We crossed over the widest part of Florida on Highway 70, heading toward the Gulf sunsets on our pilgrimage to here. The land stretches back and yawns, opening to prairies, citrus groves, ranch land and lakes where the population of cows exceeds that of people. It feels more like Texas than what we experienced on the very developed Atlantic coast.
I’m captivated by the names of the towns in this central part of Florida: names like Frostproof and Lake June-in-Winter State Park and, our favorite, Yeehaw Junction. I had to see what I could find out about Yeehaw Junction. It seems the town was first called “Jackass Junction” in the early 1930s. Folklore indicates the name came from the local ranchers’ practice of riding burros to visit the local brothel here, now known as The Desert Inn.
In the 1950s, it was revealed that the newly constructed Florida Turnpike was going to have an exit here at the major intersection of the east-west Highway 60. The Florida legislature determined the name was a bit unseemly. Imagine the conversation that occurred in the hallowed halls of Tallahasee: “Do we really want a sign that reads, ‘Next exit: Jackass Junction”? In 1957, the name was laundered and officially changed to Yeehaw Junction. Either one stops you in your tracks.
We headed back to the Gulf and just south of Sarasota we found our park, an oasis near greater Sarasota, called Oscar Scherer State Park. The owner of the South Creek Ranch left her ranch of 462 acres to the state of Florida to start a park in 1955. Thirty years later, a local realtor started protecting the territory of the Florida scrub jay, which led to the addition of 922 acres of land from the neighboring huge cattle ranch, Palmer Ranch. Another grant of land in 2008 brought the park to its current size of 1,400 acres. We were tucked away in a very private site at the west end of the park snuggled into palms and towering long leaf pines against the South Creek.
We spent three lazy, sunny, hot afternoons reading and walking and napping at Nokomis Beach about 10 minutes from our campground. The Gulf here is clear, nearly green in color and cool and refreshing. The locals say it is too cold these December days but for us, not so much.
We rode our bikes along the spectacular Legacy Trail, which runs 11 miles from Sarasota south to Venice, Florida along the old rail bed. The trail is paved and wide open and beautiful and one of the treasures of this area. We were so impressed with the park, its access to Sarasota (we love this town where my cousin lives) and the bike trail that we began seriously considering volunteering next year in one of the state parks for the season. More to come on that!
On our ride on the last full day there, Peter blew out his rear tire. We were fortunately close to the campground so he walked back with this fatally wounded bike tire and I continued riding. As Peter walked back to our campsite, a young man rode by and stopped, asking if he needed help. Turns out he was our campsite neighbor. This is what happens on the road; you find just who you need to find.
Our neighbor was in his late 20s and had been living on the road for four years. He is full-timing in a tow vehicle with registration in South Dakota, one of the three states (after Texas and Florida) that are most friendly to us who live on the road. He left Los Angeles with a desire to see the country. He’s towing a 15’ Casita, a fiberglass travel trailer that is compact and lightweight. He is carrying his mountain bike on the roof of his tow-vehicle and judging from his overall fitness, he rides it a lot. We learned he’d camped in Abbeville, Louisiana and had an equally unsettling time there, and we’re talking about more than just the mosquitoes. The undercurrents of racial intolerance led him (an Asian) to leave town in spite of the great music and the outstanding food. Voices from the road filled with insight…
He expertly removed the tire and the deflated inner tube. He patched the tube, inflated it, remounted it and checked it out. Spinning in on the bike and putting the bike down on the ground, it immediately burst once again. OK, so this meeting was not about the tire. Paying attention?
We left Oscar Scherer and headed further south to Estero (near Fort Myers) and our next campsite. This is a state campground located on the site of a late 19th century utopian community called Koreshan State Historic Site, which was donated to the state of Florida in the mid-1960s by the last members of the community.
Here, we reunited with a couple that we met in August when camping at Newtown Battlefield State Park in New York. They were next door to us and we chatted and learned they volunteered at Koreshan every winter. They share a love of history with Peter and we are happy to reconnect with them here. This will be one of the other campgrounds where we could see ourselves volunteering for a season.
Fort Myers/Naples has a combined population of over one million people which can be intimating for us blue highway travelers. That said, we have found it easy to find a bike store for Peter (purchased tire and tube, had both mounted and ready to go in under 30 minutes); fabulous choices when it comes to shopping for food, fresh produce, and local fish; and easy access to outpatient medical care for minor situations. As Peter says, “This isn’t Glasgow, Montana!”
Life on the road continues to unfold and we treasure the surprises yet to come in this holiday season of gifts and abundance.
Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, repairing bike tires and eating great seafood, as they continue their time in Florida, living in their Airstream.