Travels with Tucker

Travels with Tucker

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Key West (February 12)

Seven Mile Bridge

We got an early start, fueled up with coffee and breakfast and headed out through Homestead to the edge of the US mainland where the two-lane highway launches off on the 120-mile journey to the southernmost point of the US.   The day was beautiful and the ocean was turquoise blue in patches.  The first half of the drive to Key West was a little disappointing—not much view of the ocean and a lot of development characterizes the Upper Keys.  But as we got down to the Middle Keys, it opened up and we found ourselves jumping from key to key over causeways and bridges and narrow spits of land, many of which were constructed by Flagler’s crews 110 years ago.  After a few false starts trying to find a place to eat lunch we found [plug for TripAdvisor: our entire trip has been significantly enhanced by using TripAdvisor to find places to eat and things to do] a cool place right at the foot of the famous seven-mile bridge.  It was rather chilly that Sunday so we ate under heaters with fleeces on, but we managed to go out to the pool patio where a two-person band was valiantly trying to play some warmth into the crowd.  We got to dance a couple swings to scattered applause before we got in our rig and headed south again.

Remains of the Overseas Railway
The last 40 miles of the drive was simply spectacular—every key distinctly different and the light blue vistas of the shallow water and reefs sparkled in the sun.  We were almost sorry to cross our last bridge to Key West, but we were also thrilled to be done driving and near such an iconic destination.  One last challenge awaited us, though—the dreaded “backing up the trailer into a space narrower than an Arkansas outhouse with fifty bored RVers watching, commenting and advising”.  Boyd’s RV Park is an old, family-owned park about 5 miles from the epicenter of Key West.  Like good Republicans everywhere, they maximize revenue by stuffing  the most customers into their limited space.  Lynnae is a champion trailer wrangler and Denis is pretty good at directing and we got our rig squeezed in between huge RV’s on all sides.    We were beat and didn’t feel like braving Key West until the next evening.

This might be a good time to talk about how Denis and Lynnae structure their days during the week, because as you know, Denis is still working full time.   Our first Monday in Key West is a great example.  Denis got up around 7, fed Tucker and went for a walk around the RV park.  Boyd’s is right on the water and some of the spots have beautiful views of the ocean and bays.  People are out walking and riding bikes or just sitting on the dock.  Back at the trailer for breakfast and Denis sets up at the dining table with his laptop, wifi hotspot, skype headset and cell phone.  During the morning he will call and email customers, chat with his sales team, have a conference call for a couple hours with his boss and peers.  One of us will make a salad for lunch and we’ll usually eat it outside, then back to work for Denis.  Around 5:30 on this Monday we headed down to the heart of Key West for dinner, walking around and more people watching.  We’re back by 9 or so and might watch a little TV or read before bed.  Pretty simple.  I’ll leave it to Lynnae to write her own posts about what she has been doing, but suffice it to say she is enjoying things like yoga on the beach in early morning, bike rides around the neighborhood and the occasional solo trip to a local sight.

We only stayed in Key West for three nights, but it was a very fun time.  We went into town every evening for dinner and a stroll.  One morning we had a neighbor drive us and our bikes to the very southern tip of the island and we rode back to the camp before breakfast and work—that was a really great activity.  But all good things must end, so on Wednesday we did a rare mid-week trailer move because we had to get up to Key Largo and be settled before our boys arrived on Friday night.  So Denis made a ton of interview calls (he’s hiring salespeople in a couple territories) from the passenger seat of the truck while Lynnae drove the 100 miles up to Key Largo and what was in some ways our most disappointing stay.

Miami Beach (February 11)

Espanola Way
It was going to be a long drive from Titusville to Key West, so we broke it up into two days and after driving much of Saturday afternoon, we spent the night “dry camping” in a county park near Miami.   We drove into Miami Beach and had a great time people-watching, eating Cuban food and exploring the streets.  We found a historic street that was very lively with restaurants and pedestrians, called Espanola Way.   Having already eaten dinner, we settled for a Gelato and a walk back to the car.  We were disappointed that we never found a salsa club to try our limited salsa skills among the masters, but we were excited about the next day’s drive—down the Overseas Highway, following the route of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railway to Key West.

We liked it so much, we returned with Lucas on February 20.

Our stay that night was at beautiful Easterlin County Park near Ft. Lauderdale. We then headed west to Fort Myers, crossing the state just above and through the Everglades.

Kennedy Space Center (February 5)

I knew I needed to make a business trip up to Boston and NYC the following week, so we planned to visit the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday all day and watch the Super Bowl in some (hopefully) Patriots-friendly sports bar.  We also wanted to find a place where Lynnae could be alone (with Tucker) and have interesting surroundings with something to do.  We found a spot at The Great Outdoors RV Park and Resort, also known as “Pleasantville”.  Picture a planned development like the Pinehills with nearly a thousand lots along streets winding around a village with markets, churches, a meeting hall, post office, etc.  Except instead of condos, you have RV parking spaces that range from a concrete pad with grass around it to a 4,000 square ft. home with an RV carport and “dock”.   People there seemed to love it, we met several who had lived there for years.  It wasn’t our cup of tea.  But we did attend their Valentine Dance and danced till we dropped.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

But the KSC was awesome!   Some highlights were: the multi-media recreation of an Apollo moon launch using the original mission control room and tape and film from 1967;  the massive Apollo V rocket suspended on its side in it’s own building with tons of Apollo memorabilia on display; the bus trip to the launch pads for the Space Shuttle missions and the huge building where the shuttles were prepared for launch and attached to the booster rockets; the actual Atlantis space shuttle sitting 15 yards from us looking very “used” waiting to be refurbished for display in its own building next year; and getting a tour of the “rocket garden” from a man who had worked on the space program since the early days and had lots of stories.   If you’re ever in Eastern Florida, the KSC is a must see.  Unfortunately we missed seeing a rocket launch by about a week, but we had to move on because we were headed to a rendezvous  and dive adventure with our boys down in the Florida Keys!

Massive engines of the Saturn V rocket

Gemini capsule that actually went into space

Apollo moon module

Rocket garden at sunset

Lynnae dropped Denis off at the Orlando airport the next morning and kept going to the Epcot Center. After trying out some rides (and finding out she still gets motion sickness), she went into the international portion. It was amazing to visit the different countries represented and be able to recall specific memories from previous visits to some of those same countries. Epcot Center did a gret job with beauty and entertainment.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

St. Augustine--America's Oldest Settlement

St. Augustine's Spanish fort overlooks the beautiful harbor
 A short couple hours drive took us to St. Augustine, Florida where we had a camping space reserved in Anastasia State Park, just across the harbor from the old city.   St. Augustine has been a tourist town for hundreds of years and they really know how to do it.  The old Spanish fort lies right on the water and next to the very walkable streets.  We caught a tour of the fort before dark and set up our camper for the week.

Settled into camp for the week
For a small city of about 13,000 people, it has a wealth of restaurants (over 220 according to TripAdvisor) and we managed to sample a few during our stay.  Denis worked during the week and Lynnae managed to fill her time with exploring the beautiful beach with Tucker, doing grocery shopping, laundry, riding her bike and visiting the town.

She toured the incredible Flagler College campus, which is housed in the Ponce de Leon Hotel built by Henry Flagler in 1888.We have both been reading a great book about this fascinating man called The Last Train to Paradise  about his construction of the railroad line that essentially created the Florida we have today. Flagler was a partner of John D. Rockerfeller in Standard Oil who took his fortune and started a second career as a land developer and railroad man.  He built the railroad from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, fell in love with the town and moved there, building a few very high-end luxury hotels to draw the richest tourists of his day.  The Ponce de Leon was the first hotel to have all electric lights.  Fron St. Augustine, he extended the railroad to Palm Beach and built a mega hotel there which created that city from basically swampland.  When he extended the railroad to Ft. Dallas in 1898, it had a population of about 300.  The name was changed to Miami a few years later.  In 1905, Flagler started his most ambitious project--building a railroad to Key West.  It took 7 years and cost hundreds of lives, but it was an engineering marvel for it's time.  The railroad was destroyed by a hurricane in 1935 that is still considered the most powerful storm ever to hit the US mainland with winds of over 200 MPH.  Read the book, it's fascinating.

White Egret building a nest

Rescue or Sacrifice?
BIG guys

Our last day in St. Augustine, we visited the world's famous Alligator Farm right across the road from our state park campground.  Home to nearly 1000 alligators and crocodiles as well as many birds, turtles and little primates, it is a small zoo that is really quite fascinating.  To see 15 foot alligators from just a few feet away is pretty cool.
What are those turtles doing, Mommy?

We will definitely go back to St. Augustine someday, hopefully during the holidays when the entire city is draped in white lights (it is considered one of the top few cities in the world as measured by white light displays--not sure who actually keeps track of that). 

Next stop--Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Georgia Coast and Cumberland Island

After leaving Savannah, it was a fairly short couple hours to pick up bar-b-que at the Georgia Pig, which lived up to its reputation for great food and weird vibes.  Another short drive got us to the Walkabout RV Park in Woodbine, GA--a small, old RV park recently bought by a couple from Australia.  It was simple and quiet and had its own boardwalk and gazebo on the Crooked River (courtesy of the defunct housing development next door, "The Landing at Crooked River").  We relaxed for much of the week (the dining choices and attractions in Woodbine were limited) while I worked for my first week on the road--more about that in a later post.

One of the unique events in Woodbine is the Woodbine Opry.  What started out as a fundraiser to renovate the local high school has turned into a weekly get-together for traditional music--bluegrass and gospel on Friday and electric country on Saturday.  We went to the bluegrass night and I have to say it was friendly and homey but the music was just ok.  The people were as down-home and real as could be and it clearly was the social center of Woodbine (pop. 1400).  Saturday night we again went to the old high school to hear country and hopefully dance (after another bar-b-que dinner, this time at Captain Stan's--rated #1 of 1 restaurants in Woodbine on TripAdvisor and the self-proclaimed oldest tavern in Woodbine).  Well, country night was a blast!  The band was funky but good and the whole town was out there dancin' up a storm.  Then, Denis and Lynnae showed up, with their Fred Astaire city-fied country swing and cha-cha dancing and brought down the house.  By the time we left people were hugging us and inviting us back.  We won a home-made cake in the raffle and one woman told me "Honey, Ah jus' love lis'nin' to y'all tawk" as we were pulling ourselves away.  All in all, a wonderful time at the Woodbine Opry.

On Saturday before the Opry, we spent the day on Cumberland Island.  A long story in itself, this place was once owned by the Carnegie family, now a National Seashore where some of the family still live.  It is amazingly beautiful and alive with history.   You have to take a ferry to get there and there are very few cars on the island but over a hundred wild horses.  The beach is so long you can't see from one end to the other due to the curvature of the earth.  When we were on it we saw two other people and hundreds of birds as far as we could see.  Pictures don't do it justice.   It's amazing to think that in the 70's this island was almost strip mined for tungsten.  And to top it off, on the ferry ride back to the mainland, dolphins were surfing in our boat's wake!

Lynnae also visited the Okeefanokee swamp while I was working one day and she may write about that adventure herself.
At last, this post is being added with the above pictures on March 28. (The puzzle of adding pics is now more completely understood by me.) Anyway, at this point the idea of touring without Denis and/or Tucker was new to me. With a little effort, I made it over to Okefeonkee Swamp/Wildlife Refuge. It was informative and fun in its way. The walking property was open and had guided trails explaining some of the history, along with the prominent fire in 2011. It was an introduction to the birds and landscape of our southeastern U.S., along with the efforts of those who had gone before us to tame that land. Swamp life goes underground when there is a threat of fire; when native Indians returned after fires ignited by lightening, they continued to practice their skills of learning to reap the abundance of the swamp. When modern civilization foresaw opportunity, they tried to drain the land but ran into mother nature's natural resistance: the rivers that the canals were to dump moisture into, did the reverse and flooded the canals, no matter how much effort was applied. The project of a fruit/vegetable farm was abandoned, leaving behind piles of land and grooves for water, changing the landscape and providing us with a visual to the history of the area.
A couple links to learn more:

(Uh, oh, I don't know how to relocate the following; it should be placed with the Cumberland Island information...enjoy!)
To see more pictures from this beautiful and interesting area: