Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Lake Okeechobee Sunset

My wife had an appointment with her arthritis doctor in Miami on Friday and I was off the weekend following so instead of going home we went vanning. As with anything you have to cut your clothes according to your cloth and because we live in southernmost Florida our road trips inevitably start out by pointing north. In my role as driver/navigator I decided to head up the east shore of Lake Okeechobee. The plan was vague to start with except that I didn't want too tick to the coasts where winter crowds gather  and I wanted to avoid the coastal Freeways, I-95 and I-75 or the Turnpike up the middle. Highway 27 was the choice then. 
Central Florida
To drive enough to see a sunset over the lake you have to drone through Everglades marshlands, sugar cane flatlands, the stark poverty of the south shore of the lake and back into agricultural fields that butt up the levee that keeps the lake surrounded. By the time we had passed through Pahokee an African American town of low net worth, in Palm Beach county as far from Royal Palm Beach as you can imagine, I was forming a definite plan.
Custom Coach Creations DeLand
Many years ago I sailed from Fort Myers to Stuart up the Caloosahatchee River, across Lake Okeechobee and down the St Lucie canal to the east coast. When I say "sailed" I mean I motored endlessly struggling to stay awake and steer a straight course down narrow waterways. The lake was arelif allowing some actual sailing and self steering always with the ever present need to reach Port Mayaca before dark as there is nowhere to anchor on the totally exposed lake if you don't lock through onto the canal before dark.  I recalled from that trip 30 years ago a park like area overlooking the lake and if we arrived before sunset we get a view. I have driven Highway 98 several times but never paid much attention to stopping here. All that changed on this trip. 

As we drove over the St Lucie Canal on the high bridge you can see in the picture above, I looked down and saw a grassy rest area at the start of the road that leads east to Indiantown and Stuart. Aha I thought to myself, that might be where we spend the night. Meanwhile I took the Promaster on a lumpy road that deteriorated into gravel and then grass where many cars were parked their occupants mingling and sharing Covid while picnicking, playing soccer, fishing and lighting campfires. I figured we might as well socially isolate on the levee road and along it I drove right up to the gate. Turning around was tight but front wheel drive gives the 21 foot van a tight turning radius and with a little backing and forthing I managed to turn without sliding down the slopes on either side.
I wanted to have the sliding door open facing east so we could have dinner overlooking the water and my original idea was to back up the one lane road but I saw how firm the grass was supporting big trucks at the water's edge so I kew we would be fine all the way at the top of the levee. And so it was. Lyne peeled away after five minutes on the 60 degree 20 mile per hour winds but Rusty and I persisted, passing a couple of bicycles, masked and racing the setting sun back to their car. 
It was cold and windy but the sunset was lovely and as darkness fell all we could see was the lights at the lock and the dancing flames of a campfire. The van is well insulated and surprisingly warm on such a cold Florida night, down to 55 degrees and expected to drop to 41.
We had a simple dinner, a frozen lean cuisine and salad which kept the chores to a minimum and watched the sun go down. We have enough battery power we can run appliances and lights and charge electronics without counting the cost. It makes it feel like home inside the camper.
And out there in the distance the grass was getting blown and the chill was creeping up on us. Time to find  a quiet spot to sleep and I knew just where that was.