3. Magical Spooktacular Trip, Florida & More…October/November 2018

Day 14 11.4  
Danny & I neither one slept very much.  Phyllis alarm went off at 4am & we both had been awake for hours.  Up as quietly as possible, we slipped out the door while it was still dark out  & were in the 4Runner ready to go at 4:45am.  It’s a pretty quick drive to the airport & soon I was hugging Danny & saying goodbye.  He & his mom would be back in Kansas City by 8:30am & I would be on another road trip.

I’d had trouble planning this part of the trip.  I’d been super focused for a long time on the family part, & unsure what to do afterwards.  I’ve traveled a lot around Florida & love it’s beautiful Gulf Coast beaches & wild Atlantic side too.  But it’s very hard to camp here.  I don’t want to stay in RV parks & probably wouldn’t be allowed to anyway.  I tried to stay in a county park, but a lot of places in Florida don’t allow car campers (what do they consider all those fancy Sprinter Vans?) & the county park said No…only tents or RV’s (really?  you want me to put a tent on the ground next to one of your alligator signs?)  I knew I could stay in State Parks, but they run about $30 minimum a night.  

My first stop was Starbucks for coffee, then Publix where I picked up a few food items.  Then I took off toward the Gulf & drove to Honeymoon Island State Park…a place I’d been to before to think, be a little sad about leaving the girls, feel super grateful for getting to spend so much time with Sara & her family & for this time on my own.  So, I walked the beach…up & down & up & down.

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Theres also some hiking here, I’ve done before, so after my beach walk, I headed to the trails.  I didn’t get very far…the mosquitoes were attacking like crazy…& me without my Deet!  I was also tired.  I’d been up since 1:30am & Thursday night I didn’t go to sleep until 5am…I don’t need a lot of sleep, but the lack of it was catching up to me.  

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And the inside of the 4Runner was a mess!  I’ve never hauled so much stuff in it before & I’m not the type of person that can stand to travel inside a big mess.  So, as I was in a pretty empty trailhead parking lot, I decided to reorganize.  I no longer had all of Phyllis’s suitcases or Danny’s.  I’d brought most of my camping stuff,  my gear bag had both summer & winter clothes inside of it, I had a bag full of all of our costumes & a bag of Danny’s clothes (his mom put some of her extra stuff in Danny’s checked bag, so he left his stuff with me).  It didn’t take long, because one thing I know, is how to pack my 4Runner.  I soon had it in ship shape to road trip in.  I ate some peanut butter, finished my coffee & then popped a coke…I was beat.

I found a state park inland about 80 miles south.  I keep trying to find the beauty in the inland places of Florida…so I’d pay to camp at this state park tonight. 

On my way I stopped at one of my fave burger/beer places in Sarasota, called Shakespeares English Pub & had the caramelized onion & brie burgeryum!

I got to the Myakka River State Park around 4pm & crawled in the back of the 4runner & slept for about an hour.  I was so surprised…I NEVER NAP!  I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I took a nap…but I felt exhausted.  The Ranger told me there was a trail from the campground.but all I saw was swampy areas circling the campground (uh oh…mosquitoe-ville???) with signs posted about alligators & snakes.  I have to keep asking myself, why am I trying to love the inner wild places in Florida?  I’m terrified of alligators!

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I walked up the road aways, then back to camp, got in the 4Runner & drove up to the lake.

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As night fell so did a gentle rain.  I put my screen covers on the back windows & decided the tiny bit of rain coming inside wasn’t anything to worry about…it was humid & I needed some air…it was all good.  I called & said good night to Danny…he was pretty exhausted too after his flight.  He had to deal with a flat tire on his mom’s car that he took off & ran to Lawrence to have it repaired, then put it back on.  He’s got to go back to work tomorrow, so I’m sure he’s pretty bummed about it all.

It wasn’t hard falling asleep…I love my set up in the 4Runner, I was all tucked in & crashed hard.  In the middle of the night, I was extra careful walking to the bathroom…using my flashlight to sweep in big areas before I put my foot on the ground & all the way to the toilet…I didn’t want to run into any night time visitors of the slithering kind.

Day 15 11.5  
It had rained all through the night, & was still drizzling so I wasn’t in the mood to make coffee in camp & fight the rain & all the wetness. But I had a couple of things to do before I left this morning.  It was pretty early in the morning & no one else was in the bathroom.  I pulled out my sweet little scissors & gave myself a much need haircut.  It’s been quite awhile since I’ve had my hair colored, so as I cut, I began to see my own colors pop out.  Too much gray….I wish I didn’t care.  The haircut felt good though…shedding un necessary things in life is always a good thing.  Then I took a shower & packed up ready to go.  Once again I hadn’t fallen in love with the alligator-mosquitoe-snake infested areas of Florida…I’m thinking I’ll give up on the idea.  (I do love the moss hanging from the trees though.)

I drove up to Siesta Key…rated as the #1 beach in the US.  I’ve been here quite a few times before.  There’s still some Red Tide evidence here, but not much.  The sky had brightened as I drove north & the beach was busy, but not overly so.  All the seniors & some vacationers were all out walking, jogging, biking, sunning & playing in the sand this early morning.  One thing I love about Florida & all it’s old people, they are active.  It’s humid as hell here, but you see them everywhere moving….I love that & I’m sure that’s one reason why Florida & it’s non-winter weather is so popular.  Who doesn’t want to walk on a beach every morning?

After beach walking for about an hour, I drove north.  I was meeting an old friend from High School…Michelle. It’s funny that she’s lived in Topeka, KS for years…probably about 45 minutes from me & we never saw each other.  We connected on FB a couple of years ago & it’s been so good to do that.  She & her husband recently retired to Bradenton so we were meeting for brunch later this morning.  The nice thing about both Siesta Key & Bradenton Beaches is the free parking & easy access to the beach…it’s wonderful.  My favorite place on the Gulf is Captiva Island…expensive place to visit though…I don’t think they want to make their beaches all that easy & cheap to visit.  I really thought about driving there this time, but in the end, decided not to.  I enjoyed a little more beach time, before parking & walking the 1/2 mile to the restaurant to meet Michelle.

She chose the Gulf Drive restaurant which sits right on the beach…the weather was perfect & I got us a cabana table.  The food was good, but the company & conversation was fantastic!  I’m so excited for her to be in such an awesome place to live!  I’m sure I’ll be back to see her!

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I walked back to the car after we said good bye, grabbed my beach towel, my book, water & misc other stuff & walked to the beach.  The sun was really hot, but I enjoyed an hour or so wave watching, people watching & only reading a little.  I just can’t seem to keep my eyes downward when such a beautiful scene is in front of me.

I still didn’t have much of a plan, but decided to keep driving along the coast…stopping here & there when I felt like it.  I drove all around Anna Maria Island..all the way to the end (I love seeing my dot at the end of the road…so to speak).  Jill & I were here last year, so I didn’t go in any of the little shops, but just drove.

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I ended up the evening in the crazy touristy place called Madiera Beach.  Crazy but there are a couple of cute places, their beach is nice, they have a brewery & lots of night time activity.  I knew I’d probably be staying in a Rest Area tonight & wanted to get there as late as possible.  I checked out the shops, had wings & a beer at Mad Beach brewing & nice conversation with a super bored bartender.

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As night fell, I wanted to go for a walk on the beach.  This is when I let either fear or good sense take over.  As a man, Danny wouldn’t think twice about taking a walk on the beach at night.  But, I am not a man.  As I walked to the beach, with all these thoughts going thru my mind, I passed a single guy sitting in a van in a parking lot right before the entrance to the beach.  Again, Danny probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  But, as a woman, you have to.  I crossed from the lot & into the sand.  It was pretty dark, but I saw no one.  I wasn’t sure that if I did continue my walk, if I’d even be able to pick out where I’d entered the beach.  But, I saw no one & couldn’t believe there weren’t any couples or anyone out here on such a beautiful night.  It makes me sad & angry that as women we have to worry about assault more than men…from what we wear, where we go, etc.  Do they ever carry their car keys through their fingers on the way through a parking lot?  Do they think about how’d they’d fight back if attacked?  Whatever...this wasn’t the first time I had all these thoughts & it won’t be the last.  Sadly or smartly, I left the beach, in my own little defiantly old lady way looked right at the guy in the van as I walked by & went back to the well lit boardwalk filled with people.

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My next three nights of camping would be just a place to park…two rest areas & one truck stop.  

Day 16 11.6  
It was so hot last night!  The second hottest night I’ve ever spent in the 4Runner.  I tried keeping the windows at a safe level of ‘down’, but after an hour or so, I rolled down the back windows all the way & the tailgate window too.  It didn’t help much.  It was loud, bright & hot…sometimes that’s just how it goes.  I made myself coffee then headed north to Silver Springs State Park…the worlds largest springs.  I got there just as they opened, eating a little peanut butter on my way in.  It’s a bargain at $2 entry fee.  I also paid for the Glass Bottom boat tour ($11) & was hoping to rent a kayak for a couple of hours.  The first puzzling sign I came to warned customers about Rhesus Monkeys…all the different faces they make when they’re about to attack & what to do.  I inquired at the ticket booth for more info.  Seems as if in the 1930’s, someone brought in monkeys as a tourist attraction & they’re still here.  OOOKKKK…then there were alligator signs warning visitors not to swim in the water…OOOKKKK.  

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But the water was beautiful & the park was practically empty.  I walked the first walkway looking over the see-through beautiful blue water (which is infested with alligators & snakes).  

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I did see two guys kayaking…one in an inflatable kayak…they looked calm & peaceful (even though I bet an alligators teeth would puncture that kayak in a second)

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Claire would love this little slide

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The grounds were pristine & most of the people there were workers.  There was a trail ‘near the back of the park’ the ticket lady told me…I might see monkeys back there.  I could tell not too many people walk this path…it was a tiny bit overgrown compared to the rest of the park & spider webs were across the trail.  It was a good upper body workout for me though…between the warnings about the alligators & the monkeys & the spider webs, my arms flailed in front of me & I was constantly…constantly looking up for monkeys, down for alligators, up for monkeys, down for alligators….it was a unique hike & I can truthfully say I’ve never done one like it before.

Then it was time for 1st Glass Bottom boat tour of the day.  It was an elderly Captain with a huge low quiet southern drawl, us tourists were 3 people from China (a son who lives in Florida & his two elderly non english speaking parents who were visiting) & a woman from Britain…& me—a midwesterner terrified of alligators.  There are 130 springs that flow into this water…the Captain’s info was all interesting.  He named several movies that have been made here…of course I didn’t know any of them.

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These photos were from inside the boat looking through the glass bottom.

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This was looking down into a cave that goes under the park…2 miles long.  I asked & he said only a mile of it had been explored.  (Florida is really interesting in all the underwater caves & ducts & stuff like that are under the land.  A lot of scuba divers like to dive in those dark & dangerous places.  That’s why there are sink holes so many places…it’s such a weird, fascinating, crazy, interesting historically, bizarre state.)

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As the boat took us near land, I spied an alligator & pointed it out.  The Chinese son was excited to point it out to his parents (he told me he’s lived in Florida for several years) & I made my decision right then to NOT kayak in these beautiful waters.  It wasn’t big, but I don’t care.  I get to choose how I play & I choose not to play with alligators.

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Theres a second side to the Silver Springs State Park, so after doing everything I could (except kayak) at this side, I drove over to the other side.  The guy at this ticket booth told me about a couple of good hikes…the first one’s trail head was just down the road & he said the wildflowers were at their peak right now.  So, I drove to the trailhead, got out my pack & hit the trail.

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It’s still humid, but I was enjoying the wide trail, only once in awhile taking note of a high branch I could Tarzan up- should a alligator come running after me.  I soon saw a pretty tiny yellow flower.  I was on the lookout for the flowers, which should be easy to spot amongst so much green & brown.  Now Crested Butte is the wildflower capital of the world (or so they say) & it’s flowers are breathtaking & spectacular, but I was ready to lower my expectations a little for this sultry swampy insect creepy crawling place.  I saw that same little yellow flower about 10 more times throughout the whole hike….but that was it.  Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. No other wildflowers…I have more thoughts on this I’ll share in my last section called Random.

Then I went on the second hike that goes to the river.  Ohhhh…definitely wouldn’t want to venture into that swamp!

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By the time I was done for the day, I’d hiked 7 miles & was sweaty & had Deet all over me.  Time to move out of Florida & head north.

I ended up stopping at a locals restaurant I’d read about called Phish Tales in Lake City, FL…& it was pretty fun!  Everything on the menu that started with an F, really started with a Ph…you got Phrench Phries with your shrimp, etc.  They had a decent beer selection & were generous with the samples.  The place is family owned & as soon as I sat down, the young guy next to me started chatting.  He was there with his Dad..he gave me the scoop on the whole bar, it’s owners, it’s food & even proudly told me about some TV show that remodels bars & had remodeled this one last spring.  The bartenders were very cool & then one of the owners came out chatting with everyone, including me.  I said, ‘Am I the only non-local here?” & he said yes, but now that he knew my name, he’d consider me local!  I could tell by all the chatter between the customers & staff this was a cool place.  The food was super good & I was glad I’d made the stop.

It was another boring & hot rest stop for the night, but I wouldn’t be here all night after all.  My plan for tomorrow was to get to a place north of Atlanta.  While I can drive through crazy, horrible, maniacal city traffic, I choose not to when I can.  So, as I opened all the windows before I went into a hot sleep, I set my alarm for 2am.

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