Life itself sure is an adventure, as I learned from this trip. Jackie and I booked this Florida vacation to St. George Island on the Big Bend of the Florida Gulf coast about a year ago when we had little on the calendar. Now it comes wedged in between two family weddings, a wonderful college graduation event and a celebration of life.
The days before our departure were the usual frenzy to get everything ready. We took the motorhome to have the cabin AC repaired, scrubbed the roof to a nice clean white finish, waited for the new steel bumper and tow bar to be installed on the Jeep (our new tow vehicle) and I was getting ready to bake two loaves of buttermilk sourdough for the trip. I was also finally feeling better after a bout of stomach virus. We got the Jeep back, practiced connecting and disconnecting and considered ourselves ready. Beach stuff packed, an assortment of warm and cool clothes stuffed into the closets and drawers, liquor, food and ice stocked into the fridge… we were ready.
Then I got the call from Dad’s nursing home and we learned that he died that afternoon. Wow. Shock to the system, now what do we do? Stay? Go? Delay? Of course we spent time late into the night on the phone and computer, talking, crying, writing, thinking, remembering … not really sleeping much. But we decided that Dad wouldn’t want us to change plans so in the morning we gathered ourselves and got set to leave town. I did post a tribute to dad before we left – if you haven’t already read “The Visit” you should.
The Jeep was an easy hook-up compared to the tow dolly and Rav-4. We carefully went through our checklist and were confident we had it in “N” in the transfer case and “Park” in the auto transmission. It was freewheeling.
This is a new experience for us and I should fill you in just a bit. On our last camping trip we chatted up a couple who had a Jeep Wrangler that they towed 4-down (rather than like we do with a tow dolly, where the front wheels are up on a tow platform). They said it worked really well for them and were ready to sell that unit and buy a new Jeep pickup, but we didn’t come to a deal on the price. It did get us thinking seriously about how much easier it would be to tow that way, especially if we were going to be going cross-country again in the fall. So in short order we found ourselves the owners of a low mileage 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, complete with the learning curve that goes with it. A new spot around the corner from us, Jeep Wave, was a great source of help. We ordered a steel bumper, tow bar, wires and cables and … well, let’s just say we put the COVID stimulus money to good, local use.
So as we were double-checking the brake lights and turn signals Jackie noticed that the motorhome signaled left and the Jeep signaled right. Oops. Better stop at Jeep Wave and ask JD to have another look. Yeah, let’s have a look at that wiring. Ok, only 2 hours later and we were actually on the road. Good thing we didn’t plan to drive all the way to the Florida Panhandle on one day, because it was 4:00pm before we pulled into our campsite in south Georgia in the Kolomoki Mounds State Park.
Actually, the trip was smooth and easy, with a little anxiety once we passed Columbus and we couldn’t find a gas station until the last minute (quarter tank is last minute to me). You might chuckle if you have ever driven south of Columbus, Georgia and done this: as you approach Fort Benning there is this very impressive overpass with tall statues and eagles and all sorts of stars … and a very quick exit to continue on past the base. Except if you are entranced with the Brandenburg Gate look of everything and suddenly find yourself at the military checkpoint. Oh well, they saw us coming, waved us around and just somehow knew that this Winnebago was not really heading onto the base. Made our U-turn and got the heck outta there, sheepishly.
Oh, and about the final approach to Kolomoki Mounds. We were doing great on a nice 2-lane farm road in pretty countryside, with orange-red dirt, when the final turn had barricades and a sign that the road was out in 2 miles. Hmm. GPS says the entrance is 2.1 miles ahead. We called the office this morning and they didn’t say anything about the road being out … think we should try? Creeping along we finally saw the final barricades ahead and, yes, it was closed. Before the entrance. Sandy shoulders, no big parking lot in sight, umm, now what? Well the owner of the wide, sandy, kind-of-a-turnaround front yard just happened to drive out and told us we were fine to turn around there, her husband parked his semi there at night. Ok then. Tight as heck U-Turn and we were on our way around to the OTHER entrance to the park. Crazy, right?
The site at Kolomoki was a pull-through, since we were only there one night. We needed to get a wifi connection to complete some online paperwork related to Dad and the only wifi was nearly a mile away at the visitor’s station, so we stopped there on the way out in the morning, getting another late start.
The park was quite nice, campground along a small lake, but it was very muddy from recent rains and we really didn’t get out and around the mounds from a village that dated back almost 3,000 years.
The rest of the trip to Eastpoint, Florida along the Apalachicola Bay was smooth and soon we were driving behind the dunes on St. George Island State Park. A beautiful island with a very small town (one t-shirt shop, two small grocery stores) and a fair amount of vacation homes up on pilings. Much of the area was hit hard by recent hurricanes. The campground was an easy setup, only 60 sites with water and electric, and soon we had the Jeep disconnected and the motorhome set and level.
So how did we spend our week? Well we spent time at the beach of course, with some really nice days of warm water and bright sun.
We rode bikes a bit, walked around with Kodi to chat with other campers and sat out when the mosquitos weren’t too bad. Even around our propane firepit they were pretty fierce. But the nighthawks zipped around above us to gobble up a few and we listened to frogs and chuck will’s widows.
I just had to find a beachside bar and have a beer and raw oysters. The Blue Parrot is the perfect spot on the sand, actually the ONLY beach bar, and the plate of ice-cold, sweet oysters tasted too perfect with a pint of Oyster City beer. Cheers to you, Dad! I know he would have joined me if he could. Jackie had a basket of fried Grouper fingers that were tender and sweet. My, my, it is so rough to be retired!
One of the days was supposed to be overcast, so we drove to Apalachiacola that day to play tourists and also get another plate of oysters. The town was cute, but certainly adjusting to the loss of oystering on the bay. It is officially closed for 5 years to allow the oyster beds to recover, so all the oysters you get in town are from elsewhere. We did find Oyster City Brewery in town and stopped in for a sampling. Also ate dockside at The Half Shell and had oysters and grouper.
Speaking of breweries, there is another one in Eastpoint just at the base of the bridge to the Island called Eastpoint Brewing. Really good fruit and sour beers that were very mellow and frankly some of the best I have had. Nice spot on the bay and some of the friendliest owners!
We made sure to take the windows off the Jeep and pull the top down for some fun driving along the beach road. Sure was fun.
Last night in camp we had a big thunderstorm (while we were eating more fish tacos at Paddy’s) and it was still raining when we hooked up the Jeep. But the sun came out soon enough and our drive up along the bay to Tallahassee and on to Thomaston and Moultrie in south Georgia was really easy.
Our destination for one night (to break up the drive back to Atlanta) was Reed Bingham State Park. Very nice spot under a live oak with full hookups – really an easy stop.
Kodi, Jackie and I walked a short trail called the “Gopher Tortoise Loop” before dinner, which was a nice sandy trail and darned if we didn’t spot several of their burrows, one with the tortoise in the doorway. It wasn’t our first time seeing them, but kinda cool anyway. Jackie was disappointed not to see any indigo snakes.
We noticed a lot of big Class A motorhomes in camp and lots of dogs. Not little Yorkies and poodles, but dobermans and border collies. Turns out they are setting up for an agility meet tomorrow — too bad, Kodi would fit right in (except we really never trained him for agility).
We are back home now, the motorhome is mostly unpacked and we are already plotting the next adventure. This was a really nice Florida vacation and a good chance to reflect, remember and celebrate the life of my father, someone who was so big in recreation and who set our family off on many, many camping adventures.
Thank you to everyone who has shared memories and sent their thoughts and prayers our way. It has meant a lot … a lot.
Thanks for coming along on the journey. What’s next? Maybe another trip to the North Carolina mountains to finish up John’s cabin and camp for a few days with family … a big fall swing through the Southwest? Who knows?