in the dark, just deer running out in the road or just grazing on the side of the road…their eyes lighting up like little flashlights.  I was so grateful for getting out of that area with my SUV in tact…but it was nerve wracking!  But, it set me up for some more trip magic! (Although, I thought it was pretty magical I avoided all the deer.)

The Panhandle has such a different feel that the southern part of the Gulf Coast…to me anyway.  But, I made into a little town called Carrabelle, just before sunrise, to a little park with cabanas.  So, I made coffee this morning with a side of beautiful sunrise!

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I was now in territory I’d been to before & soon was driving though one of my fave cute towns…Apalachicola. There wasn’t anything open on this early Sunday morning, except for a coffee house, but that always makes it so nice to walk around & just look.  It’s got two great gear stores & old cool buildings.  

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I headed to Gulf Island National Seashore to spend the rest of the day & hopefully buy a campsite for tonight.  I love this more-rugged-than-most beach with it’s grassy dunes & uncrowded beaches….& I wasn’t disappointed.

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The sunset wasn’t too spectacular, but the gentle breeze & the sound of the waves & beautiful view…were.

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I was hoping to come back late tonight & do a full moon hike on this white sandy beach, but the clouds crept in so no moon was visible.  I was able to score a campsite & a shower for $13.  I poured a big dark beer, turned on the twinkle lights & enjoyed the evening.

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Day 4 truly heading home…
The morning sky was filled with fog.  I made coffee & packed up & drove to the beach parking area.  I was the only one out there on this gray morning.

I didn’t stay long…but long enough to play in the sand.

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It seemed like the right time to be heading home as when I got back in the 4Runner, it began to rain.  I had to take a 90 minute detour to get back to the right highway that would lead me home (a major bridge was still out from the last hurricane).  And, so the long trudge back to cold Kansas began.  I left the park at 8:30am & didn’t stop until 11pm that night.  I found myself on a two lane highway in backwoods Missouri…again where the deer like to run in front of your cars.  I pulled over into a truck stop, & snuggled deep down into my blankets & sleeping bag…it was 29 degrees outside.  Welcome back to the midwest.

I made it back home by 8:30am the next morning.  Danny was a work, but my cat greeted me luke-warmly.  I was glad to be back safe & sound…although sad to be away from the girls & from sandals, shorts & t-shirts!

Theres no way Im good enough at writing to express all the joy I felt in being with the little girls on a daily basis.  And, theres no way to even try without the eye leakage beginning again.  There are so many tiny moments I always hope to remember…watching Claire reading & enjoying that special gift of a story; Emma spelling her name in the exact same tone everytime; Sara laughing with her girls; Claire working at becoming an aggressive climber; Emma rhyming over & over with me; Claire talking about her friends at school & “the boys”; & this with Emma…

She loves to be read to.  But I noticed, how she always would lay her tiny hand along my arm.  I noticed it EVERY SINGLE TIME &   would close my eyes to sear it into my memory.  

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Special, tiny moments…I discovered these everyday in these two little girls.

So very, very grateful for my time with them!

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