Saturday, February 19, 2011

Camping on the Gulf

February 1-14th had us at probably the best state park in Florida: Topsail Hill Preserve in Santa Rosa Beach. It’s a former private RV resort that was purchased by the state. We were afforded the luxuries of a full hook-up site, 8 washers and dryers, mail service, quiet (or no) neighbors, along with a wonderful paved walking path to the Gulf of Mexico.

The weather was certainly better than it was back home but we still had to bundle up for our daily walks, meditations, and laundry trips. Most days brought cloudy skies and temperatures on either side of 50. Usually there was wind off the gulf and we had a few rainy days to keep us humble. We all idealize Florida and this was a great lesson in enjoying the moment and not being disappointed by our fantastical expectations.

The only service not provided by Topsail was internet. We found this slightly inconvenient but also a great benefit. Like TV, internet can devour a day so we were forced to plan ahead, find a local coffee shop and intentionally spend time on the computer. Topsail is located on scenic route 30A which runs all along the gulf for about 30 miles. With the exception of the state park, 30A is built up with huge hotels, enormous single family homes, and private communities mainly meant for summer rentals. We were there during the heart of their down time so it seemed particularly desolate. Miss Lucille’s Gossip Parlor was open for business though. We had some tea and a cinnamon bun and enjoyed the free wifi a couple times so Chris could work on his sabbatical and we could plan the next bit of the journey. Not having internet or TV at home allowed us to accept the lack of technological stimulation and actually be happy without!

Lily is hilarious with strangers. We met all kinds of people who just “had to see the baby!”. These were mostly retired women who would tell us about their own grandchildren or how they don’t have any yet and “why don’t they just hurry up?”.  People’s voices made Lily stare then burst out laughing and kick her legs. She’d flirt with the men in the office, giggle at the ice cream girl, and smile huge for oogling women on our walks sometimes even waking from a nap in the sling when she heard a new voice. During these two weeks she has really gotten the hang of her head and swivels it quickly to look round. She’s comfy on her belly and pushes her chest off the floor now. One day she rolled herself from belly to back and looked at me like “what just happened?”. Her Auntie Mary and Muzzie bought her a second-hand Bumbo chair and shipped it to Topsail…boy is that a great invention. She’s still napping two or three times during the day for about 45 minutes and is ready for bed around 7 when I change, swaddle, and nurse her in bed to sleep. It’s so cool to see her get sleepy with the sunset and wake up at sunrise.

Towards the end of our stay the weather cleared and we had a couple gorgeous, clear days. This was great timing for a ranger-guided walk to one of the freshwater dune lakes. These lakes exist in only five places in the entire world. Campbell Lake in particular is special in that it is protected and pristine. It is used as a benchmark for measuring pollution in other lakes of its kind. It was neat learning from the rangers about the wildlife (alligators, deer, coyotes, mice, sea turtles) and plantlife (longleaf pines, saw palmetto, deer moss). The gulf is clear as glass and emerald in color with pure white sandy beaches. The sunsets were pure magic over the water with wispy clouds and a bright white crescent moon above. We found a neat restaurant called Fire which serves local food as much as possible and we enjoyed an awesome lunch and dinner there: pecan crusted gulf snapper with diced apples and jicama over smashed yams and potatoes mmmmmm! Nearby there was a bike shop where we both got to test ride an electric bike…so cool. We also found a great natural food store and got some necessities before heading off toward Arizona.
Sunset from a public beach access point

Seaside, Florida is about 15 miles east of Santa Rosa Beach. It is a tiny town established in 1981 and demonstrates what is called New Urbanism. There is one main road (30A) where the speed limit is 25. On the right are two layers of relatively modest homes then natural dunes then beach. On the left is a town square with small streets arranged around it and homes that all suit the beach life. The point of Seaside is walkability so there are little paths through between all the houses that lead to the beach and charter school and center square. There is a bike path all along 30A as well. We enjoyed a beautiful day here walking around and Lily and I returned the next day to see the flea market and farmer’s market where we got some local jam and tasted some local milk.
A public pavillion in Seaside

It was marvelous being on the panhandle. As we head west, I remember snapshots of the gulf and am comforted knowing that we enjoyed our time there to the fullest.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Five Legs & Three Sore Bums

The trip to FL took us five days of driving and four nights of rest. We arrived to our destination park on time and in one piece! Each leg was between 250 and 300 miles which turned out just right for us and Lily. We stayed a night in VA, NC, GA, and Tallahassee, FL before settling in on the gulf coast at a beautiful campground which will remain unnamed until we depart. Chris drove the entire way which allowed me to occupy Lily with “Crinkle” the peacock, stories from Wind in the Willows, and various items for sucking. I pumped every so often and fed her from the bottle which allowed us to keep on truckin’. She slept a fair bit and cried when she needed to and overall she’s the best of travel buddies.

Thursday had Chris up at the crack of dawn shoveling the camper out of nearly a foot of snow! He and John worked at a good pace to clear off the driveway, truck, and camper roof and we headed out by 10:30. Through NJ, PA, MD and VA we passed snow-stuck trees and enough billboards to last a lifetime. The truck traffic was pretty heavy making it difficult to travel above 55mph because of the draft created when they pass. This was of course fine because we are in no hurry and it afforded me the chance to gaze across fields of hundred(or more)-year-old farms and out to the mountains lined up all around us. We stayed just beyond Washington D.C. that night in Stafford, VA.

We awoke to the beginning of a snowstorm and so packed it up early and got on the road. We drove out of the snow soon enough and into some beautifully sunny weather. The landscape slowly changed to groves of pine trees with perfectly straight, bare trunks with an umbrella of needled branches at the top. I began reading the adventures of Mole and Rat from Wind in the Willows, a most excellent book given to me in 1988 by my Nana and Poppop that I never read until now. We arrived in NC at our campground a bit disappointed by the proximity to I-95 but nonetheless enjoyed the sunset and crescent moon that night. Chris met a man who had converted an old Harvard University bus into an RV and was in his twelfth month of still “working on it” at his campsite.

Saturday was our earliest start around 9:15. We were only twenty miles from the SC border which meant every other billboard was for South of the Border. We got a kick out of the one that said “You never sausage a place” with a huge 3D sausage on the board. I’ve got to admit: they were right. I-95 flattened and straightened out in SC. The highway is lined with soft pines and swampland. I would guess we were passed by about 100 RV’s that day with license plates from all over. Before heading to the KOA in Savannah, GA we went to the Food Lion for some groceries. They had very little organic produce and a tiny natural food section but we found what we needed minus soft taco shells which all included hydrogenated oils. It was pretty comical that we wheeled our cart out into the parking lot right to the camper and loaded up our fridge, freezer and cabinets right there. The KOA was beautiful and Chris was even able to wash the rig clean of all the salt mess.

Southern Georgia and northern Florida are swampy. On the map it looks like a child took blue tempera paint and dragged their fingers from I-95 out to the Atlantic in squiggly lines. We listened to a talk from a Center for Action and Contemplation seminar called “The Great Chain of Being: Simplifying Our Lives” which reminded us to live in the moment and that what we are looking for is right here. We began to see palm trees and live oaks as we made our way through probably some of the most rural land I’ve seen: nothing but highway, hitchhikers, and trees for miles. Tallahassee being the capital of Florida is equivalent, we decided, to Montpelier being the capital of Vermont…times change. We stayed at a modest RV park there and made use of our new sewer hose set up after giving up on our so-called ten-foot model which didn’t cut it at most sites. We asked for pull-through sites at each stop so didn’t have to unhook the truck (a common complaint of travel trailers). We got full hookups at each campground so never had to do the dump-on-the-way-out process. Even amongst many enormous motor homes, we are really happy with our choice of rig.

Our last day of driving was only 150 miles so it went quickly. We crossed into Central Time, gaining an hour, and we enjoyed the longer first day here with a walk to the gulf where we were greeted by beautiful green water and bleach white sand. We’ve already begun the process of unkinking our necks and stretching our legs and vow to walk to the beach each day.