Location: Somewhere in Florida.
It’s hard to remember where we are, or where we’ve been anymore. Days are defined by strange occurrences like the guy screaming obscenities in the Walmart parking lot at 2am, or the lady blaring country music at the campsite all day, or the orange dirt road, that day with the osprey, the picnic on the beach…that one time…
Just like all of social media, I can (and do) highlight the best of times: the photo ops, the times we can relax, the serendipitous moment we find exactly what we’re looking for and didn’t even know it. But let’s get real: living 24/7 with your significant other in a 12-foot camper is not always glamorous. We have been freezing cold, lost, frustrated, hangry, and just plain confused. But I can’t complain, because when we slow down enough to think about what we’re doing we can say, “Wow, we get to see America.” But several days ago the frustration had gotten the best of me and I about lost it in a mud bog in Florida. But first, let me recap.
After South Carolina we took the advice of someone at a brewery and headed to Fernandina, Florida, by way of Savannah, Georgia – a proper southern town with plenty of dust under the rug.
Rolling into Fernandina Beach, we found a parking lot where we could camp for free. When we pulled in it looked pretty jenky: chain linked fence, dirty restrooms, graffiti. The Jets and the Sharks clearly met here. ‘When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.’ We parked and strolled down to the beach with hands on our switchblades. (Ok, we don’t really have switchblades.)
We found what the locals call, “The real Florida:” dogs running on the beach, people beach combing, running, laughing with neighbors. Yet another pleasant surprise on a trip full of surprises. We did yoga on the beach, breathed in the crispness of the ocean, and learned to let go. We even found a Civil War fort with a living history setup right on the beach, and great mountain biking with built up trails along gator swamps and sand dunes. Away from the hullabaloo of the expensive hotels we had found a much calmer way of life and had casually slipped into the flow.
This has sort of become the theme of our trip. We are lost and confused, exhausted and frustrated, and somehow it all works out. It has taken us two weeks to recognize the pattern and learn to accept it. But the pendulum swung a little too far in the other direction as we really truly ‘let go’ one morning. I started the car as we prepared to leave Fernandina and hit the road. “Where are we going?” We didn’t know if we were heading south or north, west towards to the gulf, or staying in town. Dave threw up his hands and said, “Let’s play a game. When we get to an intersection the other person gets to pick a direction. LEFT!” Normally I would have faked a laugh and said, ‘Ok seriously, get a map.’ But we had both lost it and went with it. We started driving without direction. Off the interstates, off the highways, and onto dirt roads. After several hours we saw a sign for a city way far south. “Moment of truth: are we taking it south?” The turn was approaching quickly…U-turn! Alright, we’re heading for the panhandle.
Our detours led us to nowhere-ville, so we parked Gloria in a Walmart parking lot for the night to mull things over. The next day Siri led us to a free campground we had found online. She took us down unmarked roads, telling us to take the tightest muddiest roads into the woods, adjacent to an Air Force base. Darkness began to slip over the tight trees, and the swampy mud puddles just got bigger and bigger.
We looked at the map, and after thirty minutes, had only gone ½ a mile of six total. And we’re supposed to take another unmarked turn into the dark woods? No effing way.
We turned Gloria around in the mud and headed back for Walmart, beyond frustrated. There was nowhere to park in the overdeveloped areas of Panama City and Pensacola, dogs weren’t allowed on any beaches, and we were being suffocated by strip malls and mega-churches. And to top it all off – we were back under the flood lights of Wally World.
But instead of freaking out, which was quickly approaching, we remembered that somehow everything works out. So we vowed to try a different route in the morning – not using Siri – and give it the ‘ol college try. Perseverance paid off! We followed similar, but different, unmarked roads along fences lined with barbed wire from the Air Force base, and came upon a secluded campground on a sandy beach. No strip malls, no Walmart, no crowds, just perfection.
We could finally have the peace and quiet we are used to as Montanan’s, and lay on the sunny beach as Moose sniffed around the sand and high grass. We chatted with our neighbor, a retired New Orleans tour guide who was living out of a minivan, and watched pelicans soar inches over the water, their wings just barely grazing the calm surface.
Last night as our first rainstorm pounded down on Gloria as we lay in bed, we felt calmer and rejuvenated after weeks of scrambling. I have no doubt that more scrambling lie ahead of us as we head into Texas and the southwest, but thanks to lessons learned, I know that we got this. We got this.