Nature’s Classroom at Faver-Dykes State Park

Camping during the Florida summer is not for wimps. Our trip to Faver-Dykes State Park challenged us in ways we have never been challenged before. Located in a remote area fifteen miles outside Saint Augustine, the park is known for being “off the beaten track.” We pulled our Viking trailer over the bumpy dirt road to the entrance of a small campground. As the campsite was not level, my husband, Herb made several attempts before he successfully parked our trailer in the soft sand. Soon a park vehicle stopped nearby and a ranger stepped out to welcome us. The ranger took an interest in our dog, Buddy, the best beagle ever.

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Early the next morning we decided to hike the 2.6 mile Hiram-Faver Trail. Guess what? The trail was named in honor of Hiram Faver, who donated the land to the state for a park. Go figure!  On our way to the trailhead we walked by the park office. The friendly ranger who  welcomed us yesterday came out of the office to say hello. He asked where we were headed. I told him the Hiram-Faver trail. “Oh,” he said, “you better watch out for ticks out there.”

“We’re prepared, ” I boasted. I wore long sleeves and long pants and tucked my pantlegs into my socks. I also sprayed my legs with bug spray. The ranger focused his attention on Buddy. “I always put a tick collar on my dog. Then the ticks never bother him.” Suddenly I realized that Mr. Ranger was more concerned about Buddy than we were.

“Buddy is on special medication to prevent ticks from harming him,” Herb responded. At the time I wondered, how bad can it be out there?

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We began hiking with Buddy in the lead. July is hot in Florida. Herb and I kid each other that real Floridians can handle the heat. But we forget that we aren’t real Floridians. We’re actually transplanted Buckeyes from Ohio, and Buddy hails from North Carolina.

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As we approached Pellicer Creek, we felt a delightful cool breeze off the water. We saw a bench and sat down to enjoy our granola bars and bottled water. Buddy had a drink, too, and relaxed in the grassy area at our feet.

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I took out my cell phone to take pictures.  I noticed I had phone service. (Something not always available at the campsite.)  Herb looked across the river and spotted a cell tower. What luck! We had a great time sitting on the bench, texting pictures and checking our email. I even posted a couple of photos on Facebook.

After about twenty minutes, I noticed something crawling on the front of my shirt. “A tick!” I yelled. Herb rushed over and brushed it off. Then I spotted a tick on his pants. I brushed it off him. “Let’s get out of here.”

We hiked back toward the campsite. I still wasn’t very worried. So we saw two ticks. Big deal. We’re only a mile from the campsite. All will be well.

When we reached the campsite, we sat on the ground with Buddy and examined his belly. I lost count of the numerous ticks attached to his legs and stomach. I felt terrible. What did I do to my dog?

I grabbed the tweezers from the first aid kit and Herb and I combed through his fur with our fingers. It wasn’t easy to remove the ticks from Buddy’s skin. They were small, brown, shiny, and wanted to stay put. When I pulled the first tick out I didn’t know what to do with it. It latched on to the tweezers and wouldn’t let go. Then it started to crawl onto my hand. Yikes!

Finally I got the idea of dropping the live tick in a cup of water. It worked. I removed at least thirty ticks from Buddy. We covered the cup with a second smaller inverted cup to keep the ticks from crawling out. If possible, we wanted to keep them out of our campsite. We wrapped the tick filled cup in a plastic bag and dropped it in the nearest garbage can. Hopefully they didn’t escape.

Buddy was a trooper. He didn’t complain, and relished all the attention. Ticks are strange. Unlike other pests, you don’t feel it when they dig in to your skin. No sting, no itch. Unless you check yourself and your family from front to back and head to toe, you don’t know you have them.  I know, I removed three from my ankles.

Hikers beware! July is peak season for ticks in Florida. Nature has many lessons to teach, but we will not attend the July session of the school of ticks again.

 

On Facing Reality

We could have been camping today. If I lean into my imagination I can see the flickering flames of the campfire and taste the toasted marshmallows. Why didn’t it happen?

Reality struck. Have you ever been so blinded by your wants that you lose sight of your needs?  I was absolutely giddy about purchasing the Coachmen Clipper until….

Let me back up a bit.  The Saturday after the RV show my husband and I cleaned the garage to make space to park  our new tent trailer. We live in a townhouse with no yard or driveway. We believed the camper would just fit on one side of the garage with six inches to spare. How clever we are! One of us, can park on the street (probably him.) Now we won’t need to pay for storage. We were all set to pick up the camper later in the week.

Fast forward to Sunday night. A terrible rain storm hit Orlando. Tornados and hail were predicted. My husband realized he better put his car back in the garage. Then he decided he really didn’t want to park on the street permanently.  On Monday, he started to scout around for storage facilities.  He contracted to store the camper nearby.

Friday morning arrived. We dropped our dog off at my mom’s, and drove seventy-five miles to pick up our dream camper.  Only we realized our dream  camper was more of a nightmare.  We endured a three-hour training session of  raising and lowering the canvas top. Both of us were shocked to discover there are twenty steps in that process which must be performed in sequential order. No wonder the technician’s first words were, “Do you guys have any idea how much work goes into owning a tent trailer?”

The canvas top needs regular maintenance. It must be washed every time you use it and completely dry before storing to avoid mildew. That seemed impossible considering our storage situation.  My husband pulled me off to the side. “Do you still want to do this?” he asked.

My stomach started churning.  I felt like a deflated balloon. “I still want to get it, but if you are extremely opposed, I’ll relent.”

“I’m not extremely opposed, but I’m opposed,” He responded.

I need to also mention that while all of this turmoil was going on, his car was being equipped with a hitch and brake controlling device. My stomach was still churning.

Sometimes you have to face facts. How could I continue to insist that we go through with this plan knowing he wasn’t on board?  “Okay,” I said. “Let’s see if they have another vehicle we can buy instead.”

A sales representative showed us a few lightweight hard top trailers.  He tried to cheer us up with a bag of popcorn and some jokes. We came home empty-handed, except for a hitch and a braking device that continually flashes numbers under the dash.

In closing, sometimes the road to adventure includes detours. Take them.

 

 

 

Living with No Regrets

Last week I visited an RV show near Tampa, Florida. The show featured a variety of recreation vehicles, from tent trailers to behemoth fifth wheels.  One of the smallest trailers was the Little Guy pictured above.  It is so tiny an adult would not be able to stand up inside. This trailer is basically a bed on wheels with air conditioning and a TV.

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Every Little Guy camper includes an outdoor cooking area complete with stove, sink, and pull out cooler. An additional screen room can be attached to the bedroom to provide more living space.

My husband and I have never owned a trailer. Although we love to visit national parks, we’ve usually stayed in hotels or lodges. I am the one interested in camping. (A throwback to my childhood in Ohio.) Now that we are both retired, we want to take more trips for longer periods of time.  However, we own a sweet little beagle with special needs. We don’t like to board him for more than two weeks.  My solution is to take the dog with us. So…that’s how we came to be at the RV show.

At the show, we attended a seminar on extended travel in an RV.  The leader of the seminar owns a home in the mid-west, and winters in Florida in his RV. He shared that many retirees actually sell their homes and travel in their motor home permanently. That would explain why someone might want a motor home with more than one bathroom, a washer, dryer, and big screen TV.  The speaker gave tips on managing mail, prescriptions, and banking while on the road. He closed his presentation with a quote from Malcolm Forbes Jr., “Go as soon as you can, as far as you can, for as long as you can.”

Immediately I recalled my word from God for 2017, “Go.” The words of Mr. Forbes resonated with me.  (For details read my blog from post of January ninth.)

Over dinner that night, my husband and I discussed our options. At the show we saw a Coachmen Clipper tent trailer which suited our needs. We wanted something easy to pull, with enough room inside to accommodate our dog.  I especially liked the idea that the canvas top had plenty of windows. Even when I was inside, I felt like I was outside. The Clipper was also very affordable.

Then the what ifs began. What if we don’t like it? What if it doesn’t work out to travel with our dog? How will we store it? Maybe we should limit our trips to no more than two weeks at a time and continue to stay in hotels.

Wait a minute! Isn’t that what we did before we retired? Didn’t we work all year and eagerly anticipate the two weeks out of the year that were truly ours? Enough of that!

I don’t want to regret that I never tried to travel in a camper.

So the next morning we sealed the deal. In two days we pick up our new camper. I can’t wait until we will take off for our first destination. Our little beagle doesn’t have a clue what adventures await him.  Tune in during February for more posts about our experiences in the great outdoors.

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Being

 

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Have you ever visited a place you could never forget? For me that place is Long Key State Park.  Located in the Florida Keys,  Long Key is a great place for being. When I say being, I mean a time to live in the moment. It’s an experience marked by feeling more closely connected to the natural world.  When our activities slow from a sprint to a crawl, we can better appreciate all of creation.

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Last October we rented a small RV from Cruise America and spent a few days in Long Key State Park. There, every campsite is oceanfront property. The rhythm of the waves is a constant soundtrack. Gentle sea breezes keep mosquitos away.  Most of the sites are lined with trees to afford privacy from neighbors.  Something amazing happens when you park an RV, get out comfortable camp chairs, and sit down facing the ocean. You don’t want to leave.

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When asked,  “What did you do while you were there?” I responded, “Nothing, and it was the best nothing of my life.” I loved to sit and watch the birds at low tide while they pecked among natural debris to find food. When they flew  away I watched a lone ant marching in the sand. Maybe he was a scout for the rest of the colony.  In the evening I saw the soft glow of moonlight reflect upon the surface of the water. The next morning the sky was ablaze of color as the sun rose above the horizon.   I realized that all of this nothing really was something. The world was full of life but I was always  too busy to notice.  I grew to appreciate the little things.

 

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So why did I need to go all the way to the Florida Keys to be?  That’s definitely food for thought.  For me, being requires several days of low activity and uninterrupted time in the outdoors.  If those conditions are met in a different location so be it. Camping in one place for several days definitely lends itself to being.  As I write this I am saddened to realize my one experience of living in the moment happened almost a year ago.  How ironic to make doing nothing my new goal.

Being is a state of rest that we rarely experience. According to the book of Genesis, after God created the earth, he rested on the seventh day.  I like to imagine God in a state of being. On His day of rest, God saw everything He had made, and said, “It is good.”

When have you experienced being? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s support each other in being more and doing less.

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Chasing Memories

 

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Mohican State Forest in Ohio

Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.

Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.

At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I  crawled into the tent.  We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet.  Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.

We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad  loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.

I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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Our humble tent in the shadow of an RV at Sebastian Inlet.

The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent.  When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead,  I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue  by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood.  After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird.  Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.

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Wandering bison,            Yellowstone

 

When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.

This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.

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Our oTENTik

 

When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook.  During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches.  Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my  pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.

Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?