Saturday, August 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Eight
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Eight
In the morning I went into the McDonalds in Panama City, Florida,
to check emails. While I was there Mike saw a man sitting on the parking lot curb.
Mike’s Story: So there I was sitting in the motorhome all by myself because my wife had left me. The cats got tired of talking with me. I looked around and saw a guy sitting on a curb. Cats won't talk with me, wife is gone so I hobbled on my cane out to the guy on the curb. He was sitting with his head down and a cardboard sign propped beside him: Need Help, Thank You.
     He looked very depressed. I stood there. He looked up at me.
     “Hello,” he said.
     “Hello,” I said. I was in bad shape so I had a hard time rolling onto my knees, to my bum, to the ground to sit beside him. “So tell me your story.”
     He came from Tennessee to look for a job because he heard there was a lot of work in Florida. He was a painter and worked new construction. In order to get here, though, he had to sell everything. Once he arrived he found there was a lot of work but no one would hire him. First, because he was 60 years of age and they didn't think he could do the work, and secondly because he didn't have a means of transportation. He didn't own a car. There were places that would hire him if he had a car. He didn't know what to do. He doesn't have a pension to fall back on.
     I could tell he had a lot of pride. He missed his dad and phoned him once in a while. His dad is in his 80s and when he hears his son, he cries.
     I asked him why he wouldn't go home because it didn't make sense after that story and he said he didn't want his family to see him like he was, his dad, his brother, his sister. I asked him if he thought his dad would love him any more if he was the president of the US. It sounded that if his dad cried when they talked on the phone it didn't make any difference to him.
     “You should go home,” I said.
     “Maybe you're right,” he agreed. “Thank you for taking the time to sit down on the curb beside me and talk with me.
     “I wish I could help you more but I can't.”
     “That’s okay. The time you spent was lots and the talk was lots.”
     We talked some more and he said it was cold, he hated the nights sleeping out. I told him yes, I had done it myself when a teenager.
     “Sleeping out is a bugger,” I said “Where I come from you could freeze your ass off.”
     “Where are you from?”
     “Yeah,” he said. “Canada's cold.”
     “When did you eat last?”
     “Three days.”
     “That's counting today?” I asked.
     “No today is the fourth day.
     “How much would it cost to buy a meal?
     “I don’t know what to ask you for, you can eat cheap at McDonalds for $5.00.”
     “Could you have a good meal if I gave you twenty dollars?”
     “With twenty dollars I could eat for four days and I could start on my way home.”
     So I gave him twenty bucks and he thanked me. When he said he thought he should go home I said it would be a good idea because it doesn't matter how much money you have if you don't have family you don't have anything. He agreed.
     “Don’t give up,” I said.
     “I’m not giving up and I wouldn't give up.” He shook my hand. “God bless you. I'll walk you to your camper so you don’t fall down.”
     It was night when we entered Biloxi, Mississippi. We found a place to camp and the next morning drove to the Boomtown Casino. Part of it is on a barge where Mullet Lake empties into Biloxi Bay so it is considered a floating casino, a throw back to when gambling on land was illegal. To get around that law, paddle wheelers with poker games and machines plied the rivers and lakes. When the law was changed those paddle wheelers disappeared and casinos were built on land.
      We actually came out ahead on this floating casino. Mike spent $72.00 and won $100.00 and I spent $20.00 and made $30.00 so we were $38.00 ahead. We went to the buffet in the casino for lunch. It cost us $54.00 but what a meal: catfish, flounder, all the snow crab we could eat, roast beef, potatoes, shrimp, sushi, pizza, vegetables, salads and much more.
     As we drove through Biloxi, the Gulf of Mexico with soft sandy beaches was to our left. There were stately old houses to our right. We travelled about 30 miles (48km) with beside the beach. Then we crossed a bridge over St. Louis Bay with the gulf to the left and bay to right. At the end of bridge we were in St Louis and away from the water.
     As we neared New Orleans in Louisiana I asked Lola for a tourist information center. I wanted to go to one on the outskirts of the city so that we could find out where the French Quarter was and go straight there. Lola gave me about ten choices. Not knowing the city I just randomly picked one and hoped for the best. She took us right downtown.
     We didn't know where we were going but followed her directions to the Basin St. Station Tourist Information Center. We found a parking lot facing St Louis Street near the information center that charged $3.00 for a ten-hour stay or $10.00 for twenty-four hours. There were a few other vehicles and a motorhome was set up in the far corner. We paid 3.00 thinking we would only be there long enough to get our information and then be gone.
     In the center we discovered we were just a block from the French Quarter. And that we could also book a dinner cruise on the Mississippi, which we did for 7:00pm that evening. We got a map and headed out on St Louis Street to tour the French Quarter. The French Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. Also known as Vieux Carre, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
     As we walked down one of the streets a young lady came across the street towards us. She wore skimpy shorts and nothing else. She had painted her boobies all different colours. There was money sticking out of the waistband of her shorts and she had some in her hand. Mike got so excited that he took a picture of her.
     “That's going to cost you,” she yelled at him.
     “What?” he asked
     “It costs you to take my picture.”
     “Okay, my wife will pay.”
     “What?” I tried to hide my smile.
     Mike didn’t even look at me. He was staring at the young girl. “Yup, my wife will pay.”
     I gave her some money then took a picture of the two of them together. She didn't charge me.  As we walked away I thought, what an excellent way of make a living. Just paint your boobs and walk around in skimpy shorts collecting money. I wondered if maybe I could do the same only I would cover the seniors’ age group. I looked around and saw that there were quite a few potential customers.
     On Bourbon Street we went into a bar and ordered drinks. We had a good visit with the bartender who said he was hoping to leave New Orleans soon and pursue a different career. We continued our tour stopping in at a shop to buy bead necklaces. I wanted to take a swamp tour and we went into an agency. The man was willing to book at that time but Mike wanted to wait until the next day to see how he felt. The man said we could come early in the morning and book.
     On our way back to our camper we tried to take a tour of Cemetery #1 which was across St Louis Street from the parking lot. The gate was locked. I decided to check the next day.
     In the motorhome Mike laid down and I read. When he got up we decided we might as well stay the night in the parking lot. The cruise ended at 10:00pm and we figured we wouldn’t be getting back until around 11:00pm. Before we left at 5:00pm I went and put in another $3.00 to last us until three in the morning. We had been told that there was a trolley car we could catch to take us down Canal Street to the harbour but we wanted to walk. Mike took his cane for support.
     It was getting dark as we walked down Canal Street. It was brightly lit with lots of people, traffic, and the trolley cars going by. We arrived early at the ticket booth of the cruise. We took pictures of the cruise ship, named the Creole Queen, and then went into an outlet mall to wander around. There was a Lindt Lindor chocolate store. Each piece of chocolate was 26 cents or 150 for $44.00 dollars. Christmas was coming and those are my chocolate of choice during the holiday season. But rather than buy them and have to carry them with me on the cruise, I decided I would walk back in the morning and get some. Plus, I have absolutely no will power and I knew that if I took them with me I wouldn't have room for the meal on the cruise.
     We lined up to board the ship. We were seated and told to help ourselves to the buffet. I decided to take everything and at least taste it. I tried the chicken and sausage jambalaya although I didn't take the sausage. The rice with bean sauce and the Cajun green beans were both very spicy. The corn dish was delicious. I felt safe taking a lot of the garlic potatoes. I was told the gumbo was flavourful but not spicy and that was true. The corn muffins were sweet. For dessert there was bread pudding that tasted like a cinnamon bun with raisins. It was so good I had two helpings. There was also roast beef and Caesar salad but I didn't sample them. I can get them at home. I had water because there was either that, or an alcoholic drink or coffee and I’m not a coffee drinker.
     The meal was served between 7:00pm and 8:00pm and a three-piece band played jazz. At 8:00pm we started our cruise up the river. It was very dark and we could see the lights of New Orleans as we left. The Creole Queen is an authentic paddle wheeler. She is powered by a 24 foot (7.3m) diameter paddle wheel and made her maiden voyage in 1983. Mike and I headed outside but we were going against the wind so it was chilly. We went back inside and listened to the music. When the Creole Queen turned around we were sailing with the wind and it was quite balmy.
     I spent a lot of time out on the deck watching the water churn by and seeing the lights on shore. The river was busy even in the dark as a number of boats and barges went by. I walked to the back end and watched the paddle wheel work for a while then leaned on the railing and just enjoyed the fact that I was on the mighty Mississippi River.
     Mike talked with one of the band members. The man had been to Nanaimo when he was a member of a different band that was touring British Columbia.
     The riverboat docked at 10:00pm and Mike and I started our walk back. We went slowly and Mike had to use his cane. We decided to see the French Quarter at night so we walked to Bourbon Street again. Barricades were at the ends of the street and it was closed to traffic. All the bars and stores were open and people wandered up and down the street talking and laughing. It had the party atmosphere we’d expected to see.
     We turned onto St. Louis Street to continue our way back. It wasn't as well-lit and we were nervous. As we walked we heard steps behind us. We looked back and saw a guy who appeared to be following us. When we got to a corner we walked kitty corner to the other side. Once there we turned and stared back at him. He hesitated on his corner then left.
     As we continued to walk there was another guy behind us. We looked back a couple of times which must have made him nervous or uncomfortable because he changed to the other side of the street to walk. We got back safely just before 11:00. I went across the lot to put in three more dollars which would take us to 9:00am in the morning. There was lots more that we wanted to do like take the swamp tour, go buy my chocolates, and see the river in daylight. The only other vehicle in the lot was the motorhome. At last, a quiet night.
     At about 2:00am a tap, tap, tap woke me up. It wasn’t a knock so I didn't know what it was. Mike came up and I asked him what it was and he said there is a sheriff outside. He got dressed and went out to talk with him. Our girls were on high alert at the tap on the door and when Mike went outside they headed to the windows and tried to look outside. My window was open so I could hear what the sheriff had to say.
     Apparently there had been a break in of a motorhome somewhere in the area and he was wondering if it was us.
     “No, we’re fine,” Mike said.
     “Why are you camping here?”
     “We were told we could by someone at the information center.”
     “This is a bad area and you shouldn’t really be camping here. Criminals will look at your license plate and see that you are from Canada. They know that you won’t be carrying a gun, so you will be an easy target. Last year we had 300 murders in this area and people disappear without a trace.”
      He wondered if we had any protection because we could carry a gun in Louisiana as long as it was not hidden. At one point someone walked by on the street and the sheriff pointed to him and said that was one of the people he was warning us about.
     Once he had delivered his message he and Mike chatted for an hour about fishing, hunting, places for us to eat, and more. He said he wanted to come to Canada someday so Mike opened the outside door and asked me for my business card. Purple and Red both went and sat on the step looking at him. After I'd given him my card I went back to bed.
     As he was leaving the sheriff advised us that maybe we should find a different place to stay. He said that because of all the disasters that have happened in Louisiana over the years there are a lot of homeless people who can't get back on their feet.
     We took his warning to heart. We put Walmart into Lola, picked one and drove to the west end of the city.
     We figured we were pretty lucky. Lola directed us to the visitor centre right beside the French Quarter, the place we wanted to see, the sheriff came along and possibly saved us a lot of hassle or even worse, and then Lola got us to the Walmart to stay for the rest of the night.
     We have a saying that we live by: The Lord looks after kids and idiots and we’re not kids anymore.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Seven

Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Seven    
When we left the Florida Keys we drove to Del Ray and began looking for a campsite. Our GPS, named Lola, showed us that there were two south of us, but we didn’t want to go back. We went to two Walmart stores but neither one of them allowed campers. There was a KOA 30 miles away. Mike wanted to try for it but I convinced him to look for a parking lot. We found one in a strip mall with a few stores. Once settled we went and did some shopping.
     The stores closed and the parking lot was quiet. It was the night of the fall time change. As I put our clocks back an hour I pictured the extra hour of peaceful sleep I would have.
     It was a cool night so we closed our windows before going to bed. I was having a wonderful sleep when suddenly there was a loud knocking on our door. It jerked me awake. There was another louder knock, knock, and someone yelled. “Franky, Franky, wake up.”
     Mike and I looked at each other but neither of us said anything.
     “Franky, Franky, open up. I got forty dollars.”
     We remained quiet hoping the person would go away. But he kept it up. “Franky, Franky open up. It’s me. I got forty bucks.”
     He was not to be discouraged and kept banging on our door. “Hey, Franky, Debbie come on. Let me in. Open up. It's me. Come on, let me in.”
     Finally Mike opened the door. “We’re not Franky and Debbie. We are from Canada.”
     "Oh, sorry, sorry,” he apologized. “Franky and Debbie have a camper just like this. I thought it was Franky. Sorry. Sorry."
     Mike told me that he was sure the person was a woman and when he told her we weren't Franky and Debbie she began crying and left.
     We discussed Franky and Debbie possibly being drug dealers and if we were in a motorhome just like theirs maybe it would be best if we left. So we dressed and decided to look for a place to see the sun rise over the ocean. At Lake Worth Beach we pulled into a parking lot.
     Mike and I walked to the beach and on the morning of his 68th birthday we stood, hand in hand, with our feet in the Atlantic Ocean and watched the sun rise over the water.
     We wandered up and down the beach and though it was only 6:30am there were a lot of people walking in the sand, doing tai chi on the beach, surfing, and wading in the water. It was a very popular spot early in the morning. There was a long fishing pier and it cost me $1.00 to walk out on it. It was crowded with fishers.
     We wanted to eat breakfast overlooking the beach so we watched for a restaurant as we drove. But there were either houses or beach on the ocean side of the road. And there were bushes to block most of the ocean views. At Juniper Beach we found a parking spot along the road where the bushes were shorter.
     Mike had his birthday breakfast of cold cereal while watching the waves break on the sandy beach of the Atlantic Ocean.
     After enjoying the view for a while we continued down the road to the Blowing Rocks Preserve. I took the Sea Grape Path to the Main Dune Crossover viewpoint and watched as the waves hit a short wall of rock along the beach and shot into the air. This is part of the largest outcropping of Anastasia limestone on the Atlantic coast of the United States. It would be best to visit during high tide or winter storms when the spray can reach 50ft (15m) high.
     From there I walked about a quarter of a mile on the Dune Trail to the northern end of the beach. In the summer loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles come ashore here to lay their eggs. From March to October visitors are supposed to leave the sand alone so that the eggs will hatch.
     We were travelling north on Highway 95 when Mike saw a sign for a Waffle house. He decided he wanted some for lunch. When we walked in we could choose between a table or stools at the counter. I pointed to the stools.
     “No, you can’t sit there,” the woman wiping the counter said.
     “We can’t?” I looked at her and she seemed serious even though the other waitresses were snickering.
     She shook her head. “Nope.”
     “It’s not even reserved for Canadians?” I asked.
     “Well, okay,” she said. “Come and sit down.”
     I looked at the menu she placed in front of us. Mike was going to have his waffles but I wanted to try something different.
     “What are grits?” I asked.
     “It’s boiled cornmeal.”
     Sounded good to me and I ordered some.
     “Do you want cheese or sugar with them?”
     I didn’t have a clue. “What do you like?” I asked her.
     “I prefer cheese.”
     So I had grits and cheese for my lunch. We enjoyed our food and conversation.
     After we ate we headed to Orlando and registered at Wekiwa Springs State Park to await our friends from Germany, who coincidently had planned a trip to Florida at the same time as we.
     Ducki and Sabine pulled in with their rented motorhome and parked in the site beside us. We sat and visited at the picnic table by our camper. We had a few drinks and then supper in our camper.
     The next day we walked on the Wet to Dry Trail then took the trail around Sand Lake. We went to the springs and Mike and I swam in the cool water while Ducki and Sabine sat on the hillside and watched. The water is crystal clear and that is because millions of gallons of cool water flow through the springs into Wekiwa Springs Run each day. This joins Rock Springs Run to become the Wekiva River.
      The Seminole Indians of the area used to be called Creeks. In the Creek language Wekiwa means ‘springs of water’ and Wekiva means ‘flowing water’.
     We had supper at Ducki and Sabine’s campsite and visited well into the night.
     After breakfast we said goodbye to Ducki and Sabine. It had been fourteen years since we’d seen them last in Banff, Alberta, and we vowed not to let that much time go by before seeing them again.
     As we drove, I programmed the town of St Therea’s into Lola. She asked us if I wanted Allenbelle Road. Not knowing better, I agreed.
     Along the highway we stopped at a roadside table where a man had set up rows and rows of honey and syrup. We bought some cane syrup and some Tupelo Honey, which we’d never heard of.
     “The honey is made from the Tupelo gum trees that grow along the Apalachicola and Chipola rivers,” he explained to us. “The bees are placed on platforms above the river’s edge and they fly through the Tupelo-blossom-laden swamps to gather their nectar for honey.”
     I tried some and it does have a very unique flavor.
     When we reached the small town of Sopchoppy, Lola told us to turn onto Allenbelle Road. We realized her directions were wrong but I said let’s see what she wanted to show us. It turned out to be a cul-de-sac behind some trees off the highway. We drove past the four or five houses and then were back at the highway again. We considered it another adventure courtesy of our GPS.
     As we waited for traffic to clear a black man came over.
     “Do you have seventy-five cents for me to buy a coffee?” he asked.
     “We sure we do,” Mike said and reached into his pocket for his change purse.
     “Well, it would be nice if you had a dollar or two so I could get some breakfast.”
     “Okay.” Mike pulled the bills out.
     “It would be great if you have five dollars. I could really get something good to eat for five dollars.”
     Mike gave him a five dollar bill.
     “I’ll pay you back if you are from the area.”
     “Don’t worry about it,” Mike said. “We’re from Canada.”
     “Oh, Canada,” he said. He looked at our motorhome. “Did you drive all the way from Canada in this?”
     He told us that his father had been stationed in North Dakota years ago so he’d lived near the Canadian border for a while.
     “Are there any black people in Canada?” he asked.
     “Yes, there are a lot,” I said.
     He thanked us and walked away.
     As we drove east we caught glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico to our left. The houses along there were on stilts because of insurance. Depending on the area, a house has to be so many feet above sea level. If the area is at sea level the bottom floor might have to be 12ft (3.6m) above the ground. If the area is eight feet above sea level then the bottom of the house has to be 4 feet above ground.
     We wanted to have a picnic on the beach so we headed to Carabelle to find a park that showed up on our map. Along the way we saw some empty waterfront lots for sale on the Gulf of Mexico. Some had driveways so we pulled into one and parked. We had our lunch overlooking the blue waters of the gulf. Afterwards, we strolled along the beach and I walked out on one of the docks. Then it was a lovely drive along the shoreline into Carabelle.
     Carabelle lays claim to having the world's smallest police station, which is actually a phone booth and a bus stop bench beside the highway. Prior to March 10, 1963, the police phone was in a call box bolted to a building. However, tourists passing through would make long distance phone calls on it. The box was moved but still the unauthorized calls persisted. When the telephone company decided to replace its old phone booth with a new one, the old booth was taken to house the call box. It was moved to its present location and while it protected the policemen from the rain, tourists still made their phone calls. Finally, the dial was removed.
     When we left Carabelle we passed the park that we had been looking for. There were picnic tables with shelters, a nice beach, and lots of people but we had had a dock and the place to ourselves. It doesn’t get any better than that.
     As drove we were sometimes beside the water and sometimes in the trees. We went through East Point and crossed the 4 mile (6.4 km) long bridge to St Georges Island. St Georges Island, which is a barrier island, is 28 miles (45kms) long and 1 mile (1.6km) wide at its widest part.
     We found a public access to the ocean and walked down to the beach to put our feet in the water of the Gulf of Mexico. I found it cooler than the Atlantic Ocean. I went to the Cape St George Lighthouse.
     The lighthouse was built in 1833 but partially destroyed in a hurricane in 2005. It was moved to its present site and rebuilt. It has a 92 step circular stairway to the top floor then an iron ladder to the light. I had a 360 degree view of the gulf and the town below.
     A man had a fruit stand near where we parked. We bought a large avocado, a pineapple, a red onion, and some tomatoes and tangerines. All were Florida grown and very fresh.
     The old bridge that used to connect the island to the mainland is now used as a fishing pier. Mike sat under the bridge and fished. He had no luck.
      We continued along the coast to Panama City and stayed at a Walmart downtown. Across from it is a building that is upside down. Even the palm trees in front of it are upside down. I asked the greeter at the Walmart what it was
     “Well,” he said. “A few years ago a hurricane come through and picked that building up and turned it upside down.”
     “Yeah, right,” I said.
     “Hey, I did tell that to one woman and she believed me.”
     “So what is it, really?”
     “It’s actually part of an Amusement Park.”

Friday, June 17, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Six

Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
    We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
   Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Six
After the dragon boat festival in Sarasota, Florida, Mike picked me up at the hotel and as we drove south he suddenly said. "Gee, I want to go shopping at that place. You don't have to listen to kids crying or fighting while you are shopping."
     "Sounds good,” I said. I looked out the window but we were already past it. “What was it?" I was picturing a grocery store or clothing store.
    “It's a Jack and Jill adult only superstore."
     “It would be a quiet place to shop,” I said. At home, we usually shop at The All Canadian Superstore for our groceries. I thought that, like some restaurants, grocery stores were now becoming for adults only.
     Then after smirking a bit Mike explained it was an Adult Only Superstore—kinky stuff. And no, we didn’t go shopping.
     We drove to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Mike wasn’t feeling well so I went alone. It was a lovely walk along the 2.25 mile (3.6km) boardwalk. I strolled above the wet prairie and into the pond cypress trees. The boardwalk zigzagged through the trees to the lettuce lakes which are covered in greenery that looks like leaf lettuce. Then I entered the world’s largest old growth bald cypress forest. Some of the trees, which are related to the redwood, tower 130ft (40m) overhead and are 25ft (7.6m) in circumference. Although this sanctuary is home to alligators, I didn't see any. I did however, see a mama raccoon and three babies.
     We drove to Naples and stopped at the Walmart to do some shopping. It was hot so we tried to find some trees for shade in the side area of the parking lot. I was on the overhead bed reading when I heard a noise that I thought was a knock.
     “Did you hear anything?” I asked Mike
     He went to the door and yelled. “What can I do for you?”
     There was no answer.
     He pulled aside the blind then pointed to me. I looked out my open window and saw a woman standing just below me by the passenger's door. She was nicely dressed and had a container of juice or water.
     “Can I help you?” I asked through the open window.
     She looked around.
     “Up here.”
     She still couldn't find me.
     “Up, up. Look up.”
     She finally did and saw me. "Do you have any cigarettes?" she asked.
     “I’ve never smoked and my husband quit years ago.”
     “Thank you.” She walked away.
     Mike thought she was a hooker trying to drum up business. I said her clothes didn't suit that type of job. She was dressed more for working in a store. He figured she probably went to every truck and asked for a cigarette.
     It was 82F (27.7C) at 10:30am as we headed out of Naples. I still couldn’t associate the temperatures with the fact that it was the end of October. If we were at home on Vancouver Island, it would be overcast, raining, maybe plus 5*C (41F).
     We were on the Tamiami Trail. The construction of this highway was begun in 1923 by a private citizen who put up his own money. In 1926, the state took over to complete it. It opened in 1928 and connects Tampa and Miami.
     We stopped at the Marsh Walk Trail. The walk itself is 1.1 miles (1.8km) but it was so hot that I only went about ¼ mile to the observation tower and looked out over the marsh. I saw fish swimming in the pond below the tower and birds flying around. Beautiful.
     We drove to the Everglades National Park. I went into the office to find information about taking the Ten Thousand Island boat tour. While I waited my turn to book a spot I wandered around the gift shop. I saw a number of women wearing the t-shirt that all team members had been given at the dragon boat festival.
     “I have one of those,” I said to one of the women.
     “Oh, what team were you on?” she asked.
     “Angels Abreast from Nanaimo. What about you?”
     “Breast Friends from Edmonton.”
     “Wow,” I gasped. “I belonged to that team from 2002 to 2004.”
     “I’ve only been on it for three years,” the woman said.
     “Did you take the islands tour?”
     “Yes, we just came back. We’re on a bus tour through southern Florida before heading home.”
     They left then a different woman came in. “I heard that someone in here once belonged to Breast Friends,” she said, loudly.
     “I did.”
     “Oh,” she said, looking at me. “I was told that we may know each other.”
     “I left in 2004,” I said.
     She shook her head. “I didn’t join until 2006.”
     We hugged and she left to get back on the bus. I booked to go on the next tour and went to the motorhome to wait.
     “This is where the Florida peninsula breaks apart into thousands and thousands of tiny pieces,” the captain said after the cruise boat had pulled away from the dock. “These clusters of mangroves form islands in this shallow estuary that is constantly fed by a flow of fresh rainfall into the Florida Bay. The number of islands depends on the tide.
     “The red mangroves of Florida are trees that can grow in saline or brackish water. They reproduce by growing cigar-shaped baby plants that drop into the water and float until they find land to cling to and root. These mangroves thrive because they can remove fresh water from the saltwater. Their tangled roots are above ground so they can breathe.”
     As we slowly wove our way through the islands, I saw pelicans in the water and eagles in trees. We went past a manatee zone but I didn't see any manatees. The captain took us to the farthest island, and we looked out at the Gulf of Mexico. On our way back dolphins came and circled around the boat. We spent a lot of time watching them playing and feeding.
     We went into Everglades City for the night and the next morning headed back to the Everglades National Park where we took a boat ride inland through the Mangrove Trees. Captain Josh took us along nameless waterways into the dense swampy part of the everglades. On some channels the branches met overhead blocking out the sun. We saw two alligators and had to duck webs made by huge spiders. We watched for manatees but none came around the boat. In spite of that we had a really good trip.
     Back on the Tamiami Trail we turned east and entered Big Cypress National Preserve. This 720,000 acre preserve protects the fresh waters of the Big Cypress Swamp, the waters of which are essential to the neighbouring Everglades.
     We stopped in at the Ochopee post office, the smallest post office in the US. We bought some stamps and mailed a post card to my mother. The post mistress said that they are busy all the time and send letters to many parts of the world.
     Along the road we saw a sign for the HP Williams roadside park and pulled in. There was a short boardwalk alongside a canal. We saw alligators, turtles, fish, and a cormorant. The cormorant sat on the edge of the land then slid headfirst into the water. We could see it swimming under the surface looking for fish. When it caught one, it rose to the surface and swallowed it.
     Further down the Tamaimi Trail we stopped at the Kirby Shorter roadside park. I walked on the boardwalk that is a mile round trip. I started out through a prairie-like area that was dry land with tall grass. The further I went, the wetter it got and then I was in a swamp with tall Cyprus trees. The transition from the prairie to the swamp was amazing.
     As we drove we did see road signs for the Florida panther but never saw one of the illusive cats. When we passed the Oasis Visitors Center we looked in the canal beside the road and saw lots of alligators laying side by side on the banks. We stopped and took pictures of them.
     Alligators are the world’s largest reptiles and date back millions of years to the dinosaur era. They grow a foot a year for the first four years and then slowly after that. It may take a female 10 to 15 years to reach maturity at seven feet (2.1m) long and a male 8-12 years. They can live between 35 and 60 years. Alligators only eat 15 to 20 times a year.
     We headed towards the Florida Keys. Key is from the Spanish word Cayo meaning small island. The Keys are an archipelago of about 1700 islands which are exposed portions of an ancient coral reef. They are connected to the US mainland by Highway 1.
     We began at Key Largo, made famous by the movie Key Largo staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and the song Key Largo recorded in 1981 by Bertie Higgins. We drove over many channels and through many towns on our way to Key West. There were souvenir shops, marinas, museums, and bakeries along the highway. There were many places where we saw the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other. We finally quit counting the number of Keys that we drove through. The scenery changed from trees to ocean views to houses to state parks. The most impressive part of the drive were the bridges. Long Key Bridge over Long Key Channel lives up to it name. It is almost 2.5 miles (4km) long.
     As we drove over the Seven Mile Bridge, built between 1978 and 1982, we saw the old original bridge beside it. That was known as the Knights Key-Pigeon Key-Moser Channel-Pacet Channel Bridge. It was constructed between 1909 and 1912 as part of the Florida East Coast Railway which ran to Key West. In the 1930s, highway bridges were being constructed to connect the Keys but in 1935 a hurricane hit killing more than 200 of the workers. It also badly damaged the railroad tracks and they were never rebuilt. The bridge became part of the highway system. Now it is falling apart and there are trees growing on it, but part of it has been fixed up and is used for people to walk on.
     At the Bahai Honda State Park we pulled in to book a spot for the night but there weren't any sites left. We were told to go to the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge. We crossed the Spanish Harbour Bridge and were in Big Pine Key. I went in to book a place at the lodge. It was $64.00 for the night. I decided I wanted to camp on the Gulf of Mexico so I paid the extra $6.00 to be on the water.
     We still had lots of time so we continued our journey south. We saw small islands of mangroves in the water, and on land I saw lizards in the grass. We arrived in Key West and Highway 1 became Truman Avenue. The further south we went on it the narrower the street became until it was down to one lane. We saw a lot of the old section of the city. We reached Fort Zachary at the southern end of the key and work our way through narrow streets almost too small for the motorhome.
     At the corner of Angela and Whitehead we turned onto Whitehead and drove past the Ernest Hemmingway Home. It is now a museum and open to visitors. However, the streets were so narrow that we couldn't find a place to park our motorhome.
     We turned onto Truman Avenue again and headed back to our campsite.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Five


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Author’s Note

I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Five

We entered Florida, the Sunshine State and passed a number of roadside shops offering pecans, jams, and boiled peanuts. We stopped at one and bought a bag each of pecans, chocolate coated pecans, and white chocolate coated pecans. We also purchased a bag of chocolate covered cherries, a container of pecan brittle, and a jar of mayhaw jelly. Mayhaw is a wild berry that grows along the rivers in the area. We sampled the boiled peanuts. You can eat them with the shell or you can remove the shell and eat the nut.
     We crossed the Historic Suwannee River made famous by Stephen Foster’s song Old Folks at Home written in 1851. It became Florida’s state song in 1935.
     At 4:00pm the temperature was 83F (28C).
     I was to meet my dragon boat team at the Hampton Inn Sarasota Bee Ridge on Wednesday, October 22. On October 21 Mike and I went to Myakka State Park and booked a site for him for five nights. In the morning we decided to do the Canopy Walk before I went to the hotel. It was humid and hot even at 8:00am.
     We walked down the road to a bridge over the river and took pictures of a small alligator swimming in the water. We continued to where the Canopy Walk trail headed into the bush. It was only slightly cooler in the trees. After a short distance we got to the first of two towers. There was a sign there warning us that the suspended walkway would sway when we crossed it and the taller tower would shake if someone was climbing below. Also, the tall tower would rattle if it was windy. But we were assured it was all natural and safe.
     We climbed the tower to the walkway which is suspended 25ft (7.6m) above the ground. We walked along its narrow 85ft (30m) length through the tall trees. At one point we had to duck to miss a huge branch growing over the walkway. At the end we climbed the taller tower until we were 76.1ft (23m) in the air. What an excellent view we had of the oak and palm tree tops and the wetlands. This is one of just a few canopy walks in the world.
     In the afternoon, Mike drove me to the Hampton Inn. The rest of the team wouldn’t be showing up until evening. I unpacked and watched television, something I hadn’t done since leaving home. I hadn’t missed much. The two ladies I was sharing the room with arrived and after hugs and greetings they unpacked. We headed down to the lobby to meet with other team members and we went for supper.
     Thursday was a free day so we split into groups, some wanted to go shopping, some wanted to relax because of the time change, and some wanted to sightsee. I was part of the shopping group. One woman had gotten directions to a shopping center and we boarded a bus. It was a long trip and we had to transfer once. At one point we were the only people on the bus other than the driver. A young man got on and stopped when he saw all us women. We told him it was safe and we had quite a conversation with him, telling him who we were and why we were in town. He took a picture of us when he got off the bus.
     We visited the mall and returned in time to attend the welcoming party that the hotel staff put on for us and the three other teams who were staying at the hotel. We had a fun time meeting the other women and sampling food and beer from local businesses. We’d made reservations at a nearby restaurant for a team supper so we headed there afterwards. Once we’d eaten, most of the team came back to our room for shooters and a party.
     Friday morning we were bussed to Nathan Benderson Park for our first look at the venue where the festival would take place and for our forty-five minute practice on the lake. The opening ceremonies were held that evening and thousands of chairs had been set up on a grassy area facing a stage. The youngest member of all the teams from each country carried that country’s flag across the stage and set it in a holder. No name or age was given for these women but some of them seemed to be in their twenties or early thirties. Speeches were given and then there was a wine and cheese reception for the teams.
     School buses had been rented to provide transportation for the teams to the site on Saturday and Sunday. Our pick up time was at 6:30am. The hotel management usually supplied breakfast for its guests starting at 6:00am but they changed the time to 5:00am to accommodate our early schedule. And a good selection it was: bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, hash browns, hot and cold cereal, muffins, fruit, juice, tea, and coffee.
     We were in Florida but at 6:30 in the morning it was dark and the temperature was cool. At the site we carried our team banner and decorations to our tent and set them up, then watched the sun rise.
     Nathan Benderson Park was large. It had to be to accommodate the one hundred teams with up to twenty-six members plus supporters. This totaled about three thousand women and men in pink. There were two long rows of huge tents on the grass and the teams shared the space. Each team was given a table and enough chairs for the members. We put our table at one end of the tent and set the chairs in two rows with a narrow walkway between. From the other end of our space we had a view of the lake and the races. Between us and the water was a paved walkway and a beach.
     The races began at 8:30am and ran every ten minutes. There were eight teams per race. Our first race was at 8:50. We found a place on the grass to do our warm up then headed to the first Staging Area to line up with the other seven teams of our race. There were twenty-four dragon boats on the water. Eight were racing, eight were being loaded and heading to the race start, and eight were waiting to unload from the previous race. As each set of boats was loaded the teams for the next race moved from the first Staging Area to the second Staging Area and those from the Second Staging area went down to the water to await their boats. It ran like clockwork.
     When our race was finished we were free to explore the site until an hour before assembling for our next one. I went and checked out the many tents that offered clothes, paddling equipment, food, and souvenirs for sale. One place sold t-shirts that listed the one hundred teams and all their members. I found my name on it and bought it.
     It was exciting to wander the crowd of women, meeting friends from other festivals and making new ones at this festival. Mike and I planned on travelling across Canada so I stopped in at the tables of teams from each province to get a contact number. I wanted to try and make a practice with at least one team in each province as we drove through it.
     We women at the race are a very small representation of the millions of women around the world who have had, are dealing with, or who have died from breast cancer. We are called survivors, but really that is a description that changes minute by minute. I have paddled with many women who had their cancer return, sometimes in the breast, sometimes it has metastasized to their brain, their lungs, or another part of their body. One woman I knew had breast cancer cells wrapped around the bones of her lower jaw.
     In one area there was a pink fire truck and a pink police car. The retired firefighters from various towns and cities drive their truck to festivals across the country to raise awareness of breast cancer. Their motto is Pink Heals and the truck was covered in names of people who had signed it. I added my name to it.
     Some of the teams have come up with some very inventive names: Chemo Savvy from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Chestmates from Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Missabittatitti from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia; Hope Chest, Buffalo, New York, USA; and Rowbust from London Ontario, Canada.
     After our last race of the day we headed to the drop off and pick up area to catch a bus back to the hotel. The owner of the school buses was directing them and we visited with him while we waited our turn.
     “Did you know that there are alligators in the lake?” he asked.
     “No,” we said, as we looked at each other in shock.
     “There are and if you fall in you will be eaten,” he said. “Alligators only eat every four months and we hold a festival on the lake about every four months. That way we don’t have to feed them.”
     Back at the hotel, we got ready for the Parade of Nations and a street party. Every team was supposed wear theme costume. Ours was Super Survivor. We wore pink capes, white t-shirts with a super hero on it, pink decorated masks, and black pants. We each carried a small Canadian flag. We were bussed to the Lakewood Ranch Main Street. There were speeches and then the one hundred teams paraded through the streets. Afterwards, a band played while we shopped in the stores and ate in the restaurants or from the street vendors. I gave my flag to a young boy of about eight, my cape to a young girl of about eleven and my mask to a child of about five.
     On Sunday afternoon, the Flower Ceremony was held after the last race. The sixteen boats from the previous two races remained on the water and were joined by the eight boats from the last one. They formed a floating flotilla of twenty-four boats and stayed in formation by the ladies holding the side of the boat beside them. Each of the women in the boats, as well as all the survivors on shore, had been given a pink carnation. Spectators could purchase the carnations and the money was donated to Breast Cancer research.
     Speeches were made then while the song, The River, was played we all waved our flowers. At the end of the song we threw them into the water. These flowers represented the women who have died from the disease or who are fighting it.
     The Flower Ceremony, also called the Carnation Ceremony, is held at every festival where there are breast cancer teams. It always is a very moving sight.
     At the closing ceremonies the oldest member of all the teams from each country retrieved that country’s flag from the holder and carried it back across the stage. Bette, an 85-year-old member from our team, represented Canada.
     Each day there were three drones hovering over the venue recording the sights. In the evening we could bring up the website on the Internet and see all that had taken place during the day.