Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A DAY IN THE RAIN

Both Nance and I knew it would happen. An entire day inside the moho with Otter! When it pours down rain and thunderstorms from morning to night, what do you do? And to top it off, we are in Carrabelle, Florida which is right on the Gulf Coast and it is a very sleepy little fishing village where there is nothing to do but fish and kayak and there is no TV or internet connection. Again, what do you do?

We came here specifically because there is a convergence of 3 rivers which flow into wonderful marshland that makes it ideal for kayaking. The weather report is the same for tomorrow. Now, we’re not just fair weather kayakers but when it’s lightning and thundering and there’s an on and off tornado watch, we decided that it was better to stay in the moho. We really can’t complain because this is week 3 of our adventure and we have had solid sunny, cool and wonderful days for 2 weeks as we came across the Florida panhandle. It’s just too bad we only came here to kayak! But there’s 2 things to see here in Carrabelle and that’s the world’s smallest police station and the museum that honors the soldiers who trained here for WWII but it’s only open 3 hrs a day. We’ll take in those sights at least. There are a couple of seafood restaurants but Nancy’s cooking is hard to beat. Last night she did a shrimp boil outside and entertained our new neighbors (we arrived here yesterday) with her cooking! Most are snowbirds from up north and had never heard of shrimp or crab boils. See how we carry New Orleans along with us?!

So, back to what we do all day when it’s raining hard. We sit and talk and plan for what’s ahead as far as places to camp and things to see. We watch our neighbors to see if they are going anywhere so we can ask them what they know to visit that we don’t! We clean the moho. We have a central vacuum system. We do laundry. We have a washer and dryer on board. It takes longer to do laundry because the w/d are smaller than normal house size. We read. I write this blog. Nancy sets up the crock-pot since we have to cook inside and is performing her magic on a pork roast with vegetables. We pet the dog. I drink a TAB (thanks to Dr. Field who supplied me with 7 twelve packs as a going away gift!) and then we’ll download all of the photos that we took yesterday so that we can send them to you. We don’t have cell phone service here either so we can’t call and talk to anyone else. It actually allows for creative thought time that I rarely had when I worked all of the time and it will be helpful for some of my writing. Guess I’ll take a nap now and listen to the rain on the roof! Something else I rarely did.

We are following a truck with sacks of oysters....we must be going the right way!

Downtown Carrabelle.

Downtown Carrabelle waterfront.

Nancy sitting on top of the sea turtle display in Carrabelle.

Seafood boil with the neighbors watching.

Crooked River Light House.


Inside the Crooked River Lighthouse Keepers House.

View inside the Crooked River Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters.

Crooked River Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters.
Nancy inside the police station (a phone booth).
The Worlds Smallest Police Station.

Kayaking in the Carrabelle waterfront.

Otter kayaking.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Apalachicola, Florida

Apalachicola is someplace I have always wanted to go. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because the name sounds cool as it rolls off your tongue, maybe because of where it is located, or maybe because it is a sleepy little fishing community along a stretch of Florida proudly called the “Forgotten Coast.” It lies in a narrow belt of what seems like inhospitable land between the Gulf of Mexico and nearly a million acres of forest.

This town is a fishing community. While shrimp, bay scallops, and finfish are plentiful, the name Apalachicola is synonymous with oysters. The fertile shallow water bays and rich gulf waters provide the bounty that keeps this town going. The downtown waterfront is a scenic blend of tree lined streets, historic brick buildings, and outstretched arms of fishing boats holding tangled nets. You know you are in a true working waterfront when in Apalachicola. Eclectic stores selling nautical artifacts, natural sponges, and marine artifacts are interspersed among the seafood restaurants, B&B's, shrimp packing plants, and historic 19th century buildings. “Apalach” (so called by the locals) has over 900 historic homes and building listed in its extensive National Register District, and the city was selected as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Designations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Downtown flower shop.
Chocolate store downtown.

On our way to Apalach we drove through Port St. Joe, Indian Pass, and Cape St. Blas. All sleepy little fishing towns compared to the Apalach. The St. Joseph Peninsula wraps around and protects these areas from the Gulf of Mexico and creates the shallow back bay that provides optimum conditions for oysters and scallops.

The Cape St. Blas lighthouse stands guard at the southern end of the peninsula. Originated in 1847, the lighthouse was quickly destroyed in 1851. After being rebuilt the structure was moved farther inland to protect it from the invading gulf and two lighthouse keeper residences were built. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1996 and is open to visitors along with the residences and has a gift shop.
Cape St. Blas lighthouse.
Lying just off the coast is the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a 12,300-acre uninhabited barrier island the provides habitat for endangered sea turtles, bald eagles, snowy plovers, migrating wood storks, and red wolves. An unexpected, pleasant surprise occurred when we went to the visitor center in downtown Apalach. Shelley Stiaes, a former coworker (from when I worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) is the refuge manager and met us at the door. We were both surprised to see each other but quickly got caught up with recent personal happenings and then she enlightened us about the refuge. Among her many challenges managing a National Wildlife Refuge was the difficulties that arose during last summer’s gulf oil spill. The refuge is the breeding ground for endangered sea turtles during the summer. Eggs had to be collected, packaged, and transported from the barrier island (via ATV and boat) back to the mainland. There they were picked up by FedEx and transported to a refuge on the Atlantic side of Florida. All the while extreme care had to be given to avoid rotating, jostling, or changing the temperature of the eggs. Eggs were hatched and released into the Atlantic last summer. As it turns out, there was no oil that impacted the beach or waters adjacent to the refuge.

Two places where we had so much fun in downtown Apalach that are “must go sees” are the Boss Oyster house where we had lunch and The Tin Shed that is just across the street and has the most eclectic collection of nautical items for sale that you will ever find. We had the most wonderful selection of large, juicy oysters that we’ve ever had. Some baked with cheese, bacon and hot sauce, some fried with blue cheese and celery and also buffalo shrimp. The restaurant sits on the Apalach River and offers a great view of the working waterfront.
Boss Oyster seafood restaurant.

Yum, baked with cheese, jalapenos, and bacon.

They must have been good!

Betsy ready to dig in.

The Tin Shed is tough to describe. Photos can’t even capture its true ambiance. It is just a huge old barn-like shed with all kinds of wonderful nautical items to explore. We can’t buy much on this trip because the moho is full but if we had a house we surely would have added to the collection that we just put into storage!


The Tin Shed.





How appropriate!


More pictures below.

  
Outside deck at the Boss Oysters Seafood Restaurant.
                                    
Shrimp boat at the downtown dock.

Laughing gull taking a break from bothing fishermen.

We found a new driver for the bus!

Downtown soda fountain.

Historic Port Gibson Inn.

Pile of shucked oysters with seagulls picking at the remains.

View of marsh near Apalach.

This is a true fishing town.

Old railroad used in logging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sara's Uncle Bill

For the last two nights we have called the Rustic Sands Campground in Mexico Beach “home.” When we pulled in on Sunday the office was closed but there was a note on the door instructing us to go ahead and pull into our site and settle up the bill when the office opened Monday morning. In front of the office was a board displaying the upcoming activities. We were in luck - there was a pancake breakfast the next morning for $4, poker at 6:30 pm and an ice cream social the following day. We were really starting to like this campground.

As we approached our site, we saw a small sandy driveway looking thing that had a wooden post displaying the number 32 – our site number. Next to our site, was an older model Tiffin (the same brand as our moho) and immediately we felt a connection to our neighbors. Our new neighbor, Shirley, was sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze of her patio. Knowing that I now had an audience, I tried my best not to look like the two-week old virgin fulltime rv’er that I was and run over the water main or electrical box. Shirley approached us immediately and her polite conversation made us feel welcomed in the new neighborhood. We apologized for sticking our big monstrosity so close to her house which was now shading out her afternoon sunset and invading her patio. While we hooked up the necessary cables and hoses that turn our motorhome into a house, Shirley began introducing us to the area and the campground.

She and her husband, Bill, have been full timing for 14 years and have a deep affinity for the campground and its owners. They are “snowbirds” that hail from northern Illinois that enjoy the traveling lifestyle. Their journey to the south every year takes them 6 weeks because they like to stop and smell the roses. For one month every year, the sleepy little town of Mexico Beach becomes their home where daily chores include fishing, relaxing, enjoying the beach, eating at the local restaurants, and experiencing what life is. Shirley reads 5 newspapers a day while Bill terrorizes the fish on the pier. Even when they are “home” in Illinois, they still reside in their motorhome. Their children and grandchildren live in the area and Bill has a glow about him when he talks about them.

By late afternoon Bill, along with Shirley’s cousin’s daughter’s wife’s husband, came home from a fishing trip bearing a bucket of their bounty. Remember, we were parked in Shirley and Bill’s patio so while sitting at our kitchen table we had box seats to the activities occurring on their porch. Once we saw a dozen little flopping fish sitting on their picnic table and two fillet knives being sharpened we could not sit by idle any longer. Out the door we went. It turned out Bill was as nice and chatty as Shirley. He proceeded to reveal that half of what came out of his mouth would be the truth and the other half would be bull. Either way it was our job to figure out which was which. The more he talked, the more we knew this was not going to be an easy task. He was a Baptist Minister, an astronaut, and a famous country singers uncle. All we knew was that he was mastering the job of carrying on a conversation while filleting a fish the size of my house key. Not a drop of his blood was drawn by the sharp knife.

One thing Bill kept insisting was that he was a famous country singers uncle. We were skeptical and needed proof. He tried to prove his claim by showing us a sticker on the front window, a signed t-shirt, and an autographed picture. It turns out that Bill really is the famous country singer Sara Evans’ Uncle. Sara Evans came into the country music scene in the mid to late 1990’s and has numerous hits along the way. She has a quintessential country sound. Her sultry voice, country twang, and captivating smile have generated comparisons to some of the great ladies of country music. Sara Evans is, and has been, one of my favorite country music singers so I was eager to hear more about our neighbor’s niece.

We (especially Betsy) try to pick other fulltime rv’ers brains. There is so much more about living fulltime in a motorhome than we learned at a one-week rv college. The challenge for us at this park was getting the free 79 cable channels that the campground promised would come through the thin little wire connected to a wooden post. Bill eagerly arose to the challenge and obliged to help us. He and Betsy flipped buttons, reconnected wires, changed remotes and looked for relay boxes that all could lead to a quick fix. Meanwhile, Shirley told me the story about how Sara Evans’ career began and of her trials and tribulations during her recent 6-year hiatus from the music business. Once I was caught up on Sara, we switched gears to trip planning. Thanks to Shirley our route through North Carolina has been planned and we will not miss one grain of sand along the Outer Banks. Yes, Betsy and Bill did fix the cable problem. We fell asleep flipping between 79 channels.

Shirley gave us the dates of Sara’s concert schedule and told us to pick a city and expect tickets and back-stage passes.

We will never forget Bill and Shirley as we drive down the road with our autographed Sara Evans pictures on the dashboard and “Suds in the Bucket” playing on the radio.

The bounty!

Our Mexico Beach home.  Bill and Shirley's rv is on the left.

Rustic Sands Campground, Mexico Beach, Florida

Monday, March 28, 2011

30-A

30-A is the name of a state highway in South Walton County, Florida. This road runs parallel to the coast and bisects towns such as Grayton Beach, Water Color, Seaside, Seacrest Beach, Water Sound, Rosemary Beach, and a host of other cutely named beach communities. We have been coming here for about 8 years and it has lured us back once again. In fact, we even bought a lot here in Seacrest Beach.

Located between the multi-story condos and hustle and bustle of Destin and Panama City, the towns along 30-A provide the quiet, quaint charm that we have come to love. Instead of wild spring breakers, there are Friday movie nights on the town lawn and free small concerts where kids run free and parents don’t worry. Tattoo parlors are replaced with book stores. Chain restaurants are replaced with funky beach bars. And, there is no Hooters – say no more!

If you want to come to the area, there is an abundance of rental houses and cottages ranging from small cozy carriage houses to multi-bedroom beachside houses. Additionally, there are hotels, inns, and small guest houses, and B&B’s along HWY 30-A. We have always rented private houses, but if you are looking for something easier, Watercolor Inn is a high-end, full-service hotel located right on the beach. If you prefer to stay in the Rosemary Beach area, there is a hotel and the Pensione B&B, both located near the “downtown” area. Grayton Beach has a small, charming B&B with great vegetarian breakfasts.

The restaurant scene in this area is very impressive. You can find everything from casual, inexpensive beach food to fine-dining with extensive wine lists. Every time we come, we hit Bruno’s Pizza (all you can eat buffet for lunch – only 5 bucks on Ladies’ Day), CafĂ© Thirty-A (fine dining with creative Florida-Caribbean food), Basmati (Asian-fusion food set in a serene location), and Pickles Beachside Grill (a casual restaurant set in downtown Seaside with EXCELLENT fried pickles).

Each town has a shopping district with an array of stores selling everything from clothing, antiques, art, and jewelry to home furnishings. If it is spas you want…..there are plenty. Since Grayton Beach State Park is only a bicycle ride away, we often ride to everywhere by bike and then there’s no problem parking for events…..and besides, it’s great exercise after we’ve eaten at one of the great restaurants/beach bars!

"Downtown" Seaside, Florida

Favorite bookstore in Seaside.

Had to finish my champagne before browsing in the bookstore.


Free concert at the Seaside amphitheater

Great music, weather, and champagne during the concert.

Gotta love a town that has a post office this size.

Airstream food trucks - everything from BBQ to grilled cheese to "frosty bites."

Yummy ice cream for desert.

Alys Beach - a new community along 30-A. 

Betsy and our lot in Seacrest Beach. 
Seacrest Beach.


Entrance to Seacrest Beach.




Rosemary Beach town hall and post office.

"Downtown" Rosemary Beach, Florida.

Rosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach

Typical house in Seaside.

Seaside community church.

Community school garden in Seaside.

The goods in the garden.

The school house in Seaside.  Not like the ones in New Orleans.

Saturday morning farmers market.
Vegetables anyone?