Where Florida Begins

Posted April 7, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
To listen to the podcast, click the play button

My love for you is like a Florida sunset. Orange, coral, pink, and lavender, it exists to warm your heart through the inevitable darkness.

      – Anonymous

Welcome to Part One of The Navy Brat Tour 2020-21: From Jacksonville, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia, this 4-3-2 galavant through my itinerant childhood is about visiting places I remember and have not seen in more than 55 years.

It was all Jim’s idea and I’m loving it. Besides seeing the places I have described to him for decades, Jim also included a prelude bonus side-trip along The Gulf of Mexico, the seashore most fluent in our favorite southern dialect, Shrimp n’ Oysters.

Navy Brat Tour 2020-21

Winter Weather

We’d originally planned to spend winter on the Pacific coast, but the border of Mexico was closed and La Niña was pushing cold and wet weather into Southern California. So, we took our chances on The Panhandle, or as the board of tourism calls it, Where Florida Begins. But we should have consulted with our friend and weather guru Dr. David Titley on RV Weather. David is an esteemed expert in climate, tropical meteorology, oceanography, and is also a retired Rear Admiral, USN. He and his wife, Kathy, have recently released Underway Shift Colors!, a stellar travel blog with valuable information for all RVers about climate, weather forecasts and the RV lifestyle.

Hmm … Maybe David knows this Caleb Wetherbee, who’s long-range weather projection for Winter in North Florida 20-21 was spot-on.

Chilly and Showery was a kind way to put it. It was cold. Downright cold. Save The Chihuahua, cold.

“Where’s the beach?” – Pico de Gallo Great Explorer of The Universe

But, without any climate sense whatsoever, we dove into the sub-tropics and burned through enough propane to warm a small Canadian province – and about as much bourbon, if I remember correctly.

And this wasn’t the first winter we’ve had to pull out the ski-jackets in Florida. It rained iguanas on our first winter to The Keys in 2017. Apparently, the poor tree-dwelling critters lose their little frozen grips and drop to the ground (and, on trailer roofs) with a sickening thud.

Hanging on through that cold Florida winter was unsettling for me as well. Throughout my youth in a suburban Jax neighborhood, I cannot recall ever wearing, or even owning, a coat. In 1967 when Mama said we would need coats for our move to Dad’s new duty station in Europe, I deduced the thing would look like Eva Gabor’s fur coat on Green Acres and a feathery boa scarf to go with – which set me up for an epic Sears & Roebuck disappointment.

The photos we present in this sloppy storyline should not be taken as a description of our entire experience in North Florida. For every fair day at least three tragically unfair days followed.

In these conditions Pico bravely conducted his wee business “downstairs.”

Long winter naps replaced walks on the beach. We read books, puttered about, mended and organized. We went locker spelunking and found long lost items and restored them to their proper places. We made pasta because hey, why not?

3-D Printing

This abundance of inside time made Jim itch for a project. So, he collaborated with my nephew, Gabriel Miller in Maryland (a 3-D printing wizard) on a LIB project.

We had a problem. Airstream was out of the screened door “slidey-thing” which slides to cover the framed opening for the door-handle. When the door is open and the screen door is shut this rectangular gap is open to the outside. It serves well as a beer service window, but on the East coast, it’s more important than that. The original slidey-thing – yellowed with age and damaged from constant use – developed a slight gap which provided access to no-see-ums. (That’s right. Florida was insanely cold, wet and buggy) So, Gabriel kindly came to the rescue, designing and printing an even better functioning and more esthetic “slidey-thing.” He even gave us color options. To say the least, Jim is beyond thrilled with how this project turned out – and, like the space station, LIB now has 3-D printing capability. Thank you, Gabe!

Thus, with noodles, books, and other people’s hobbies we persevered well enough through those miserable months. Sure, I confess to releasing the occasional dramatic lamentation, “Will this weather ever let up so my Florida can come out to play?” But, ultimately, I accepted Earth’s well-deserved rant – even felt the stronger for it, resourceful and proud, much like our good Canadian friends who should take comfort that they really didn’t miss all that much in Winter 2020-21.

Someone once said you can never go back, and that’s probably true if recapturing a former experience is the purpose. But going back can also be fascinating. Other than fairer weather, I had no illusions about a reprise of my happy North Florida childhood. I grew up. Florida grew up. We may not even recognize each other. So I set my sights on “fascinating.”

New Years Day

Eating peas is our New Years Day tradition. Also, spending time in quiet contemplation.

A New Years Day pot of peas – Jim’s mom, Ruby, would be pleased.

So, on January 1 – under stormy skies – we pulled out of Gulf Shores State Park and headed east, crossing the Florabama line.

Then we drove through Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, until we finally entered Okaloosa and a town previously known as Boggy – until 1910 when (as the story goes) the postmaster’s daughter had a different idea …

Niceville is Boggy.

At least the wildly popular Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival survives Niceville’s former and more aptly descriptive name. This region of Florida is a haven for those seeking alone time with nature.

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park served well as our hermitage for the first two weeks of 2021.

This small state park has generously sized spaces. Once a World War II bombing range, the grounds are undergoing restoration.

Camp spaces are equipped with partial hookups – water and electricity, but no sewer. There is a bathroom and an outdoor laundry facility. This park is not a resort and there are few amenities other than quiet, scenic water-front access.

A cathedral of peace
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park
The Deer Moss made us think of Trouble With Tribbles. This transient lichen is a blend of algae and fungus. It takes 75-100 years for a colony to develop.

The New Year peas worked. We went kayaking, and received a dolphin pod visitation.

From the launch you can paddle to the open ocean.

And from the pier, we watched a succession of storms arrive and blow out to sea.

Fred Gannon Boat Launch and fishing pier

On dry days, the neighbors showed up for dinner …

And, on occasion, we went out for suds.

New Year Resolution: No more pub food. Behold, homemade Greek Rice.
Pico layers up for the outdoor seating at 3rd Planet Brewing in Niceville, Florida

With the annual Canopener Airstream rally in progress, we drove about thirty miles to Destin for a visit with our wonderful Airstream friends, Judy and Michael Shelley to celebrate 2021, but the party broke early due the potential of hypothermia.

Presnell’s RV Resort and Marina

Will it be warmer a hundred miles south? We could only hope. We hitched up on a rainy morning and drove past Mexico Beach …

Even though it was sprinkling, Pico enjoys a break on beautiful Mexico Beach

… toward our favorite part of Florida, The Forgotten Coast, where independent businesses thrive and the corporate profile is so low they can rake it over with oyster shells.

We are currently taking a break from our no-reservations travel philosophy. Seems everybody is camping these COVID days and many campgrounds are still closed. So, for the first time since we began LIB, we are traveling on a confirmed schedule all the way through the summer. This is not our preferred way to travel, but it will do until some degree of normal returns.

So, we pulled into Presnell’s RV Resort and Marina, our home for the next 30 days. Just a few miles south of Mexico Beach and Port Saint Joe, Presnell’s is cozied up beside Saint Joseph Bay, known for its scallop habitat.

Peas are still working – the best fishmonger in town is right next door!
Yeah, Baby!!! Propane on site!

We love Presnell’s and our site on the canal. This is a full-service private campground with a small pool and boat launch.

Apalachicola Day Trips

From here we made two sunny-day trips to Apalachicola in Franklin County – about a fifteen minute drive from Presnell’s.

Apalachicola is on our (unpublished) top-ten favorite “small towns to visit” in America.

Our lil’ Salty Dog

This is where I stock up on toiletries at Rose’s, while Jim and Pico hang out at Oyster City Brewing Company.

There is an Old Time Soda Fountain,

A Pink Flamingo drink at the Old Time Soda Fountain

oak lined streets with beautiful old antebellum homes…

and, for curiosity seekers and historians, Chestnut Street Cemetery alone is worth the trip.

Take the Walking Tour

Lynn’s

Every visit to Apalachicola always includes a sumptuous dinner at Lynn’s Oyster Bar – our favorite seafood joint on the planet.

The gang at Lynn’s
Parking lot at Lynn’s. Check the tide chart before parking.

Cape San Blas Day Trip

We almost finished the Loggerhead Run Bike Trail in Cape San Blas

Community Coffee break in Cape San Blas
Pico loves the beach almost as much as dirty sidewalks.

but had to turn around when a storm blew in …

Stormy surf at Cape San Blas

so, we took refuge on the deck of The Scallop Republic where on Friday nights gifted Southern musicians will break your heart and put it back together again.

Port Saint Joe Day Trip

Joe Mama’s at Port St. Joe

Lunch at Joe Mama’s along with a visit to the beautiful lighthouse was a perfect way to spend those precious partly cloudy afternoons.

Saint George’s Island Day Trip

When a perfectly cloudless day suddenly appeared out of nowhere, we grabbed it and took a 15-mile bike ride along the edges of colorful Saint George’s Island.

But rain or shine, there’s no place like home …

Jim drying the laundry up on the deck at Presnell’s
A man and his chihuahua

Considering the weather and all the fish we were buying next door, Jim’s new outdoor kitchen and Blackstone grill performed beautifully.

Whenever the coast was clear I went paddling on Saint Joesph Bay, and came home to a tasty, nutritious fish dinner!

I sincerely hope this isn’t just a phase he’s going through.

Voila! A platter of Shrimp Fried Rice!

Florida still knows how to throw a sunset.

Thank you Presnell’s for the 30-day visit!

At the end of the day – whether the constant stampede of clouds were coming, or going, or indecisive – the sun managed to squeeze in the last word.

One day at a time, we slogged through the cold and damp. Like Bradbury’s story, The Long Rain, determination and luck saw us through.

If that is the definition of “blessed” then, we were most blessed.

Is there a forecast for luck? Is destiny a crap-shoot? Opportunity is certainly not assigned in equal measures. Some need more luck and determination than others.

There are no easy answers.

The gift of heaven’s mercy is free.

But luck, timing, and the best of all possible circumstances rush to my doorstep when I pursue my utmost good and focus on celebrating the utmost good in others.

And, it don’t hurt none to eat those peas.

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


Click here to see some of our other campground reviews

42 thoughts on “Where Florida Begins

  1. Always love your posts. I would love to read/listen to Pico’s perspective post (or maybe I miss it). As canines are so territorial, it must be a Herculean challenge for this non-quindecennial daggit to adjust from an at home guardian to his new role in riding shotgun. For some reason (and I have never owned a pet), I see this adventure through his eyes…

    1. Hey Herb!

      I totally get it. This makes perfect sense …”Great minds” and all that.

      Pico knows more about us than we know about ourselves or each other, and he perceives more about places. We just watch and learn.

      Like all of our dogs, Pico’s intelligence increases with age. Our dogs have always lived long lives (18, 17 and 20) so we’re comfortable with his grumpy senior antics like demanding we go to bed with him no later than 9:30PM. His peculiar shenanigans are a marvel – like having “real” complicated and diverse relationships with his plush toys: His nemesis, Fighty Puppy; his sometimes companion, sometimes precious off-spring is Ratty-rat; and, his paramour (a possum stuffed inside a dopey-looking daggit) is called, shall we say, Funny Puppy. Pico’s attempts at human conversation on the phone with his Aunties and Grandpapa (someday, I should video that behaviour) and his long sunbaths and excruciatingly thorough foot baths are just a few of the adorable behaviors that make Pico de Gallo, Great Explorer of The Universe, a unique and constantly entertaining travel companion.

      As far as his adjustment to LIB, he does have preferences for warmer climates, coastlines and dirty streets – the filthier they are the more his eyes dance with glee. But he also loves a good low tide – lots of fascinating sniffs there. Marking is his passion and to this purpose he has unlimited talents. Honestly, we don’t know where he keeps the stuff in that tiny body. But, the more we move, the more urgency to mark. It is his life’s work, his vocation and we’re certain he has already set some kind of a world record.

      Always wonderful to hear from you, Herb!

  2. I loved reading your latest post!!! It perfectly explains why I loved our time in Libby. I was often grateful for less than perfect weather because it gave time to quietly regroup and appreciate the simplicity of our lives, catch up on overdue “stuff,” experiment in the galley, and appreciate nature for doing the same to the planet. Now as we continue to adjust to land bound life, I’m taking pleasure in creating another “home.” Full of pre-owned treasures and lacking in abundance I know I no longer need. Ed’s library on the upstairs loft is still over abundant but he’s a happy camper up there. Santa Fe is a great town for finding treasures in consignment and thrift shops. It’s good knowing you 3 are well and thriving. We are beginning to hanker for a “woofer” but still miss Finnegan painfully. He will never be replaced but we know he is watching us from over the rainbow bridge as he romps and plays with old and new friends. We both send love and big hugs. Until we meet again…Susan and Ed

    1. Oh Susan, Finnegan would want a fuzzy-muzzle to step in to bless you and Ed. It is a good old dog’s legacy to leave his human’s hearts open to a new companion.

      We will come to see you in Santa Fe – not sure exactly when but we will keep you posted. I can’t wait to see how you are settling in.

      Love to you both!

      xoxo

      Carmen @ LIB

  3. Your pictures are beautiful – as always! Thanks for taking us along. Presnell’s looks like a great little campground. I’ll have to add it to our list. We absolutely love that area of Florida.

    1. Hey Brenda,

      We totally agree – most beautiful area in the U.S.

      If those bugs didn’t love Jim’s blood soooooo much, we’d probably be looking for permanent digs in Apalachicola, Carrabelle, or Crystal or Chassahowitzka Rivers. So beautiful there.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  4. Another awesome post of your adventuring. The short drone video clip is a very nice touch. May your Navy Brat tour be as interesting and fulfilling as the beginning.

    1. Thanks Darrell! Always great to hear from you.

      The NB tour is progressing beautifully. Such great memories on the East Coast.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  5. Airstream friendships survive time and distance well; we so enjoyed being with you again and sharing a meal in Santa Rosa Beach, as we did 2-1/2 years prior in Salem, OR. We so enjoy each of your posts (and who doesn’t enjoy Carmen’s voice?); each one contributes to our “hitch itch” problem/blessing. Certainly agree that this winter’s trip to the FL panhandle was rather dreary; weather was so cold and wet. We did continue on to the Keys and loved that; already have two trips planned there in 2022. Many of your recommendations are found among our gear, processes (blooming our FP coffee), campgrounds and food/libation locations. Oyster City’s Hooter Brown is a fav brew; Lynn’s is indeed a treasure; although they seemed to become overly proud of their smoked fish dip over the past year. Presnell’s will definitely be among our must stay campgrounds; looks great. Until next time…

    1. Hey Michael!

      Glad to hear that your trip to the Keys went so well. We were accepted as administrative camp hosts at Curry Hammock, but changed our minds. Someday, I hope we try again. The Keys would appeal to me more if we could secure long-term digs at a State Park. The Keys is a long way to go for a short visit.

      It would be a blast to meet up with you two again! Let’s work on that! Maybe a brewery tour?

      And thank you for the compliment for my audio. From an artist such as yourself that is THE BEST award … So, I would like to thank my technician, Deborah Reeves … and my voice coach, Beverly Bremers … and my friend James Pascarella for dragging me to class … and my husband, Jim for his support … and you, Michael for your encouragement.

      Love to you and Judy,

      Carmen @ LIB

    1. Hey David!

      We’re happy to share your great WordPress blog! Give our best to Kathy. With some luck we will see you in Albuquerque – we’re on the waiting list.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

    1. Absolutely, Roanna. Presnell’s is currently constructing another campground across the highway – the more the merrier. Just call and tell them you want to be on the canal. They also have bay view sites.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  6. Oh my––what a story you told!!! The beautiful photos and narration are so compelling… my first “laugh out loud” moment was when I read “which set me up for an epic Sears & Roebuck disappointment.”

    You and Jim are living the best life 😊
    Marian

    1. Marian!!! We love hearing from you.

      I thought I had a photo of my new coat – With the wide, floppy collar and the red and white diamond stockings, I looked like a little jester.

      Hugs to you and Tom. How about a San Diego desert meet-up sometime!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  7. We read your posts regularly but this was our favorite, because Apalachicola is our favorite place and we met you folks near there several years ago at Ho Hum RV park. Your pics are terrific, as always, but you really captured the sunsets. Thanks for your posts!

    1. Hey Fred!

      Thanks so much for reaching out. Wonderful to hear from you.

      When we left Presnell’s last winter, we dropped by Ho-Hum before turning east toward Jacksonville. Looks the same.

      By the way, how’s your inflatable kayaks working out? Still like them?

      Thank you so much for being with us.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  8. A few of us know that the real Florida begins south of Miami where the winters are always warm and balmy and it only rains iguanas two or three days every 3rd winter! Oh, and then maybe there’s a market for personalized “slidey things.”

    1. Hey Joe!

      Yeah, we know we didn’t go far enough south, but we were trying to avoid crowds, traffic and Spring Break 😉 And, evidently, we seem to show up every 3rd winter – it’s like catching every traffic light on Tamiami. We just don’t seem to have the mojo to hang with the cool kids in South Florida.

      Gabe said he could personalize the slidey thing, but we opted out. But, I agree it would be fun to have that option. One could also design seasonal slider-thing stickers.

      Wonderful to hear from you. Hugs to you and Ronnie.

      xoxo,

      Carmen @ LIB

    1. Yes, it is, Gay. And Presnell’s is expanding their campground – so more room for everybody!

      Thanks for being with us.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  9. Ooof, sorry about all the rain and chills. That is no fun in an RV, especially when you’ve traveled far expecting a different environment. I’m glad to hear you had plenty of good times though. You always seem to find the best restaurants and breweries. We are headed that way next year so you’ve given me some good ideas. That campground looks great as well. Kevin just got one of those Blackstone grills recently. I think I know what I’m going to suggest he make on it next! 🙂

    1. Laura!

      Are you still in the San Diego area?

      I’m sure the weather will be good to you on YOUR Florida trip. As our friend Joe says, we just keep hitting it during the off-weather years. It was perfect on our first trip down to the Homosassa Springs area in Winter 2016 – but then my dad’s house burned down so we broke camp and went back up to Mississippi to help him with clean-up. I highly recommend Chassahowitzka and Crystal River, too. You will have so much fun down there – but take lots of bug repellant and tic protection for Thor.

      BTW, please give Thor a hug for me.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

      1. Hey! We left San Diego a couple weeks ago, but are still in California. We’ll be heading east this summer but wanted to get vaccinated before starting across the country. You’re right about Florida bring hit or miss. We’ve generally had good luck, but I will say, we’ve had plenty of chilly and rainy days on the panhandle. There is a big difference between there and the peninsula. Anyway, hope things are warming up nicely for you now!!

  10. Smiling all the way to the end…thanks for sharing all your wonderful finds and discoveries! Can’t wait till my husband and I do the same.

    1. Hey Sabrina! Always wonderful to hear from you.

      Enjoy this marvelous dreaming time. Once you set out on the road, nothing will ever be the same.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  11. Enjoyed the article a lot. Thanks! One question I had about Presnells is about the electricity because I see they bill that separately for the month. How much did that cost you for the 30 days you were there? We’ve always loved that area and even though it isn’t far from us, it is like another world and laid back. Now after reading, I’m thinking of making some reservations! Thanks for what you do to keep the rest of us informed and entertained via your travels!

    1. Hey Beth!

      Since this was not a full campground review we just offered some highlights, but there’s so much more to say about Presnell’s.

      Way back in August 2020, we made reservations and they charged us $546 for a deposit for a month stay. We arrived in Mid January 2021 and they charged us the remaining $546. We were charged nothing for electricity when we left.

      We saw that they were developing another campground across the highway. So, be sure to specify that you want to be on the waterfront side.

      Have a wonderful stay and let us know what you think.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

    1. Ken and Marci!!!

      Oh, I’m so happy you two are following!

      We miss you, too. How is Miss Marci and her big cats? We must get together when this crazy pandemic lets up.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      xoxo,

      Carmen @ LIB

  12. Jim & Carmen,
    Loved this last post & all your posts. Every time I read one it makes me think twice about wanting to pick up and go, though doing it as a single person would surely not have the appeal that you 2 get as a couple traveling.

    Carmen, I just want to say that as an amateur photographer myself, I want to let you know that I am in awe of the growth of your photographs over time. You have some absolutely beautiful ones, and the colors and compositions are great. If you haven’t done so, you should submit them to competitions. Keep up the terrific photography. Also, you all must have invested in a drone right? Or someone did to obtain those great videos.

    Anyway, looking forward to more of the same great trekking by you 2.

    Cheers,

    Marci

    ( aka Dr. Marcella Wilson from the SD Medical Society)

    1. Marci!!! How wonderful to hear from you! How are things in San Diego? We love LIB, but sometimes we get homesick for our friends and family in good old Cali.

      “Pick up and go,” I love that idiom. Well, many single people enjoy this lifestyle – especially this year with the pandemic. If you decide to look into it there are many solo RV support groups online.

      Thank you for the compliment. I’m thrilled that you like my shots, and I do too, but they rarely turn out as I’d hoped. Landscapes are my favorite because they’re good at standing still so I can try a multitude of angles. I’d like to learn to photograph people but it’s a real challenge. Hmm. Contests? That might be fun! Do you submit yours?

      Yes, Jim has a drone – It’s one of the lesser expensive models. I love the short videos he produces with it. Sometimes a single drone shot can describe a place better than twenty photos.

      Thanks so much for reaching out, Marci and for being with us on this crazy ride!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @LIB

    1. Hey Dean!

      You are our guest on this adventure. Thanks for being here.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  13. Those sunset photos are stunning. When we were in Florida on cloudy, rainy days, the sun often popped out, right in time to set. Oh, the irony!

    The weather sure is doing funny things. I agree that the Canadians didn’t miss much this winter, weather-wise, in Florida or in Baja California, where it was the coldest, windiest winter in 25 years. I guess Florida has some extremes going for it – and against us – as well. It’s a surprise we weren’t there as we are usually the ones bringing unseasonable weather!

    We wish we could have visited Apalachicola last winter. We just stayed in the NF for a a few days right after Covid started to cause havoc and chased us out of there too, since even the boondocking areas were getting closed. Oh, and in the winter of 2020, it was already 90+ degrees in early March! Crazy stuff.

    1. Hey Liesbet!

      Yes, SoCal winter is bizarre lately. They used to say the easiest money in the world is made by San Diego meteorologists – between 65-75 and sunny every day – but those times are over.

      We just love that part of Florida. If it weren’t for the bugs we’d find a place and live there full-time. But the bugs are part of the package along with millions of birds and lush tropical forests. Oh well.

      Your winter on the Sea of Cortez looked lovely. We can’t wait to get down there! It would be great to meet up with you sometime and talk about Mexico.

      So, “stay warm” time is over, onto the business of trying to stay cool.

      Stay cool, Liesbet, and

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      Carmen @ LIB

  14. Hello Friends, y’all are always in our hearts and on our minds! I enjoy your adventures… the calm and the crazy! Carmen, I hope you publish a book of your beautiful photos… you’re amazingly gifted! Thank you for taking us along! Safe travels and God bless. We love you both…. very much!

    1. Hey Margie!

      We enjoy LIBing in your hearts and minds. In fact, that’s our favorite place to be. We love you two.

      Thanks for the compliment! Publishing a book sounds like a big project for two retirees. We’re just trying not to bore people with our happiness, but I’m so glad you like the photos. Enjoy, dear Friend.

      Hope to see you when we return to Cali!!!

      xoxo,

      Carmen @ LIB

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