Travels with Dakota

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Not surprisingly, one book which kept coming up as necessary reading for our trip is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Several things struck me as I picked up my paperback copy and commenced to read. Without doubt the first thing that struck me was that Steinbeck is an amazingly deft writer and craftsman. Okay, this may not be an earth-shattering discovery, but I expect everyone recognizes the feeling of encountering someone who really can write. There is just a world of difference.

Subsequent realizations focused on the similarity of our impulses to travel and how well much of the book, especially Steinbeck’s philosophizing, has withstood sixty years’ passage.

He opens, “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.”

A bit later he writes, “I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a  burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace away from any Here.”

See what I mean about the writing? I am embarrassed to put my own prose anywhere near his.

As someone who has always lost themselves in maps and in contemplation of faraway places, it isn’t surprising that we would undertake our own journey. Our experience in telling people of our plans is not that different than that of which Steinbeck writes. In the vast majority of cases the response was one of envy and desire. Sure, a few would question our sanity, but that same desire to explore and travel is shared by most, “Yeah, let’s chuck it all and go adventuring. I sure wish I could.” We are endlessly fortunate to be able to do so.

Of course, one major difference between Steinbeck’s journey and our own is communication and the internet. Steinbeck took “enough writing material to take care of ten volumes” and, of course, he was not in daily touch with his wife and family on his trip. That left him with far more time to contemplate his experiences, but I confess I much prefer being able to text and talk daily with my children and friends not to mention sharing experiences through this blog.

Many themes over which Steinbeck muses have withstood time, somewhat sadly, the commercialization of culture, the homogenization of speech and locale, the consumerism which dominates society and thought and racism. So much of what he writes reverberates eerily in our current circumstances. That makes me very hopeful about life and society in general. If these concerns were relevant sixty years ago and we’re all still here musing about the same issues, how can disaster be at hand?

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But enough of that, let’s get to the dog stuff. Charley is Charles le Chien—a big standard poodle of a dog. A “diplomat” and “a bond between strangers” and “a good friend and traveling companion”. Dakota is a smaller sort of dog, but outstanding in his physical appearance. He may be less outgoing that Charley, but he is equally good at sparking conversations regarding his physical beauty. He is friendly, but tail wagging and greeting are always preceded by barking. Once you get past the bark, there is no bite, just an acceptance of others’ adoration for his beauty. This dog never met a photo op he didn’t like.

Does Dakota like this uprooting and travel? Is he confused about his life on the road? I don’t think such deep thoughts ever enter his brain. I love the dog to death, but deep thought has never been one of his characteristics. The presence of an ample supply of kibble and his beloved yellow duck is pretty much all this dog needs.

My final comment on Steinbeck’s work is that he spent way too little time writing about Charley– arguably the most furry and interesting character in the book. This is not an error I plan to perpetuate. Blogging will include copious amounts of information about my furriest sweetie and lots and lots of photos. He is, after all, the most photogenic of the three of us. (Apologies to Jim).

Visiting Royalty

Visiting Jim and Betty meant a lovely drive down Hutchinson Island. This barrier island spanned the entire distance between Fort Pierce and Road Runner and Stuart on the southern end. It was no hardship to drive the length of the island in either direction. The sunsets were especially lovely. I thought of these days as our “city days.” We all went out to lunch at dog-friendly restaurants with outdoor spaces or ran errands. It gave me a chance to spend time with Betty as well as Jim.

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The beach in Stuart was dog friendly and we had great fun one afternoon taking Dakota over to see the waves. He was ferocious and gave each wave a piece of his mind while carefully avoiding getting his paws wet.

Our visit with Betty came to a happy conclusion. Jim’s sister, Linda, arrived on Saturday. The changing of the guard involved Jim returning to Road Runner as Linda took up residence in Stuart. Late Saturday afternoon she and Betty came up to Road Runner so Linda could check out the  Airstream. She was an enthusiastic visitor and Jim gave her a thorough tour. Betty and I sat happily under the awning and had our own good visit. We all had a delightful dinner in Fort Pierce at the Harbor Cove Bar and Grill.

The night was unfortunately chilly, but I would highly recommend this place to anyone. Nestled in the middle of a big harbor, there was live music and a very lively bar. We had a tasty and highly enjoyable meal.

Just the Two of Us

On our alternate days, Dakota and I explored the local dog-friendly state parks. One we returned to was the Savannas Preserve State Park.

This park was quite enormous and featured an expansive number of trails. This is the dry season in Florida and the trails themselves were quite dusty and dry, but most of the park was a mix of marshland and, not surprisingly, savannas. We hiked these trails twice.

It was quite hot and sunny as we hiked along. We hiked deep into the park. Once we were away from the picnic area, we saw no one. It felt very remote.

State parks require that dogs stay on leash on the trails. I always adhere to this rule both to abide by the rules, but even more to avoid having to rescue Dakota from some wild life experience. As much as I love my furry friend, I also know he has little common sense. In a landscape filled with potentially dangerous snakes, spiders and bobcats, I would prefer to keep him close at hand and under control. These concerns were amplified when I realized that at least part of our trails featured water and marsh just on the other side of the brush. We hiked along as I kept a careful eye out for alligators as well as snakes.

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Happily, no alligators tried to eat us and no snakes slithered across our path, but we did see two very large Gopher Tortoises. Dakota thought they were each just a big rock until it moved and then, once again, the dog lost his mind. It is hard to tell how big these guys were from these photos, but they were easily 15-18″.

Road Runner Beep! Beep!

In our case, the next stop was the goal we had been pushing hard towards since we left CT on January 3rd. Our journey to date was a time of discovering how to live in the Airstream, but the major goal was to get to the Fort Pierce/Stuart area where Jim’s mother, Betty, has a condo.

Betty is 95 and in amazing shape given her age. Always a beautiful and petite woman, she still has her looks and her mind is kept sharp by doing myriad crossword puzzles daily. She can buzz through the NY Times Sunday puzzle in under an hour. While Betty usually lives in Michigan, she has had this condo in Stuart for decades. To give her the opportunity to enjoy the Florida warmth, three of her children were taking turns staying with her. Jim’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Renee, were first up. We would do our turn and then his sister, Linda, would come down for the final leg of the visit and the eventual return to northern climes.

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Jim, Betty and Phil

The wrinkle in this plan for us was, of course, the Airstream. We couldn’t very well hunker down in the parking lot at Betty’s condo. Actually, there was a further complication. Many years ago Jim’s father, Jack, as head of the condo board, had passed a rule that pickup trucks couldn’t overnight in the parking lot. Ironically, we couldn’t even park Big Blue there.

So, Dakota, the Airstream and I took up residence at the Road Runner Travel Resort and Jim headed forty minutes south in a rental car to stay with his mom in Stuart. Southern Florida is so crazy crowded with rv’s, that was the closest decent spot we could find.

The Road Runner Travel Resort was a bit of a shock at first. Having spent more than a week in state parks, we needed to adjust to the closer living quarters of a rv resort. RV resorts have a different ethos and clientele than a state park. More on that at a later time.

After checking in at the office, we headed to our camp site. Road Runner is a pretty large park—more than 400 sites. The streets all feature president’s names so we took a left on Madison. When we pulled up to our site, I got out to spot and the lady at the site next door said, “you need to come from the other direction to back in.” Oh, okay. I was willing to follow her direction and duly reported this to Jim in the cockpit. He grumbled, “who does she think she is…” I pointed out she undoubtedly knew far more than we did and he headed off to re-orient. When he got back, our new neighbor, Carol, and her husband were both on their feet and ready to help. Rick offered to back us in and we took him up on the first of many kind offers. Rick is a retired truck driver and he had our Airstream perfectly positioned in a minute and made it look incredibly easy to do so. Jim was thrilled and relieved. Backing in with a large audience is never stress-free and he learned some valuable tips in the bargain. People in rv parks are generally incredibly friendly and very willing to help—I found this out frequently over the next ten days.

Rick and Carol

Rick and Carol

I would point out two other characteristics of Road Runner and Florida rv parks in general. The first is that you very rarely see Airstreams. We are definitely a bit of an oddity. This is true in state parks as well. It will be fascinating to see if this is less true when we get west of the Mississippi. But in Florida the Class A and Fifth Wheels rule. The second observation I would make is that half of Canada is down here. There must be no one left at home in Quebec. The common areas at Road Runner rang with the sound of Canadian French. I don’t blame them because it is really cold up there, but those left behind must be feeling a bit lonely. Actually, Rick told me that last year there were far more Canadians at Road Runner. The strength of the dollar thinned the migration quite a bit this year.

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With Jim located to the south by forty minutes, Dakota and I took to life on our own. This was actually a very good development as it forced me to take charge of Airstream care and conquer my fear of lighting the grill and any number of other things. Midway through the week there was a big storm scare. I had to take in the awnings and prep for high winds and this was all good to learn. Again, Rick and Carol were very helpful with advice. They made it clear they were there to help me if I needed it and it was very comforting to know that.

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Over the course of the week, we developed a pattern. One day Dakota and I would do something on our own like go hiking and the next day we would drive down to visit Jim and Betty. This ended up working out quite well for all involved.

A Clean Airstream is a Happy Airstream

After two weeks on the road in snow, sleet, rain and highway dirt, we were looking a little worse for wear. We needed to spruce up a bit. We had been watching for truck washes for several hundred miles and I even downloaded an app, Blue Beacon, to find a good one. We were very nervous about letting anyone touch our gorgeous silver bullet, but we were equally vain. Luck landed us at a Blue Beacon truck wash just minutes from our destination.

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We joined a long line of eighteen wheelers waiting their turn. From my limited experience, it seems that truck washes are pretty manual. Unlike car washes which service passenger vehicles, trucks come in varying sizes and shapes and have varying needs. The more manual process becomes more variable to needs.

We watched as the refrigerated food truck before us was scrubbed down inside and out. Then it was our turn.

We gleamed in the late afternoon sun. Our beautiful silver bullet looked brand new and we were ready for our close up with Jim’s family.

Life’s a Beach

Life’sJust outside the oldest city in the United States lies Anastasia State Park. This is where we would next park our rig. Of course, we had to get to Anastasia Island to do this. This involved driving along Route A1A and crossing over the Bridge of Lions. Memories of Savannah flooded back into our minds as we threaded our way along the narrow two lane road through town with hundreds of tourists dodging in front of us and behind us in search of the next souvenir. I wonder if this will ever become less stressful?

St. Augustine is a very old town and there are some lovely and historical parts of the city, but it is also very touristy. We enjoyed poking around a bit and saw Flagler College and its distinctive architecture, but our interest lay more across the inland waterway on Anastasia Island.

The state park is very lovely. There aren’t any hiking trails to speak of, but the beach is beyond gorgeous. It definitely rivals the most glorious beaches on the east coast. It was also almost empty of people which made it even more delightful. The only downside for us is that it was not dog-friendly so we viewed its glories from the end of the boardwalk and then turned away. We aren’t such big beach people anyway although I would love to have walked its length with Jim and Dakota and searched for crabs and seashells.

We spent two days in Anastasia State Park. I think that we can add to our learnings that two days is too short a stay. It really doesn’t give you time to get settled and then begin exploring. Before you know it you are hitching up again to move on to the next destination. This is good information to file away for future planning purposes. In the meantime, we had a higher purpose to serve and pushing on was the means to fulfilling that purpose.

Georgia On Our Minds

Yep, we saddled up and headed out of Aiken without ever seeing the charms of historic Aiken or the cottage named Joye (although Robert said you can’t see much from the road anyway). Our disappointment was greatly mitigated, however, by visions of toilet valves and having a fully working water system in the Airstream.

It took just about an hour to get repaired. Our planned trip to see Stone Mountain State Park and the Atlanta branch of the Frost clan was sadly abandoned. We’ll put that on the list for later as well. We headed south for a quick overnight at New Green Acres RV Park  (more on RV parks at a later time) and then on to Savannah and the Skidaway Island State Park.

Sometimes GPS is tremendous and sometimes GPS just doesn’t think about traffic patterns and how they might impact towing a 27 foot Airstream. In this case Francine (the GPS lady) guided us right through the middle of tourist-laden Savannah’s narrow and crowded streets, past the surprised faces of tourists from Des Moines and Muncie and right smack into a bunch of streets under construction. I know my hair was standing on end. Thank heavens Jim has steadier nerves. Next Francine wanted us to enter the Harry S. Truman Parkway where no ramp existed! All of the locals were driving past the now defunct ramp, executing a tight u-turn and entering the highway from the other direction. Airstreams don’t do tight u-turns. But fate protects fools and panic-stricken Airstreamers—right where others were making the tight u-term there was a water treatment plant with a drive through. Huge signs decorated both sides of the narrow driveway saying, “Wrong way! Do not enter!” but we recognized salvation even if it meant transgression. Meeting no irate oncoming traffic, we completed our about face and entered the parkway. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

Skidaway Island State Park is nestled just outside Savannah on the Skidaway Narrows and part of the intra-coastal waterway in Georgia. It is absolutely lovely. The campground is spacious and lined with live oaks and cascading Spanish moss.

Arriving at the park, campers operate on a first come basis to find a camping site. We ultimately found a lovely and level site canopied by trees and just across from the only other Airstream in the park. Setting up was a joy. We put out our awnings, our veranda mat and folding chairs.

Our Airstream neighbors across the road, Larry and Mary, were actually from just up the road. They had just got their darling  Airstream Bambi and Larry was as full of enthusiasm as he was of questions. Jim stood a little taller realizing that finally there was someone who knew even less than he did about what was going on. Larry and Mary loved to talk. Walking near their Bambi pretty much guaranteed a good 30-minute chat. But, hey, what have we got to do?

The park has lovely hiking trails which wind across marshland and give peeks to the waterway.

We hiked all the trails in the two plus days we were there. Along the trails are historic bunkers used by the Confederate soldiers to defend Savannah and its shipping from the Union forces.img_4903

One other thing we did do was take an afternoon walking tour of Savannah. With Dakota in tow, we needed a pet-friendly tour. Free Savannah Walking Tours was just what we needed. A no frills business started by two young native Savannans, we had a 90-minute guided tour of the key squares in the historic center of the city.

Savannah was as gorgeous as I thought it would be. We saw the house (above) from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and got a good sense of the historic squares and romantic buildings in the city. Walking is a great way to see things.

There was one draw back. Of course, Dakota is quite beautiful and everyone wants to pet him and he is very friendly. But let a small dog walk by and Dakota sounds like he would easily tear him to bits in seconds. He is all bark and no bite. The whole time he is barking and growling, his tail is wagging, but he does make quite a scene. Every time another dog walked by, and it was frequent, or a horse-drawn carriage clopped past, Dakota lost his mind. He doesn’t actually have that much mind to lose and by the end of the afternoon, Jim was a wreck. Dakota causes more marital stress than all three of our children ever have.

I would go back to Skidaway Island in a heartbeat. It was such a comfortable and lovely place to camp. We really enjoyed hiking the trails and the facilities were first-rate. We set up camp and could have stayed for a very long time. With a working kitchen including running water, we made a big meal of steak and all our favorites. Now this is what we signed up for! After three days we reluctantly headed south to our next destination: St. Augustine.