Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Magic Bus Tour Begins- Big Cypress National Park

Day 1- March 25, 2013

     So the epic travel begins. First stop, Big Cypress National Park. It's setting up for another gorgeous Florida sunset as I turn on to the 20 mile dusty gravel road towards the primitive style (few, if any amenities) campground ominously named "Bear Island". Racing to get there before the sun goes down I wonder if Mage (The Magic Bus) has ever been off-roading before? I'm hoping she's mostly seen highway miles, but she handled herself well and seemed to enjoy it, as did I, arriving covered in a thin coat of fine white dust.
Better than a cross Panther!
     I'd would have rather not jostled her around so much at high speed, but I figured since I would be camping among bears, panthers and gators it would be a good idea to have  some light so as to have a chance to  look around before settling into the campsite.
     Although there is a seemingly abandoned net canopy set up near by it appears that I have the whole area to myself with the stars twinkling in the clear night sky and the near full moon shining bright and on the rise. In the background  are the crickets and cicadas providing the soundtrack for the evening. It's a lovely sonnet, all except the blood sucking mosquitoes which I'd prefer to be much farther down in the mix. I frantically wave my conductors wand, but they drone on completely disrespecting the rest of the symphony. I guess there is a more senior Maestro conducting tonight's score to whom I must defer.
     The sun has set and with a slight chill in the air I don a sweatshirt and put socks on under my flip flops. I know it's not fashionable, but I also know the days of minimal footwear are soon to come to an end as I progress northward and I'm going to milk going shoeless for as long as possible. Besides, I'm alone. Although if my eyes were as big as an Owl's, I might see one snickering at me.
     I decide to test out the new Coleman stove and cook up a few quesadillas. The combination of not being micro-waved and cooking them in the great outdoors makes them most savory. My hunger satiated I pull out the camera for a few snaps at the moon. Afterwards I can think of nothing more enjoyable than to sit and  listen to the Earth spin while imagining I can communicate with billion of bellowing insects and try to warn them that if they aren't careful those birds of the famous Florida Bird Watching Trails will be their end.

     I believe I will sleep well tonight.....very well.

Day 2

Oh Dear!
     Sleep well I did. However, the second evening was another story all together. I wish I could share something as exotic as a wild panther pacing around the van all evening, but the truth is much more mundane. I thought the Earth's Poles might have shifted as I lay there freezing my tuckus off. With everything but my face covered in fleece and my blanket pulled over my head I cursed that cold Arctic air mass that snuck down into Southern Florida last night and dropped the temperature down to 39 degrees. I also cursed the ceiling vent I installed two days ago to pull out the warm air. It doesn't have a damper so what precious little heat I had was escaping throughout the night. A tupperware lid and some duck tape is my quick fix for the later problem. The former I can't do much about, but the forecast isn't as harsh for this coming evening so hopefully there will be less cussing.
     During the day I hiked a trail. Actually using the word "hiked" seems way too dramatic. Like all of Florida the park is flat and due to that fact I would have to say that Big Cypress Park is probably one of the least scenic national parks in the country. That is unless you're lucky enough to spot the elusive Florida Panther and not get mauled. Unfortunately, I was not. Also, despite what you might think given the park's name, it seems that big Cypress trees are also pretty elusive here. Go figure.
Carrying on with the theme of misnomers, despite this campground's name, "Bear Island", I have not seen any bears or for that matter, even water! Of course, you'd have to be really lucky to spot a Bear or Panther anywhere, but if you make your way to the watery sections of this park you will have no trouble spotting Gators. Just don't feed them or you'll wind up in the slammer, possibly minus a limb.
Many would consider this area a "Bird Lovers Paradise". I'm not knowledgeable on aviaries, but I have seen lots of Osprey, Red Shouldered Hawks, Anhingas, Egrets, Summer Tanagers, Black Vultures, Tern, Blue Heron and even a few Wild Turkeys pecking around. The latter were the scariest. Not because of their vicious ferocity, razor sharp claws and man eating beaks, but because turkeys are in season and they do allow hunting in the park! I survived those turkeys though and I soldier on......
    Now if you'll excuse me I need to get under my blanket of stars, start a campfire and cook me some vittles.

Sunset over Big Cypress

If you're interested in learning more about the park, here is a link.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Key West Magic Bus Test Run

3/15/13 Key West or Bust!

Sunset from Mallory Square
     I decided to take the van down to Key West as a mini test trip to try out the van and make sure everything was copacetic. So I headed down through Miami and decided to follow I-95 down to its end and pick up US 1 the rest of the way. I had no idea South Miami extended down so far. Big mistake, probably added over an hour to the drive and for no good reason.
     I was excited to make the rest of the drive because a friend had recently done it and said it was very scenic and I also saw on a "Scenic Drive" website that it was listed as one of the drives you should do before you die. Well, I can now say I did it, but honestly I wasn't that impressed. It was nice.... and anytime time you come across a 7 Mile long bridge it's got to draw your attention, but to me it was a case of being over-hyped. However, I have done this trip actually plowing through those waters by boat and nothing can compare to that so take my being jaded with a grain of salt. The waters are incredible as well as the sunsets and there are a few parks/scenic trails along the way that I should check out on the way back up.
     I'm happy to report that Mage (what I'm affectionately calling the Magic Bus) did well. The fridge door popped open once, but other than that she did her job flawlessly. I'm even getting better than 15 mpg which is better than I thought I would get.
     I found a parking spot near the main drag (Duval St.) and docked her. Then took a stroll to see Key West in action during Spring Break and St. Patty's Day weekend. I would say that the Spring Break numbers aren't going to break any records, but the green were well represented. 

So an Irishman walks out of a bar....... No really! It can happen!

     After a night on the town it was time to spend the first night in the van. I blacked out the windows, turned on the fan and had a nice uneventful, undisturbed night with the exception of the neighborhood rooster who really must be screwed up by Daylight Savings Time. Someone buy that thing a watch! 

Day two to come......

   "Hi Mom- it's me.....and I'm not in jail!"

     I slept in and was woken up by the police. Apparently Key West is another one of the corporations that believe they have the right to mandate where and where not a person can sleep. There are probably 1000 homeless in Key West sleeping on the street, but Heaven forbid if a guy wants to catch some shuteye in his legally registered, taxes paid, not an eye-sore vehicle. Anyway, I was polite and cooperative and the cop was cool so I got a verbal warning and as bonus he gave me props for the van build.
Very Funny and Talented Street Performer!

     The rest was typical Key West, you know, Eat, Drink, Bar hop, Sun Bathe, Sightseeing, Sunset at Mallory Square.... yada yada yada. I won't bore you with the details. If you want the full experience.... head down there!