Way off the beaten track

Blue Ridge Mountains, TennesseeI have been meandering in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. One thing about being in the mountains — you may be able to see for miles and miles but communication, whether by phone, radio, or other means gets lost behind one or more of those ridges.

I am back in civilization and with full Internet access, will continue to share the highlights of my latest adventures. Stay tuned.


Sunrise – Edisto Beach, South Carolina

img_8465-qpr img_8503-qpr img_8507-qprIf I could just stay right here for a few days I would but alas, since my meander was slowed by rain, and I have to be home for an April 26 engagement, sadly I must leave today so I might enjoy the sights and sounds of the rest of my trip. This is one place I will return to though.

Since this is probably my last day at the beach for a long while, I am so glad it was and is a beautiful beginning.

St. Augustine

St Augustine bannerI could not be in NE Florida without at least stopping at our oldest city, St. Augustine. This city dates back to the 1500s when folks like Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon (of fountain of youth fame) claimed this land for Spain. They were not the only ones, the French and English were here too, before the good ole USA either bought or fought their way to claiming all east coast lands from Maine to Florida.

Castle-like turret, St Augustine, Florida

Back to the Spanish —

Pedro Menendez, the founder of the first European colony in what is now the US, landed here in 1565 (40 years before Plymouth Rock), met up with the Timucua people, indigenous to the area, and set about creating a thriving society that at once enriched the coffers of Spain and inadvertently decimated the native peoples (by giving them European diseases to which they had no immunity.) The city’s architecture still maintains a very Old World, Spanish feel, with tabby (a cement made with oyster shells) walls and tile roofs, at least in the historic downtown area. If you like history, you will find it in St. Augustine, in all its fascinating and commercialized glory.

Dominating the downtown is the old Hotel Ponce de Leon (now the home of Flagler College). Built in the Spanish Renaissance style and covering an entire city block, it was one of America’s most impressive resorts when it opened in 1888, and is no less impressive today with its beautiful courtyard and stained glass designed by Tiffany.

Across the street is another Flagler hotel, the Alcazar (now the city hall and home of the Lightner Museum), also in the Spanish Renaissance style, and a few steps away is Villa Zoyada, a 1/10th scale of a section of the Alhambra Palace in Spain.

If you tire of opulence and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the parklike square offers glimpses of life in the old city — the old market and well, along with tall ships in the harbor, the historic bridge of lions, not one but two historic forts, the city’s lighthouse, and numerous “attractions” that interpret the city’s history.

I was going to take a picture of the fountain of youth for y’all but since everything came with a price, this is as close as you get unless you come yourself.

Fountain of Youth, St Augustine, Florida


Perchance to sleep

I am a simple bear. When I travel, I like to just throw the sleeping bag in the back of the van and hit the open road. I have the freedom to go where I want, when I want to go, and stop or change directions whenever it suits me.

I also prefer this type of travel because of my chemical sensitivities. Hotels, in addition to being expensive, are filled with the residue of cleaning chemicals.

Because of the extensive storm system I have been dodging, I have been rained on at times. Other than the raindrops falling on my roof, which can actually be quite soothing, a little rain is only a mild annoyance, sometimes requiring me to wait out a shower before getting out and enjoying the clear light and fresh smell of a newly washed landscape.

With the concerns of loved ones and threats of thunderstorms last night, I opted for a hotel room. The storms never materialized, at least here, and I feel like a truck ran over me while I was sleeping, but I got the benefits of a hot breakfast, a hot shower (even if I did have to go to a different room to take it), and this view when I opened my eyes.

Morning forest view Almost as good as camping. Next time I will opt for the real thing though.

Map vs. GPS

Shortly before I left to head back North, I started to look at the map and pick a general direction. Lamenting that I did not have a North Carolina map, someone suggested that I didn’t need a map, that’s what GPS is for.

It is obvious that the person who said that has never meandered. A GPS may work just fine in telling you how to get from point A to point B, but that assumes that you know where point B is. If you are meandering, there is no point B only a general direction so GPS is virtually useless.

I do use it to tell me what road I am on and the speed limit, but face it the map on the GPS does not give enough detail to be of much use other than navigating around a strange town. It is handy for those times when I am “making time,” usually in the dark, on the Interstate because it lets me know how many miles it is to my exit so I can read all the fun town names on the road signs, not wondering where I am, and just drive.

A map gives you a big picture of where you are heading. Whether a state map, which shows those blue highways and other off the beaten track roadways, or my multi-state maps that give me a general view of options to choose, a map is something you can hold in your hand and consult without opening up a computer. Although Google works very well, it is dependent upon a signal on the phone, which is not guaranteed off the beaten path. Unplugging and meandering just seem to go hand in hand.

Salt marsh, St George Island, FloridaSalt Marsh, St. George Island, FloridaI read somewhere that only people over 40 have maps in their cars. I guess that makes me an old bear huh!!?

Map or GPS, which do you prefer on your meanders?

Sunrise – St. Augustine Beach

Sunrise, St. Augustine Beach, FloridaEver since I left Cocoa Beach on Thursday, I have been dodging storms. There is a massive storm system that spans northern Florida and reaches up beyond Charleston, South Carolina, and west, past Asheville, North Carolina (exactly the path I had hoped to take.)

I have been getting up to greet the sunrise at the beach only to find that the sun is obscured. Usually, it will make an attempt to peak through the clouds 20, 30 or even 60 minutes late, like this morning (pictured above.)

These storms are too big to go around, so I am just staying put, more or less, moving at a snail’s pace.Since the weather report calls for more rain tonight and tomorrow morning, I hope you will forgive me for sleeping in tomorrow.

Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain

Stormy sunrise, Cocoa Beach, Florida Stormy surf at sunrise, Cocoa Beach, Florida Some people think that sunny Florida is just that — sunny, all the time. But that is not the case, the water cycle is in full gear here of late. The pattern seems to be that the temperature and humidity rise, day after day, for about a week until either the sky cannot hold any more or a cool front comes in and the rains fall and fall hard.

Cloud bank, St. Augustine Beach pier, Florida Stormy sunrise, St. Augustine Beach, FloridaYou have not experienced rain unless you have been in Florida (or some land of monsoons.) Sometimes there is  lightening or thunder warning you to take cover. It is more common for the clouds to just open up and dump on you, sort of like someone unzipped them and all the water inside just poured out.

Storm surf mist, St. Augustine Beach, FloridaSometimes, like today, the sky scuds up and stays that way all day, with clouds dumping their contents and moving out over the Atlantic on what the weather folks call an “occasional” or “intermittent” basis. Translation: It could be raining one minute and not the next, or on this side of the street but not that; it could rain twenty times in one hour!

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind the rain, especially if I am sitting on the lanai, watching the clouds roll in across the water. I love the sound of the water falling and washing the earth clean. I love the reflections of the lights in the puddles. I love the hazy mist that obscures the view marking where the rain is heavy. Most of all I love the clean, fresh smell.

As in life, some days are sunny and some are stormy, but any day that starts at the beach is a good one.