RV-ing, Panhandling & Manateeing
Trip Start Oct 20, 2012
61Trip End Jul 11, 2013
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Where I stayed
What I did
Gulf Coast Beach, Dunes, Flora & Fauna!
Our first destination was Gainsville, where daughter Sara attends the University of Florida. She arranged a party with about a dozen friends, made delicious pizza from scratch and we all rocked the night away. [ OK, so I made it to 10 o'clock ] Great bunch of kids, especially for letting us hang with them. Of course the real party ended about 5 am, and we knew this because we parked the motorhome in the neighbors front yard. Everyone assured us that no one was home, that the house had been empty for a while and we "probably" would be fine. Good enough !
The next morning, bright and early, I took off on another urban hike to check out the town and the campus. I made it to McDonalds, where I had to sit and ride out a thunderstorm, then I roamed the campus and looped back to the motorhome, or so I thought. Every thoroughfare on the NW side of town is numbered and is either a street, avenue, road or terrace. I was lost and couldn't ask for directions because a) I'm a man and b) I didn't know where the heck we were, so after about 10 miles and 3 hours I stumbled back to the rig - the search party was preparing. Sure I had my phone, but I reference you back to "a."
The weather was threatening, so we bade Sara farewell and got an early start on the second leg to Tallahassee, where daughter #2, Laura, attends Florida State. The plan was to pick her up and head down to the gulf coast to a campsite that we were very lucky to find - the only one available for one night in any coastal campground until May. Good thing we left early. We hit ferocious thunderstorms on the way to Laura's and then 20 miles of bumper to bumper traffic on the only two-lane road to the coast. Took us about 4 hours longer than we had anticipated, but it was all worth it. Topsail State Park and Preserve is set back about a mile from the beach, with beautifully treed sites surrounding ponds and lakes. The preserve has miles of trails with more lakes, all just to the backside of the dunes that protect the shoreline, and then there are the solitary white sand beaches. Sadly, though, the rough surf still churns up a thin oil residue that leaves a bathtub ring at the edge of every wave in the sand. Beautiful place, nonetheless.
Back to "Tally" after hiking and beaching, we dropped Laura off after a quick tour of her house and the campus, then settled in for the night at a "city" campground that paled in comparison to Topsail, but once the Bubba Burgers are on the grill it doesn't matter where you're parked. We love Bubba Burgers, and we highly recommend that you scamper on down to the frozen meat section of your local supermarket and pick up a pack of Bubba Burgers. You'll love them too ! Nobody does burgers like Bubba ! [ I'm Bill and I approve this ad.]
Mary had some pre-op appointments back in Orlando, so we headed back for a couple days. Pete dropped us off and got right back on the road up to Ocala National Forest where we would reunite for two more nights at the Salt Springs Campground, home of the springs that are reputedly the " real " fountain of youth that old Ponce was looking for. The water bubbles up at a constant 72 degrees year round which makes a very welcome habitat for manatees, as well as a plethora of fish, birds and alligators. The park also features a mile and a half trail that winds through three different ecosystems - a deciduous forest, a pine forest and a marshland comprised mostly of saw palmettos. But the highlight of our stay was paddling kayaks among the manatees and cruising the shoreline in search of wildlife - particularly alligators. We learned that the gators are hunted on this river and it was apparently mating season, so finding them was tough, until I spotted one on the bank that immediately slid into the water toward me, then stopped about 10 feet away and with just its eyes peering above the surface, it seemed to be daring me to come closer. He was big, about 12' long, a measurement that was verified by a good ole boy who was fishing in the river just behind us. This guy looked like a stunt double for one of the guys on Duck Dynasty. I think he was hoping I'd get a little closer, but the stand off reminded me of a similar experience with a moose in Jackson Lake, Wyoming. Two of us gently backed our canoe within about 15' of this moose in the shallows, only to find out that evening that a full grown moose can "swim faster than any two men can paddle a canoe." I didn't get any closer to that gator. Pete advised me that if I did have to wrestle it, "be sure that you grab him with his mouth shut and hold it shut because they don't have near the muscle power to open their mouths as they have to close them ". Thanks, Pete.