3. Snowbird for a Month…Florida January/February.2019

Day 19 January 26
Yesterday, while checking my email, there was a little note from Starbucks.  I used to buy coffee there a lot…had cards, the app, etc.  But not so much anymore, usually only when I’m traveling & can’t make my own coffee.  But the email was reminding me I had a $5 balance on my card…OK…I can use that….if I can just find my card.  After about 5 minutes on my phone, I’d managed to find the app, find the card, remember my password & magically get my cup of coffee this morning paid for!  I could really use a cup this morning…I had a 5.5 hour drive south.  I’ve been to the Key’s three or four times & the worst part of the drive is going through Miami.  One of the most horrible auto accidents I’ve ever seen happened right before I got to an intersection on one of my trips through, so I was not looking forward to that part of the drive.  But, I found (or map quest did) a toll expressway that by passed the whole city….YAY!  I super glad to have missed that town!  I was really tired, which I rarely get, but today, lack of sleep was killing me.  

The magnificent colors in the water as you drive through the keys, however, is fabulous.  Sea green, turquoise, lots of blue!  The temps were cool, but the sky was blue & water beautiful!  I could see lots of damage from Irma, the last hurricane to have blown through over a year ago, especially on Islamorada…one of the hardest hit Keys. I’d decided I wasn’t going all the way to Key West, so I stopped in Key Largo & went to a county park called Harry’s Harris…it was nice & probably a place for locals with a cool playground & dog park. I was only going as far south as Bahia Honda State Park, which sits just south of the 7 mile bridge.  It’s one of my favorite beaches in the Keys.  I paid & parked, then realized, my favorite section of the park was closed because of damage.  And it was high tide, so not much beach.  But I made the most of the day & stared at the water…it really is spectacular!

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I stopped at another county park called Sombrero Beach on the way back north & just sat awhile in the sun & enjoyed the view.

Then it was time for the drive back for my late lunch/early dinner.  I was hoping I wasn’t getting sick…I couldn’t remember a time when I’d felt so tired.  I was headed back north to the town of Islamorada to eat at a burger place called M.E.A.T.  Jill & I discovered this place a couple of years ago when we were here.  They make everything from scratch, including the catsup, mustard & mayo that go on their burgers.  They also have a decent craft beer selection.  So, for the second day in a row & hundreds of miles later, I enjoyed another awesome burger & chocolate milk porter from JDubbs, a St. Pete brewery  (the beer wasn’t as good as yesterdays….but very drinkable!)  The burger I tried is called Juicy Lucy…it’s stuffed with their homemade pimento cheese….really tasty!

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I took a chance & called the campground in Everglades National Park.  It’s run by a concessionaire, so I thought it would be open, but I was afraid it would be filled up.  I really needed a place to stay tonight & there is no boon docking in the Keys….they will arrest you & tow your car if you park somewhere illegally & everywhere seems to be illegal…Florida, is so not boondock friendly.  I was fortunate & found a campsite in the park, which itself was not staffed due to the stupid shutdown.  Everglades NP is out in the middle of nowhere…I think its the largest NP in the country.  I’ve been here before a couple of times, but it’s not my fave park for sure.  But, for tonight, I just needed to sleep.  The campground was nice & quiet. By this time it had started raining….it had been since late this afternoon.  I managed a quick walk around the area during a respite from the rain, but quickly tucked myself in my bag as it started to rain more & much harder.

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I was asleep before 8pm…awake by 11pm & then on & off again all night, but managing to get some decent sleep over all.  They had clean bathrooms & even though it poured rain most of the night, I was able to make ‘dry’ trips to the bathroom in the 12 hours I was in the car.

Day 20 January 27
I woke up feeling so much better.  They had showers so I grabbed a quick one & put on warmer clothes…I was headed north.  The forecast was for heavy rains all day & dropping temps.  Although in the Everglades, it was still about 66 degrees…I got my first February mosquito bite ever….they’re good & dead by now in Kansas.  I drove around the park a bit, but then left,  stopping to get a cup of coffee for the road.  I was taking the slow way north towards the Gulf Coast, but my favorite way.  The first 8 or 9 miles of this road, takes you by so many nurseries, tree farms, sod farms & a bunch of orchid farms.  (If you want to look up some interesting & bizarre Florida history, check out the serious orchid collectors & show people in this state.  There are orchid sitters…seriously.  It’s competitive, cut throat & murderous.  And, look up the mysteries that surround the Ghost Orchid…it’s all very fascinating!)   

I love Big Cypress National Preserve…it’s such a pretty drive!  The skies were very dark as I drove towards the Gulf.  You definitely feel like you’re in the wild part of this crazy state.  It was raining on & off, sometimes gently, sometimes so hard you could hardly see in front of you.  Its about 90 miles through this unpopulated land on the Tamiami Trail (btw…I’m on the lookout for a discontinued Pendleton Blanket by the same name.  If you ever find one, let me know!)…it’s filled with many varieties of birds, & all things that slither!  As I was driving, I passed a small quaint building off to the side signed, “Clyde Butcher Big Cypress Gallery”.  I know of this Florida photographer because my son-in-law, Kevin has several of his framed prints in their house.  I pulled a u-turn & drove back.  They were open & I went inside.  I was greeted by a super friendly woman whose name is Conny.  I took my time looking around & visiting with her.  She was interested in my travels & even took a photo of me for their Facebook page.  I bought a book for Kevin for his birthday & they generously swapped it out for a signed copy….YAY!  I love that!  I really enjoyed my time there & my visit with Conny was super interesting!  Trip Magic for sure!

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I stopped farther up the road, during a short stop in the rain, & visited with a ranger by a boardwalk area.  He was super interesting & so knowledgeable about the native americans that were first in the area.

And, here is my alligator photo…the only one I’ve seen so far, & that’s fine by me!

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And, the rain continued all the way to my favorite island in Florida, Captiva.  I was next headed to Doc Fords & was hoping to walk on my most loved beach.  Randy Wayne White, another Florida author, & one of my favorites, owns three Doc Ford (the name of his main character in his books….of which I’ve read them all!) restaurants.  I’ve eaten at all of them, but the original one in Sanibel was where I wanted to go for my foodie road trip.  It’s been remodeled since I was here the first time.  I wouldn’t say the food is outstanding—but good, but the Mojitos & atmosphere are…& mostly I’m just a huge fan of the guy!  I actually got to meet him the first time I was here.  By the time I crossed the three bridges to the islands, it was a deluge, backing up water across the roads.  I sat at the bar & tried the fish sandwich & a wonderful, fantastic mojito!  

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After lunch, I drove to far end of Captiva…my favorite island…much quieter than Sanibel.  I went to my best beach, but it was raining so hard, I only managed a quick peek.  The skies were gray, the water was gray, the sand even seemed gray.  Not my day for a beach walk.  I stopped at a couple of places just to get peeks of the water, through my water dotted windshield.

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I drove around the island, going up & down some streets, but the water was really backing up & I was in this tiny car that has about 1” of clearance.  My next stop was the Bubble Room….no better place to be on the island when it’s crap weather outside.  I pulled into their flooded parking lot & slopped my way into the bar as soon as they opened in the early evening.  It’s a super kitchy place…the drinks are over priced, but yummy, fruity & mine was filled with rum & all sort of other good stuff.  The wait staff & bartenders all wear boy scout uniforms—only with funny patches.  There are so many rooms in the place & all are decorated in some bizarre fashion.  The cakes are bigger than the clearance on my rental car & everyone is very, very nice.

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The rain was still coming down hard, so I drove to the other end of Sanibel Island to get another glimpse of the gray ocean.  I’d wished for blue skies, sunny warm temps, but there is still beauty in the muted colored but magnificent & wild ocean!

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Day 21 January 28
I slept ok last night, but woke up with a stiff neck.  Technically only one side is stiff…so no bending my head over to left side today.  I drove north towards Tampa & back to Ybor City to the Blind Tiger coffee house to finally do some work on my much ignored website. It seems like this is the neighborhood I’ve spent all my time in when I’ve been in/near Tampa on this trip.  But I really like it!  There are brick streets, twinkly lights at night & people walking all over.  This morning there were roosters walking around crowing in true Key West style.  I got my dark roast, cream, plugged in, downloaded 655 photos & started reliving & writing about the last nearly 3 weeks.  

This sign was hung above the sidewalk of the shop next door to the coffee house.  It says: Curiosities, Vintage Taxidermy, Postmortem Antiques, Oddities, Fossils, Dead People Things.  The Only Shop In Ybor, Where Death And Dysfunction Dance In A Graceful Ballet.   They were closed or I would have gone in.doesnt it make you wonder?

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Thinking about this long time period of time to update my website used to be overwhelming, but a couple of years ago I made a great decision.  I was on the verge of dumping Tripscribbles…letting all 10 or years go by the wayside & just living with whatever I could remember & my massive amount of mixed photos.  It was feeling like I was spending as much time writing as I was experiencing…I just wasn’t enjoying when I got behind on my writing days.  But, I just couldn’t let it go.  It brings me joy when I go back & read about all my trips & I do enjoy the writing.  I don’t enjoy “thinking about doing” the writing.  A huge metaphor for life by the way…quit dreading things or being fearful of things you’re ‘thinking’ about..  It’s okay to not enjoy something or to be afraid when you’re having the experience, but how much life do we waste by  ‘anticipatory’ thoughts?  I’d guess quite a bit.  So, a couple of years ago, I started a note page on my phone called Trip Notes.  I keep a super abbreviated list of what I did, where I went, & what happened.  It only takes a few a minutes a day.  Between my photos & notes, I can recreate the day when it’s time to write for Tripscribbles.  It’s made the whole experience so much better.

So, I talked to Danny on the phone who is so anxious to be here!  And worked on Trips.  Around 11, my parking meter was up & it was time for me to drive to my last foodie place for this trip.  The Columbia is such a beautiful place to eat!  It’s very, very old, filled with amazing tiles, huge chandeliers, black-tie wait staff, delicious food & drinks.  The restaurant encompasses an entire city  block, has 15 dining rooms & can seat 1,700 people & is just wonderful eye candy.  Even though they’d just opened for the day, it was already bustling with customers.  I sat at the awesome bar & was greeted by happy bartenders.  I had the Cuban sandwich (remember, I’ve done extensive nationwide research on Cuban sandwiches) & their famous soup which is garbanzo beans, potatoes & smoked sausage…delicious.  I also super enjoyed their home made Sangria which is made with fresh juices & a splash of brandy.

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Next I was headed to north to New Port Richey to look at a truck.  Danny & I are researching Tacoma’s…trying to find out more about them, what model & year we want & what features we need to make it into a camper for him.  When Danny suggest I do something, I get right on the job, highly motivated & ready to pull the trigger on things sooner than later.  Note:  I should make the HUGE distinction, when Danny suggest I do something, I only react in a quick-mode-excited manner, when its something I want to do, or am interested, or will enhance our travel.  Otherwise, I can ignore & drag my feet & let it die a slow death, just like most people can do. 

So, we had this discussion last August, but never really talked about exactly ‘when’ we’d want to get this truck.  My feeling is when you’re hunting a vehicle that’s older, in great shape, with low miles, you need to get on it.  They just get more rare.  So, Id seen one one earlier on this trip…but it was yucky & I didnt even drive it.  This one was a bright red (my favorite color, Dannys least favorite in a vehicle) 2008 4WD 6 cylinder with an access cab & standard bed.  Everything we think we want in a truck (although the exact year & size of engine is still under discussionhes considering the older smaller one; I want the bigger one.)  It was a 5 speed, which I only drive rarely, but the small truck dealership owner rode with me & I never missed a gear.  Its a super nice truck!  I Facetimed with Danny so he could see it, ask any questions & the owner visited with him a bit.  I told the guy Id be in touch later in the week.  I have a feeling were not buying this oneDanny is really coming down here to spend time with the girls & Sara & Kevinnot to work on the logistics & have the stress of buying another vehicle.  Plus, we probably need to see a few more to really get a feel of exactly what we want. 

I had the afternoon free & I wanted to be near the water.  The temps were in the 50s, but the sky was blue, the sun was out & there was no rain!  I drove to the Greek town of Tarpon Springs.  Its very touristy, but interesting.  Ive been here before, but it was close & a good spot to walk around.  There are sponge docks here & thousands of sponges for sale.  Most every shop sells sponges, soaps, & t-shirts.  There were a couple of tourist buses that bring snowbirds up from the Keys to visit for the day.  There are several Greek restaurants & bakeries here too.  I made my second purchase for myself during this trip…another pair of socks.  That would make my souvenir total (for myself) …2 items, both pairs of socks.  But one pair of bamboo socks I brought with popped a hole while I was wearing it, so they will be trashed before I head back home.

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I drove to their tiny downtown, I’d remembered there was a cute quirky shop there I’d been to last time I was here.  But, when I got there, the shop was gone.  Most of the stores are antique shops—not my cup of tea—& most were closed this Monday afternoon.  I checked out a local brewery, but they only had one beer of their own, & the others didn’t look good, so I left without drinking.  I got on my fave beer app & looked to see if anyone in the area had Bourbon County Stout & just a few miles away was the Iron Oak. It was a BBQ place, but I just ordered the beer.  It was wonderful, but I almost threw it up when I got the bill.  I know this is expensive beer, I drink it all the time when I can find it.  I just had one at the Mansion in Melbourne.  But this was almost twice as much.  It was helpful that I was only 1/2 way through drinking this 15% beer, because the closer I got to the bottom of the glass, the less guilt I felt about the bill.  

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But the super nice bartender was giving out lots of free info on where I should go drink next---for sunset they gave away free shots at the Tiki Bar at Marker 8 & then I should go to the Silverking (a type of Tarpon) brewery which is located in an old jail.  Well, I figured I’d already had my share of alcohol today & if I followed his advice, it would be a new record setting $$$ day for alcohol.  But, I drove to Tiki Bar —I love Tiki bars—but missed the turn off (it sits between to big hotels) & ended up turning into the park just a few hundred feet past…which as it turns out was the PERFECT place to watch the sunset.  As I got out of the rental & walked toward the Pier, I realized I’d been here before.  My last trip here (which had been my first trip here) I had my bike & had ridden the wonderful bike path from the south turning around at this park.  I love it when my travels connect-up like that.  So, with a smile on my face & a million dollar beer in my tummy, I braved this chilly breeze & walked out towards the setting sun.

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Then I drove to the Silverking brewery.  I had checked to see what beers they had on tap & nothing looked interesting.  Then when I got to the place, from the outside it looked just like a regular building.  I decided I was done drinking beer for the day & drove to a Starbucks to work on Trips.  I closed them down, then sat in the parking lot until after midnight working & talking to Danny.  He surprised me with a FaceTime call….it wasn’t the call that was a surprise it was the fact he’s got a busted lip.  He said a Whomping Willow attacked him!  Actually a tree had fallen over our driveway & he was in the process of removing it, when part of reared up & slapped him cutting open his lip.  I felt so bad for him!  Danny has a huge big pain tolerance (unlike me) & is always getting something ripped open, cut, slashed, smashed, bruised & bloodied.  He’s one tough guy for sure. I finally tucked into my sleeping bag around 1am in a rest stop along 75 highway.   Tomorrow, I’ll head back to Orlando, arriving sometime in the afternoon, anxious to see the girls & play & play & play.

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