Archive for December, 2014

Florida Adventures, Part 1 of 2

I’m confident that I will have to put this in a two part series. Perhaps I’m rambling more since communication doesn’t happen that often while camping out in the boondocks. But I can’t make that claim on my trip to Florida. I hooked up with a lot of folks, starting with Billy from the very beginning of crossing the state line.

Incredibly beautiful grasshopper hopping around Florida!

Incredibly beautiful grasshopper hopping around Florida!

After a stay at Walmart, Billy and I parted ways. I went to Jacksonville while he went to New Smyrna. I spent the day at the library since I was in town before heading out to the beach. I had dinner complements of the Michael and Gisela at Applebees. (Just thinking about it makes my mouth water!)

Big Blue posing in front of St Augustine's Lighthouse!

Big Blue posing in front of St Augustine’s Lighthouse!

The next day I headed down the A1A Scenic and Historic Coastal Byway (not many national parks in the SE, so these scenic routes and state parks are compensating!) I wound up at the oldest continuously occupied community in the United States. It has a bajillion historical structures including Castillo de San Marcos built by the Spaniards in the 1600’s. I stopped to see the oldest church in Florida (Cathedral of St. Augustines) from the 1500’s as well as a stop at the Fountain of Youth! (I’ll let you know if a couple of decades whether it works or not!)

Oldest church in the whole USA from the 1500's...St. Augustine's

Oldest church in the whole USA from the 1500’s…St. Augustine’s

Probably though, the most interesting thing, was watching a peacock thinking he was the most interesting thing…in the chrome bumper of a pickup truck. There he was, on the side street, walking back and forth in front of this parked truck. After watching him, it became quite clear that he was rather mesmerized with himself!! Gorgeous creature…I don’t blame him…I was too!

Finding himself fondly attached to his new friend...this peacock is fascinated by his reflection in the chrome bumper of this Chevy pickup!

Finding himself fondly attached to his new friend…this peacock is fascinated by his reflection in the chrome bumper of this Chevy pickup!

Along the way I made a stop at Fort Matanzas National Monument, the remains of a Spanish fort completed in 1742. I had wanted to stop by Marineland which was built as the world’s first oceanarium in the 1930s but was compelled by the washing machine and hot shower of Ivan and Nina Jeffery to make haste to Ocala National Forest.

Big Blue hanging out at Ocala National Forest just an hour north of Orlando, FL. Disney's grandparents are buried in a cemetery just a walk from here.

Big Blue hanging out at Ocala National Forest just an hour north of Orlando, FL. Disney’s grandparents are buried in a cemetery just a walk from here.

Oh what a delight it was to gut out my van and get everything sifted through and sorted and cleaned. I pitched some of the things that I now recognize I won’t be needing along the way. Oh clean clothes is such a benediction. My glorified zip lock bag works great at getting clothes cleaned, but it does absolutely nothing for getting clothes dry! My shirts and pants  that I got from Academy Sports dry quickly, but all the other clothing articles…days!

Emptying out Big Blue to give her a full detail, thanks to Ivan and Nina!

Emptying out Big Blue to give her a full detail, thanks to Ivan and Nina!

After two nights there the Adkins and I realized that we were within an hour from each other as they were in Orlando at La Portofino Bay Hotel.

I was spoiled by the Adkins in Orlando as I hung out with them at LaPortafino Bay Hotel!

I was spoiled by the Adkins in Orlando as I hung out with them at LaPortafino Bay Hotel!

So I drove down there Monday morning and spent the day with them at Island of Adventure and Universal Studios…wowzer, what a gift that was! I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to them in Frisco, but boy did we have a great time in Orlando.

This was a very pleasant surprise to hook up with the Adkins and get to explore Universal Studios and Adventure Island with them!

This was a very pleasant surprise to hook up with the Adkins and get to explore Universal Studios and Adventure Island with them!

The food was fantastic too—Mythos for lunch, The Palm for dinner, and then the Hotel Buffet for breakfast. Oh that I was a squirrel and could tuck all the food away for a hungrier day!)

Suann and I hanging out at Island Adventure near the Lost City! What a fantastic time and way to see her and Larry...and I owe the gathering to facebook!

Suann and I hanging out at Island Adventure near the Lost City! What a fantastic time and way to see her and Larry…and I owe the gathering to facebook!

The morning we parted ways, things were getting very cold in Orlando and so I headed south until I got to the warmer climes of the Everglades! (some nights, too warm!)

I will have to share all that in another blog. The wildlife was incredible!

Oh what an adventure awaited me at the Everglades! Hopefully I'll be able to post some great pics from this portion of the trip this weekend!

Oh what an adventure awaited me at the Everglades! Hopefully I’ll be able to post some great pics from this portion of the trip this weekend!

Georgia Adventures!

On my way to Savannah, which is just a short jaunt from Charleston, I stopped by the oldest church in Georgia in Rincon. The old Salzberg society came over and started Jerusalem Lutheran Church as well as an orphanage.

This church (Old Salzburger Church or simply Ebenezer Church, but officially Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church) was built in 1767-1769. The bricks were handmade and you can see the fingerprints in them. This is the oldest church building in Georgia.

Savannah—what a beautiful port…seriously! Because I got in so late into Savannah (ie, the sun was starting to set), I just headed out to nearby Pilot station that I can get a shower ($12—highway robbery!) and park for the night.

Stopped at Pilot outside of Savannah to grab a shower and ended up meeting Billy!

Afterwards, that Monday, Nov 10, I worked at the library—you know, the one started by Andrew Carnegie especially for the African Americans so they too could have access to information back in the day (as a matter of fact, they were commemorating the dedication of the library on Nov 13th after 100 years).

Carnegie funded the establishment of a library for African Americans 100 years ago in Savannah, Georgia (which they celebrated their 100 year anniversary while I was there!)

Anyway, it serves the marginalized and underprivileged today and so I met many an interesting character (as well as went through all my cash!) But I did get the IIQ work done that I needed to, and headed back to Pilot since there weren’t any free camping sites nearer to Savannah.

The Olympic Cauldron where yachting events took place in the 1996 olympics. The five classic-style columns represent the five Olympic rings which form a pedestal on which the Olympic torch burns. Surrounding the flame are billowing sails symbolizing the sailboats. Gorgeous port city for sure!

This was the night I met my “living in a van” nomad tutor, Billy Sheppard! He’s a retired truck driver and have been traveling in his VW Westfalia for 5 months. There is a whole slew of “westys” out there, but we were both confident that I may be the only one trying to make a Chrysler Town & Country my home!

Caught these two hanging out in southern Georgia near Jekyll Island. I don’t know what the orange thing is that the bee is holding!

I had a buy one, get one free for Quarter Pounders, so we went into McDonalds for dinner. It was here that he informed me that I should NEVER pay for a shower, ever again. And he proceeded to start asking truckers who were in the restaurant if they had an extra shower on their card. Everyone he asked did so. “Just ask a trucker like this, ‘hey driver, do you have an extra shower on your card I could use?’”

Billy Sheppard and his faithful Westy (but not nearly as cozy as Big Blue, I’m sure!)

“I don’t know Billy, how can I make sure they would not expect anything in return?” “First of all, they are basically good family men trying to make a living. But another way is to keep an eye out for their ring finger. Most take the rings off if they have other intentions.” Of course, Billy didn’t have a ring…but that’s because he’s single! I’m thankful for this tip, because I haven’t had to pay for a shower since and have met many a fine men as a result.

Billy Sheppard with the green scrubbie Diana’s sister sewed for me. And there is Billy showing off his cooking skills there on his stove…bacon and egg sandwich, oatmeal with apple slices, and a tall glass of hot chocolate!

The next morning Billy made breakfast in his van for us (egg bacon sandwich and a tall glass of hot chocolate and a big bowl of oatmeal with sliced apples. More than I should ever eat, but it was so good. I thought I would not get hungry for the rest of the day!


Just a random photo of a lizard who was hanging out next to me while camping in Georgia!

I took $20 out of the atm (Billy informed me I should keep $300 in cash on hand…but I’m not so confident I could hang on to it for very long) and headed to historic Savannah to walk all the streets. (I spent $5 at the visitor center for postcards and stamps). And the history of the place is exhaustive! I did a lot of walking around that town on veteran’s day (which meant free parking too!). Watched the parade (long parade with many high school rotc programs…military is taken very seriously in Savannah) and continued on with my walk.

Congregation Mickve Israel synagogue in Savannah, GA…3rd oldest congregation. George Washington once wrote the Jews there:
“To the Hebrew Congregation of the City of Savannah, Georgia”:
“… May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”

I then stopped by and saw the oldest GA synagogue and the third oldest in the nation. (I spent $5 to donate to the museum). And inside the Congregation Michve Synagogue was a Torah from before the days of Christopher Columbus. The 15th century scroll traveled over in 1734 with the Jews who arrived here from Portugal & Spain via London. It was so meticulously written, the most readable of old Torahs I’ve ever seen. It’s odd to think that America has many more old synagogue buildings than does Europe. (Speaking of which, I just finished listening to the Diaries of Young Girl by Anne Frank. I don’t know why I did it. I knew she was going to die. I thought that knowledge would spare me the roller coaster of emotion that would come if I were blindsided by her death. But such knowledge does not prevent such responses, especially after having listened to her diary for two years). Anyway, seeing a Torah older than the reformation itself was really spine tingling.

An old Torah (1435) that came over to the USA in 1733 and is housed at the 3rd oldest Jewish congregation in America, Congregation Mickve Israel.

As I went from square to square in Savannah, I hooked up with a wonderful artist named Gullah who could turn the palm branches from the trees into pertin near anything! Here he is pictured with a rose and heart and cross all together. He wanted to sell it to me. And I certainly wanted to buy it for the artistry was phenomenal (I can’t even make a palm cross without youtube holding my hand). But there just wasn’t enough room in the van. So I just gave him $5 in the name of the One who died on that cross for him and I and humanity.

The great artist I met on Veterans’ Day in Savannah who could turn palm branches into pertin near anything! Gullah.

By about 2pm my tummy was rumbling, and I had $5 left. I strolled over to the oldest house in Georgia—the Pirate’s House—now a pub. Much much history and speculation about the going ons at this place which you can read about here.  But the menu at the pub had nothing less than $5. Then I met a trumpeter hanging out at Reynolds square where a statue commemorating Wesley’s visit is and he directed me to a pizza joint…but nothing less than $5. So I thought I’d just walk the river until I came across a convenience store where I could grab a bag of chips or something. And lo and behold as I was walking the river there was a little kiosk called The Naked Dog selling lunch specials of any kind of hotdog, a bag of chips, and a soda pop for $5! I know, I know…for you naturalists out there…big deal. But for the likes of me…I prayed more thanksgiving over that meal than I have over many meals before which were fit for a king!

Oldest house in Georgia with a very colorful history…but no food for less than $5!

Billy and I hooked up again at the TA further down the road as we were both headed to Florida. I was taking the coastal route and he was taking I-75. But the two intersected at one point and so we both met up there. In the morning he made tuna melts and oatmeal for breakfast. He even made an extra one for my lunch! (God just knew I needed a gourmet chef in my life, since I’m not living with my brother right now!)

After an unsuccessful ministry of 2 years at Savannah in the Georgia Colony, Wesley returned to London and joined a religious society led by Moravian Christians. On 24 May 1738 he experienced what has come to be called his evangelical conversion, when he felt his “heart strangely warmed”. He subsequently departed from the Moravians, beginning his own ministry. But Methodism flourished afterwards but Savannah was his first visit to the USA.

I drove south along the 81 miles of Sea Islands scenic byway from Savannah to Jekyll Island. (Its at times like this I wish I liked seafood!) So many beaches and swamps to see along the way, but the thing that caught my fancy was tripping into the smallest church in the USA. Lol…about the size of my van with just a bit more headroom!

Memorial Park Christ Church, the smallest church in America. Built in 1950, it measures 10’x15′ and has space for about a dozen people and is open 24 hrs a day!

Billy messaged me that he couldn’t get his van started and that I was to meet him at exit 1 in Florida if could, to help give him a push start. So I headed on down to Florida. Meanwhile, he got it started and told me of a Walmart parking lot he found to stay at. I was going to set up camp at the Stephen Foster State Park (near the Swanee River!) but headed to Walmart to stay the night with Billy to make sure he could get his car going the next morning before heading to his buddy’s house in New Smyrna.

Me and Billy Sheppard in Georgia and Florida…learning the nomadic ways from this retired truck driver!

He grilled us up some hamburgers for dinner and in the morning set me up with some pork chops for lunch and again some delicious oatmeal for breakfast. I’m going to miss him a lot! Anyway, after a few false starts God gave him one more good start so he could make it all the way to New Smyrna before discovering it was his fuel pump causing the problem.

Big Blue at Florida’s welcome center before heading a little more south to hook up with Billy at Walmart to see if we can get his van started!

This isn’t even the half of it, but I’ve gobbled up enough of your time for now. I will begin my Florida adventures in the next blog post!

Rest of South Carolina Adventure

Wow! It is going to be tough to recap everything in the last four weeks!

After the flat tire incident, which really was a blessing in disguise because I did need those two tires changed out and who would have thought it would only cost $55! Plus it taught me a good principle I should employ while galavanting around the nation 30,000 miles worth—only drive in daylight hours. I don’t want to imagine that scenario in the dark and cold!

Speaking of dark and cold, it was a dark, damp, cold night when I was at a Love’s truck stop when I returned to my van to discover that my keys were not in my pockets or purse. I tried to open the front door and thought “Hokeydoodle, I have left my keys in the van and all the doors are locked.” I remember distinctly hitting the master lock switch when exiting the van.

Leaving my keys in a locked van on a cold dark night is scarier than walking into this guy on a beautiful day!

But then, I remembered that the electric lock on the driver rear side door did not always abide the master’s command. I’m glad to report, that rebellion saved me a very long night at the Love’s station on Thanksgiving Eve night—it opened, and there were my keys in the ignition! Thank God for the idiosyncrasies of this 2001 Chrysler!

See? This is why it will take forever to recap…that was just a 15 minute incident from my 60 day journey so far!

Big Blue at Congaree National Park (no longer called Congaree Swamp Monument!)

So as I was saying, after the tire incident, I then headed to Congaree National Park. It used to be called the Congaree Swamp National Monument. But lo and behold, once they removed that “ugly” S-word (2003) visitors started coming! I don’t know, I kind of find the word “swamp” mysterious and kind of enticing.

Swamp of South Carolina

But truthfully, it really isn’t a swamp, it is a floodplain (which just happens to flood about 10 times a year). The Everglades is a swamp—standing water always. And truth be told, Congaree can be described as the Everglades meet the Redwoods! Though instead of Redwoods it is old-growth bottomland hardwoods draped in Spanish moss. Loblolly pines, sweet gums, dwarf palmettos, cherrybark oaks, water tupelos, beechnut trees, bald cypress (some of whose knees reached 7’ tall!), water hickory, and many others create a towering canopy (higher than in the Amazon rain forest) which generated what I am calling a “sound dome.”

Bald Cypress trees of the Congaree Ntl Park. Their “knees” can be as tall as 7′! Gobs of them every where!

That is what struck me the most. I wish I could have found the source of every unique sound that reverberated throughout the park, but the easiest of them to find was the woodpecker! His tap tap tapping was the most constant. The insects were fiddling, the birds were singing, the frogs were croaking, the bugs were chirping, the squirrels were clicking, the fish were splashing…all of which I would have missed the sound of, if it weren’t for the dome-like effect of the champion trees. It would give the Superdome a run for its money as far as 12th man effect!

At Weston Lake in the Congaree National Park where old-growth hardwood trees abound as well as minnows, tadpoles and red-bellied turtles.

The river which floods it, and the park, are named after the Native American tribe that used to live there. As I hear often in the southeast here, this tribe too was decimated in the 1700s from smallpox and such. The only critters I actually saw (as opposed to heard) were a squirrel, a turtle, minnows, a pregnant frog, tadpoles, white heron, blue heron, woodpecker and several other birds too far away to capture a photo.

Can’t see his red belly, but those motherboard-green strips and his turtle shell are a sure give away that he is a Red-Bellied Turtle!

I then headed to Charleston, SC via the Ashley River Road Scenic byway. It’s just 11 miles, but on it I was able to see a lot of plantation history (Drayton Hall from 1738), and still see the beauty of the old buildings, gardens and iron gates.

Oldest church in South Carolina…St. Andrews Episcopal Parish established in 1706.

But what compelled me down the road the most was the oldest continuous congregation at Old St. Andrew Parish (Episcopal) Church started in 1706, and then rebuilt again in 1764 after a fire. Also there is the oldest freed African American church in SC right across the street in Springfield Baptist Church in 1863.

Coming together in the mid 1860s, freed slaves established the first freely organized Baptist congregation at Springfield Baptist Church.

My next stop in SC after that was Francis Marion National Forest because it has free camping outside of Charleston. (Congaree was free too—they are still trying to make a name for themselves…still have to entice people to sojourn that way, unlike the Everglades or Yosemite, etc.) The map made FMNF seem like it was just stone’s throw away from civilization, but alas! I thought I was traveling to edge of the world and began to imagine creepy deranged men waiting for weary travelers. But once I arrived I was pleased to see other campers with fires burning and kids playing and I set up camp underneath the watch tower and settled down for a few days. Didn’t do much exploring here since it was raining and I had work to get done. It was just a few days to work work work (which by the way, I hope you St. Philip’s folks are appreciating the “work work work” done to create those God’s Story handouts! )

Big Blue at Francis Marion National Forest…free camping…a rarity for the east coast!

After a morning in Charleston, and Sullivan’s Island, I then headed towards Savannah.

This bird was swooping right at me on the bridge at the Breach Inlet off Sullivan’s Island the whole time…but I didn’t have a good camera with me! I don’t know what he was/is!

Georgia Blog coming the end of this week, DV