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.
Yes, I'm still in Florida as I rolled just west of Fort Lauderdale to celebrate a friend's 59th, enjoy the holiday season, and connect with familiar faces. As you probably know, every birthday is significant to me, but I wanted to acknowledge this one with Mark as he recently recovered from a serious heart attack. Always celebrate.
While I'd planned to visit into the new year, the location also offered a spot for me to leave my Element and spend the winter out of the USA. Given its proximity, my travel plotting began with Cuba, but did you know U.S. citizens now need a "valid license" and can only stay for 30 days? Not long enough. I then pondered Ecuador with an interest in Cuenca and the Galapagos Islands, but I wasn't in a travel mindset versus "winter away" pondering the question, "Can I live in another country?". At last I landed on San Miguel, Azores. Yes, it's a place I've been twice for short stints but a few months on this island with a temperate climate, good food, and a familiar atmosphere seemed like just the right idea. In no time I had my casinha picked out and was tracking flights to fly the coop early January. I even attempted a few Duolingo Portuguese lessons!
The long story made short is one word -- Omicron. So, here I sit till the new year but yes, I will be returning to tent life as I creep my way out of Florida. More to come soon as I look back at the ups and downs of 2021, and what now new year?!
It's called the Lakes Region but Florida will always be defined by one coast or the other for me. Yet, I enjoy the lakes, the rivers, and the clusters of various trees that give this area a true southern feeling. The first stop was a drop in for a few days with friends in Leesburg for big food (still pondering the jalapeno cheese pie), some play time (just learned Rummikub), and a trip to Mount Dora, a quaint 100+ year old town that's been on my radar for a long time (they've been holding a multi-day bike festival for 40+ years).
When I rolled into my next destination just two hours south, my eyes bugged out as I saw not one, but two enormous wild boar in rigor mortis by the side of the road. Oh yes, it's rural here in Plant City -- the "winter strawberry capital of the world" -- that holds a 10-day festival every March in honor of this fruit. You may assume, as I did, that Plant City is named for its ag industry, but over 100 years ago, railroad developer Henry Plant settled here and earned the town's renaming as he boosted commerce by merging with the South Florida Railroad.
My draw to Plant City began with a tiny house on a 4+ acre Airbnb. With produce farms, tropical plant nurseries, and ranches, it seemed like a good spot to cruise around on two wheels, and it is. While I landed in the main house, it's been a great visit as my host hails from Bulgaria and is an interesting, hard-working, 52-year old woman who enjoys people and sharing her home (as well as homemade soup and bread). Yes, I do now know of a sweet place in the mountains of Bulgaria to stay in the future, too.
Tomorrow I point further south for a month of holiday cheer with multiple friends, a look back at the ups and downs of 2021, and deep pondering of what's possible to plan for '22.
Halfway into a 6-week sleeping arrangement and I was pretty well ready to go. My work was done here but it was possible to switch gears and simply be an observant tourist.
With time to spare, how happy was I that friend, Scott dropped in from Pittsburgh for 5 days? We rode bikes and ate! It was gumbo at the Seafood Fest, fish & chips at Hudson's (in the family since 1967), grilled redfish from Bluffton Oyster Co (family run since 1899), and spanakopita at the Squat & Gobble. He claims he only came for the pecan sweet potato casserole at Bluffton BBQ (which I skipped), but I don't believe him. I was quite pleased to have conversation with a compadre all day long!
While I've listened to the stories of a few lonely men, I've not made a single connection here. People say 'hello' as a courtesy but that's as far as it goes. These are definitely not my people. I've been living in a comfy room in a lovely house with a family from Indiana, but the neighborhood feels like suburbia. This makes little sense as I'm a mile walk to the heart of Old Town Bluffton in one direction and the same to the Parkway bike paths in the other. But, built in 2016, it has that oh-so-planned feeling -- I've been calling it Pleasantville.
What I do like is the mix of ages which made for a jubilant Halloween season. Houses have been decorated to the max since October 1, and I sat outdoors with my hosts for 3 hours watching a parade of no less than 300 trick-or-treaters of all ages come by. I've had wilder holidays, but this was the most festive Halloween in years. In fact, I forgot to take a photo!
There have also been two more trips to Hilton Head to play and to learn more about the history of the island. Did you know that in 1861 the Union Army found Hilton Head abandoned and established it as their southern headquarters? It's why nearly two-thirds of nearby Bluffton was destroyed, and how millions of slaves were given freedom. Free and former enslaved people in the area served in the Union Army and the US Navy with knowledge that helped to win many battles. Even more surprising to me is that Harriet Tubman was working behind Confederate lines here and led a battle that freed over 800 slaves. She was everywhere! In 1862, the US Army established Mitchelville (see my last post) as a "freed men's village" on Hilton Head; a humanitarian and segregation effort.
What else am I up to? Riding. Walking. Reading. Writing. Working a tad. Pondering seasonal locations. Plotting travel for early 2022. And, in three days, I break my own rule and point south into Florida where I have 3 stops on the itinerary and 5 friends awaiting my arrival. I'm already thinking about eggnog.
While it may seem like I was simply playing all summer, the mind was always at work. With a never-ending pandemic and sheer stupidity on the rise, I had to ponder winter spots to lay my weary head.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover