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Published: September 8th 2014
You may be surprised to learn that Conner and I are back home in Sonora, and have been for nearly a month now. I had told Sherry when we left California on October 3, 2011, that if at anytime she wanted me to come home, I would return immediately. She did, and we did. Originally, I thought we might be gone until early April this year, but my wife and family beckoned us back home to take care of important family matters. So this is the last blog entry I'll write about our trip, covering our time in Florida and a summary of the entire journey.
Departing Florida on January 31st and driving directly back to California, it took us six days, driving nearly 16 hours a day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday. Over 3,000 miles! Conner did school work all the way to stay on track with his studies. We only stopped to eat, relieve ourselves, and get fuel, spending nights at truck stops, rest areas, and Walmart just long enough to sleep for the night. It was an exhausting trip, but the Suburban is a very comfortable vehicle and the long hours were not unpleasant. We did go through a tornado and dime sized hail in west Texas, but other than that, the trip home was uneventful. We even traveled the Interstate at 55-65 mph without any sway problems. I guess I finally got the driving technique and trailer setup combination just right.
Since it was winter, our travel was limited to warm, southern states. So we spent nearly a month in Florida, seeing the entire state, from coast to coast, from the Georgia border to the southern most point in the United States on Key West. This included a week with Sherry, Cameron and Carina who flew into Jacksonville on Christmas Eve and a week at the end of January when Cheyenne flew into Fort Myers, Florida.
We camped a couple of days on Little Talbot Island State Park 1 near Jacksonville before heading south along the coast to Saint Augustine and Vero Beach, then inland to Lake Okeechobee and south to Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. My cousin John and his girlfriend Charlene were staying in the Everglades and had been there since early November. They hunt, fish, and relax around the campfire for about 3 months of winter before heading an hour west to their home in Cape Coral. Dave Shealy’s Trail Lakes Campground and the Skunk Ape Research Center 2,3 became home, off-and-on for the next month.
Have you ever seen an alligator in the wild? Traveling between the coasts of Florida through the Everglades, you will see more than you can count! 4 And that’s if you don’t get out of the car! There are an estimated 2 million of them…and they were once nearly extinct. If you do get out of the car and explore a little bit, you’ll see them from 6 inches long riding on their mother’s head and back, to some 17 feet or longer. And they are black in color, not green like crocodiles. And did you know that Florida is the only place on earth where these two species live side-by-side? Though the American crocodiles are few in numbers at an estimated 2 thousand, they are making a comeback.
Our airboat captain gave us a private tour deep into the water grasses through established channels and across uncharted saw grass. We met “Old Man”, a 15’ long alligator that wasn’t afraid to come right up to the edge of the boat. We were, though! They have a bite of 2000 lbs. of pressure and can come out of the water 2/3rd’s the length of their body! When he came up out of the water to investigate, he could have taken Sherry by the thigh and pulled her into the water. There would have been nothing I could have done. But, he must have already eaten, as he just growled and smiled the way alligators do, and slipped back into the water before gliding off.
Being in the Everglades in the little village of Ochopee, surrounded by Big Cypress Swamp, and the “River of Grass” Everglades marshes, was like being in the wildest place you can imagine. Next to the wilds of Alaska, this area is truly a wild and wonderful place. Panthers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, alligators, crocodiles, and turtles of all kinds. Not to mention native snakes like eastern diamondback rattlers, pygmy rattlers, coral snakes and water moccasins, but non-native species of reptiles like anacondas, boa constrictors and Burmese pythons! Our little dog Danger remained in our sight at all times for fear she would become part of the food chain. Conner and I saw many of these creatures, but, the Bigfoot of the swamp, the skunk ape (smells like a skunk, looks like an ape), remained ever elusive.
I could write a book about the beauty and history of south Florida and the ecosystem, but better ones have already been penned. 5,6 So I’ll just say that if you never go there and experience it up close and personal (between September and May – June through August are just too hot and the mosquitoes unbearable), you’ll truly have missed something precious and memorable.
From the Everglades, we traveled to Key Largo and stayed a few days at an RV resort there. Tropical paradise, sunshine, beautiful east coast sunrises, snorkeling, swimming in the surf. It was wonderful. My sister and her friend Jill were there, too, and we drove the 100 miles out through the islands to Key West. What trip to Key West would be complete without a Cheeseburger in Paradise and a margarita at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville? 7
Sherry, Cam and Nina flew back to California on New Years Day, and Conner and I settled down in the swamp with my cousin for a couple more weeks. We did school work, fished, crabbed, explored on foot and on our Honda XR600, and kicked back around the campfires in the evening. The seafood was fantastic, from the stone and blue crabs, to the oysters and fish, to the alligator. If you’ve never had alligator tacos in the middle of the Everglades, you haven’t lived!
Cheyenne came out for a week and got the royal tour. From the swamp and marsh, to Miami, to Key West and bicycling Duvall Street in all it’s mini-Mardi Gras festivity. She really had a good time. And during her visit, we saw the animal that is like a cross between a hippo, walrus and dolphin. The manatee! They are endangered as well, but making a comeback. 8
For me, the state of Florida was the highlight of our trip. Whether it was experiencing the complete ecosystem from shore to shore, from swamp to marsh, from inland farmlands to fresh water lakes; or boating in the 10,000 islands and channels around Everglades City; or touring Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center 9 or watching the Rolex
24-Hour practice at Daytona International Speedway; or driving the miles of coastline outside the inland waterway; or gliding along on Segway scooters in Saint Augustine 10 at night; or exploring the hundred miles of island chain called the Keys, it was all to fantastic and wonderful.
In the end, to Conner and me, the trip was everything we had hoped and dreamed it would be. We saw 28 states, drove over 16,000 miles, visited the Pacific and Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. We visited with so many of our old friends and family, met some of the most wonderful people, and lived so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences in just 4 months that I can scarcely remember them all. Good thing we took lots of pictures! But the most treasured things I brought home were that America is still the greatest nation on earth. And the American people are still, the hardest working, most productive, selfless and compassionate human beings there are. The economy may not be very good in California, but there are places where it is very good. It may be a dwindling majority, but most people still get out of bed every day across this great country and contribute to our great society.
The most special thing about this trip was spending so much time with my son Conner. I watched him grow from boy to young man. Everywhere we went, people were so impressed with not only our adventure, but with Conner. They said he was mature, intelligent, sociable, friendly, kind, helpful, and knowledgeable. And, even though I’m his father, we became friends. Except for a few times when he got frustrated with me because of my impatience over something, we really did like each other and enjoy spending every day together. I’d go again tomorrow, if Sherry would let us!
Finally, it was a spiritual trek in that I came home with a renewed commitment to living my life in every way like Jesus did, and like Jesus said. “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul. And love everyone else as much as you love yourself.” And what, I ask you, could be better than that?
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