Tuesday, December 22, 2020

General Gun Season

I suppose one could argue that the sandy tracks of the Ocala National Forest are as close as a Florida driver might get to snow. However the main tracks, technically National Forest Roads, are firm and easy to drive as quite a few people have been out here and gone pounding sand with their ATVs and four wheel driver monster vehicles. Then along comes a couple of old pansies in a two wheel delivery van trying to get neither lost nor stuck. We did fine in our unsuitable comfortable home on wheels.
Florida woods
We are nether rock hoppers nor skiers so we decided early on we want nothing to do with the extra cost and complexity of four wheel drive. I am of the opinion that four wheel drive is for four wheel drive experts who want to enjoy the excitement of a thrilling drive and then go to home, hotel or the giant RV to sleep the sleep of the just. Trawling your home through motocross tracks is not my idea of fun. Thick soft sand is a problem and we did slip and slide a little but I got the 10,000 pound van through it with a gentle touch. We have the tools to deflate and reflate the tires for real sand driving and in March we have a date to install a proper front winch to help us recover ourselves if we get stuck. Our vision is having the tools to encourage us to visit lonely sand beaches and. not worry if the heffalump gets stuck in a. sand pit. My wife is looking up off-road driving courses for me to take to learn the basics. I prefer asphalt by far to driving in dirt but needs must...from time to time, and I don't want gravel or dirt backroads to stop us exploring. So we practice!

We looked around for a camping spot on the edge of the no hunting Juniper Prairie Wilderness which is open for dispersed camping year round but has no roads to support the wilderness designation and keep vehicles out of the actual wilderness. We found an eminently suitable spot but by some coincidence it was already reserved by the presence of an empty mosquito net tent. It may have been abandoned or not in daily use but we figured it would be mean to park next to it and intimidate the occupants were they to return unexpectedly, so we drove on.
Juniper Prairie Wilderness, Florida
There may have been a second suitable spot and so we drove around looking for a secluded parking place on the edge of the hunt-free wilderness but came up with nothing suitable.  It was mildly annoying as we had been looking forward to stopping in one place for a few days but somehow our vacations end up being more nomadic than even we intend.
Carolina Dog
I study Google street view and satellite views of the roads and wilderness to try to get an idea of what we might find. I am astonished how few people do that when traveling around the Keys. "Where's the police station?" they ask plaintively on their super duper modern cellphones and never think to ask Google maps to locate "police"  or "hospital" for themselves. However satellite views do not show vertical rise and fall on dirt roads which are not covered by street view! Fortunately Florida is quite flat but even so some of the small sandy hills surprised me when we got on the National Forest Roads. Cameras tend to flatten gradients so the huge dip in the photo below is hidden unless you know it's there.
We could hear gunfire in the distance, often ignored by young Rusty but when he realized the distant popping was shooting he ran for the van. Happily Rusty has come to associate us with safety and he is smart enough to run to us when he is afraid. Besides which I am not keen to get killed by accident so we took limited walks and stayed on the main roads. It was not our time to be in the forest. Quite aside from the usual rain showers and gray skies that accompany most of my days off and make the wilderness less appealing then  bright Florida sun... When I retire I expect Florida will go through a cataclysmic period of sunless rain as every day will be a day off for me and the gods will notice and sent rain as punishment. Next weekend I am working so it should be sunny and very pleasant while I am stuck at my desk. Take advantage.
Florida Wilderness
The National Forest threw sand everywhere and as we drove the main road back toward civilization at dusk we passed a lonely car wash in the woods. Okay then, we said to ourselves it's a sign. We are not believers in the "everything happens for a reason" meme as we have seen too much unsolicited useless misery in our travels but clearly this empty car wash was put there at the side of the road for our convenience so we took advantage. This is what you might call a blue job, a term that was coined in our sailing days in a spirit of ironic detachment, so my wife sat inside reading her phone while I wielded the various brushes and unguents to make the van sparkle once more. Rusty sat across the parking lot, front was crossed watching my work with a critical eye. I could hear him beaming "You've missed a spot" as I struggled to cover the leviathan with soap suds. I do often feel like a mahout taking care of his elephant as I work on van chores. Later I got my own back as dinner prep is a pink job. Rusty jobs are mostly to sit and look pretty which seems unfair until you remember he has no rights and has to do as he is told (with limited success by us). Tethered to the van in a freeway rest area:
Florida Interstate
Rusty has got his van legs at last. My wife figured it out but he likes to get out of the van not to get away but just because he likes being outdoors. At home he comes and goes as he pleases with his own door and no fences or limitations. He doesn't stray but he likes having the ability to be alone when he wants. With the van its harder to accomplish which is one reason we stay away from organized camping. Wild camping not only gives us social distancing and peace and quiet but it also allows us to throw open the door and let the hound loose. We do have a long leash to make him legal where needed but on his own he goes a few feet away and sits and watches the world go by. Lunchtime in Orlando, where we bought to go food and parked behind a shopping center next to the grass verge; and there he sat, untethered, while we ate inside:
Slowly slowly we are pulling together the strings that will hopefully lead to a serene and well planned trip in 18 months. Already we look back at our early efforts on the road and are amazed how much we struggled with daily chores. Every trip is a learning curve and our next trick is to figure out how to take truck stop showers and where to camp in Florida’s Big Bend coast. 
Florida Wilderness