Camping Along Memory Lane
With the holidays and 6 weeks of life indoors behind me, it was time to hit the road and return to tent life. Yet, I was feeling both pandemic trepidation (oy, Florida) and nostalgic that this may be my final winter trolling along in this busy, crazy state. So I opted for familiar places, not only for safety, but to revisit some of my favorite spots. The plan now is to point north, and (Mother Nature permitting), visit the Georgia canyons in March as I'd planned back in 2020. My first stop is Stuart along the Okeechobee Waterway.
It was grand to pull up to the gate, see a smiling face, and hear, "You've been here before!". "Yes Cathy, quite a few times," and with that, I was happy to be back. The location, the bike routes, and the little library boxes were welcoming even when the thunderstorms and temps in the '30s were challenging!
It was then a comfortable 70-mile drive north to Sebastian Inlet, a place that's always been dear to me. While my last visit was tainted by tourists, it was a good idea to head here for the cold January nights, and indeed it felt like old times all week long. The diehards were out -- surfers, fishermen, a touring cyclist, and in general, lovers of the great outdoors. We were a waving, nodding, chatty community of people with the ocean and lagoon at our doorstep.
Weather brought a change of plans as predictions for night temps in the 20s kept me from pushing 150 miles north! So, I visited another old standby in the town of Sebastian where there were nearly a dozen of us crazy folks! In 4 days, I did get to bike through town twice, read two books, and pat myself on the back as my next planned stop was indoors. The first night, I was tucked in like a bug in a rug as I awoke to a light frost covering, then stayed sheltered for most of the 22 hours of on-and-off showers. Through it all, the tent stayed dry and for the most part, so did I!
A Year of Uncertainty
It’s early January 2022 so I must digest the past year before stepping into the new one.
It doesn’t seem possible, but it was just a year ago that I was adapting to winter in Ocean City, Maryland. While January was a pleasant surprise weather-wise, I’m still congratulating myself for a job well done for surviving February. March found me moving just 85 miles south to Franktown, Virginia for the 30-day vax #2 wait. Yet it seemed like I was world’s away in a lovely cottage on a horse farm in a small, friendly town with clear broth chowder on the local menu. Thankfully, visits with friends and family during these three months kept me connected to the world!
After 5 months of indoor solo life, there was just one thing to do -- point south and pitch the tent. I opted for two stops in the Croatan National Forest near the coast of North Carolina. This was not the woodsy experience I’d envisioned but I was happy to live without walls, and ride the East Coast Greenway with a fellow cyclist after much chat and a shrimp burger. Life felt normal again.
In April, I landed in Aiken for a too-short first visit. This new South Carolina stop was a lovely surprise with plenty of green space, a cool main street, and true southern hospitality. It was then a day’s drive along the Georgia byways to land in Bell, Florida on a five-acre farm with a campsite I could call my own. I was in rural tranquility with nearby natural springs, the Suwanee River, the Nature Coast Bike Trail, and a host that always responded, “yes, ma’am”. It was almost tough to leave with the exception that my next stop was a visit with dear friends to cruise the Dora Canal to a few lakes, eat, tell stories & laugh, and experience an evening at Disney for Seniors (yes, The Villages).
So, May in Florida? Yes, in Vero Beach, a possible winter destination, though it definitely didn’t work out that way. While I enjoyed visiting with friends, I didn’t love Vero, and for the first time in 7 years, my Honda Element that I call home, was damaged. I was happy to push my way straight out of that state and back to tent life on St. Helena Island, South Carolina – a camp revisit and a few days with nearby friends. It’s a toss-up on the highlight of this June stop between being told “You’re a hippie,” and seeing dolphins stranding for the first time ever.
The first half of ‘21 did end well as the second half of June was spent in Mebane, North Carolina getting my dear Element looking good as new. The Airbnb was also a gift as I fell in love with a precocious 5 year old who has insured that I never forget where Komodo lizards live. Thankfully, the second half began peacefully in a tiny house atop a mountain in West Virginia with isolation, meditation and stunning sunsets.
At this point, it was clear that neither covid nor the civil war were over, so I made the decision to stay on the familiar East Coast. Maryland was back on the agenda though in the mountains at Catoctin National Park in a primitive, peaceful campsite. Enola, PA brought me back indoors enjoying morning cappuccino, wonderful hosts, and an impromptu meeting of a new pal on two wheels. Unfortunately, there are no rules at Bald Eagle State Park in northern PA so let’s just skip that stop completely!
August and September were quite glorious in New York and Vermont. It was two weeks with a friend in Rochester, 10 days with a water view in Tupper Lake, a glorious birthday in Pawlet, Vermont, what felt like a family visit in Guilderland, indeed a family visit camping along the Battenkill, then sipping miracle water in Saratoga Springs. As September came to a close, a car caravan from Schenectady with a friend led to an Appalachian farmhouse in Maryland with tours of Frederick, Harper’s Ferry, and Antietam.
October opened with coastal camping at Carolina Beach, NC with me wondering, “Why can’t I live outside permanently?” I should’ve listened as I booked a too long Airbnb stay near Hilton Head with thoughts of finding a winter home, but instead asking, “What am I doing here?”. As November rolled in, I was back in Florida for a Leesburg re-visit, fixating on Turkish coffee in Plant City, then celebrating many occasions through year’s end just west of Lauderdale.
While none of my dream list was hit in 2021, new and repeat locations were a joy to explore and share with people after a very questionable prior year. Unfortunately, 2022 has started quite maddening, but I’m doing my best to roll with the punches. On Monday, I’m back in the tent. Stay tuned.
Why am I feeling like a loser? For the first time in years, I missed the 5,000 mile goal! While I did have a month in 2021 where I couldn't ride due to weather or terrain, I was honestly not paying close attention! Trust me, I rode a lot in December but came in at 4,950 miles. Woe is me.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover