We slowly made our way up Florida's Gulf Coast this week and had an amazing time with stops in Naples, Fort Myers, Homossasa, Branford, and Live Oak.
It's been much more social time than we're used to on our trips. We've loved every minute of it but the absolute best piece of luck we had was when our vehicle broke down. What??? Read to the end to see why.
Thanks to Boondockers Welcome we had free camping every night and met the most amazing people. If we didn't know better, we'd think each host couple we met was in a competition to "out nice" the last.
RunAroundSue54 were our hosts near Naples. This couple has not started RVing yet themselves but are in the process of restoring a vintage Airstream to use when they retire. We enjoyed a fun campfire evening as we shared our experiences and tried to provide answers to their questions.
Fort Myers Beach was on our list of stops but not because we were looking for a beach day. I wanted to revisit a page from my past. Thirty years ago, I spent a very memorable winter here - the first three months of my separation and eventual divorce from my ex. With my young daughters in tow, I was one of the "beach regulars" here and befriended quite a few locals.
Until this week, I'd never been back. I wondered if I could find any of the people I knew. After asking around, I was directed to Moe, who also arrived on the beach thirty years ago and stayed as a fixture ever since. He knew most of the same people I did and was able to tell me where they had gone; not always good news - a couple of them have died. I guess thirty years ago really is a lifetime.
The people and some of the businesses of Fort Myers Beach may have changed but the white sand beach is just as long, wide, and inviting as I remembered it.
Next we found our way to the home of EarthVoyageur where our own private tropical patio was offered with the free campsite. Our hosts, David and Lucy, were so good to us that we stayed a full three nights. At their suggestion we launched our Sea Eagle inflatable kayak on the Caloosahatchee River and paddled up Telegraph Creek to get that "original old Florida feel" with bowed cypress trees, spanish moss and the company of birds and turtles all around. David took photos of our launch and chronicled the event very nicely on their blog.
Continuing up the coast, north of Tampa our next stop was in Homossasa. It's just south of Crystal River where the many "swim with the manatee" tours are conducted so we had plans to throw our kayak in for some close-up views.
The temperatures, which have been in the 80s since we arrived in Florida, had dropped sharply. With cooler weather, they seek the warmer waters of the harbour and the river's mouth so circumstances were cooperating nicely. Now it was up to us. I have to admit we didn't do our part. As much as we wanted this experience, we weren't really in the mood to throw that kayak in the water again so soon and on a cool day. Only feeling slightly guilty because our hosts, Downriver, had gone through a lot of trouble to show us every free kayak launch location in the area, this picture shows how we spent our day instead:
Before driving to this "watch the world go by" location, we did visit some unique free attractions in the area which we would never have known about without our hosts' suggestion: the ruins of a sugar cane mill, three very overfed captive alligators, and live monkeys on "Monkey Island".
The next day we were welcomed by FLTravelers, our first encounter with Full Time RVers and, once again, a couple who have traveled more than us and paddled on every river in Florida. Their all-time favorite river happens to be very nearby and one they told us we should not miss. They suggested we should put our kayak in at Ichetucknee Springs State Park for an easy paddle/float down the clearest spring water river anywhere in the state.
Our evening campfire with these new friends went by far too quickly. We had to be in Live Oak the next day but we agreed to return on Sunday when they said they would proivde livery for us so we could float this river. They would even leave the gate to thier property open and we were welcome to come back and camp for another night even though they wouldn't be there themselves. What an absolutley wonderful offer! Of course we accepted.
But first, we had a commitment at Sprit of Suwannee Music Park just north of Live Oak where I was booked as a guest speaker at the Full Time Families on the Road Winter Rally. Here I introduced my Frugal Shunpikers guides and the Boondockers Welcome web site to 35 young families who were gathered for the weekend. All of them are living full-time in their RV while home schooling their children. And we think WE'VE got an interesting life? These folks are truly living an alternative lifestyle!
Speaking in front of groups is still very new to me but something I've been wanting to do. I was a little concerned about putting on a presentation aimed mainly at adults with 30 or more children running around. Not to fear, the kids were very polite and well-deciplined (and distracted with a craft project). I felt surprisingly right at home in front of that microphone.
I thank Kimberly Travalingo, owner of Full Time Familes for inviting me. She and her husband, Chris, have been on the road full time with their four young children for the past two and a half years.
On Saturday evening, we took the opportunity to also check out the free music that Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Campground is known for. What a treat to sit in on a campfire in front of the store and join in with a circle of amateur musicians in "the Pickin' Shed". It was there that we experienced another example of true southern hospitality. Having arrived late, we chose to sit quietly on the sidelines. Although we hadn't actually met anyone, every person in the room came to us as they were leaving to greet, welcome, and thank us for joining them.
We were brought to this campground by the Full Time Familes rally so we accidently fell into an amazing music scene we knew nothing about. Spirit of Suwannee is a reknowned venue and gathering place for musicians with music festivals throughout the year representing almost every music genre. Festival tickets include free camping and the campground in not really over-priced to begin with. ($22.00 per night). We'll definitely be checking it out again next time we're in Florida!
We blew a brake line. Randy discovered he suddenly had no brakes at all (except the parking brake). This happened as we were backing slowly into our Spirt of Suwanee campsite. The miracle is, it could have happened at a much more critical moment - on the highway! We almost certainly avoided a serious accident! Upon investigation, Randy discovered that a rubber part of the front brake hose had obviously been rubbing in one spot for a long time until the rubber was thin enough for a tiny hole to appear.
We are seldom thankfull for a breakdown but this one was truly a lucky "brake" for us! And a reminder of how thin the thread of life can be.
The worst part of this stroke of good luck was that we had to cancel our plans with FLTravelers and miss our float down the Ichatucknee River. So, the best river float in all of Florida has been added to our "next time" list which is getting really long. We're moving farther west now but, not without realizing that in one month we only got a very small taste for what Florida has to offer us. We'll have to come back soon but, right now, Texas is calling us!Days On The Road at time of writing: 19