Friday, January 28, 2011

We did it

In 30 days, we canvassed the Gulf Coast from South Padre Island, TX, to Key West, FL.  Some of our favorite stops include Waveland/Bay St. Louis, MS; Indian Pass, FL; Homosassa Springs, FL; Collier-Seminole State Park, FL; and Florida City, FL.  In MS, we love camping in Buccaneer State Park, sandwiches and coffee at Mockingbird Cafe, beignets at Da Little Cafe, and cold Lazy Magnolia drafts.  Indian Pass Raw Bar and Indian Pass Campground in the Florida Panhandle are remote and one of the few remaining flashpoints for old Florida.  The wildlife park and butterfly museum in Homosassa Springs showcase iconic species, like the American Bald Eagle, Florida Panther, Black Bear, Whooping Crane, and American Crocodile.  Collier-Seminole State Park, originally set up as a panther preserve, is located near Naples.  During our stay, we heard black bears rummaging around our campsite.  We also cycled a trail through the panther preserve -- but did not see any of the large cats.  Only alligators and deer.  Royal Palm Hammock Trail inside the camping area winds through stands of these ancient looking palms; the boardwalk areas shake and rattle a little but are still functional.  Park staff request that everybody leave the trails by 4pm because that seems to be when the really big wildlife wake up to eat.  Unless you want to be "invited" over for dinner, comply.

The real highlight of this Deep South sojourn, however, is Florida City.  Most travelers stop off here at the gateway to the keys intending to stay a night or two.  Some are looking for unique adventures in the Everglades.  This is THE place for both...and more.  Rates are very reasonable, even in high season.  Tours of the Everglades -- smaller groups and more thrilling than park-sanctioned tours -- leave from the hostel.  Some are during the day, some at night, depending on the time of month.  If you can get there during a full moon, take the late night canoe and hike tour.  David went on this one guided by Graham.  The pics of the cypress dome under the full moon light are simply awesome.  Another day, we went as a family to walk along a small trail near Flamingo, also inside Everglades National Park.  Here and no place else on the planet you can see American Alligators and American Crocodiles living together.  What an experience!  Key West is only about 3 hours south.  We were able to complete our "border of blue" tour by reaching southernmost point by late afternoon and returning to the hostel that evening.  Communal dinners at the hostel are first-rate, and the garden and waterfall-pool rejuvenate weary travelers.  Public transportation from the Miami airport is available.  If you drive, there is plenty of parking.  You may prefer car camping in your vehicle to dorm accommodations; the fee is only $15 per person compared to $28.  Perfect for those of us with small campers willing to boondock.

The best part of Everglades Hostel, though, is the people.  Whether resident volunteers or transients like us, there we discovered a new group of friends, an extension of our family, and a community where we want to return again and again.  They welcomed us into their enclave as part of them, and almost every person treated Sage as if she were her own.  No wonder none of us wanted to leave...

But we did, having completed our journey (at least one direction of it) and are now backtracking toward Texas.  The day after Christmas we left South Padre eager to see as much of the Gulf Coast as possible.  One month later, we touched southernmost point in Key West.  So many experiences, places and people enriched the memories of this odyssey-of-a-lifetime.  We will carry them with us as we ramble we left Naples in silence (except for Sage's piercing shrieks during a temper-tantrum.)  Nobody seems happy to leave, yet we are all excited about the new projects and presentations that begin next week.  Back to Dallas, back to work.  And on to the next adventure.  Safe travels.  May you always float, sea beans.  :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How we roll...

I think I've mentioned before that every square inch of our 'rig' -- the collective configuration of truck, camper and trailer -- must be used efficiently.  Everything must have a specific place to maximize our limited space.  That does not mean, however, that we are 'roughing it', as some of you may think.  OK, so we do not have a private bath or running water.  But when we camp in parks we pick sites adjacent to or across from the bathrooms and showers, and with access to potable water.  When we boondock or drycamp in remote areas (e.g., Padre Island National Seashore) we use a portapotty and haul in enough water for a 3-day stay.  For us, that equates to about 15 gallons.  Our truck and trailer are durable enough to haul more than that but we do not have adequate storage space.  Limited space means that each day we are faced with decisions about what stays, what goes to the storage room, what goes to charity, and what goes to recycling or trash bins.

We prepared thoroughly for this odyssey but since we actually put our journey in motion, we have found we still carry too much stuff.  The first three months we spent a lot of time sorting, organizing and purging unessential items.  Most of that phase is over...yet, I still find odds and ends in drawers and cabinets that we do not need.  Each time I do, I wonder how all of that fit into the various compartments of our rig?  Folks, we must be some pretty clever packers.  Purging will continue, probably, as long as we are travelling.

Along the way I have discovered that there is a hierarchy of organization.  The truck must be the most organized and comfortable, followed by El Valor (the camper) and finally, Truckwagon (the trailer.)  From memory I can probably list everything we keep inside the cab of the truck and where.  Sage's carseat holds the middle seat-position in the backseat.  Behind the driver's seat is her "travel bin", a pink-and-brown tote from her old bedroom that houses about 30 books, a purple pumpkin-shaped bag filled with miniature Doras and Bootses and their accessories, Rosemary the doll, and a few other smallish toys and games.  She has plenty of things to educate and entertain herself during our travels.  On the floorboard behind the driver's seat is David's book bag and under that section of the seat are a couple of bags of clothing he intends to put into storage.  Under Sage's seat is the laminator we use for our design products.  In the floorboard is a cooler that holds about 10 cans but we have not used it in a while, so it will probably end up in storage, too.  Behind the passenger seat on the floorboard is my book bag.  Under the seat are Folsom's food and water bowls.  In the seat, is the printer covered with three layers of pillows; this is Folsom's perch.  He prefers a blurred view of the world outside to a stagnant one of the backside of the passenger seat.  Unquestionably, he is our dog.

In the front seat, between driver and passenger, are journals and laptops (and an adaptor), phones and phone chargers, mail just picked up or en route to drop off, and notes about blogposts.  Cameras and corresponding data transfer cables are there, too.  Floorboards are cleared out so that we may ride comfortably.  The area of the floorboard between driver and passenger (where a console organizer might be) holds an assortment of flashlights and a hammer, in case one of the latches on the camper sticks.  Ha ha, this has happened often enough to dedicate that space for a hammer!  Might be a good weapon, too, if anyone tries to truck-jack us.  But why would they want to...?  Ha.  The dash and cupholders are organized, too.  In front of the passenger are stored more flashlights and an extra phone charger, extra data transfer cable, and sometimes leftover snacks.  Folsom's leash sits in the middle of the dash but is pushed aside to balance one of the laptops there when we stop briefly for fuel, snacks or potty breaks.  In front of the driver is one lone object: a compass that doesn't point north.  Perhaps it points toward the thing we desire most?  Between the cupholders is an ashtray, but since none of us smoke, we use that space to store extra fuses, the mobile broadband card and pennies.  Glovebox holds another backup data transfer cable, pens, a tire gauge, and mayhem.  I try to ignore the mayhem because I'm not really sure what it is.  Printed photos of landscapes from long ago?  Receipts from whoknowswhen?  Might even be an assortment of screws and nails from recently purged items that had to be disassembled.  Seems like the last time I reached in there something pricked my finger, and it was dark, so I decided whatever is in there can stay in there for now.

Oh, if you are a truck-jacker, I have disappointing news.  Most of these items are just passengers in the truck, not permanent fixtures.  In other words, we take them with us when we exit the truck.  And this truck is haunted, so it will probably break down moments after you commandeer it.  But if you are a petty thief...take what you need.  I'm tired of purging...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Better Mom

Like Odysseus, I must confront dragons each day.  Some are work-related, some family-related, but all are pertinent to my world.  New day, new dragon.  And after each battle I feel stronger and wiser and braver.  Like the SuperMe.  Recently I discovered that I am becoming a better parent.  More effective parent, especially.  Living in a small space forces you to resolve conflicts immediately.  Temper-tantrums, too.  My tactics dealing with them have changed and Sage seems to be responding well.  Before, I tried talking in a soothing voice and reasoning with her.  That worked when she was younger.  As she has grown, so has the intensity of her fits.  I still try to calmly reason with her first, then I opt for the firmer tone with less explanation.  That usually stops the insanity, but not always.  Oh yes, I have had to raise my voice but in a controlled manner.  In a way that says, "I'm the parent and if you could not hear me before, let me turn up the volume a notch."  I don't scream or resort to meanness or name-calling.  Not only is it inappropriate, but it reveals my patience threshhold.  Once a child knows that point she may try to push you past it in order to get what she wants.  Only a couple of times has she been spanked, and it was totally ineffective.  I don't like it, she doesn't like it, and it doesn't work anyway.  Plus, why would you hit a child to punish her for hitting?  Seems a little hypocritical to me.  I'm sure our game plan will adapt again as Sage continues to grow and her independence becomes fortified.  I'm ready for the challenges.  Bring on the dragons!  SuperMe is armed with patience and love; and I'm wielding knowledge.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Border of Blue

The day after Christmas we began the border of blue leg of our odyssey.  We are not on a trip nor journey, not even an adventure.  No--this is an odyssey, a long series of travels filled with sometimes excruciating, sometimes empowering but always enlightening experiences.  Inspired by Frederick Turner's A Border of Blue: Along the Gulf Coast from the Keys to the Yucatan, we left South Padre Island, TX, the day after Christmas and have visited Follett's Island, Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, TX.  At High Island we turned north to pick up I-10 East.  In Gonzales, LA, we stopped for the night at Cabela's.  Next morning we returned the broken Generac generator then continued on to New Orleans.  For a couple of hours we drove around looking for a parking space large enough to accommodate our rig.  Only one would permit us to park...for $150!  A bust, so we travelled on to East New Orleans where we stopped to play on a city playground.  About an hour later we were marching toward Waveland and Bay St. Louis, MS.  Sage was disappointed about missing out on the beignets at Cafe du Monde -- really, she was a screaming wreck.  Some of this I've already written after Mississippi we whizzed through Alabama and left I-10 in Pensacola to follow the coastal route all the way to Santa Rosa Beach.  There we spent five days (was supposed to be three) with our friends, Angie and Steve.  We rang in the new year with them exactly as we wanted: at home dancing and singing with the kids.  We also hiked Point Washington State Forest and ate and talked and imbibed.  The day before we were supposed to leave I noticed the truck trying to start itself again...

This happened once before during one of our stays in Rockport.  Then, the battery ran itself dead but suddenly sprang to life when David tried to start it a few hours later.  This time, it really was dead.  Wouldn't jumpstart.  David found a mobile mechanic who diagnosed that the solenoid and wiring were damaged.  He installed a new one with new wiring directly to the battery for $200.  Apparently we have other wiring issues, or at least potential ones, because water has been trickling inside the windshield, eventually dripping onto a bundle of wires, and shorting them out.  When it's dry, though, there are no problems.  So...we can seal the gap around the windshield ourselves and will replace wiring on an as-needed basis.  We need to conserve our money and time resources if we hope to continue this odyssey.

The repairs worked, and the next day we relieved Angie and Steve by heading south through Panama City and Mexico Beach to end our day at Indian Pass Raw Bar and ultimately the local campground.  David ate raw oysters, I had gumbo.  Sage took bites of my gumbo but focused her energy on a plain old hot dog.  Two days we spent in Indian Pass exploring the dunes and beach.  Glorious.  We continued on through Carrabelle to Apalachicola and eventually to Homosassa Springs.  In Apalachicola we stopped at Up the River restaurant and feasted on alligator.  From a roadside vendor we bought tupelo honey and mayhaw jelly.  We nibble on both a little each day.  The wildlife park and butterfly museum in Homosassa Springs were the focus of our two-day visit.  Florida panther, black bear, red fox, red wolf and several species of birds and reptiles, including flamingo and the endangered American Crocodile.  Butterflies such as buckeye, monarch, white peacock, julia, and zebra long-wings, flitted around the butterfly house.  Love this town; we will definitely return.

So many wonderful experiences here along the border of blue.  Although at the moment we are all stricken down with colds and probably some type of respiratory infection, the entire clan is happy and hoping for speedy recovery.  Special thanks to Angie and Steve for "Up"...there is not a more perfect animated film for us.  "Adventure is OUT THERE!"

Love to all...