Sunday, October 31, 2021

Dry Boating

Hilton Head, South Carolina
We had time in hand before I had to pull in at Webb's mansion snuggled under the live oaks of typical South Carolina plantation life, so I thought as I usually do on these occasions to walk my dog.  

The great inconvenience of travel at 60 miles per hour in a ten thousand pound van is that when a roadside possibility flashes by it takes a while for the brain to process, the mind to decide and the other traffic to get out of the ay as a sudden change of course becomes imperative. Eventually I slid into the left lane, made an uneventful U-turn and reversed course.

After another unmemorable and therefore successful u-turn I found the intriguing turn off and too to the dirt. Its not Rusty's first visit among out of state pine forests, when he was younger and more entrepreneurial he happily explored the banks of the St Lawrence River in Québec. No stranger to Canada I wondered why he was so leery of exploring these cool sunless woods with me.

My wife slept badly last night for some reason not disclosed so she took her taco blanket and made like her buddy Al Pastor and took a nap in the 72 degree van (outside temperature was a brisk 59).

I strolled with my camera not able to find much of interest...

...listeneing to the sounds of passing traffic, an endless flow...

...as I waited for Rusty to find his nerve and come running.

I expect that given time he will tear himself away from the security of his home on wheels but for now he likes to stick close to his familiar space. 

I have to confess much of this stop was to have been a chance to stretch my legs but I didn't get far!

I had noticed on the drive up the always busy interstate that there was a vast number of recreational vehicles of every RV type flowing south. We appeared to be bucking the trend and pretty soon I pointed out to Layne that it was remotely possible we might be doing something wrong. "Never," she replied with confidence so we kept heading north on I-95 and I pretended to ignore the southern flow of gaudy camping machinery of every sort. I think also the population of kayaks in the Sunshine State may be tripling next month judging by their rooftop popularity. Maybe you get a free kayak with every vaccination?

Eventually I took off by myself and around the first corner I found a wayward boat. Odd this I thought to myself eyeing its obviously dilapidated condition. I am on my way to visit one of the most famous sailors of the age and here is a stink pot high and dry and ignored for a very long time. As a road block, its apparent function I suppose it is effective strapped off to a tree, but I could have pulled it aside easily with the van's front winch...as a boat it appears past it's useful life. It was backed up by a no trespassing sign so I turned around, caught up to my distant dog and walked back to the mother ship.

The gloom of the gray day added to the atmosphere so we piled back aboard to the accompaniment of Layne's log sawing competition. She never knew what excitement she missed.

Adventure narrowly averted we fired up the V6 beast and aimed for an arrival dead on the proposed two o'clock hour. Definitely vans do better than boats on dry land though whether that can be claimed as an advantage depends on who's watching.

I shan't mention my theory to Webb a devoted adventure avoider and user of boats not on dry land but in water where they belong.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Imagining Mountains

St Augustine, I-95 Rest Area.
"Does it feel to you like this road is going uphill?" I asked my wife as we ploughed up Highway 318 somewhere between Ocala and Palatka. "I feel like we're driving up a mountain" she said sounding puzzled herself. Florida was playing tricks on us again. We keep thinking we know the state but somehow there are strange bits that look like many other places we might have been. The Highway was smooth and winding, and on the edges of the beams of light we could see nothing but trees. There was hardly any other traffic at eleven o'clock at night. Rusty was in his bed in the back, another long day under his belt. All was well but the road still felt weird. We drove on in silence. 

"This reminds me of the Upper Peninsula," Layne said. That was reassuring as it was reminding me of the time we got lost in Bosnia and kept meeting less and less reputable people along the road until our paranoia was wound up to screaming pitch. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the first time at night with nowhere apparent to stop (we were newbies back then) was also not a comforting place to be. To feel like that even momentarily in Florida was absurd. Night terrors are primeval even in a recreational vehicle. The road kept unspooling while I followed the blue line at a sedate fifty miles an hour. Drive as fast as you can stop is a good rule but even that attitude let me down recently in spectacular fashion. 
This is our route today, in daylight, easy enough and there be no dragons:

Eventually we drove into a lovely little town smothered by the night and empty except for a few speeding cars. Friday nights are quite sedate in  Palatka in October along the St John's River.  Based on a quick pass through once... It was midnight when we found our spot in a crowded rest area off the freeway which we joined near St Augustine. A quick walk for Rusty who was anxious to go to bed and we passed out. In the morning it was eight o'clock before Rusty started yawning and asking to take a look at the world outside.

Lots of dogs pass through rest areas so every dog has to take a slow pensive walk to check it out. I think I am more patient than most and let Rusty do his slow walking taking his time but I couldn't help but notice the cool fresh air. We needed no air conditioning at all last night. That's a first since I can't remember when. Lovely. 

I am looking forward to a couple of days with Webb, more friends after that scattered between Chicago and Pensacola, and then we head west into, if not new country at least they are places not seen in 40 years, places we each want to revisit. Its a slow start to a new life, passing familiar spots, seeing familiar faces, and its a good way to cast off. 

Me shivering and not minding. Florida filled with mountains. Rusty enjoying the van. Layne plotting recipes in her roomy kitchen. I heard from former colleagues at work and it was lovely. So much new in so much familiar. Lunch with Webb. Exciting.

Friday, October 29, 2021

St Petersburg Nights

I woke up unexpectedly at 2:30 this morning and lay silently in bed hoping to fall back asleep. By 3:00 am Rusty had figured out I was awake and he started yawning loudly, his way of demanding attention. My fate was sealed.

As I fumbled in the dark for my socks and sneakers (my Crocs were locked in the van outside) my wife woke unto a ghastly charley horse in her leg, so I was absolved of any blame for waking her. Eat more bananas I said as I slipped out into the night. Trader Joe's sold us some nananas that appear to be going from green to dead with no intermediate edible stage so -joy - more shopping may be on the schedule. Retirement is one tough option after another busy day.

There wasn't a soul about on foot (I think), and only one car sped down the 22nd avenue corridor to some improbable destination. Rusty walked ahead as though he owned the neighborhood, which he did for a half hour.

I was busy putting this well lit, Halloween-free, home into black surroundings until I noticed, below my viewfinder, my dog in the all too familiar posture. Dale had a large beef bone the night before for dinner on some semblance of the Atkins diet and I feared all Rusty's gnawing on the ample leftovers might produce a rather more wet egg than I like to pick up. I swept through and removed all trace of something quite easy to pick up. There is no chance this neighborhood is going to get up in arms about rowdy van dwellers ruining the local charm. Such are the worries of a well bred nomad.

Later in the morning you will see enthusiastic drivers of expensive cars rushing off to pay their bills after jogging and dog walking and cycling to get fit for a day of savage officery. I can hardly believe my luck that I've put it all behind me.



Lost glasses anyone?

Dale bought his escape pod after we oversold the joy our box on wheels brought us. He had Custom Coach build him a 19 footer and he's driven it to New England and back to see his son in college, and his son drove it back which was an act of faith only a father would have. Dale sees his van as a hurricane evacuation tool as well a vacation device and now my wife has been through it, it is ready to go. Not as soon as ours.

Had the powerful cold front from Up North not swept across us last night I might have been tempted to go for a dip. However it was cool enough and quite windy enough for me not to have oozed one drop of sweat since the winds came upon us, so clearly the fresh water pool at 3:30am was out of the question. 

Rusty curled up next to me and watched while I did the crossword and read about an Italian monk who noted down the presence of Markland in some notes he wrote. As it was in the 14th century 150 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and because his notes were only just discovered, the academic world is in ferment, as it should be. The next thing we'll discover is Columbus knew perfectly well how to find degrees of longitude at sea. Probably not.

The mind tends to wander a bit at that hour. I was getting sleepy but being unwilling to disturb my dog I sat on waiting for some signs of life from the curled up dog.  

Eventually he sat up and I went back to bed. 

He will be glad to know there's not much driving today, two hours to dinner with a friend in Ocala then we have our eyes on a rest area just inside Georgia two hours beyond dinner. Tomorrow Hilton Head is the goal and like the three Kings we will bear a gift, a bottle of liquid gold, for  Hilton Head is home, oddly enough, to Ulysses' younger brother home from the seas and the key to the kingdom is called Laphroaig.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Moochdocking In St Pete

There are different ways to park your camper for the night, you may be surprised to learn. The proper and sensible way is to find a campground, make a reservation and hand over a sum of money usually between say $30 and $60 for one night. You get to plug in your power cord, a water hose and most likely a cable TV cord into your camper parked on a neat pad equipped with a picnic table and neighbors equally equipped sitting right alongside you. We try to avoid this sort of camping. Paying to sleep in a crowd seems a bit daft. It can be useful if we need to stop for a few days and need lots of electricity to run the air conditioning for several nights in a row.

There are paying camping spots that are quite appealing and you find those courtesy of the government in parks of various sorts, not excluding national forests. Formal organized national parks are fabulous and we have the seniors parks pass which is all to the good. The downside is they don't like Rusty. Essentially a dog can only go where vehicles go in National Parks, and you can see why. Inconsiderate owners, people who don't pick up after or control their dogs spoil the situation for the rest of us as usual so I'm not going to run down the national parks service for their policy but it does mean we can't do much more than drive through National Parks. Bummer. 

State and National Parks, and I'm generalizing, tend to offer cheaper and more rustic sites which need to be reserved usually. Some have plug-ins others offer only a picnic table and communal loo of the basic pit toilet type, but they generally have bigger spots with more trees and less emphasis on packing the site with as many paying customers as possible. Florida has some excellent state parks, well worth visiting. Water management districts in Florida have some great camping possibilities too. Even the Army Corps of Engineers offers places to park for the night.

Then you get to dispersed or wild camping, also known as boondocking which is usually found in Bureau of Land Management Lands, mostly in the west and National Forest lands scattered all over the place. Rules vary and the most popular spots are being trampled to death of course, but in these places you park for free for up to 14 days before you have to move (at least 25 miles) and you are supposed to leave no trace and not expect any facilities at all. Find your spot within the local rules and set up camp undisturbed. More our speed.

Then there are approved parking lots where you can stay, with an understanding that you will buy some stuff perhaps. We do Harvest Hosts and have visited wineries breweries distilleries farms and so forth that allow you to park, offer no facilities expect no payment and allow but one night. Other places include the parking lots at Walmart and Cracker Barrel. These places have been disturbed lately by overnighters being rowdy, pulling out chairs and tables and leaving trash. These socially stupid moves have shut down many Walmart lots for casual overnight camping. We haven't yet bothered with these types of store parking lot stops.

Freeway and roadside rest areas are our preferred quick stops. Some people are fearful of the evil that lurks within but Eileen Wuornos has long since been executed and we find rest stops to be quick easy and reliable. We park in the car lots to avoid the comings and goings and overnight rumblings of 18 wheelers.

Finally there is wild camping, stealth parking or street docking. We do this when all else fails or if there is a nearby attraction or if we are tired and need to stop. Arrive late, leave early, is our mantra and we typically stop between 11pm and 5 am. We are discreet, leave no trace and don't even walk Rusty.  We first stop nearby and I walk Rusty and we prepare for bed. Then we drive till we find our spot, go straight to bed and I get up at five and move the van at least a few blocks before I walk Rusty.

In St Petersburg we have stopped to see Dale, Layne's college friend and he has a spot for us to park the van, so you could call this moochdocking, which is one way of describing parking your van in a friend's driveway. He actually has a pool house so we are living in his home essentially and the van is parked in his alleyway. Sort of moochdocking.

When we do visit friends we prefer to stop half a day away at a truck stop (another noisy location for free overnight parking) where we buy showers for $15 to $25 (for both of us), do laundry if we need to and freshen the van up. Then we arrive at our friend's place not demanding to use their facilities as if we really were mooching. Sometimes we spend a night at a hotel, usually on credit card points and complete our ablutions there before showing up fresh as daisies at our friends' place. I find it rather objectionable to appear and immediately demand to use the facilities as though we are seeking a freebie.

So having settled in for a few days I have been walking Rusty, Layne the former lawyer has been transferring the title of the Fiat 500 to Dale who went for a drive and came home grinning ear to ear. He even got a second glance from a passing blonde totty he said, suddenly feeling full of himself and dropping the years with all his middle aged cares. I never thought of my commute car as a tool of seduction but there we are.

I like Dale's upper class neighborhood with lots of sidewalks and alleys and varied architecture so I like to photograph this area around 22nd Avenue as we walk.









Romantic seating tête à tête with security fencing:



I see faces:



Rusty is adapting to houselessness. He is feeling his way as he always does, so even though he is now an old hand at van travel and will sleep in his bed on our bed underway, he has suddenly developed a certain nervousness when away from the van and the familiar. I encourage him to walk as normal but we are confident that after a while he will learn to trust the process and enjoy the road with us. After five years together we have come to learn his patterns, Layne learns his ways faster than I do. This time I'm not worrying about him adapting.
He looked pretty relaxed in the sun while we cleaned up and sorted out Dale's van for him with some ideas we have learned to improve our home on wheels. Dale's van is his tool to visit his sons at college and to see his friends along the east coast so he is a mooch docker par excellence you might say. Over grilled salmon last night he introduced me to Anna Akhmatova a Soviet refusenik poet. Luckily there is Kindle or the van would be sunk as we pick up bits and pieces as we mooch our way along.