Wednesday, June 19, 2013



The Journal of a Journey
 Sprinkled with Mishaps
Flavored with Cool Characters
 Seasoned with Self-Discovery

April 1-14, 2013
At Home in Albuquerque, New Mexico
            I begin the preparations for an eight-week camping trip with a whacked back -- you know the kind -- a jolt out of nowhere that plagues every bending or reaching motion with a sharp muscle spasm. Pain interferes with my exercise and energy level. It's all I can do to keep up with Tai Chi class and my To-Do list.
           In the process of de-winterizing the trailer's plumbing, Fred discovers that the hot water heater isn't working.  Too late to get it in for service. Oh well. I zoom to Home Depot to buy an extension rod so I can convert the shower stall into a temporary clothes closet.

            We party more than usual in the last couple of weeks with Tina and Hosho and Hosho's family. Brody asks for an unprecedented three sleepovers! He acts and talks like he's going to miss us more than ever this time. I feel guilty and doubtful about the necessity for our self-indulgence if he'll suffer. But we're a freight train already gaining momentum. Time will tell the worth of this journey for all concerned.

Before Hosho's haircut

April 15, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day One
From Albuquerque, New MexicoTo Ft. Stockton RV Park, Texas

            I wake many times in the night somewhere between excited anticipation and free-floating anxiety. When I open my eyes at 6:00, Fred is already out of bed, moving quickly, getting ready for departure.
            We aim for 8:00 and get on the road at 7:51, car full of camping gear, trailer secured with stabilizers and sway bar, bikes and kayak on the car's roof rack, taillights and brake lights double-checked.

            Casita II, much taller than Casita I, catches any cross wind and requires a stronger grip on the steering wheel. I'm grateful that Fred is willing to drive most of the day.
            We look for interesting places to place and photograph Hosho's drunk skull stickers, one of the promos for his new book of poetry, A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst, due to be released in September.

            At the Ft. Stockton RV Park after 428 miles of buffeting, I sit outdoors in a hottish wind, intending to write in my journal, when our neighbors target us. They park their ample behinds at our picnic table and start talking, talking, talking. What they say isn't completely boring, but, Whoa Pony, it's my daughter this, my grandson that, and on and on. I want to ask, "Excuse me, did you yourself ever do anything?" They probably did, but not recently enough to remember.
            We learn that the husband is from Tennessee and the wife from San Bernardino. She seems to me to be 2000% more intelligent than he. He does most of the yakking.
            After they retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of their large motor home, we turn to our beer mugs and watch twilight approach. What's for dinner? Chicken/pasta salad.
            We lost an hour today when we crossed the line into Texas. Never mind, we'll find it when we come back.

April 16, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Two
From Ft. Stockton, Texas to Palmetto State Park, Texas

            How many days until I can no longer keep track of days?
            This day is remarkable for our uneventful circumnavigation of San Antonio. We recall a harrowing adventure the one time we drove through the middle of the city hauling a trailer. Not something we ever want to repeat.
            Today also proves once again that Verizon provides service in spots where T-Mobile does not, and we're glad we made the switch.

            At the turn off to Palmetto State Park we stop at a Buc-ees store for ice. Buc-ees' advertising pictures a gigantic buck-toothed beaver towering over a warehouse-sized building. We wonder out loud what variety of goods would be for sale inside. Outside, we see $750 smokers and huge barbeques. Inside, as soon as we step in, we realize, and Fred says it, "They sell fat!" Under lights as bright as those in the cardiac operating room, the rows of deli counters offer every deep fried temptation you can imagine -- and then some.

Fred makes the sign of the cross as he hurries over to the souvenir section to plant drunk skulls among the Texas gewgaws. I hasten to the automotive section to find a 9V battery for our carbon monoxide detector that drove us crazy last night with low battery warning beeps. We make a speedy exit to avoid the risk of substituting southern fried chicken for our healthy pasta salad dinner.

            At the park's ranger station, the ladies in uniform are friendly and open in a Texan sort of way. We ask about the local wildlife -- alligators, bears, and wildcats -- and one of the women comments that, as much as she loves nature, she is afraid to be out in it. Her statement gives us a clue even if her uniform doesn't indicate whether she is a volunteer or a park ranger.
            After setting up in our campsite, we walk the trails. Two vultures fly up nearby and startle us. An owl glides overhead. Many green lizards scamper underfoot on the boardwalks. Cardinals flash red among the trees.

April 17, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Three
From Luling, Texas to Tickfaw State Park, Louisiana

            This morning I wake up acutely aware that this will be our third day of seven on the road. We leave the park before dawn. After one left turn and one right turn I say, "Does this look right to you? I don't see anything familiar." Fred points to the car's direction display. If that compass is correct, we are driving away from the interstate. I burrow into the accumulation of pamphlets and receipt to retrieve a map of the area surrounding Palmetto State Park. Fred makes an impossibly sharp u-turn to take us back to the first intersection where we should have turned right. 
            The rest of the day passes without excitement. We make it through Houston okay. The clouds give us a little rain and mild temperatures. Our podcasts entertain us. We listen to "The New Yorker Out Loud" and NPR's "Wait Wait," "Fresh Air," "This American Life," and "Car Talk."
            We wend our winding and well-marked way to Tickfaw State Park, off the beaten path in Louisiana, east of Baton Rouge.
            At our campsite, I pull out our folding chairs, anticipating pleasant relaxation surrounded by birdsong and the sweet fragrances of the bayou. When I open my chair I find instead a live-fucking-asshole-scorpion. Due to my traumatic history with scorpions, my mood plummets even though Fred immediately dispatches the beast well beyond the hereafter.
            No longer inclined to relax, I get busy opening windows to air out Casita. As I reach up to crank the ceiling vent, I can't help but notice the absence of the vent cover.
            Thus starteth a long, long story, that is, at the time of this writing, far, far, from over, I fear.
            Hmmmmm. Let's see.... How shall we camp and travel in the subtropical springtime with a 13 x 13 inch hole in the ceiling directly over our bed. Why couldn't the hole be located over the bathtub, for example?

            After Fred takes the vent apparatus apart, I cut up several plastic plates and a few ziplock bags and duct-tape them over the vent screen in an attempt to waterproof the ceiling. Two scissor-blisters later, I watch Fred install my artwork. Unfortunately, daylight shines around the edges. We step outside and stare up at the sheer cliff of this tall trailer. Fred climbs on top of the spare tire. He can't see the roof from there. He balances on top of the propane tank, and can't see anything from there either. As the words, "We need a ladder," come out of my mouth, a large RV rig passes on the camp road -- with a step ladder strapped to the back of the trailer.  Fred borrows the ladder, but it isn't tall enough. We drag the heavy picnic table into position and the ladder barely balances on top of the table. Fred flaunts ladder safety and uses the very top step as a launching point to heave himself onto the roof to duct-tape a dishpan over the opening to get us through the night.
            What could possibly come next? I will spare you the next several hours of discussion about possible scenarios, crazy options, creative solutions, and wishful thinking. Abandoning this trip is one of the options. Please wish us luck and send your love and prayers. Above all, do not pray for rain.

April 18, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Four
From Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Torreya Pines State Park, Florida

            First thing in the morning, one phone call dashes all hope that a local RV dealership might be able to repair our vent. We hit the road with a trash bag duct-taped over the hole in the roof.
            I wish I could say the best thing about this day. It might have been:

·        The generosity of the Louisiana campground host who gave us his duct tape, or
·        The willingness of a fellow camper to lend us his ladder, or
·        Fred's ability to climb on top of the trailer and close the opening with a donated trash bag, or
·        The courage of the hair-lipped albino girl working behind the fried chicken counter at the convenience store, or
·        The sheer number of gentlemen who held doors open for me today, or
·        The luck to be graced with the unassuming helpfulness of the Torreya State Park Ranger, or
·        The love of Fred's sister, Beth, who heard the tale of our plight and validated our heroic survival, or
·        The excellence of a dinner of barbeque chips, pasta salad, edamame, and cold beer, or
·        The luxury of a hot, private shower in spacious modern facilities, or
·        The prospect of a dream-filled sleep in the comfort of a guaranteed dry bed in Casita.

April 19, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Five
From Chatahoochee, Florida to Oscar Scherer State Park, Florida

            With happy optimism we get on the road with a much better fix for the hole-in-the-roof problem. Our confidence that the many layers of plastic and duct tape should last all the way to Long Key doesn't prevent me from covering the bed with a tarp as extra insurance against the forecast of rain all day.
            No rain comes to test Fred's repair job, but by the time we reach Sarasota, the covering is gone, leaving not a shred of evidence. At Oscar Scherer State Park, the camp host has no ladder but loans us an extra large leaf rake that Fred uses like a jai alai scoop to position a plastic tub over the opening and then flip a weighty bag of tent stakes on top to hold the tub down in case of wind.
            We enjoy an eight-mile bike ride on the Legacy Trail before getting ready for dinner at the Joneses. Christa proffers a vast feast, as usual, and we waddle home about 10:30 pm, having borrowed Glenn's ladder and drill for the next day's new attempt at roof repair.

Christa and Glenn Jones

April 20, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Six
At Oscar Scherer State Park

            Awake early and mobilize! Lowe's home improvement store has the materials: sheet metal, screws, caulk, duct tape, plastic, and a heavy duty tin snips. I implore Fred to measure the gap two more times before I draw a pattern for a shallow box 13.5 inches square and 1.25 inches deep. Fred cuts the sheet metal and we use the edge of the picnic table to bend the sides to form a box to be screwed into the metal framework of the vent opening. We work fast to beat the expected rainstorm. Fred finishes the job with a generous application of caulk.
            I leave Fred on the roof of the camper while I tote a load of clothes to the campground laundry. We finish our chores in time to meet Glenn, Christa, and Kevin for lunch at Sweet Tomatoes.
            Glenn and Christa tell us about Kevin's progress in school, Laurie's new boyfriend, and Tracy's investments. They amaze us with tales of winning a living room full of IKEA furniture and the horrors of a bedbug infestation. Life is often strange.

Forage Gump
            Glenn, a skilled forager, takes us to his favorite places to harvest Natal plums, smilax tips, and pepper plant. There's nothing quite like wild food to excite our primitive palates!
            At the end of the day, we're happy to return to camp to put the kayak and bikes back on the car in a sprinkling of rain, and satisfied to find no leaks, so far. An early night for us, because tomorrow we go to the promised land.

April 21, 2013
Trip to the Florida Keys
Day Seven
From Sarasota, Florida to Long Key State Park

            Our route takes us across the Tamiami Trail, a two-lane road through the Everglades. Every couple of miles we see a "Panther Crossing" sign. No panthers cross our path, but we do spot alligators along the way.
            North of Homestead we make our routine stop at Grandma's fruit and vegetable stand for incredible tomatoes and a few other vegies. Only a few more miles to go.

            Deja vu clicks in as we reach Key Largo and get the first thrilling glimpse of the aquamarine waters. One more stop at Tavernier for groceries, Presidente, and Brughal.

            At check-in our site is immediately available. We settle Casita at a slight angle with the aid of my compass. Fred digs a hole for one tire at exactly the right depth to level the trailer. A sudden squall keeps us from setting up the tent right away, but we eventually get it done, leaving the details of my camp kitchen arrangement for the morning.
            We meet our neighbors, Dave and Debbie from Michigan, retired teachers who spend months traveling in their large motor home. Dave and Debbie have two sweet-natured dogs that never bark. They tell us that they frequently foster abandoned dogs until permanent homes can be found. In a few minutes I know we're starting our first two weeks in good company. Dave confirms my first impression by asking if we would mind him starting a campfire. Considerate neighbors make all the difference.
            A rainstorm in the night proves the success of our roof repair!

April 22, 2013
Site #32 Long Key State Park

            First on today's agenda -- bike to the nature trail and go for a walk in the hardwood hammock. Fred intends to run and he does. I don't plan to run, but I'm able to jog for 30 minutes. Yahoo! I had given up the dream of ever doing that again. Wonderful.
            I whistle and hum as I set up my kitchen. Fred laughs at me for acting like a little girl playing house. What can I say? I love my camp kitchen.

            It's time to take the boat out into the magic Atlantic aquarium. We see our first sea turtle and all is right with our beach world.
            I sauté some shrimp to go with the last of our durable pasta salad and serve with juicy, red tomatoes from Grandma's. Everything tastes better at the beach.
            Our day ends with a blazing sunset viewed from the kayak floating on calm, clear water.

April 23, 2013

            This morning my legs aren't as keen to run so I keep a lower profile and finish the same distance 1 1/2 minutes slower than yesterday. Do you get the picture? There's not much difference in speed between running and walking for me these days.

            A short paddle today in a brisk easterly, we make it to the boardwalk camping area and then turn around to let the wind blow us back. We have a quick chat with Brody on the cell as the wind pushes us along. I see a black shape moving toward us. It's bigger than a tarpon. "What's that?" I ask. "I don't know," Fred says. It's darker than a manatee. Could it be one of those predatory bull sharks we've heard about but have never seen?
            The shape comes faster, directly in our path. I'm scared. But when the creature's head comes up, there's no mistaking that jolly dolphin grin. He blows a breath, then dives, and veers away. One of life's peak experiences for sure.
            An after-lunch nap calls my name and I let dreamland claim me for an hour. Later, I sew a bandana into a ball cap in my unending quest for a hat that will protect me from the sun and still survive the wicked wind when I go kayaking and bicycling.

            We enjoy a wonderful, long phone chat with Tina. All is good.
            Dinner, cooked in the test with all flaps closed against the wild wind, satisfies my hunger and pleases my eye -- black beans, brown rice, golden platanos, crimson tomatoes, green guacamole, and white sour cream -- so delicious one wants to eat forever.

April 24, 2013

            Fred finds a marvelous long stick and makes new whirligigs to mount at the front of our campsite. We check the wind first thing every morning. Yup, it's windy. Even in the heat of the day, at 80 degrees, I get chilly in the shade and have to move into the sun to be comfortable.

            The tide is high when I go for my jog on the nature trail. I slosh through the flooded part in water as deep as my shoes. So grateful I can do this little jogging shuffle even at a sea slugs pace.
            The seven palms at the end of the camp road have been reduced to five. I do my Tai Chi 24-form there, listening to instructions I recorded on my MP3 player. My performance falls far short of perfect. The difficulty of mastering this art humbles me.
            Fred and I share a lay-down-read-snooze before lunch, and then ride the bridge. We see several tarpon, one turtle, and a fisherman with a tarpon on the hook. My bike isn't shifting well, but it carries me there and back. I must add "bike tune-up" to next year's to-do list. My newly fashioned hat-plus-bandana serves well in the wind.
            A strenuous paddle takes us on a bumpy, splashy ride out to the float Fred anchored yesterday. The float is a yellow plastic jug I found on the trail. We tie to the float for a few minutes but see no critters. It's a quick sail back, surfing on the waves.
            We unload our sunshade duffle and start to set up, only to realize that there isn't quite enough room on the shore side of this site. Fortunately we have a couple of palm trees that provide enough natural shade.
Tonight's dinner is a combination of leftover shrimp, leftover rice and beans, and a fresh platano that's ripe for frying. My dinner partner appreciates being fed.

April 25, 2013

            Peek out the window; see whirligigs flying at seventy degrees. Follow the daily routine of coffee, nature trail, breakfast, acrostic puzzle. I add a round of Tai Chi in the shade at our site.
            We're eager to go on a kayak adventure, but the wind does not allow a long trip. We want a calm day and a high tide at midday, so we can paddle around the point, across Long Key Bight, up Zane Grey Creek, across Long Key Lake, and end at the canoe dock by the ranger station. The tide is good today and will be perfect over the next couple of days. I'm reluctant to pray for calm because that brings the bugs out, but I do want to get the boat out there.
            We brave the gale and take a splashy ride out to our buoy. The breaking waves soak me. I carry lens cleaner for my glasses so I'm able to see the huge school of tarpon that passes close to our boat. We lose count after 30 and estimate 50 fish.
            Later, we ride our bikes into Layton (four mile round trip) to mail Dakota's birthday card, get coke for Fred's rum and fish bait in case Fred decides to get a license.
            The highlight of the day is a visit from four drunken middle-aged women who are camping a few sites down. They spied Fred sitting with his feet on the rail, contemplating the vast Atlantic, and came to flirt with him. Fred tells them that he saw them arrive and thought, "Ha, a truck load of Lesbians -- this should be fun." They respond with delighted giggles and much hilarity ensues.

April 26, 2013

            My early morning view out the window makes me happy. Today we have a normal breeze, about five miles an hour. To take advantage of the high tide that will allow us to get out of the water at the canoe dock in the afternoon, we push off from our beach at 9:00 am.

            There's nothing like it in the world. The water is so clear it is invisible. Paddling is effortless. We agree to take it slow and easy, stopping often to stretch our legs on sandy beaches and look for treasure. We have a handout from the ranger station that describes several kinds of sea beans and suggests which of them might sprout. Fred wants to take some home and create a tropical indoor garden. I want to find a treasure, but I won't know what it is until I find it.
            We stop at our usual lunch spot at the tip of Long Key Point, a place reachable only by water. Fred finds the pottery piece I stashed at the base of the palm tree six years ago. We have found it every year we've come to the Keys since then. Up until now we have always relocated it somewhere near the palm tree, but this time I decide to take it home. It's the last of six pieces I made to leave in different places on our travels. Each one had a phrase on the bottom like "Cherish Beauty" or "Smile at the Sky." This one says, "Love Nature." Over the years we've lost track of GPS coordinates and other locators for these pieces. That's probably why I'm feeling sentimental about this one.
            When we cross the Bight, I keep my eye open for signs of the sunken boat that attracts tropical fish. No luck.
            As we enter Zane Grey Creek I realize that I feel abnormally tired. My legs are wobbly when I step out of the boat for a rest on the shore near the marine research dock. Fred takes over the paddling and I rest my weary bones. At the canoe dock, I wait in the shade while Fred walks to the nature trail parking lot to get our car, parked there since this morning before we embarked on the journey. I have to admit that the chest congestion and dry cough that I've had since leaving Sarasota is probably more than allergies to camp smoke.
            I fall into bed as soon as we get back to camp.

April 27, 2013

            It's no fun being sick, especially at the beach. I need help, so we go to town for Robotussin, Nyquil, aspirin, and Alka-Seltzer. While out and about, we cruise to No Name Key to scope it out as a possible kayaking place. There we find a marvelous guidebook at a funky boat rental place, thanks to a friendly character, Julie, at the cash register.
            Even sick people have to eat, so we stop for a fish sandwich at a restaurant at the end of Seven Mile Bridge. Our camp neighbors, Dave and Debbie, recommended it. This restaurant has a swimming pool and generous portions, but the ambiance is more chi-chi than funky. My mood calls for funky.

            Back to bed for me, armed with my medicines. Maybe one of them will work to soothe the annoying cough and reduce my achy misery. Fred says something about an infestation of millions of teeny-tiny, water-seeking ants, but my mind is too fuzzy to focus.

April 28, 2013

            Sunday, it is a good day to stay in bed, and so I do. I should write a fan letter to Jodi Picoult and thank her for writing Nineteen Minutes, the first book I've enjoyed in a very long time. I read it between drug/illness-induced naps.

            Fred has taken care of the ant infestation. Insect spray residue glues dead ant bodies to our shower-head and the walls of the shower stall/clothes closet. Is it better to leave the corpse-ridden residue or clean it up? That is a rhetorical question.
            We talk to Tina and Hosho and Brody. Tina and Hosho are "90% sure" they're going up to Colorado for Dakota's surprise 40th birthday party on May 4. It's probably a good thing, but I don't really like it. Hasn't she sacrificed enough for his happiness already? I hope she's not doing this to try to make up for the unhappy state of our crippled relationship with Dakota.

April 29, 2013

            Rainy day. Gloomy mood. Still coughing and feeling crumby. I take a short walk, but it doesn't help. I go out in the boat with Fred for a few minutes. Cough, cough.

April 30, 2013

            Feeling well enough to walk the trail out to the boardwalk and back. Yes. I bike the camp road and still feel good. We kayak to the small beach by our bridge. A couple of barracudas skulk by, and several spotted rays flutter by, but no tarpon. The wind has shifted from east to south. I don't know what kind of weather is on the way.

Pina Colado buoy
waiting for the incoming tide

            Dave and Debbie leave. Fred gives Dave a whirligig to use for a pattern. Dave tells us that when he was a teacher, his class always won the recycled art fair. He's sure the whirligig would have been a contender.

Louie and Dawn move into Dave and Debbie's place. They're from Brooklyn. Louie recently retired from work on the Staten Island Ferry. He and Fred bond quickly. They trade stories. Fred warns Louie about the dangers of falling coconuts.

Louie tells about his daughters. One lives in Key West and another lives in the Bahamas. The Bahama daughter is a doctor as is her husband, but they no longer practice medicine. Instead, they guide tourists who want to swim with white-tipped sharks. Louie shakes his head and grins at the oddity of his daughter's lifestyle. His smile reveals a dark gap between his teeth. I imagine Louie was once considered a hunk. At 57, he is still handsome, even with the beer belly and a missing tooth. His wife, Dawn, is hauntingly beautiful with flawless complexion, luminous blue eyes, curly hair going gray, and graceful poise.

May 1, 2013

            Sorry to say I'm still coughing and feeling yucky. The sky is mostly cloudy and sprinkles us with rain off and on. I might as well stay in.
            Our neighbors on the right side are noisy. They play loud music. They talk loud. They have a gigantic inflatable island they call "Party Key." They also build smoky campfires and use gallons of lighter fluid to start their charcoal. In short, they are my worst nightmare neighbors. They pay us a visit and brag about their wealth. We're not impressed.
            We paddle slowly out to our float in relatively calm water and watch the sun go down in peace.

May 2, 2013

            A thunderous rainstorm startles me at 3:00. It's easy to go back to sleep once I realize that my roof does not leak.
            In the morning we check the kitchen tent and it shows no sign of the abuse of high winds and buckets of rain. Down the beach we see a collapsed canopy, so we know we didn't overestimate the strength of the wind.
            Although the storm passes, the day stays cloudy. We ride the bridge anyway, but soon after our return, the clouds turn dark and the rain pours steadily. Fred goes for a walk in the rain while I master a difficult puzzle.
            We call Dakota to wish him a happy birthday. It's obvious he doesn't suspect that there is a surprise birthday party and a surprise visit from his sister in store for him.
            Sitting in the kayak at sundown, waiting for the clouds to turn crimson, we see a lone spoonbill fly by. At first I believe it's a flamingo, then realize it can't be. Two vertical rainbow pillars appear to bless the day.

May 3, 2013

            We can't wait to use our new kayaking guidebook. We choose a mangrove creek exploration that launches from Sombrero Beach in Marathon, put the boat on top of the car, and head for Marathon even if the sky threatens darkly.

We've been reflecting lately on how we've grown and changed over the past 46 years together and today's conversation is about "attitude toward new experiences." Both admit to anxiety and insecurity when faced with an unfamiliar environment. How did we survive the Foreign Service lifestyle? I'm sure the answer to that question is complicated, but one thing is clear: twenty-five years of coping and adapting in the Foreign Service helped bring us to this moment of embarking on a new adventure in spite of our anxieties and our concerns about bad weather.

The changeable weather blows over by the time we reach Marathon and we launch at Sombrero Beach under sunny skies. I have the guidebook and a map. Fred's GPS has acquired a satellite, but he still wants to paddle over to a fishing guide and ask if we're in Two Sisters Creek, where the guidebook says we should be.
The fishing guide stands on the stern platform, pole in hand, ready to guide the boat to find fish for his client to catch. He looks like a super hero whose kryptonite is the sun. Shrouded in white UPF fabric, his lower face covered by a mummy-like wrap, he reassures us that we are in the right place and describes landmarks for finding the mangrove tunnels we seek.
Our route takes us across the deep water of the ship channel, and I'm happy to be wearing my life vest. In a two-person kayak it is the front paddler (me) who sets the pace. Fred doesn't ask me to slow down. When we reach the shallower water of the creek branch, I take a deep breath and a short break. The slight current carries us in the right direction.

The guidebook includes directions for navigating the maze of mangrove tunnels, but we get lost anyway because our map is useless and the GPS not much better. I blush to think that we might have to call for help. We are, after all, only a mile, at most, from civilization. Frustration and anxiety goad me into snappishness. Fred responds in kind.

At every fork in the creek, we relive the story of our life together: if I say, "Go left," Fred says, "Go right," and vice versa. At this particularly obscure intersection, I want to enter a low mangrove tunnel. Fred questions my judgment but agrees to try it. When I point out an obvious trail marker, Fred joins me in a good laugh. Someone has wedged a plush opossum into the network of mangrove branches to show the way out.

May 4, 2013

            The wind shifts to the west, unusual here, giving us a hot, calm day. I wonder which to apply first, the 50 UPF sunscreen or the 23% DEET insect repellent. Mosquitoes on the nature trail scoff at the DEET and chase me mercilessly until I flee on my bike. I have two choices: go out in the boat or stay indoors. The boat wins.
            In the evenings we usually play our flutes. Tonight I play longer, louder, hoping to entice the wind back to our side of the island.

May 5, 2013

            Today marks the end of our first two weeks at Long Key. Obeying the rules, we will leave today, spend the night elsewhere, and return tomorrow. Moving slowly, it takes about two hours to tear down the camp kitchen, stow everything, and hitch up our trailer for the 13-mile trip to Curry Hammock State Park.

            In years past we have unhitched in order to take the kayak down and paddle around a nearby island, through a long mangrove tunnel, and along a channel. We've seen nesting osprey there and a large lounge (I looked this up!) of iguanas. The channel passes in front of a tiny, pastel-painted resort, the Valhalla Beach resort, and I always indulge in a brief fantasy of staying there instead of camping.
            Today we choose to stay hitched and take a walk around the campground instead of a paddle. Curry Hammock's goal is to restore native vegetation. Their efforts over the past several years have paid off in lush growth of beautiful, fragrant bushes and trees. We appreciate the beauty and the shade.

May 6, 2013

            After breakfast, we check out and haul everything to Marathon to do our shopping. We arrive back at Long Key by 1:30, check in, and get busy re-establishing our home base. We're almost finished by the time Beth and Dave arrive. They're later than expected because they had to stop in Key Largo to arrange for repair of their trailer's plumbing system. We prove that misery loves company as we share tales of broken camping equipment.

Beth and a surprise gift

May 7, 2013

            The wind continues from the west. After hearing our stories of man-and-woman-eating mosquitoes, Beth and Dave prefer to bike the bridge rather than brave the nature trail. Fred and I DEET up and go jogging anyway. After breakfast, all four of us escape the bugs by taking to the sea. On our kayak ride to the bridge, we find a huge sponge bed off shore from the yellow house with the widow's walk. We plan to snorkel there one of these days. Beth spots a large red starfish, the only one we've ever seen in the Keys.

May 8, 2013

            Beth and Dave leave early to haul their ailing trailer to the RV doctor in Key Largo about 45 miles up Highway 1. We meet them at Denny's for breakfast before trying one of the kayak trips described in our guidebook. John Pennekamp State Park charges us $4.50 per person to enter the park and another $8.95 for a laminated detailed map of the paddling trails. Ouch.

            Fred brags about my abilities and recommends me for the duty of map-reader, but Beth wants to show off her skills. In addition to the minutely detailed map, we also have two GPSes manned by Fred and Dave. We can't get lost, right? Well, not permanently lost. About midway through the trip, Dave spots a sunken treasure -- a copy of the trail map. Fred and Dave pincer the map to the surface using their paddles like giant chopsticks and I lean out to grab it, without capsizing the boat, I'm happy to report. Using two maps and two GPSes we go from lost to found.

May 9, 2013

            Today is the perfect day to set up my sunshade. I made it after our last Florida trip. I used two king-sized flat sheets and sewed a new cover for the old frame of our former kitchen tent. Utilizing some of the old guy wires and other attachments, I added several tie-downs for an easy-up, adjustable sunshade. Oriented with the ridgepole running north/south, the side flaps provide shade for the eastern and western exposures and can be lifted to let the breeze in as needed. The sky-blue sheet billows in the wind like a sultan's tent. I yield to the urge to flop down on a yoga mat and take a nap.

            It's also a perfect day to anchor at the buoy and watch for marine life. The four of us paddle out in our two kayaks. One small loggerhead turtle surfaces several times, keeping a safe distance from us intruders.
            In the late afternoon I propose a bike ride into Layton. I want to mail some postcards at the post office and buy a few more at the Quick Stop store.
            Beth and Dave borrow Fred's hammer to secure the stakes of their new screen tent, then wedge it in the rail for safe-keeping.

May 10, 2013

            We're not sure of the weather or the tides, but we want to try another paddle from the guidebook. We discuss the options and choose a section of the circumnavigation of No Name Key.
            At Launch 31B, nothing more than an opening in the mangroves next to the road, we unload our kayaks. Fred and Dave drive to the end of the road to leave one of the cars at Launch 31C which will be our take-out point.

 I notice that Beth and Dave's pile of gear does not include paddles. I call Dave's cell phone. No answer. All is well, however; the guys come back in Beth and Dave's car...with the paddles.
            We're barely away from shore when it becomes evident that Beth has a serious case of floatie fever. In case you're not familiar with floatie fever, I define it as the manic desire to accumulate as many Styrofoam buoys as possible (Fred and I collected hundreds before finding a cure). These buoys are normally used to mark crab and lobster traps, but storms regularly tear them loose and deposit them onshore or in the mangrove roots. Beth finds her floaties marooned on an expansive bed of decomposing sea grass.

            Dave shouts, "Ram speed!" They paddle furiously into the morass to retrieve each splendid floatie specimen, and then return, drenched to the bone in the same stinky water that fills their boat. By the time I stop laughing, we round the next corner and Dave shouts, "Ram speed!" They're off again.

            Safe and sound on shore, Beth and I turn up our noses at the swampy area that offers the only choice for a Ladies' Room. Just then a Keys deer approaches us. He a friendly young buck, but we are well-informed of the rules in this sanctuary:

            Back at camp, we celebrate our adventure with a late night and copious cups of wine.

May 11, 2013

            Dave is the guru of all things digital. We ask him dozens of questions every day and he finds the answers on his iPhone. He offers us the use of his wifi, but we don't want to take advantage of his generosity. He insists. When we check email we find a message from Tracy. This is the first we've heard from her since September when we had a major falling out after Fred's mom's funeral. Her note asks for reconciliation but her attached letters repeat the accusations and grievances she expressed in 2009 and again in September. We discuss the situation with Beth and Dave and pledge to focus on the reconciliation part of Tracy's email rather than the scab-scouring aspect.

May 12, 2013

            More celebrations today -- Fred's 69th birthday and Mothers Day. We enjoy phone calls from family before having lunch at Robbie's.

Birthday Boy and company love those fish sandwiches! 

We watch the tourists feed the tarpon, but we don't get around to doing it ourselves.
 Robbie's is my favorite place to find souvenirs. We shop until we're tired.

            Dave and Fred fall prey to a hussy's charms:

Hussies join forces:

            Beth presents Hostess cupcakes for Fred's birthday cake. This is the second time, thus qualifying for a new tradition. Maybe they're really not Hostess cupcakes (that company recently went out of business) but they are a satisfying imitation and recall happy childhood memories.

May 13, 2013

            We're ready for this dead calm day with a plan to paddle around the point. The tide is perfect, the water as clear as window glass. We see bigger sharks than usual --some nurse sharks and a few bonnet heads, none dangerous but all sinister-looking. Spotted rays and stingrays fly around us like graceful underwater birds. We coexist with small blue herons, great blue herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, osprey, and cormorants. A lone vulture soars above.
            Although it seems we're moving slowly, the trip takes the usual four hours. We do hurry through Zane Grey Creek, pursued by a devil's armada of blood seeking mosquitoes. We make a beeline for camp and the pleasure of air-conditioning to escape the 93 degrees of humid dead air. Now we beg for breezes.
            Fred and I mourn the death of our little portable ice maker. We move the beer from cooler to fridge and wonder if colder beer is worth buying ice at the Quick Stop every day.

May 14, 2013

            Beth brings out three basket kits. Fred chooses a peach basket. Beth and I pick the Church Supper model. Dave would rather read a book on his Kindle Paper White.
            We spend most of the day weaving. First we soak the reed to make it pliable. The baskets are complicated and large. We learn to weave and to twine. Even if they're not woven professionally the baskets are beautiful. We quit before finishing, but there's not much left to do.

            Our new neighbor is a little person from east Texas. I've never met a dwarf before. While Beth, Dave, and I go on a bike ride, Fred and Conrad make friends. Fred hears Conrad's story and tells us about it later. I'm sorry to learn that Conrad lives in constant pain and exists on disability income. It's good to know he has a supportive family. Conrad camps in a tent with his best buddy, a big old, flop-eared lab who loves to lick Conrad's face. Conrad kayaks too and we wave at each other when we're out on the water.

May 15, 2013

            Dave really wants to go to Key West. Fred and I aren't keen because we've been there before and saw what we wanted to see. Beth doesn't care one way or the other. We defer to Dave. He hardly ever asks for anything; why shouldn't he get to see Key West if that's what he wants?
            We stop at the Conch Cafe in Marathon for fish sandwiches. Will we ever get tired of fish sandwiches? Never. I order mine with grilled onions. Ecstasy. I'm not exaggerating. Golden caramelized onions on perfectly grilled mahi mahi send my excited taste buds to Nirvana. 

Louie would laugh at this painting --

            Dave and his sidekick, the trusty iPhone, guide us to MM17 and the bat tower, built in 1929 to house bats that were supposed to control the mosquito population. Unfortunately, the imported bats left immediately and never returned. The owners abandoned the tower and the elements took over.

            Crazy skydivers cross our path. Their "airport" has a sand runway and a small shack. I hope they have a higher standard of excellence for the rest of their equipment.

Key West -- magnetic south for tourists.

We plant a few drunk skull stickers and have our picture taken at the southern most point of the USA. Businesses advertise as the southern-most whatever -- the southern-most hotel, the southern-most gift shop, the southern-most orthodontist, etc.

            We stroll past Hemingway's house. The temperature favors strolling. We scope out a gift shop. Prices are high. Ft. Zachary Taylor hides from us. Apparently we didn't find the right street.
            It feels good to return to home base. Tina calls to ask if Jodie can stay at our house until Saturday. She says she's moving out of Laney's and getting her own apartment. I hope this works out for her. I want her to provide a more stable home for the days she has custody of Brody.

May 16, 2013

            I welcome a fresh breeze to chase away the buggy calm. We paddle to the buoy and tie there to watch the tarpon and turtles swim past.

            I am overdosing on acrostics this morning. I might have to take a day off before this obsession carries me away. It's funny I don't do puzzles except while camping. Are puzzles my substitute for Facebook? At this point, Facebook has lost its appeal. I even dread the thought of looking at my email inbox stuffed with junk and spam. Before we left, I unsubscribed from plenty, but I'm sure there will still be hundreds.
            Beth, Dave, and I ride our bikes to town. Beth shops for chili powder and finds some at the "other" convenience store. Fred and I stopped going there because of the crabby clerk, a grumpy old Pakistani. But he's not there today. His replacement is a pleasant and helpful blonde woman.
            We spend the evening in Beth and Dave's trailer listening to music. Dave shines as DJ on his iPhone, creating a play list based on random prompts such as "legs." I know Beth adores music of almost every kind, but tonight, when she sings along with her favorites, I hear that she has trouble carrying a tune. Odd that.

May 17, 2013

            Dead calm this morning -- a mixed blessing. The water has never been clearer nor the no-see-ums more voracious. I'm going to give the organic deet-less bug spray one more try. It smells like cinnamon --so much nicer than the nasty chemical odor of Deep Woods Off.
            Question: Is the world irreversibly divided into two kinds of people -- the talkers and the listeners?
            Question: Is six weeks too long to camp at the beach in a tiny trailer?
            To escape the infernal bugs, we four ride bikes across the bridge. Dave rides fast for exercise. Fred and I stop frequently to look for marine animals. Beth does both. My heart does a happy dance when two huge rays appear. They soar through the water on broad wings, as graceful as a vulture riding thermals in the sky.
            The bugs keep us on the run. Out to the water we go, paddling to what we call the Flotsam Beach because of an interpretative sign on the nearby nature trail that describes the action of the Gulf Stream. We startle a large white bird into flight and note black markings on the underside of its wings. This bird doesn't appear in any of our bird books. Maybe we'll be able to identify it later.
            The water is gin-clear. We go out deeper than ever before. We float on the surface of a tropical aquarium.
            After lunch we finish our baskets, but we run out of reeds before lashing the handles. I'm thinking about wood burning a pattern on the handle of mine. I'm glad I remembered to bring my toolbox.

May 18, 2013

            Beth and I spend hours trying out every tip on the wood-burning tool. I burn my finger. Beth gives me an ice cube to put on it. At last we select the tips we like the best and burn the patterns that we've created. I'm so proud of mine, I burn my signature and date on the bottom.
            My sunshade has proven its worth. It provides cool shade all day and it withstands considerable wind without tearing. It also entertains us with shadow play.

May 19, 2013

            Today is the last day of Beth and Dave's two-week stay. Can it be over already? Fred and I have been here more than four weeks. We left home almost five weeks ago. Our plan includes two more weeks at the beach and a week on the road returning to Albuquerque. We have talked about doing this for years. Will we do it this time?

            I change our sheets and towels this morning whether they need it or not. The thought of five weeks in the same sheets embarrasses and offends my sensibilities, but there you have it. Neither of us notices any odors or stains, and Fred suggests not changing the linens until we do. I suspect a common characteristic shared by old folks and young children....

May 20, 2013
To Curry Hammock

            Farewell to Beth and Dave. We'll miss you!
We wave goodbye and turn to our chores, dismantling the sunshade and kitchen tent at a lackadaisical pace despite the black clouds overhead.

I can't help noticing the beautiful family tent camping in the site vacated by Conrad the Dwarf --young man, young woman, and boy about Brody's age. The boy is wearing the same style of shark swim trunks that Brody had last year. He sings a happy song as he stands at the tap, rinsing sand from his feet and his dinosaurs. The parents scrape clumps of seaweed aside to make room for their morning push-ups on the shoreline.

Midmorning, the young man comes over to introduce himself. He is Diego Vala 26-year-old singer and guitar player who is about to release his first album. He plays a few selections for us on his car stereo. We praise his work. He gives us his only copy of the CD. He tells us that he had stayed by his campfire the night before to savor our talking and laughing with Beth and Dave and bask in the warmth of time-tested bonds and friendship.  By the end of our poignant interaction, we are hugging and kissing each other like beloved family.

Curry Hammock greets us hot and windy. I'm tired. Fred says he is Very Tired. Maybe moving camp is harder on us than we thought. Maybe we're down in the dumps because the party with Beth and Dave is over. Maybe old age is catching up with us after all.

We retreat to the air-conditioning, snooze, and work a few puzzles. Our weather-savvy predicts rain. A violent storm shakes our trailer most of the night.

May 21, 2013
To Long Key

            Morning dawns on a world shampooed clean and blown dry. I drink in the fresh fragrance of sea air and rinsed palm fronds. We take our time over coffee, breakfast, and puzzles before driving to Marathon to buy supplies for our final two weeks. Fred disconnected the trailer yesterday, so we take only the car, leaving the hitching-up for later.
            Back at Long Key before check-in time, we face the sad fact that our site isn't ready yet. We park in the day use area to wait. Why don't we walk down the beach and see for ourselves whether Site #24 is vacant? Yes, it is. The ranger grumbles about the site not being "cleared for occupancy yet," and makes us swear that we're willing to accept it "as is." I can't imagine what put the thorn in her saddle blanket. Of course we accept our site "as is," just as we did in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, and 1999.
            We have the best conditions ever for setting up. I use the compass to guide Fred's parking of the trailer. I feel smug about my discovery that positioning the trailer's length on a north-south line maximizes the shade it gives both morning and afternoon.
            We congratulate each other on a job well done. Feeling extremely laid back, we agree that the last two weeks will be our finest.

May 22, 2013

            I couldn't ask for better weather this morning. I laze around in the day's gorgeousness until after 9:00 when I run the nature trail in the fastest time this year. It's painful to admit that fast running for me these days clocks in at just under 15 minutes per mile. Many people walk faster than this. I remind myself that I am lucky to be able to jog without pain at any pace.
            I have a new beach dress. It's red, of course, and blue and green. Tie dyed rayon. I'm sewing the armholes, reducing their size to prevent the escape of two pieces of my anatomy. Fred disapproves...of the sewing, I mean.
            If I ever finish this one really, really difficult acrostic puzzle, I will mix a drink. It will be tequila and pomegranate juice. And I will sip a tangy-sweet red drink while wearing a floaty-soft red dress on the warm-breezy sand beach.

May 23, 2013

            Ugh. No wind this morning. Not a breath. Mosquitoes on the nature trail chomp right through the DEET. Fred and I are walking today, gathering beans. We want the nickerbeans that pop out of those amazing spiny pods that grow on that incredibly ubiquitous thorny vine. Fred will present his share of the beans to our grandsons as possible magic beans ala Jack and the Beanstalk. I'll make jewelry out of mine. A pamphlet from the ranger station claims that nickerbeans take a high polish.

Nasty no-see-ums drive me crazy. I refuse to waste the whole day indoors. I'm also not willing to spend the whole day as insect food. Snorkeling is a good option. In water no deeper than my knees, I see blue and yellow fish, striped fish, a lobster trying to hide under a rock, a splindly-legged crab, and a puffer fish that is far too busy eating to acknowledge my existence.
            Kayaking is our best escape from the bugs. The calmer the weather, the clearer the water. We paddle little and drift a lot, entranced by the world beneath the surface of this looking glass, until I notice that some unseen force is carrying us out to sea. Has the Gulf Stream caught us? Rather than surrender to Poseidon, we call our paddles back into action and forge full speed ahead to the shores of Site #24.
            Here we are in paradise, and what do we talk about? We return to the never-ending discussion of our wounded relationship with Dakota and Tracy. I'm willing to do anything to mend the rift, but is there anything that I can do? I feel the need for a mediator or counselor or anyone wise, impartial, and level-headed to guide us.

May 24, 2013

            They call this a west wind. Wind? Not on this side of the island. Hot, steamy, calm, bug-ridden, unpleasant weather.
            We row slowly across the glassy surface, heading for the point, stopping at several beaches to comb for treasure. I find a yellow margarine tub from Haiti. The logo, a smiling guy in a chef's toque, appeals to me, and I envision the tub as a coaster for a wine bottle. Fred picks up two sponges to add to his collection. After he soaks the sand out of them, these sponges are useful as well as beautiful. They hold water much better than man-made sponges.
            The day crawls by, heavy with heat and humidity. Fred beats the bugs by going snorkeling. I ride my bike to the west side of the island in search of a breeze. There is none to be found. So much for the rumored west wind! The bike trail is hotter than Hades. Traffic noise hurts my ears. I want to bail out at the pedestrian gate but the lock won't open, so I get to double back the extra mile to the vehicle entrance to the park.
            We eat dinner inside to avoid the no-see-ums. A brief squall invites us outdoors and showers us with the joy of cooling winds, a brief sprinkle, an arching rainbow, and the full moon rising over the Atlantic. All too soon, the wind dies, the bugs return, and we retreat to our shell.

May 25, 2013

            Barbarians have invaded our quiet sanctuary. This is Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Miami holidaymakers stuff as many people as possible into every campsite. Long Key State Park looks like a refugee camp for relatively rich people.
            I'm trying to find a reason to be cheerful. Last night the devil's own creation came to torment me in the form of several million no-see-ums swarming my head. They are not welcome in my home. At 4:30 am I stumbled to fetch the fan from our kitchen tent. Pointed straight at my face, it brought me enough relief to allow a few hours of blessed sleep. I feel quite shitty today, which, by the way, promises to be hot, humid, and windless. I can only hope that the no-see-ums prefer the taste of Miamian flesh.
            Time passes. I'm pretty sure it's still the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. The campground is beyond full. The wind capriciously changes direction every few minutes, sighing and dying like a Victorian heroine.
            I take a cold shower to cool down. By the time I hang up the towel and reach for my beach dress, my body is slimed with sweat again. I tug impatiently at the dress that clings to my clamminess instead of flowing easily from my shoulders.
            Fred and I discuss, decide, and announce to Tina in a phone conversation our early departure. We'll be leaving five days earlier than planned. We miss our people and we've had enough fun to last until next time.
            If I sleep tonight unmolested by those infernal bugs, I will be a happy camper.

May 26, 2013

            Yay, breeze! Everything about the beach is at its best when the air moves gently.

            The Memorial weekend crowd is amazingly mellow. One nearby family has five small children and I've only heard crying once.
            Sitting under the sunshade and gazing at the horizon, I'm both sad and glad to think that our time here is almost over. Fred looks at me and says, "I'm ready to go home." I scurry to the car and grab the road atlas. We eagerly plot a route home and move our departure up from Thursday to Tuesday. We'll go to I-Hop first thing in the morning for breakfast and wifi to coordinate next year's trip with Beth and Dave as well as make reservations for the six nights that will bring us home this year.
            I'm setting the phone's alarm clock to wake us at 6:30 for our trip to Marathon.

May 27, 2013
Memorial Day

            How quickly the picture changes!
            All dressed in town clothes and armed with our laptops, we climb into the car and Fred turns the key. Shudder, sputter, sputt. Warning lights flare. Check Engine! Low Engine Power! Stabilitrak Disabled! Damn. We have a serious malfunction. It's also Memorial Day, don't forget.
            Is it the sins of our forefathers or sins of our own that has brought this punishment?
            We can't drive to Marathon so we do our business with Beth and Dave by phone. The four of us are booked in sites 32 and 33 for April 26-May 10, 2014. I feel only the slightest glee.
            Beth and Dave look up a bunch of phone numbers for us -- a mechanic in Layton that Dave remembered seeing on our bike ride, Car Max in Albuquerque and Miami. Perhaps tomorrow we can begin to get to the bottom of our problem.
            Obviously we won't be departing any time soon. As Beth said -- we are trapped in paradise. Now I'm really sorry we don't have a smart phone and a generous data plan.
            Fred returns to the car several times, lured by the mystery of our car's sudden disability. He opens the hood and stares at the engine. Neighbors on the left hand side suggest that the car has gone into "limp along home mode" and is probably safe to drive a short distance at 25 mph.
            Fred shouts for me to come look at something he found behind the engine next to the firewall. "Does this look like local material?" he says, holding a handful of twigs. I compare the twigs to the dried out runners of beach grass and recognize the source. Fred pulls out the rest of the twigs and reveals bare wires. Our best guess is that a critter made its nest in that cozy, dark place and snacked on the insulation of the car's electrical system.
            Oh, what will the price tag be to repair this nestling's damage? We remain in limbo (or is it purgatory?) until tomorrow when some businesses should reopen after the holiday weekend and some answers might be available.
            Fred asks the ranger what would happen if we were stuck here past the end of our reservation. The ranger (the comic relief expert) says, "No problem. We fire up our front loader and push your rig into the ocean."

May 28, 2013

            We wake early after a restless night, only to jive and shuffle until 8:00 when we can begin making phone calls. A helpful Miami Car Max representative gives Fred the phone number for the warranty company. The warranty company has no record of our warranty. Should we wait two hours until Albuquerque Car Max opens? They would be able to tell us the correct warranty company to call. We decide not to waste precious time.
            Fred calls Bruce's Long Key Auto and describes our dilemma. "I can help you with that," Bruce says. His confidence boosts our morale to the max.
            Fred hoists his bike onto the roof rack and putt-putts our lame vehicle two miles to Bruce's shop, placing our future in what we hope are capable hands. Fred rides his bike back to camp with good news -- Bruce estimates completion of the job in less than two hours. Bruce told Fred that he is very familiar with this type of problem. In fact, he owns two dogs that are bred to hunt the rats that like to nest in car engines.
            In one hour and forty-five minutes, Bruce calls to tell us the car is as good as new. He saves the day for $148.00. Fred tries to express the full magnitude of our gratitude. Bruce humbly repeats that he loves his work.
            Rather than waste time traveling to wifi, we make our homeward reservations by phone. We are lucky enough to snag the last available campsite for Saturday's destination in Texas. Yippee!
            I'm keeping an eye on the darkening sky as I hurry to dismantle the camp kitchen and help Fred take down the tent and the sunshade. We finish stowing everything by 1:00.
            We zoom to Islamorada to shop for souvenirs for the kids. When we return to Long Key, we have time for one last walk of the beach. Then we sip a couple of beers with our feet propped on the railing. The Atlantic horizon is our big screen entertainment. Our farewell dinner must be beans/rice/platanos and all the trimmings. Our music comes from Diego Val's CD.
            You would guess right if you predicted an early night for us tonight.

May 29, 2013
Trip Home Day One
To Oscar Scherer State Park, Florida

            Weird vibrations in the air conditioner wake us at 5:00 am. Gale force winds rock the trailer and rain pelts down to flood the verges of the camp road. Bugs attack Fred while he unplugs and re-hitches in the rain. I make feeble attempts to wipe wet sand from everything left out overnight.
            A puddle appears in the trailer. Do we have a plumbing leak now? Is the driving rain forcing its way in through the refrigerator vents? I stack a pile of rag towels in the wet area and hope for the best.
            We set off in torrents of rain, sketchy visibility. We stop to shop in Key Largo, and buy groceries at Publix. When Fred gets a bottle of rum at the liquor store next door, our VISA card is refused. The rain pours down as we scuttle to transfer our purchases from grocery cart to trailer. I call the credit card company. They have no explanation except to blame the liquor store's scanner. Chalk up another mystery for today.
            Rain and wind conspire to make this a slow, tortuous journey. Fred grips the steering wheel so hard his hands go numb. Finally hooked up at Oscar Scherer State Park near Sarasota, we get a two-hour reprieve. I take advantage of the washer and dryer and refresh our supply of rag towels. Something tells me we will need them again.
            The rain returns, but the mysterious puddle in the trailer does not reappear.
            Tonight in my evening shower I'm struck with the spiritual nature of camping -- going back to the beginning of this trip, for example --
·        Dear God, Let my back not be permanently out of commission.
·        Sweet Jesus, Don't let this cough turn into pneumonia.
·        Oh, Lord, Keep the pending rains at bay until we mend our roof.

right up until today --
  • Blessed Universe, Just get us home alive and well, pretty please?

May 30, 2013
Trip Home -- Only Day Two?
To Chattahoochee KOA

            Our new travel style, invented for our trip home, includes later starts and shorter days mileage-wise. We put in the same number of hours as usual, due to wind and rain. My shoulders are tight from gripping the steering wheel.
            Nothing breaks today, thank goodness. The Chattahoochee KOA is almost deserted. While we check in, the sky dumps another downpour, so our shoes are dirty and the picnic table is wet. Blechhh.
            I feel like a slug, but there is no place to exercise. How about a pomegranate tequila drink? Don't mind if I do.
            This KOA has wifi. I find pleasant surprises in the form of book royalty payments and notification of a couple of my stories included an anthology available on Amazon.
            I'm weary of travel in a stoic rather than irritated sort of way. I'm marking off the days (today is number two of seven), no matter how slowly they drag.
            Right now it's hard to imagine resuming regular life. What will that be like? I need to go back to the gym and regain some level of fitness. Will my friends still want my company? Will I write something or will I clean out my studio and get back into pottery? The house will no doubt be a mess and I'll have heaps of laundry and reams of paperwork to wrangle.
            I'm starting to think of this year's trip as something less than perfect. Not as bad as a Carnival cruise, but certainly not without its low points. Tequila partnered with pomegranate softens the edges and loosens the tension.

May 31, 2013
Trip Home Day Three
To Fontainebleau State Park, Louisiana

            I'm smiling at the sun and praising the direction of the wind as it helps us down the road. Today we get an early start to make time for a bike ride at our destination.
            Fontainebleau State Park sits on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in the center of a forest of live oaks garlanded in Spanish moss. Our site is the smallest one, wedged in the middle of a long row without a shred of shade, no picnic table, and no grill. But we don't care.
            We go exploring on our bikes. I walk out on the pier and thrill at the enormity of Lake Pontchartrain. The length of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway hangs like a necklace on the misty horizon. I daydream into the 1800s when this piece of land was a sugar plantation with its own sugar mill. The skeleton ruins of the sugar mill remain as the only reminder of bygone days.
            Back at camp we open our awning for the first time this year. Our recently arrived neighbor approaches to introduce himself -- Javier -- and stays to talk. We learn that Javier came to the US from Mexico, illegally, 38 years ago. He married his wife to get a green card and is married to her still. They have four grown daughters and they camp with two little dachshunds that Javier calls his sons.
            Javier recounts paying $250 to the coyotes who brought him across the border. These days, he says, it costs $3,000 and the coyotes make you carry a 40-pound pack of marijuana as well.
            I excuse myself to take a shower and Javier takes this as his cue to leave, with abrazos for both of us. The shower house is empty. The water is hot and the air-conditioning frigid. At the exit, it takes all the strength I can muster to open the heavy door against the vacuum-like pressure. Outside I face a world of fog. Oh, actually the fog is on my glasses. The real world is simply warm and wet in a steady downpour.

June 1, 2013
Trip Home Day Four
To Stephen F. Austin State Park, Texas

            Aieee, my neck is stiff -- so painful, it immediately lowers my expectations for the day. Fred says he doesn't mind driving all day. I slam two aspirin. They help only a little.
            Crossing Houston on a Saturday isn't bad at all. I bless the brilliant person who ordered the signs to be painted directly on the interstate lanes. It's possible to find the lane marked "I 20 West only" and stay in it all the way.
            At Stephen F. Austin State Park, Fred gives the park a "10" rating and the shower house a "minus 10." What was the architect thinking? Not about privacy, that's obvious.
            We chose our exercise to suit the heat and humidity of this part of Texas. Fred rides his bike and I walk for an hour, hoping to work the kinks out of my neck and shoulder.
            I wish Javier had come with us. Tonight's neighbors are a family of loud-mouthed, compulsive cigarette smokers with barking dogs. The parents have chosen this particular occasion to begin weaning their two-year-old daughter from the bottle, and she screams "Ba-ba, ba-ba," until she falls asleep. We retreat indoors to the blissful hum and coolness of our air conditioner.

June 2, 2013
Trip Home Day Five
To South Llano River State Park, Texas

            Fred is bravely driving through rain this morning. It's the kind of rain no one should ever have to face. Always alert, extremely careful, he tows us through at least 50 miles at 40 miles per hour. Lightening punctuates a sky that looks as dark at 8:30 am as it is at 8:30 pm in the tropics.
            When the day finally breaks free, we coast, literally coast with a tailwind all the way to Junction, Texas. There, we run out of signage and have to call the park for directions. In the first few minutes of being lost, we debate whether to stop here or push on another 200 miles to Ft. Stockton. Reason prevails and we agree -- before, during, and after the fact -- that pressing onward would be both folly and dangerous for two exhausted old folks.
            Here, in this beautiful place of turkey and songbird sanctuary, we have plenty of time to go for a wonderful hike, covering four miles in about two hours. Fred finds a bi-facial stone tool in the field by the ranger station, providing a goosebump moment that makes sense of being in this place at this time.
            A lusty orange Cardinal pays a visit to our campsite and sings his heart out, pleading for the perfect partner. A turkey vulture tucks his wings and pretends to dive like an osprey, giving Fred an idea for a children's storybook.

June 3, 2013
Trip Home Day Six
To Brantley Lake State Park, New Mexico

            Perhaps Fred is right. He thinks I might be obsessed with toilets. Maybe my six-month imprisonment at home with a stopped-up toilet affected me. Probably. I only mention the oddities of the facilities at South Llano State Park this morning. The bathhouse is modern in every respect. The flushing action of the toilet is enthusiastically circular and vigorously infused with high-pressure bubbles. The result is a long-lasting swirl of poop soup. Unfortunately the plumbing supplies a gusty after-burp and requires at least three flushes to effectively remove most of the evidence of a small-to-normal successful visit.
            On this lovely, cool, bugless, rainless morning, we exit through a huge herd of young deer, many still wearing spotted coats. Turkeys accompany the deer. Two large toms flaunt their displayed tail feathers. Big birds, they are indeed.
            The wind assists our travels and vultures escort us across the rest of Texas. It is a dry, dry land we return to. New Mexico is parched like tinder before the match is struck, a wildfire waiting to happen.
            On the last leg of today's mileage, the CD player starts acting up. I am sick and tired of crap that doesn't work.
            Can people "do" psychology on themselves? I propose that we wait until tomorrow to change our clocks to MDT. I want us to fool ourselves into thinking we gain an hour tomorrow instead of today.
            Mad dog Fred mounts his bike in the 95-degree heat and I hunker down in air conditioning (while it still works).
            Brantley Lake has very little water in it. The trees look half dead. This is a dismal place of drought and suffering. Even the native desert-dwelling horned toad sits on our doormat in lethargy, allowing Fred to pat its head three times before it ambles off to the shelter of a thorn bush.
            Our air conditioner, working splendidly, gives off no condensation here. In humid environments the condensation runs down the awning downspout channels like rivers. The abrupt change from the humidity of Texas to the driest of dry New Mexico puts me off balance. I feel like I'm watching myself from a distance.
            Tonight we eat leftovers -- the last of the chicken purchased at the Publix in Key Largo, remnants of bell pepper salad, guacamole that has miraculously not turned black, all enclosed in whole wheat wraps without a trace of mold.
            We have the audacity to ask each other if this might have been our last Keys trip.

June 4, 2013
Trip Home Day Seven
To Albuquerque

            Our self-inflicted psychology worked. We wake at 7:00 and with giddy satisfaction turn our clocks and watches back to 6:00 for an exceptionally early start.
            This last day is easy. The CD changer decides to work again and gives us the pleasure of listening to our favorite podcasts.
            We're home by noon, park behind the gate and unload a whole bunch of stuff -- not everything, of course. We take a break to go with Tina to pick up Brody from day camp at Albuquerque Academy. Brody gives us the best whole-hearted hugs of our lives.
            Hosho leaves work early to welcome us home. Nancy comes over too, with Sonja's baby, Jax. We share our stories of the past many weeks over Dion's pizza. We make plans to get together again this Friday evening.
            It's almost as if we never went away.