I’ve been pondering how to explain my choice of Florida in May, as well as the bizarre month it has certainly been. So, join me for this Q&A as I spend much needed time with myself:
What possessed you to head to Vero Beach in May?
When I booked this non-refundable stay in March, my thinking was that it would be the off-season and real estate would be affordable. Yes, I’d decided that the next 5 years would be spent in a small box in Florida for the winter while continuing to travel my “dream list” the remaining 6-7 months. With tent camping near obsolete south of Orlando, it seemed time to empty the storage unit and have an address that offered Medicare Advantage plans (yes, I said that out loud).
Who could predict that this would be an unrecognizable real estate market? Having been burned on the last go around, there’s no way I’m stepping into this absurdity. Also adding to my change of heart is the current Civil War which is weighing heavily upon me now that I’ve dropped south of the Richmond, Virginia line. My interest in committing to the USA is quite low at this point.
So, have you just been hanging out at the beach?
While I’ve spent most of my time outdoors on the bike seat or two feet, seeing friends, reading books, and enjoying the after 4pm peacefulness at the beach, I’ve also worked a bit, and have had a few challenges thrown my way. It is much busier here for May than I remember it from when I lived here. Friends tell me that the season just keeps getting longer with folks arriving in October and staying till June. I’m also wondering how many transplants arrived this past winter who haven’t changed license plates; maybe they’re waiting to experience their first hurricane season.
Do you think it’s safe to be in Florida now?
It’s a resounding “no” to that question in terms of Covid as Florida has held the top spot for new cases the past few weeks, and I’ve not seen a mask in sight where I’m staying, in beach restrooms, or on folks going in and out of stores. Of the 4 people I queried at my Airbnb, not one has been vaccinated (all for absurd reasons), and not one owns a mask. I’m the only person wearing a mask indoors and walking out of rooms as needed! From conversations, I’d say every area in the state is doing something different, with age, politics and common sense as influencers.
The roads seem awfully busy as well, with people in a hurry or blatantly breaking the law. I’m in distress now as my car (also known as my home) was hit on May 19th. I was driving in the curb lane when a guy took a left turn and moved over 3 lanes without looking. While I’m unable to get it fully repaired here due to parts, I’m lucky he was driving a 2020 Kia and is fully insured. Hopefully my insurance company is working some magic and fingers are crossed for the "fix" at the end of June.
So, was May simply painful?
While my visit became a moot point and it’s been hot, hot, hot, I've been getting early morning bike rides in and dips in the 76 degree aqua ocean, so that’s pretty nice. There’s also been small kindnesses from strangers that turn my bad attitude around – a flower from a fellow cyclist on Mother’s Day, a gratis blackened mahi sandwich from a grill cook at Seaside, an abundance of fun books in Free Little Library boxes, and the best one – a full safety inspection of my car at the local body shop by the owner who said, “pay it forward”.
And, of course, friends have gone out of their way to visit – Brian on a bike seat, Mark for lunch by the bay, and Jen for an early morning beach walk. So, the bottom line is I could’ve done without this stop but physically, if not mentally, I’m prepared to hit the road on the 1st and return to my tent cocoon in South Carolina.
When I rolled out of my tent and off the farm, I had a mere two-hour drive south to visit friends, Sid and Judy, in the Lake region. We met on Jekyll Island in 2017, have had prior visits in campgrounds, but Covid cancelled our March 2020 get-together at their new homestead. This was my first post-vax stay but I wasn't worried because we're not only all vaxxed, we're all straight talkers.
One of the many reasons I so enjoy their company is that I feel right at home, and we can talk about religion, politics, family, travel, food, or whatever with a little screaming and swearing perhaps, and it's all good. The only issue that has surfaced is that Sid won't play Scrabble anymore because I've beat his ass too many times. He does, however, push the envelope on the bike seat riding ahead of me.
In three days, we ate fabulous food, had a few drinks, cruised the lakes, biked the community, heard live music, watched a bad movie, didn't solve the world's problems, and laughed a lot! These crazy kids even invited me back for next year's St. Paddy's Day festivities. Where's my '22 calendar?
One more stop in Florida for a month and that's a much longer story.
Cruising out of Aiken, I chose to take the slow road and drive the byways through rural Georgia, a region I’ve never seen before. There’s a lot of land in the middle of Georgia that’s farms, forests, and small towns with one gas station and a family restaurant. This pleases me, and it was really fun to drive into Florida on a byway, and into the town of Jasper that has a bike path down the center of Main Street.
While I was subjected to the route 10 commercialism for a blink, in just 56 miles I rolled into Bell for a week at a private, solo Airbnb campsite. Bell, Florida is the 2nd largest town in the county with just over 500 residents; it's just east of the Suwannee River and much to my surprise, about 30 miles from Gainesville. The campsite is what attracted me to the location, then I found the Nature Coast Bike Trail, just 10 miles south, with a distance of 32 paved miles. Score!
The little town of Bell was founded in the early 1890’s, and the name was selected by means of a beauty contest in which the winner's name would be given to the new rail station and post office. The one who received the most votes was Bell Fletcher, the daughter of a native Floridian, and she lived in the community until her death in 1919. While there is peripheral growth, Bell remains pretty rural to this day, yet through volunteer efforts opened its first library in 1996!
My campsite was a drive down a nearly mile-long sandy road on a family-owned, five-acre farm with goats, cattle, and one venomous snake (I only saw one.). At check-in, the response to every question from the very polite son was “yes, ma’am”. I loved that. While I spent a couple of days enjoying the beauty and solitude of my space with book in hand, I also walked to nearby Blue Springs, and biked to three others, as well as to the infamous Suwannee. I wouldn’t have eaten out since there wasn’t a mask in sight, but it was an easy decision as there was BBQ and BBQ.
There’s something to be said for rural tranquility.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover