December 27 – December 31, 2020
Sitting in one spot for 12 days was nice and something we’d both enjoy again in the future, given the right place. The problem with this, unlike the Ortona Locks, is you have to commit while not knowing what the campground is like. So with no long term prospects in our near future, we roll out of the campground with a few short stays ahead of us while continuing our move north through Florida.
Cypress Creek Preserve
The Research and Travel Department found Cypress Creek Preserve, located just north of Tampa in the Land O’Lakes area, for our next stay. The property is operated by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and provide free camping spots on a first come first serve basis. They require registration through email where in return they provide a confirmation email and a lock combination to the gate. Other than the website with a few photos, some reviews, the lock code, and the knowledge that it was free, we knew little about the place.
Our drive to this area wasn’t all that interesting as we saw little new stuff. It was the same old two lane roads through agricultural areas, small towns with lots of migrant workers out walking around town, enjoying the nice sunny Sunday. White buses provide the migrant workers transportation from their housing camps to town to access local services. We’d see them often sitting in the Walmart parking lots making us wonder about the color choice for your skoolie (short, almost Australian sounding word for an old school bus converted to a camper) should you build one out. A white one in a parking lot just might get confused by some in these parts as a free ride home.
As we got closer, passing beneath I-4 then over I-75 near Land O’Lakes (LOL) and Tampa, the road got larger adding lanes, speeds, and associated anxiety. We passed by malls and other large retail centers, new neighborhoods, some with large signs indicating, “starting in the low $300’s.” We made a few turns before things started to slow down. We finally reached the last right where after about a quarter of a mile we pulled up to a trailhead. Sitting there were about a dozen cars, a wooden fence, and a large metal gate. There were four worn locks holding short lengths of a heavy chain wrapped around post and gate for security. Lysette jumped out to make sure the combination worked while Toohey and I remained sitting in the Tacoma with rig hitched, in the grass just across the street. Lysette, with her skills as an engineer made keener only by her ability to work with numbers, was successful after a few attempts to figure out the right lock and combination. She opened the gate and Toohey and I moved the rig through.
While waiting on Lysette to reassemble the security system, I sat looking ahead. Down the gravel road in front of me were a few couples, one with a dog, a small family with a child being pulled along in a red wagon, all spread along a straight road with a slight bend to the right. After Lysette closed then locked the gate assuring our safety, she reentered the Tacoma. We slowly made our way back into the park making sure to cautiously pass by those hiking. The area lining the road was mostly pines, small hardwoods with a ground cover of sawtooth palms. The people slowly stepped off the road as we passed, we’d nod, wave and Toohey would bark loudly. There were a few deep potholes filled with water, white from the lime content in the sandy soil and road bed material. At the Y in the road, we went left towards the equestrian camps, drove through a second gate, this one open with no locks, and followed the road as it rounded left and back into the camp area. We found four large rustic sites, each with a good carpet of grass and separated by large displays of sawtooth palms mixed in with small pines. There were no other campers there so with the pick of the litter, we chose one to the left pulling the rig through and around, barely needing to back. Each campsite had a metal fire ring and a picnic table. There is a small information board, a shelter, and a large oversized molded plastic port-o-let for all to share, but not much else besides the quiet of the place.
We quickly set up the home, unhitched, and made our way back out of the park to grab some provisions from the Publix we passed about 5 miles back, wishing that we had done that before getting there. When we returned about an hour later, there was another camper there in a small white sedan that he had made into a camping machine by removing all seats besides the driver’s seat, adding a bed, and presto camp overland vehicle! Some time later a third camper joined us driving a large maroon colored SUV with a blue plastic kayak on the roof pulling a vintage camper. Her only mate was a large blood hound who she’d loud talk to for about an hour after arriving, maybe a good security technique for someone traveling alone.
The night was easy, we ate a previously constructed salad from Publix then jumped into bed to read for a bit before falling into a good night of sleep.
Today started with a run through the preserve. We headed out the main road, then at the fork went left towards the primitive camp area. This came quickly on the right. From there the road went along until it came to another smaller entrance at the rear of a neighborhood. We turned about and headed back taking a trail marked 10 to our left. This started on a single track among high grasses but soon turned into just high wet grasses. I guess these off shoots along the main road aren’t used enough to keep the trails beat down.
We dumped off onto the main road and turned left where we found another left that took us on a trail looping back down the main drag almost to the main entrance gate. Not wanting to leave, we turned right and headed out before hucking a left at the next available trail. This trail shaped like a lollipop from an aerial view on a map, forked into a circle that went around a lake and some wetlands before connecting back up, heading back to the main road. From there, we had pretty much exhausted the entire park trail and road system, so we headed home. The entire mileage for the morning run was somewhere around 4 miles, but a good quality four in a nice peaceful place.
When we got home we ate breakfast then prepared for a dreaded day of laundry and provisions. We started off first with laundry which is the least favorite chore, getting it out of the way. We found a laundry mat in a little strip center next to a taekwondo martial arts gym and several other businesses. There was lots of trash and litter in the parking lot having us initially thinking, maybe not here. But we decided not to judge the book by the cover and to go inside to see. Once inside, we found a decent place with good equipment with only one other team doing laundry. This team consisted of a mother and her two daughters. As we started to load the washers, I made the comment to her that this was my least favorite activity. With that brief comment as an igniter to knowledge, we’d learn lots about this high energy lady with a pretty smile and darling daughters. Of most interest was that she was featured on a Tiny House Living episode where you too can see her here.
INSERT LINK To YOUTUBE VISO
Having left the high rent of Seattle, she bought a converted van (seen above) and traveled with her daughters around the US before moving to Arizona for a spell. She now lives in a 5th wheel trailer with her two daughters who were not only cute but helped mom with the large amount of laundry to include sadly having to loan their personal pocket change to complete the drying. Tiffany was full of energy, gladly sharing lots about her journey, trials and tribulations, always with optimism and a smile. She was a delight to share the laundromat with and helped make the chore much more enjoyable.
One of the issues with full time camping that sucks is when critical systems break and you are in an unfamiliar place. We learned in the morning before breaking camp that our heater no longer heats. The blower kicks on but after about 10 seconds and no sound of the furnace lighting, it shuts off. We’ve tried the propane but the stove works well so we know propane is in the lines. The reset switch under the sink was toggled a few times with no change in performance and the troubleshooting information on the user manual is useless. In the meantime, with cold temperatures in the forecast, we need to find a small portable heater that won’t drown us in carbon monoxide.
The next chore was a search for a Mr Buddy Heater. We tried Home Depot and Target with no luck. We will just have to continue our research and hopefully the weather isn’t to cold before we find one. Our final stop was to refuel the main propane tanks at a feed store. Is it me or does everyone love the smell of a feed store?
We made it home for some cleaning, storage and organizing and of course, Toohey’s dinner. We hung around the camp for the night, had an early dinner, and bed.
Caceres Organic Blueberry and Turmeric Farm
The drive out of Cypress Creek Preserve was easy, Lysette finally mastering the proper lock identification and code entry. With a right and left turn we were on the main highway running north. We passed through the town of Brooksville, through its beautiful historic old downtown, then a left on to a county road that passed us through large horse farms, lined with really nice fences, large Spanish oak trees, and yes, rolling hills. At the end of it all, the road flattened and became more Florida flat with large pine tree farms. We rolled by the Withlacoochee State Forest where there is a long bike trail along an old railroad bed. We finally made it to Highway 19, the road we took leaving this place going south, now our final push north to the farm.
We arrived at the Caceres Organic Blueberry and Turmeric Farm about a month to the day after we last were here, making this the second place we’ve returned to since starting our journey. Bjorn, the main event’s chocolate lab mix, greeted us with tail high and happy barks as we pulled through the fence, as though he actually recognized us. He met us at our campsite near the back of the property for the formal check in process of sniffs and tail wags, the best hospitality ever. With his help keeping Toohey busy, we eloquently set up camp.
We spent the afternoon walking the property, checking on the turmeric plants which have all turned deathly winter brown, hanging over or inside their pots since our last visit. We talked to a newer wwoofer who told us this means they are ready to be harvested which they started today and that they will be washing and processing the roots tomorrow.
The main event pulled up later in the evening riding his golf cart to greet us as if we were children returning home. He snapped some photos of Bjorn and Toohey with the camper in the background before his final approach. We exchanged pleasantries before he headed off to grab our firewood and more turmeric, basically refilling our jar that we had purchased before. On his return with our firewood and jar filled with spice, he also provided us a special offering of what I’d grown up knowing as fat lighter, old pine with a hardened sap that will easy burn. Others might know it as kindling. Apparently this fat lighter came from an old fence post his grandfather had installed back in the day that he is repurposing as fire starters. It was as fun a conversation, upbeat and full of information, a normal thing as we recalled from our previous stay here.
He bid his adieu and we started our preparation for the night festivities. With a full moon, we pan fried a slice of salmon for our salads to have while we watched the full moon rise and fire blaze under mostly clear skies. It was a nice night on the farm, one of our favorite camps, as it provides the simplicity of the farm experience. It is mostly quiet if not for the occasional trucks and carts passing along the highways and the folks that live behind on their dirt bikes and trucks as the pass up and down the road. There are sounds of birds and cows, but mostly it has a peaceful feel to it.
Interlude: As Lysette, Toohey and I sit here at our farm camp, beneath this small oak tree, an object not 10 feet high in statue but mammoth in its character to the spot, I think of how this place, this farm inspires me. The short picnic table made from repurposed wood, the rising sun creeping over my shoulder, so as to place a glare on my screen making the letters tough, almost impossible to read. But the ease at which the words flow from my heart to my fingers, hopefully striking the correct keys without effort, but not really caring. The birds, maybe mockingbirds or blue jays, definitely crows, squawking somewhere in the fields of blueberry bushes, dormant fruit bushes that are way past their harvest, living deep within themselves for the winter chill. Off to my left, across in another pasture are cattle birds, white egrets who feed in the same fields as the cattle graze. The birds providing a splatter of white color that occasionally moves, jumping, flying from spot to spot, providing contrast to the black and brown cows. Off in the distance, the deep green wall of large pines and hardwoods provide a border to the rows of turmeric, the plants appearing dead now, yet ripe for harvest. My shadow, long, but shortening by the minute, makes me consider briefly getting on with my day. My wife, my best friend, my travel companion sitting opposite, across the picnic table with laptop open, working on her art, photographs of our travels, occasionally talking to herself as she works, and my dog, lying on the ground behind her in a semi-ball relaxing as he has no worries here of food, the confinement of a leash, or the fear of us being apart. Ah yes, and the nice sip of hot black coffee from my stainless steel mug, life is good. Interlude complete.
We slow started the day with the normal, blogging, breakfast, reading, all under a brilliant Florida sunny sky. At precisely 10:32 we walked over to see the turmeric root processing which was a manual process of picking the roots off the mother root, which will be replanted for next year’s crop. The nicest colored root parts were separated from the others and will be sold in whole, likely next to the ginger root in your favorite organic grocery store. The off-colored roots, which aren’t as appealing to the eye, are ground into the powder. The batches of roots are then placed in a tub where they are washed by hand to remove soil. After they were cleaned they were moved to the drying screen. After rolling some film of all this for nostalgia, we got in the Tacoma and headed south then west to the small town of Cedar Key.
The city of Cedar Key is one island of a cluster of islands referred to as the Cedar Keys. It is one of the oldest cities in Florida having white man roots (not mentioning all the Spanish movement around the state) back to pre civil war days when it became the western hub of the railroad movement into the state. In fact, the first railroad arrived at the terminal just before the Civil War erupted. Other industries it is known for include pencil making, salt, and net fishing. Net fishing was outlawed in the mid 90’s but with a government retraining program, the oyster and clam farming resulted which now exist as a sign of success.
We found the downtown historic and unintentionally funky, sort of an old pre-big money Key West feel about it. Not overly touristy. Some of the older victorian style structures have survived nature’s wrath to stand as a beautiful reminder to the history of this place. There is even a shell mound artifact site reminding us that the land was once not occupied by westerners but of the native Indians, with the Seminoles being the last to be pushed out. Artifact dating has this place active around 500 BC.
The visit was well worth it. We walked the small downtown area, the wharf, and a bit of the residential neighborhood along a battery of sorts, skirted by the shallow waters of the keys and gulf. Folks strolled the streets, fished from the shore and the large concrete fishing pier, and dined in old buildings sitting over the water, serving seafood and cool beer, selling t-shirts and hats, in places with catchy names like Deck Bar.
We drove out of town, glad we visited, and happy to be on our way at the same time. But given another year, free of cooties, would certainly make this place a stop for a long quiet weekend winter retreat.
We drove through the Shell Island campground, passed by the short hike over the shell mound, now decorated in lovely large oaks, sawtooth palms, and small pine trees. The mound sits in contrast to otherwise flat marsh land. We continued north and east finding ourselves in the Lower Suwanee Nature Preserve. We drove a dirt road through the area which was healthy and lush but not seeing much nature other than a few turtles. There were swampy areas with mid-aged cypress trees, hardwood forest with oaks ladened with spanish moss and ground cover of sawtooth palms. There were ponds, each numbered, and many turns left and right off the main road onto small grass covered roads that were blocked by metal government barricades. We noticed the lack of “No Camping” signs having us both remark about boondocking possibilities here.
As we left the loop drive, now through the north entrance, we turned left and into the small community of Fowler Landing. We drove in to see the lack of fuss. The homes, some manufactured, some cinder block, and some large McWeekender’s sat along the Suwanee River. Property here likely passed down through the generations. There was a riverside bar and restaurant called Treasure Camp which sat next to a boat ramp and single gas pump. There were a few people on the screen porch and outside seating as we passed by, enjoying the day. We returned to the main road and headed for camp. Fulfilled by the days adventure, having learned more about this place we’ve both lived so close to but failed to take the time to see or get to know.
Back at camp, the night included an Ethiopian inspired dish including chicken, purple cabbage, onions, garlic, ginger, potatoes, and the fresh turmeric root provided from the soil where we camp and given to us as a gift from the main event.
The morning came with the need to pack up and move on from this little slice of heaven. Since our first stop here, we started drinking turmeric powder mixed with a shot of water every morning, the same turmeric grown and processed on the farm by the woofers. We do this, if not for the alleged anti-inflammatory medicinal benefits, but for the wonderful memories of Bjorn, the happy go lucky farm dog, the relaxing campsite among the blueberry bushes and turmeric plants, and the magical place we have now visited twice along our journey.