Our friends Lee and Tracy are full-timers like us and they have been an inspiration in many ways. Frequently, they post a blog every other day, providing detail of their specific life-on-the-road experiences and I am going to try something like this on our first road trip of 2017. We will be covering 2,300 miles in twelve nights so here goes.
Day 1. We left Koreshan State Historic Park in Estero the morning of January 28 after a temporary delay. As Peter was tightening up the lug nuts on the truck, he realized that some of the aluminum caps had gotten rounded and were not holding steady. It probably happened when he took the truck in for service when they rotated the tires.
He went straight back to the local dealer and got a recommendation on how to fix it (order new lug nuts and caps and have them installed at a Ford dealer). He was assured that the tires themselves were on tight. At about 10:00AM, we left on our 295-mile drive straight up I-75, skirting east of Tampa where my son and our Florida granddaughters live. After all these years, leaving the gravitational pull of my family still causes sadness. See you guys in several months!
We passed the lovely, rolling hills of Ocala and horse country and the wide open prairies of Paynes Prairie State Preserve where we have spent countless hours in discovery and exploration with my son and his family over the years. We passed Gainesville on to our first stay at Oleno State Park. We had snagged the only pull-through site which we prefer on the one-night stays when we won’t be unhooking. After a quick ten minutes to hook up water and electric and drop the levels, we put on jackets since the temperature was hovering just below 50 under heavy clouds, perfectly mirroring my feelings about leaving Florida.
The park sits right on the banks of the Santa Fe River on the remains of a ghost town from the mid-1800s. This is one of the first Florida state parks constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and the original meeting hall, a huge log building right along the river, was still in use. As we approached the building, I could hear the faint sounds of a violin playing what sounded like an Appalachian tune. Curious, I drew nearer and noticed lazy curls of grey smoke unfurling from the stone chimneys at opposite sides of the building as the music grew louder. On entering the building, to the left stood a small stage in front of a roaring fire. On the stage sat six musicians playing string instruments. The tune they played was haunting and lovely and it filled my half-empty heart with grace and gratitude. Thank you, God.
Uplifted, we walked along the River Trail over a suspension bridge and into something called the river sink where the Santa Fe River disappears underground for about three miles. This journey of subterranean rivers and sink holes in the Florida limestone is one of the most interesting geological features of Florida and the source of much of the precious fresh water that makes Florida so unique. Refreshed, we had an early supper, curled up with our current books and slept like rocks.
Day 2. The morning of January 29 the sun was up early and we headed north on I-75 and then west on I-10, toward Tallahassee. It was another 295 miles and we were still in Florida which indicates how big this state is. It is fully 400 miles just across the panhandle. The headwind made the day a tiring one for Peter and our gas mileage plummeted. We usually get about 13 MPG but today we were barely hitting 10 MPG. The traffic was unusually heavy as we neared Tallahassee and we ended up with a much longer day on the road even though we left much earlier. The day’s saving grace was passing into Central Time so we actually picked up an hour on our clocks.
We were returning to Blackwater River State Park, a really fine state park near the town of Holt. The sites here are wide and generous and we backed in, hooked up, dropped the levels and went off for a walk. First, we wandered over to the ranger station to register and then we walked down to the river. The first week of January, a storm dropped over ten inches of rain here, re-routing the river and its sandy bottom. The devastation was visible in the tree trunks and sand dunes along the beach. The cypress swamps still held several inches of tannin-rich water. One sandhill crane hopped along the bank in the late afternoon, confirming the river’s reputation as a haven for fishermen.
Peter wanted to flush our fresh water tank since we had a full hook-up here. We do this periodically since most of the time we have city water in our campsites. We don’t drive with a full fresh water tank, just a small reserve, because the weight of the water is significant and affects our gas mileage. We won’t need a tank of fresh water until we get to Joshua Tree National Park in early March, so emptying it out now and flushing made sense. The job took about half and hour in the late afternoon.
After long, hot showers in the immaculate bathrooms, we feasted on Peter’s famous gumbo. Before leaving Estero, Peter made up a batch of gumbo which we popped into the freezer. We left Estero with six different kinds of meals and when we want a particular dinner, we just thaw, heat, and enjoy the recipe of the day. Yum. Another night of sound sleep in the very dark and quiet campground followed our busy day on the road.
Day 3. This was another 290-mile day as we left Florida, crossed Alabama, Mississippi and headed for Louisiana. The first business for Monday morning was to call our trusted Ford dealer in Keene and ask about the problem with the lug nuts. It turns out this was a design flaw that has since been corrected. Rountree Ford in Keene urged us to get into a dealer and get the lug nuts and the caps replaced as soon as possible. The best news is that they offered to reimburse us for the repair. Hurray! We found a Ford dealer in Stafford, Texas where we will be camping for two nights later this week. Peter called them and they are ordering the parts which hopefully will be there on Wednesday. If need be, we decided we would stay a third night in Stafford in order to get this repair completed.
Some of our readers have asked us how we plan our trips. When planning this long a trip, we try to pace ourselves and give ourselves some room. After three nights of one-night stays this time, we have booked the next three campgrounds with two nights each stay. This allows us to relax a bit more on the second day and I get to book my appointments. There is also the option of working in laundry, doing some meal prep, planning some site-seeing, and accommodating the unexpected development, like this one with the truck repair.
Knowing we have this flexibility, we drove on down the road, taking I-10 all the way across Alabama, Mississippi and into Louisiana. The drive was long, the weather lovely and cool and we arrived at our overnight campground, Farr Park and Equestrian Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s one large field with poles that hold water and electric. Image what the old drive-ins used to look like when you shimmied up to a pole in an open lot and grabbed the speaker and hung it on your driver’s side window. Same idea but now we are hooking up power and water.
We finished the details of our day which include a work-out with resistance bands. Peter is dedicated to the exercises and does a series for shoulders and his hip for about 45 minutes four days a week. I am way less committed, but I did join him today for a short period, inspired by Peter.
The best part of this place is its location just a 5-minute walk from the levee and the Mississippi River. For those of you following our travels, you know that crossing the Mississippi is always a big deal for us. Whether heading west or east, it remains the iconic divide of our familiar east and our wild heart and the American west. We walked the levee as the sun set in awe of the life we have been given. It was the perfect way to close down one part of our journey and prepare for the westward direction of the next.
Peter and Liz continue their journey due west heading to Arizona with the next stops in Texas in their Airstream on their pilgrimage to here. The header image shows Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River.