Thursday, November 26, 2020

Boondocking Holiday

I admit I am strangely in love with the Florida countryside. It's easy to be astonished by extra long sand beaches, if you like that sort of thing, and the tropical islands of the Keys hold their own obvious fascination if you are into the tropics and not everyone is. I like it, all of it, the cattle country in the center of the state, horse ranches and white post-and-rail fencing around Ocala, the huge live oak trees Up North and the Alabama back country along the panhandle. To me the sandy trails and scrubby pine forests of the national forests are as much worth exploring as the dreary mangrove flats in my own backyard. Rusty? He has mixed feelings, fear of the unknown mixed  with the pleasure he gets at being outdoors on a. sixty degree day.
Florida National Forests
Florida has 175 state parks ranging from Fort Taylor in Key West to every kind of historic site, forested backwater, canoe trails and alligator ponds up and down this most varied and under appreciated of states. Frankly I like living in the state that has given the nation and possibly the world the "Florida Man" memes. If you haven't had the good luck to laugh at Florida Man let me explain a bit. The Internet has given rise to reports of people in Florida doing stupid, preventable, harmful things in ways that are absurd and slapstick. Harold Lloyd made a very good living acting like Florida man in early films. Nowadays it is fashionable to deplore the antics of Florida Man but I enjoy slapstick and eccentricity writ large. Florida is a terrible place to be bored or to be a bore, and my fear for Key West while Layne Rusty and I go traveling for a few years, is that the bores will take over. Already Florida Man is extinct in the Keys. Especially in relation to Key West. So Florida is far from boring and to back that up the State of Florida is doing a surprising job of actually preserving the unique pieces of wilderness it can for future generations. Here Florida people can hunt and screw around in the wilderness. Me with a camera, them with guns. 
Florida National Forests
Sand and mud and water are the obstacles to a deep woods retreat in Florida. Dispersed camping as the National Forest Service describes it allows for lonely campers to hang in the woods for up to two weeks and this form of van life is known as boondocking, ie: parking without outside facilities, a form of vacationing most often enjoyed in the western States, places with scenic vistas, majestic grandeur and fewer people over a larger area.  In those places dusty trails are filled with rocks and slopes and the sort of landscape most often shown in 20th century cowboy flicks. Florida is to all intents and purposes a sandpit with high heat and humidity, insects and great swimming beaches. The bits in the middle belong to people who live here and can't take the time to go rock hopping in Utah but limit themselves to sand spinning on their ATVs in these more modest backwoods.
Layne and I did briefly think about buying a four wheel truck and putting a camper shell on the back but several features of such a vehicle dissuaded us. The cab has no pass through from the truck requiring the campers to walk outside to switch between driving and living. Plus access to the rear always requires several steps as the camper is set high on the truck bed. Against all this you get off road capability. Let's face it: we aren't on going on the road to do deep off-road exploration and we know it. We wanted comfort and simplicity and ultimately we will equip ourselves to risk our home on deserted sandy beaches in remote places but not to drive up cliffs or to ford jungle rivers. I like asphalt roads to be honest. A two wheel drive van works just fine for us.
We don't have hot running water in our bathroom and surprisingly my wife was agreeable with this eccentricity of mine as she found it unnecessary on our boat where we used solar showers. So I designed an outdoor shower with a blanket a couple of clips and the solar shower we carry on the van. We could use it inside but we'd rather be traveling in a climate that allows for outdoor showers.  Two kettles of hot water added to the shower give enough heat to make the shower comfortable we find. All this to not be parked in a campground with electrical outlets and shower blocks and toilets. Worth it? 
In a time of pandemic the isolation of boondocking in a warm winter climate is a great thing. For us a crowded campground is outside our comfort zone at the moment and though we look forward to a vaccinated future we are unwilling to compromise months of isolation and hand wringing by being impatient at this rather unpleasant stage of the pandemic. I am learning to enjoy gravel roads and the van handles them very well. We usually roll around 20 miles an hour and so far we haven't caused furniture to shift at these modest speeds or to spill anything from our locking drawers. 
Thanksgiving should be a time to gather but this year it simply isn't. It is weird parked out in the woods like this but Layne is cooking steak and stuffing and Trader Joe's sold us a pecan pie and Rusty gets his share of protein. 80 degrees, the sounds of the forest and a rising moon.  Not bad.

Testing our MoonShade portable awning...weird fun isn't it?
Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are and stay safe this holiday.