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.

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