Sunday, December 14, 2008

Revisiting the Florida coast

We are at the Elks lodge in St. Augustine, Florida (map).

We were at this same lodge almost exactly four years ago, on our first circuit of the country after completing Odyssey. Today, as then, the nearby Anastasia state park was full (we had the foresight, this time, to call ahead, avoiding a tricky U-turn). Ironically, the Elks property literally backs up to the state park campground. For $15 we have 30 amps and a clear shot to our satellite; the state park would be over $25 and in the trees.

We've paid for two nights, and might even extend for a third, so we can explore St. Augustine on the scooters. We already rolled down to nearby Amici's Italian restaurant for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, when I took the scooters out, I managed to drop Louise's in the parking lot while warming it up to get the stale fuel past the carb (her scooter always has difficultly running after sitting for a couple weeks). Nothing catastrophic, but the right fender is badly scratched and will need to be replaced. To top it all off, Louise was embroiled in a Red Cross conference call at the time, and I couldn't even tell her about it for well over an hour.

I did make productive use of the rest of that time to replace one of the hot water recirculating valves (which has been leaking for several days now), replace the Girard awning anemometer (two lobes of which had been sheared off in the last few months by low tree branches), and fix the left HID floodlight, which had quit again somewhere in Tennessee.

Friday afternoon we had a lovely drive from Savannah to Kingsland on US-17, which was the main highway before the advent of I-95 and thus one can discern the faded ghosts of roadside businesses from that era, only a few of which still survive. We arrived in Kingsland just in time to check the Post Office for our mail, which had not yet arrived. It was something of a mistake to drive into their lot, since they've created a labyrinth of narrow lanes with tight turns, bounded by concrete curbs, to organize the traffic flow. Odyssey barely fit through the maze, and we ended up pulling the outside drivers and the tags onto the curb in spots.

After the Post Office (map -- close enough to where we stayed), we drove a couple of blocks to the house of some friends of our friends in Jacksonville. Considering they had never met us, they were very accommodating, and we're very glad to have been introduced. Friday evening we all headed in to St. Mary's for an evening of live music at Seagles, starring none other than our friends, both new and existing (well, the male half of each couple, anyway). The music was great, the wine was flowing, and we had a great evening meeting new friends.

Saturday morning our mail finally arrived at the Post Office, and Louise borrowed a car to fetch it -- a wiser choice to navigate the concrete maze -- while I did some computer troubleshooting for our hosts. We all had a nice brunch at Steffens in town, one of those aforementioned US-17 roadside businesses that has managed to thrive in the post-Interstate world, before our friends had to head back to Jacksonville. We spent another night in Kingsland, thanks to our gracious hosts, getting back on the road this morning.

Today we continued south on US-17, which brought us all the way into Florida over a bridge that had been closed when we passed this way four years ago. We stayed on 17 all the way to Jacksonville, sliding over onto I-95 just north of the Trout River to carry us through the city center. Just south of the city we bailed off onto US-1, which brought us here to St. Augustine.

From here on out, we will be in "snowbird" territory, where camp sites in federal, state, and county parks will mostly be booked solid, the Wal-Mart option is generally prohibited by ordinance, and other roadside parking options are non-existent. We'll be relying heavily on the Elks as we travel through Florida, and snagging first-come-first-served spaces, in those parks that have them, when we're really set on visiting someplace.

We've also settled (over dinner this evening) on a general plan for the next six weeks, subject to making some phone calls tomorrow and actually booking some things. From here we will work our way towards Orlando for a visit with the mouse, hopefully staying at Disney's Fort Wilderness campground. Actual dates, of course, dependent on availability. From there we head to Fort Lauderdale for a "trawler school" cruise 12/22-12/26 (yes, over Christmas). That will involve four nights aboard a vintage 40' "trawler"-style power boat, on which we will receive three days of intensive instruction on boat handling, navigation, docking and anchoring, etc. -- part of our continuing path towards boat ownership somewhere down the road.

The trawler charter is dependent on the operator still having those dates available (he did as of Friday), and our ability to find secure parking for Odyssey as well as care for all the pets. The charter/school operator has provided the name of someone who may be willing to pet-sit everyone, with the bus on here property, and we are hoping this all can be worked out.

After we are done with our training cruise, we are thinking about heading to Arcadia for the annual bus conversion rally there, which would take us through New Years. That will leave us three weeks until we need to be in Stuart for TrawlerFest, which starts on the 22nd (and is subject to preemption by the presidential inauguration, should our request of our congressional representative for tickets come through), during which time we will head down to the keys, hoping to weasel into the state parks there on a space-available basis.

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