A Trip Down South with Marcia, Mike and Bam Bam – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1. In this installment, Marcia and Mike tour the Everglades and attend the Florida RV Supershow before journeying back to Cleveland.

January 10, 2020, Friday:  Everglades National Park

On this sunny, 62 degree morning we continue east on SR41, stopping at Miccosukee Indian Village for coffee at a tiny, colorful house advertising “breakfast sandwiches.”  This one-room, clean and tidy store, run by an Indian woman and her daughter, has everything, even disc batteries for our portable scale.  Most of the Indian women are wearing polo shirts and full, colorful print skirts. On one women, as I was admiring the colors in her skirt, I read across her waistband “Miami Heat” and then I realized the whimsy of her colors.  

We arrive at Shark Valley Visitor Center, a more developed center than the last one, where we rent fat tired, single gear bikes for a flat 15-mile loop on the Tram Road, originally built for oil exploration.  It is hot and humid, with at least a 20-knot wind. Midway we climb the Observation Tower, overseeing the wilderness that is the Everglades. As we pedal through the wind, we see many anhinga and great white egrets, several alligators, a few little blue herons, and a purple gallinule.  We walk the short Bobcat Boardwalk through the sawgrass marsh.  

We drive about 50 miles to Ernest F. Coe and Park Road Visitor Center, 11 miles from Homestead.  We do the short hikes on the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo-Limbo trail.  For the night, we camp at Long Pine Key, now a privately run, large campground, with no hookups, but with bathrooms and showers. We walk this peaceful camp under the tall pine trees.  While I fix the last of our soup and salads, Mike visits with a family from Denmark. The recently retired husband and wife and their newly college graduated daughter are touring the U.S. for a year in a huge, DIY Overland, 6-wheel off road Mercedes truck, with a 7-step ladder to get into it.  Mike is fascinated by what this handy guy created himself.

January 11, 2020, Saturday:  Everglades and Biscayne National Park 

At 72 degrees, partially sunny, with no bugs, we have coffee and parfaits at our picnic table and continue south to hike Pinelands Trail and walk out to the Pa-hay-okee Overlook, giving us more views of the vast Everglades wilderness.  About 40 miles south, at the Flamingo Visitor Center we are relieved to find diesel fuel.  This Visitor Center is housed in three attached trailers, while a lovely 1950’s pink visitor center, overlooking the Florida Bay, is being slowly restored after beatings from the last few hurricanes. 

We take a short hike on the Coastal Trail, seeing two ospreys on nests and, in the marina, the nose of one manatee, and the shadow of one crocodile, the only place where crocodiles are found in the U.S.  On our way back north, we stop at Mahogany Hammock Trail. On the lower parts of the trail we walk the boardwalk through lush jungle, with ferns and sabal palms and their lovely fan-like fronds. Where the “ground” is maybe only two feet higher, creating a “hammock,” we walk through the old growth mahogany trees. 

We say good-bye to the Everglades, thinking of the words of writer and conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, “There are no other Everglades in the world.”  

We drive north and east to Homestead and head to the coast to visit Biscayne National Park, logging another National Park.  At Dante Fascell Visitor Center, the ranger tells us that we cannot rent kayaks, because it is too windy for any boats to go out.  We walk the boardwalk and coastal trail. It feels like a local park, with Hispanic families and young couples hanging out and picnicking along the shore.  

Back on SR41 heading west, just past Shark Valley Visitor Center, we take the Loop Road scenic drive through Big Cypress National Preserve, a drive recommended by a park ranger. The first ten miles are fine, but then the next 20 miles are on a hard-packed, rocky, dirt washboard, where we go about 15 miles/hour.  As we bump along through the bald cypress swamp, noticing the beauty of the skeletal, white trees of every size and shape rising from the swamp on either side of us. We come across a group of tatted-up guys in camouflage, hiking along the edge of the road and carrying rifles, crossbows and machetes.   The first guy, who is carrying an AK-47, is picking up bottles along the edge of the road. Intrepid Mike rolls down his window, thanks the guy for picking up the trash, and the guy responds, “Can’t stand these people trashing up the area.” An AK-47 toting environmentalist! Then Mike asks, “What ya huntin’?”  “Python.” Burmese pythons, let loose by exotic animal owners, are now invasive here, killing alligators, deer and birds. Every year, the State of Florida sponsors a Python Bowl to encourage hunters to get rid of this invasive species, with the grand prize a truck. 

Our next surprise on this bumpy drive is groups of runners, who look half dead, with their support crews in cars and bikes, doing the Pier 2 Pier run, a 200K endurance run from Naples to Miami.  We camp at Burns Lake campground, taking the last spot, half-price for seniors at $12, no services. We walk around the lake, watch a couple of episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which we downloaded at home, and get to bed early.

January 12, 2020, Sunday:  Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center

We are up early, shower in the van and take another walk around the lake.  We meet our second group of snake hunters, tenting in a large group and getting ready to head into the swamps.  We stop again at Collier-Seminole State Park, dump, get water and have coffee and parfaits on the benches overlooking the head of the Black Water River.  

Heading north on SR29, we arrive at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center, located east of Bonita Springs.  The 2.25 mile boardwalk takes us through diverse wet prairie areas, in which the ferns, grasses and trees change, depending on the area’s elevation and water level.  We see a few great white egrets and many white ibis. The Sanctuary was created in 1954 to protect the largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress, which were being leveled for their timber.  This Sanctuary, off the beaten path, is a treasure to experience.

We drive back to our friends’ home in Sarasota and stay the night.  How lucky we are to have friends who open their home to us vagabonds, letting us do laundry, take long showers and stretch out beyond our compact camper.

January 13, 2020, Monday:  Florida State Fairgrounds and the Tampa RV Supershow

After stocking up at Whole Foods in Sarasota, we arrive at the state fairgrounds mid afternoon.  Our good friend and client, Ed in his ARV motorhome called Libertas, has reserved a spot for us in the campground.  The three of us go for a delicious “small plates for sharing” dinner at Rooster and the Till in northwest Tampa.  We share a cheese board, chicken thighs, cobria collar (fish) and gnocchi, all unique and outstanding. 

January 14, 2020, Tuesday:  Industry Day at the Tampa RV Supershow

Mike and I, Ed and another friend and client, Greg in Radio Days, walk the show together, stopping to meet new vendors and seeing many old friends, including Mike and Jennifer Wendland.  For dinner, Mike and I go with a friend to Council Oak Steaks and Seafood at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.  Delicious.  

January 15, 2020, Wednesday: Through Georgia

We depart at 7:30AM. At the Georgia border, we stop at the Georgia Information Center and learn of the Riverwalk along the Satilla River in Woodbine, Georgia, which gives us a lovely, short walk.  Late in the afternoon, we stop at Richmond Hill, south of Savannah. At first we think we will have to walk a mall or around the municipal building complex, but then we see the sign for J. F. Gregory Park.  We walk the three-mile Wetlands Trail and a river otter runs across our path.   At 8PM, we stop at a TA Truck Stop for the night.

January 16, 2020, Thursday:  Roxboro, South Carolina

After a good sleep, we set out in a light rain at 60 degrees, stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and I make parfaits, which we eat while moving.  About noon, we arrive in Roxboro, South Carolina, where we tour our son’s newly built CBD plant. We have a good lunch in small downtown Roxboro and then hike the farm where they grow the hemp for the CBD.  For dinner, we go back to the same restaurant. We sleep in the camper in the parking lot of the plant.  

January 17, 2020, Friday:  Home Before the Snowstorm

We depart Roxboro at 7AM and beat it back home to Cleveland by late afternoon, well ahead of the snowstorm predicted to blow in tonight. 

It’s been a wide ranging trip:  starting with a stop in a tiny Ohio Amish town, and then moving from a football game with family, to visits with friends, touring the Florida Everglades and Biscayne National Park, attending the RV Supershow, and finally, visiting our son in South Carolina.  I don’t know how we would do so much in such a short time, without an RV. Five year old Bam Bam did great, letting us create a good mix of being alone and with others; moving and staying put, with little planning; and connecting with family members, friends and clients across many fascinating miles.

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