Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Adventures in Paradise

Some readers of this blog may remember an old TV series that went by that title. It aired from 1959 until 1962 and was created by James Michener. It took place in the South Pacific. Well, my Adventure in Paradise, while not quite up to Adam Troy's, the protagonist of the series, adventures, mine was unexpected and fun. But, let me roll back to what led up to the adventure.

A week and a half or so ago I received an email from Lois Miller of the Lois and John Miller family from Hudson, Florida. Lois and John were familiar with yours truly through my ramblings in this blog and also my posts on various RV and Vandwelling Yahoo Forums. Coincidentally, Lois and John are charter members of an online Web service called . . . as am I.

Boondockers, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term in reference to RVing or Vandwelling, is when said RVers or Vandwellers choose to find locations to park and spend one or more days/nights in other than commercial RV campgrounds, parks and resorts where they have access to full hook-ups of shore power (electricity), water, sewer and often cable TV and even wifi. In essence, having all the conveniences of home. Boondockers find places that range from free (or very low fee) national, state or county parks, desert lands, national forests, Bureau of Land Management land, Corps of Engineers land, Walmart, Camping World, Flying J and similar parking lots and driveways, side yards, back yards and the lower (or upper) 40 of private property where they have been invited to stay. They are usually self-contained (no hook-ups) though sometimes they are fortunate to have partial hook-ups and some form of bathroom facility.

The Invitation

So, back to John and Lois. This delightful couple invited me to spend a couple days parked on their four acres in a more rural section of Hudson with electric and water available. So, who could refuse? This was a chance to meet two more interesting people (especially people who read my blog - he says with a bit of ego unabashedly exposed) in a nice area of Florida, not far from the Gulf of Mexico and with electric and water available. Also, they are RVers and have their, beautiful 40' diesel pusher, motorhome parked on its pad next to their home. So, I replied to Lois, thanked her for her invitation and told her I would take her up on it. I arrived late this past Saturday afternoon, enjoyed some pleasant discussion on their patio and met John's sister, Cecelia, who was visiting. It had been rather cool and rainy, but right after I arrived the clouds parted, the sun shown brightly and the temperature began to slowly rise. We retired for the evening, them to their house and me to My McVansion for a restful night of sleep.

Sunday was a beautiful day, sunny and moderate 70's temperatures. I caught up on some email and just generally enjoyed a very nice day. I also posted my Photo of the Week and made a Walmart run to gather a few provisions. Lois invited me to use the washer and dryer and I did and emptied the dirty clothes hamper and got all the nice, clean clothes folded and stored away in their assigned clean clothes storage locations.

Monday morning arrived and Lois texted me wanting to know if I'd like to visit one of the local Florida Water Management District Wilderness areas where the State of Florida offered free camping to the public (with an easily obtained permit). I was familiar with the existence of said properties and locations because Marshall Ellgas (who I haven't written about, yet, but will in an upcoming post) had posted a nice guest blog post on Bob Well's "CheapRVLiving" blog about this very subject. Additionally, when I visited with Marshall and Allison (right here in Hudson, Florida on the other side of Rt. 19 and a few miles further south), he reminded me of these locations throughout the state and forwarded me detailed information by email, which I had been looking over.

Well, what better opportunity to inspect one of these locations than with my own personal Floridian tour guides.

The Adventure 

 So, we packed into John and Lois's, clean, white (that's significant) Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up truck with me in one of the jump seats behind the passenger's seat and off we went. The drive to this preserve was only about ten or fifteen minutes on the outside. John had the code for the gate lock to gain access and in we went. First, we went to the equestrian camping area. The area was mainly set up for folks who brought their horses and camped, typically on weekends from what Lois said, a horse person herself. As you can see from the photos, it was nicely arranged with numerous camp sites, some shelters with picnic tables, charcoal grills, a fire ring a well and unique horse trough and a pit toilet facility (not pictured though it was modern and very nice).

When not inhabited by folks with their horses, it's a dandy place for vandwellers to have what they call "get togethers" to meet up, get to know one another and hang out. As I said, there are locations like this, many locations, throughout all areas of Florida. They are primarily wetland areas to provide guaranteed water resources for the cities of Florida. This particular location, the Starkey Wilderness Preserve, provides some of the water for the Tampa, Florida area. But, it also provides the public with picnicking, hiking, biking, horse trails, camping and fishing in a natural, wilderness setting.

So, after we left the campsite, we passed the primitive camping area for those who want to tent camp. It was also nice, but smaller and more compact than the equestrian camping location. But, now we were basically following trails (in the clean, white Ford Ranger pick-up truck) that were not actually designed for motor vehicles although the state employees charged with maintaining the preserve traversed these trails in 4x4 vehicles, I'm sure. So, what we faced were sand hazards (areas of loose, very fine sand), water hazards (areas of standing water with no indication of the actual depth) and mud hazards (typically water hazards that had dried up - a little bit). All of these hazards, while not looking particularly ominous, were threats to forward mobility.

We were in search of a small lake well into the interior of this 3,000-acre preserve. Lois and John and been there once before. So, we navigate around and through the various hazards and ultimately, with the aid of a preserve map and GPS, found our objective. It was, again, quiet, peaceful, beautiful and relaxing. I caught some photos of two adult Sandhill Cranes. We walked out on the fishing dock and checked out the lily pads, the minnows that were plentiful in the shallow water by the dock and the occasional larger fish who would surface to catch an unsuspecting morsel resting on the surface of the water. I also captured a photo of the remains of a chimney that had once belonged to a house near this lake when this land was part of a ranch and nursery a long time ago.

But, alas, we determined that it was time to return to civilization. So, back into the clean, white Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up truck to face the challenges of those numerous hazards between civilization and us. John was at the wheel as he was driving in to the lake. He was a master at avoiding or navigating through the hazards. We knew we needed to reach a more solid packed road that ran along a series of high tension power line towers - the only indication of civilization in most of this preserve. The road served as the way for the power company workers to access the towers for maintenance. We spotted the towers over the top of the trees and knew we were heading in the right direction.

Danger ahead!

At last, dead ahead of us we saw our solid packed road. John gave it the gas as we went through one more small sand hazard. But, there, all of a sudden, loomed in front of us a large water hazard that was right up to the edge of the road and the closer we got to it the larger that water hazard got. There was no way to know how deep it was. John gave it the gun and Lois yelled "Stop, John, we'll never make it through that water!" John slammed on the brakes and we went sliding on mud to just a few feet from the water. Indeed, there was no way to know how deep the water might be, since we couldn't see the bottom through the water. It's likely it would have been well over the rocker panels of the clean, white, Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up truck.

But, alas, when we opened the doors and stepped out, we realized that we had inadvertently been lured into a mud hazard and, yes . . . we were stuck. And then the fun began.

There was no real consideration of going forward because, even if we did know how deep the water actually was, there was no way to gain any momentum. So, our only course of action was to retreat to the rear. BUT, we were stuck in the mud and all the wheels on the clean, white, Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up truck wanted to do was to spin and throw mud everywhere, especially all over the formerly clean, white, Ford Ranger, 4x4 pick-up truck. And, of course, we each collected some of that black mud on our shoes, clothes and hands.

We all started gathering branches, rocks, some broken pieces of concrete and cramming them under the tires to provide something for the truck to gain some traction on. Lois drove and John and I pushed. It was a slow process. We moved only inches at a time, but needed to go back about 15 or 20 feet to be assured of some solid ground. I knew we'd eventually get out of the situation, but I did become a little concerned when I saw a bunch of buzzards and vultures begin circling overhead. Hm, I thought, could this be my demise, to become a lunch for a bunch of vultures here in Paradise, only several thousand yards from civilization? Naw! I just made that up for dramatic effect.

It probably took the better part of an hour to slowly move the truck back until I came up with a stroke of genius - turn off the four wheel drive and just go to the normal two wheel drive, what do we have to lose? I have no idea if my two wheel drive idea had anything to do with it, but as Lois piloted the now filthy formerly, clean white, Ford Ranger 4x4 pick-up truck, John and I stood in the slippery mud and gave it the old heave-ho one more time. Viola! As if by some miracle, the truck pulled out of the mud and Lois took it back about 100 feet from our former trap. John and I looked at one another and smiled. Success! The vultures and buzzards dejectedly departed. We were free again and ready to find the next best route (hopefully the one we came in through) back to civilization. We did find that route and proceeded to return to civilization and a pleasant afternoon to recover from our Adventure in Paradise. We celebrated our adventure with a little beer and a nice, large meat lover's pizza at a local pizzeria later in the evening.

Thank you, Lois and John for being such gracious hosts and for taking me on the Miller Adventure Tour to Paradise right there in Hudson, Florida. You have added your wonderful mark to my trek through the (sometimes) Sunshine State.  

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