The campground was bathed with inky black shadows as we pulled through, looking for a site. There was only one or two other vehicles in the grounds, and we were truly shocked to find anyone at all this far out in the middle of nowhere.
We couldn’t decide if we should be comforted or deterred by this.
Sleepiness overtook unease, however, and we set up in a space several over from the other folks and around a bit of a bend. We had practiced setting up the tent before leaving, making putting it together now in the dead of night much easier. We were set up and had a campfire going in about 20 minutes. As we sat before the fire, we gazed up at the stars again, and marveled that the lights from surrounding city’s still didn’t reach the horizon where we were.
We crawled into the tent for the night, relieved to be able to stretch and lay flat as we slept for the first night in a few. But sleep itself didn’t come easy.
Neither of us are seasoned campers, and it had been a few years since either of us had gone, so every noise we heard popped open our eyes. From bugs pinking against the side of our bright green tent, to wind shaking dead palm fronds, to the occasional frog that chirped, we were on alert. Eventually however, we drifted off and were only woken again when the heat from the rising sun began baking the moisture in the tent.
As we opened the door to our portable sauna, we were greeted with another bright and beautiful day. The camper and his two large dogs across the way peeked over at us as we rearranged the car and began tearing down our sleeping arrangements. We never intended on staying long, just finding a spot to spend the night. That doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the beauty of the spot, however.
As we rolled out, navigating the winding path back to the campground entrance, we were much more cautious of oncoming traffic. The one lane road with narrow pull offs at each bend was easier to drive down in the evening, when headlights would have warned me about oncoming cars. We passed an official looking truck, but no others.
The campsite booth seemed much friendlier in the daylight, and a gentleman was working out front as we pulled up. I scurried out and grabbed an envelope from the box very clearly labeled “camping fee $10 per night” and stuffed a ten into it. I filled in our information appropriately and wrote a sorry note on the back about not paying it ahead of time.
Part of me wonders if anyone even realized we stayed the night, having only been there around 10 hours. As we always do as well, we took only pictures and left only footprints.
Having deposited the fee, we began back down the 30 mile dirt road back to the main stretch, eyes open for signs of native fauna.
Kites (the bird, not the play thing) soared above us as we peeked into the ponds by the culverts in the road for gators. We did spot one as we left, and got out to take a couple pictures of the relatively small dinosaur.
The needle on my gas gauge began to sink, and my fingers gripped the wheel a little tighter as I handed my phone to Ron. Any gas station would do, but we needed to stop somewhere.
Miles went by in slow molasses like minutes as my dash reminded me I has 40 miles ’til empty. 18 miles to the gas station. Hypothetically we should make it right?
And we did, thank God. I pulled into a bustling miniature city of a truck stop, alive with tractor trailers, minivans, and pickup trucks hauling trail muddied atvs. Weaving through pedestrians I pulled up to a pump, and marveled at the price of 3.15 a gallon for unleaded.
We decided to pass this station up for one just up the road for much cheaper.
As we made this decision, however, attendants had begun cleaning off our car. A flock of tawny brown birds descended upon Peppers grill, dislodging gigantic dragonflies, mosquitos, and all sorts of mangled insects that we had picked up on our already long journey.
After the birds had finished their wash cycle, we pressed on and filled up. Along the way, sunlight and caffeine kickstarting our brains and helped us come up with a game plan for the next two days. We decided we would check out a beach in Miami before cutting south and camping one more night before we began our stay in Orlando the next day.
It was then it dawned on us, that we would check into a hotel tomorrow.
Tomorrow was shower day.
That thought alone brought us joy, and we rolled the windows down to better smell the fresh spring air as we rolled down the highway.
This joy fractured as we hit traffic, however, and I slumped into my seat as we patiently made our way into the city.
Growing up outside of Philadelphia we both knew that highways could become parking lots in an instant, and that impatient drivers usually caused more problems.
The beach itself was not any better either. Families were set up at Pavilions having birthday parties and all sorts of get-togethers. We tossed towels down on the empties space on the beach we could find and padded down white sands to crystal clear water. The beach was a in bay in Miami, so as you can imagine there were yachts parked just beyond the swimming area, occupants blasting music and partying in the mild April sun.
We spent some time cooling off in the water, enjoying the weightlessness the waves brought us after having sat in the car for so long. Eventually we were driven back to the shore, as Ron’s insulin pump began alerting that he needed to hook back up.
Eventually, I’d like to make a post about traveling with someone with type one diabetes, and Ron has expressed interest in talking about it. It’s certainly a unique challenge, but one that we’ve managed to overcome to help his dreams come true.
As we dried off on the beach I began looking for somewhere to sleep for the evening as Ron looked up somewhere to eat.
Remember those free campsites I mentioned before? I discovered something incredible about the state of Florida. The land is divided into 5 water management districts, and in any of those given districts is land that they have set aside to ensure its untouched for drinking water. Most if not all of these sites are host to hiking and horseback riding trails, game land, and free campsites. The only catch? You have to apply for a permit to the site online. Finding a site close to where we were going was more difficult than applying for one of these permits however, and I managed to secure one for a campsite halfway between us and Orlando.
In chatting while booking the site we decided on bbq for dinner, and that we’d pick it up and take it with us to the site.
We let the sun bake us for a while longer before we felt it’s heat begin to fade and storm clouds began to loom threateningly in the distance. It was time to make our way back to the car. We were going to try to make it to the camp before sundown, but the change in the weather spurred our heels and we got back on the road.
After we picked up our food, the aroma of the freshly cooked meats filled the car as we drove, and our bellies rumbled as the GPS slowly ticked down miles to our destination. At this point we were driving directly towards the storm, and the sky began to darken from the monolithic clouds before us.
Thunder began to roar as the sky swirled with dark grays and purples. And I mean purple. It was accentuated too by bright purple bolts of lightning spider webbing through the massive clouds. We drove closer and closer, untouched by the rain until we got beneath the massive shelf of the storm.
Then quite literally all hell broke loose.
Wind whipped the car and rain pelted down, blurring the lines on the road, visibility dropped dramatically, and I gripped the wheel tighter as none of the cars around me slowed down. The rain fell harder as we drove on, and cars began to turn hazards on and pull over. We followed suit, less concerned about how fast we got there and more with getting there at all.
While stopped, Ron pulled up a weather radar on his phone to see how long we’d have to wait for it to pass. Luckily, the worst was past us and the storm was beginning to lighten up. But there was another cell that we would have to drive through to make it to the campground.
We continued moving, carefully making our way down the highway until we reached the break in the storms; lightning from the maelstrom behind us reflected off the much darker wall that stood in front of us. As we drove beneath this one the world around us became much darker, like the sun had already set. The rain wasn’t as harsh, but it was just as persistent.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it before sunset, but the rain had stopped well before we pulled into the park hosting the campground.
One other car sat in the lot by the obviously closed visitors center. The diesel pickup truck was idling near the exit, and we were wary if it as we drove around back. After reading and rereading the map, we finally located the locked gate that led to the campgrounds, put in the entrance code, and made our way to our spot.
As we got out of the car, Ron began waving around his giant spotting light, taking in what was surrounding us. Towering pines dotted the Glen, and there were a few rvs parked around the outside. Emerald eyes flashed at him from across the field and he yelped.
“What was that!” he yelled, hands fumbling with the flashlight to try to find it again. As he focused the flashlight on the tiny intruder, we made out the adorable face of an armadillo as it bounced along.
Okay so it wasn’t that scary of an animal, but armadillos do carry leprosy, so there is some amount of real danger in seeing one. We managed to set the tent and campfire up even faster than last night, and cozied up as we enjoyed our takeout. While we ate we watched field cats and possums make their commute to whatever buffet they were helping themselves to that night, they took little mind to us.
We felt much more comfortable here as we tucked into the tent to sleep. Something about being surrounded by a fence with a main road nearby just settled my mind more.
The next morning greeted us with more sunshine and blue skies, and we stretched out as we made our way to the parks restrooms for morning relief.
Both of us were chaperoned by insects during this experience. Ron screamed as a palmetto bug charged at his open toed feet, but I was too distracted by the mud dauber wasps hovering just above my head to hear it. A little shaken up but feeling better, we returned to the car to get ready for the day.
I require some time to become a human being in the mornings so I posted up on the picnic table for a few minutes to let the sun wake me up. Ron joined me, and shortly after a dragonfly landed on his shirt. Both of us were astounded by this, and talked very softly to it as we looked it over and took pictures. The poor creature had a broken wing, and was likely exhausted from trying to keep up with the moderate breeze blowing today.
As eager as we were to have our new friend, we did have to keep moving, so I scooped it up in my hands and set it gently on a tree where it took off from a few minutes later.
An extremely kind campground attendant came to check in with us as we packed up, inquiring about our trip. After she walked away I commented on my own stench and how I wish I could have had a shower before interacting with someone that closely.
It dawned on us.
Today was finally shower day.
We excitedly took to the car, destination set for Orlando, where we would spend a few days at Universal Studios. Make sure to follow to hear about our time there, how we got trapped in a timeshare meeting, and all sorts of misfit adventures!