Where Florida Begins

Posted April 7, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
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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 2021: From Jacksonville, Florida to Jekyll Island, Georgia, 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 2021

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.

S.S. Constitution cruise to Italy – 1967

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.


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