This holiday season was a time for family and friends. We were lucky to visit with so many special people to celebrate and be merry! It is a paradox for me. I’d like to think we can have these moments at any time, that no designated day is required to bring people together, yet there’s reassurance in knowing that a consistent date, a common time to all, in spirit regardless the individual celebration, that almost demands that, if it hasn’t happened until this point, now is the time to MAKE time.
So, in that same spirit, after a very merry Christmas, we headed out for a much needed road trip. We left for Florida on Christmas day, in the late afternoon, stopping outside Chattanooga that night. To break up our trip, we spent the second day off the road, taking a hike. South Cumberland State Park is quite the gem situated in the middle of suburbia. With several hiking options, The Fiery Gizzard trail traverses the Fiery Gizzard Creek through the rocky gorge it has been slowly carving out, passing numerous waterfalls and then up to bluffs that offer a vantage of the natural preserve. Although overcast, it was a beautiful break from the pavement.
After a 12 mile hike, we shoved off again hoping to score thrifty accommodations somewhere in Georgia before night fall. But Georgia, now on my shit list, had other plans- first, the fog we thought we’d left in St. Louis caught up with us, then, we hit traffic from Chattanooga to Atlanta. We scoured areas for places to stay the night but found only closed primitive areas or overpriced state parks (call me cheap, but I’m not paying camping prices for a 6 hour parking spot), leaving a rest stop as our only viable option. The first one we saw was closed yet gave us hope for the next one, 41 miles ahead; however, we became more skeptical when the second said the same, and by the third, we were looking for truck stops that could offer a parking spot until the morning. We thought we had found a suitable spot, no major concerns upon first look – well lighted, 24 hr convenience store and adjoining restaurant, easy highway access- but as we began to snuggle in for the night, the sketchy began to shine.
At first it was just some random hollering from one corner of the parking lot to the other, as if some pertinent information could only be communicated effectively by yelling. Then, the pedestrians began to appear. They appeared from the fog to make the journey across the parking lot to the convenient mart where they would emerge minutes later to traverse the parking spaces closest to us before disappearing back into the night. Occupying a nearby parking spot was a heap of metal that may have once resembled a mini van and, a little later in the evening, we were joined by an additional shit-box that we heard coming well before we saw it. At first, there was no real cause for alarm; however, perhaps so struck by the mood, one of the two derelict vehicles turned on their stereo. It was an inaudible raucous, perhaps a cousin’s underground track, surely recorded in someone’s basement, and on that note, we packed up and were out! We found the only rest stop open in GA and luckily, found some peace until the morning.
We arrived in Florida the next day and set up a base camp with family- lucky for us Mike’s parents reside in East Central Florida, minutes from the ocean. Furthermore, we were able to reconnect with friends, recently engaged, from our home town. We are so happy to see both family and friends loving life!
The following day we took a day-trip down the coast to Jupiter to visit Blowing Rocks Preserve, 73 acres of shoreline restored and protected by the Nature Conservancy whose “craggy limestone shore can force geysers of water as high as 50 feet in the air” during high tide. As we explored the beach, leave it to me to not pay attention at pivotal moments. As I became entranced by little crustaceans on the rock, I heard a wave coming in and, being in a compromising position, swiftly raised my head to unite it with the ridge of a very sturdy stone. Luckily, my sunglasses took the brunt of the hit but the force threw them into the water. Surprising, the same tide that triggered the chain of events that took them off, brought them right back, and I was able to recover with a hat trick. Imagine the look of surprise on my husband’s face when I reached into the ocean and pulled out my sunglasses. But man, my head hurt!
We washed our wounds off at a brewery on the drive home. Islamorada Beer Company, a relatively new establishment in Fort Pierce, originated in Key West, providing a taste of the island in a bottle. We sampled a flight but, having a 45 minute drive back, didn’t stay long. So, we checked out the merchandise and hit the highway.
Unfortunately, and regrettably, we ran into a tragedy during our commute back to base camp; a multi car accident shut the highway down one direction and, although we were grateful to be on the opposite side, we too came to a stop. And there we sat. And we had to pee. Now, I have to warn you, what I’m about to tell you isn’t for the squeamish; it’s not for those who wish not to discuss bathroom behavior so openly, so be advised before you continue…
So, we’re stopped, on a 3 lane highway, and we have to pee. Now, I must admit that the complete lack of haste in my evaluation of the situation may make my mom shake her head, but it took me about 15 seconds to surmise the following: I can just pop-a-squat alongside of the car, opening both front and back doors to shield me. Our proximity to the shoulder eliminated vantage points from bystanders; however, considering that the car sat 2 feet off the ground, I would surely be exposed to anyone within view of the car. Next option: I saw that the natural culvert following the shoulder next to us had a bank on the opposing side but, unfortunately, was not high enough to hide me. Final option: just beyond the bank I saw a little break in the shrubbery, just in front of a pasture fence, an animal path perhaps, and saw that the foliage was dense enough to cover me. 15 seconds. I had exited the vehicle and was walking toward the side of the road.
As I made it up and over the culvert bank, I heard a shout from a vehicle warning to look out for gators. I gave him the thumbs up as I walked into the greenery to relieve myself. Meanwhile, Mike, perhaps with a little more couth than I, was devising his own plan. When I got back to the car I found him using his water canteen as a urinal. We got to drive the rest of the way back with that rolling around on the floor board.
The next day we spent time with family; Mike’s 2nd cousin joined our little reunion, coming up from Miami. We visited the infamous Ron Jon’s Surf Shop and then had dinner at Squid Lips, a bar/restaurant that boasts an outside patio and beach front service on the Indian River. A nice place to get some good eats and watch the sun go down.
We headed out the following day with two side excursions before leaving the sunshine state. The first was to Blue Springs State Park to catch the manatees migrating up the St. Johns River to Blue Spring, the largest spring on the river. The 78 degree water gives these water buffalo a warm place to spend the winter and the crystal clear water gives visitors a perfect window for viewing.
From there we stopped in to gaze in awe at a 5oo year old oak tree at Bulow Creek State Park. The Fairchild Oak is one of the tallest, live oaks in the state and stood with the expected dignity of something so dominating. Draped in Spanish moss, some branches reaching to the corners of the canopy, others reconnecting with the earth, this massive tree has stood, a silent witness to the ever-changing landscape.
We spent the following day, New Year’s Eve, in North Carolina, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We spent the day hiking another waterfall tour at DuPont State Recreational Forest. This recreational area offers a lot more than waterfalls; however, we only had a few hours before we needed to find camp. We settled for a seven mile hike around the most popular features. Among the four waterfalls, two were especially iconic, having served as backdrops in Hollywood hits: The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans. A little more crowded for our liking, it was an enjoyable meander in a well-groomed recreational area.
From there we retreated further into the mountains, utilizing a roadside camp in the Pisgah National Forest to host our New Year’s party, which consisted of bean and chorizo burritos, a 6 pack of Yuengling Light, a campfire and, an unexpected treat, just before bed—which was looking to be 10—a few flakes of snow. Perhaps not enough to dust the ground under our feet with but, just the same, we understood the metaphor it seemed to send. As we envisioned another year slowly being covered, we sat warm and hopeful for a new year filled with promise and adventure. An adventure, perhaps, already in the making.
Stay tuned for details!
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