Saturday, March 10, 2012

Florida 2012 - Week 1

We leave home where it's sunny and fairly warm for March 1st.  It's a hectic morning and a tearful goodbye with our new baby niece and her mommy, but we head off looking forward to warm sunshine in a few days.  We expect to arrive in Florida at our reserved campground in the Ocala National Forest on March 4th, giving us four days to make the 1,300 mile journey.  At the end of the Day 1 drive in Lima, Ohio, we arrange to stay in the parking lot at the Cracker Barrel where we have dinner.  But after eating, we check the weather forecast on the computer and learn that Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee (our route south) are all expecting "severe winds, large hail and possible tornadoes" on Friday afternoon - tomorrow!  After about a 10 minute discussion, we decide to pack up and drive through the night, getting past Tennessee by Friday morning.  Amazingly, we manage to reach the Tennessee-Georgia border by 6:30 am.  Brad and I drive and sleep in shifts; Grady just sleeps.

By 6:30 Friday morning, arriving in Georgia at a rest area, we pull in and sleep until about noon, then pack up and take off again.  Trees here are blooming - red, purple, white and green.  Wow!  We only reach Macon, Georgia by about 5pm and we decide to pull into a beautiful rest area to have dinner.  We end up staying the night again because we get too comfortable and because we're so exhausted.  We learn that there were tornadoes in Tennessee and northwest Georgia on Friday.  Our drive on Saturday is plagued by very heavy rain, but once we cross the border into Florida, the skies clear and temperatures rise to 28C.

What an adventure, but we're grateful to miss most of the really bad weather.  We let everyone at home know we're still alive.

Since we've driven south so quickly, we arrive in Florida a day early, but we don't have anywhere to stay, except Walmart, rest areas, etc.  Now this is for Saturday night - one of the most-reserved nights at a campground, so we did go online again and get lucky enough to find one site left at a State Park right outside the Ocala National Forest which is our intended destination.  What a find!  It is a really nice park and we're sorry that we don't have time to explore it before heading off to our reserved campsite.

Brad chopping wood at our campsite, Juniper Springs
Our first campsite in the Ocala National Forest is very nice with our "backyard" overlooking the lush forest of palms and pines.  Our first night is very cold - down to about 35F or about 1C or 2C.  Grady remembered from our trip out west last year where the nights were below freezing in New Mexico that if he scratched on my blanket, I will open it and let him under the covers.  He NEVER sleeps under the covers at home, but here we don't run the heat all night, just pile on the blankets.  He makes me hot (Grady, not Brad) and I sweat all night long even though it's only about 50F (10C) inside the  trailer this night. 

Juniper Spring, Ocala National Forest
We swim in the 72F Juniper Spring, for which this campground is named.  Good thinking to have brought our wet suits and snorkel gear.  There are no big fish in the spring pool, only small minnows, but the swim is refreshing and the sun warms us after.  We also hike and bike the trails in the park, going to a second spring near our campsite where there are "boils" - springs bubbling up through the sand and causing underwater volcanoes.  It's really interesting to see.

On Thursday, we replenish our groceries and transfer to another campground in the Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs.  Funny story - when we get to the campground gatehouse, the attendant says, "Oh, you've arrived a day early, but that's okay, your reserved site isn't occupied."  Huh?  A day early?  "Isn't this Thursday, March 9th?" I ask.  "No.  It's Thursday, March 8th."  Oops!  That's what happens when you're on retirement time.  We actually select a different site that is less shaded so that our solar panels work to refuel our batteries and our satellite dish works.  The first night and next day are STINKING hot - humid with thunderstorms predicted, but none come.  There is a beautiful spring pool here too, much larger with more fish.  More on Alexander Springs adventures next week.

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