When we woke up on day 21 in the Everglades, there were 2 goals. First, get in an airboat ride through the Glades. Second, drive northbound to civilization to give ourselves a chance at fixing the air conditioning.
If you read day 20, you know I already covered the AC repairs.
As for the Glades, we woke up early to break camp. By 8:45am, we were at an airboat company that LaShera found online. Normally, for a family of 5, those rides cost anywhere from $120-$350. The company LaShera found had a father’s day special that was free for dads. They also had an honor roll discount for children, making it free for A/B students.
The specials aren’t suppose to be valid with other offers. But, when Shera registered online, their system allowed it. So, we got 5 tickets for $54. Score.
The drive of the airboat was a bit of a daredevil. He enjoyed whipping the boat around in the open-water areas, which resulted in quite a bit of salt spray coming over the side of the boat to get the girls wet.
It was impressive watching him navigate the mangrove canals. Clearly, he had navigated them many times before. Often, he would turn directly toward a tree, causing some of the passengers to get worried expressions. But, then the tail of the boat whipped around and we found ourselves going into another narrow canal.
We saw several gators up close in their natural habitat.
Afterward, we visited the visitor centers for Big Cyprus and Everglades. Then, we traveled 3 hours northbound to camp.
Aside from the fiasco of fixing the air conditioning, the rest of the day didn’t provide a lot to write about. We took it easy.
This last leg of the journey will involve a lot of beach time and relaxation before we rejoin civilization.
If I haven’t said it before, not everything in these cross-country trips goes according to plan. I’ll state our family motto again:
Plan your trip. Work your plan. Be flexible.
On Friday morning, the plan was to make a leisurely drive from our home in the Keys up to the Everglades. The drive was only about 4 hours, so we planned to stop a few times along the way.
Before we left the Keys, we had a very bold morning visitor. With a few more Cheerios, I bet we could’ve gotten her to come inside.
I think the girls would gladly give up the dream of having another puppy if they could have a pet deer instead.
When we finally made it onto the road, I knew I wanted to taste some key lime pie before we left the strand. Success, thanks to the Blonde Giraffe.
Next up, we knew that we wanted to visit Biscayne National Park. It was a fantastic little national park. When we arrived, blue land crabs were frantically skittering across the pavement. About a half-dozen iguanas threw a welcoming party as well. The girls were ecstatic. There were the red-tailed Agama lizards, an invasive species of territorial lizards. There were the two lizards I caught in the act of love. Biscayne was a success.
Then, with about 2 hours before the sun went down, we were on the final leg toward the Everglades.
Before we left Friday morning, I discovered that the campground I had on schedule didn’t have electric hookups. On this trip through 102 heat index in some places, we didn’t want to spend the night without air conditioning. So, we re-routed to the one Everglades national park with electrical hookups.
By the time we arrived, it was raining outside — not so much that we couldn’t setup — just enough to be slightly wet outside.
When Things Go Wrong…
We had the camper about 75% setup when I decided to plug in the AC to pre-cool the camper. The AC came on, then promptly died. We tested some other outlets as well, and they weren’t working.
We reset the breakers in the camper — no luck.
We reset the breaker on the campground electrical box — no luck.
The person next door was a local and said that the electric boxes at that campground short out sometimes when it rains. So, we tore down the camper and moved to the spot next door. It was annoying, but would be worth it if the electric worked.
We setup the camper and turned on the AC. Nothing.
Defeated, we knew we were going to endure the Everglade weather for a night and then move down the road after the next morning’s activities.
We went to bed in the muggy, 90-degree Everglades with no AC. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.
The air felt thick and moist. I hugged the unzipped windows most of the night to draw in some of the outside air which was at least a couple of degrees cooler, but not getting close enough for a mosquito to suck my blood through the screen. (When I woke up this morning, there were mosquitos swarming the screen trying to find a way in.)
Plus, I was restless because I went to bed defeated. I didn’t know what the problem was in the dark of night, and I knew the day would bring new challenges.
Because of the circumstances and the Everglades lack of proximity to any real town, we opted to head north toward St. Petersburg a bit early. I’ll post separately about the day’s activities. But, I spent most of today’s trip obsessing about what could be wrong with the camper. It could be the fuses. It could be that the AC went bad. It could be the inverter. It could simply be that the electrical hookups at that campground were bad. I hoped it was the latter.
The first campground we tried to snag a site at was full. So, we had to push further north.
When we finally arrived at a suitable campground, we popped up. I waited to plug in the electrical until the last moment to put off my sadness.
Still — I was sad. The AC didn’t come on at the new site either.
So, methodically, I stepped through the electrical systems of the camper.
Then, we made our trek into a nearby town to Home Depot.
As we returned to camp, the skies opened up. Obviously, I couldn’t work on anything electrical outside. So, I fed all related wires and cables into the camper to get to business.
Ultimately, this connector plus is what I thought was the culprit. Note the burned connector. I suspect that the rain at Everglades got the port wet. Electric plus water equalled a short. At least, that’s what I hoped.
And, that meant I was going to need to do a bit of rewiring. Thankfully, I got some pointers on that from my father-in-law Bobby Snider back in 2017 when I was having electrical issues on our first pop-up. I put that knowledge to use.
Sadly, the rain persisted most of the evening. So, it was a couple of hours before I could venture outside, thoroughly dry the port, and test my work.
I plugged it in, switched the breakers, turned on the campground power, and then nervously went inside the camper to the AC unit.
I am happy to report that, at least for now, we are cozy in our cool camper on the midwestern side of Florida.
We’re at that point in the journey where I always get a bit sad. We’re about 2/3 of the way through. We reached our furthest destination. Everything from this point on is technically part of the journey home.
Our journey will still take us to the Everglades for a fan boat ride. Then, we’ll enjoy some beach time in St. Petersburg, Destin and Louisiana before arriving home.
Still — I can feel the trip winding down, and a little bit of melancholy is creeping in. Of course, sitting around the campfire with these views doesn’t help.
One day I’ll make a great retired person. I’ll take my grandkids to some of these places and think back fondly to these moments spent with my kids.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
For now, we have about 8 days left to milk for all they’re worth.
So, we did a bit of rooftop swimming.
We did a little bit of feeding the key deer. These critters weren’t the least bit shy. In fact, they often ate out of our trash can like dogs. So, when I went to hang my swimsuit under the back bunk to dry tonight, and I saw movement in the dark, I had a bit of a scare.
We did a little bit of sitting around the community fire pit. The girls also hung out along the shoreline looking at fish and brightly colored crabs hiding among the rocks.
I had a little hitchhiker on my water bottle.
The day was crazy hot. So, we spent quite a bit of time in the clubhouse playing pool, ping pong, and Rummikub with the girls. The air conditioner in the camper worked. But, when the weather feels like 99 outside, the AC unit isn’t going to be able to keep up — at least not until I buy those Pop-up Gizmos for the bunk ends to help reflect solar heat.
All-in-all, it was a nice, leisurely day.
Tomorrow, we head up the keys toward the Everglades. Hopefully we’ll see some more alligators, iguanas, snakes, or whatever other critters make the Glades home.
It’s hard to believe we’re already leaving the Keys.
Somewhere along the way, we will stop at a key lime store. We figure we stopped at Peach World in Georgia, we need to find a Lime World and an Orange World while we’re in Florida.
Since the trip began, I have longed for the post-Disney camping in the Florida Keys. More specifically, I looked forward to the ferry out to Dry Tortugas National Park, the 3rd-farthest national park in the country. It is roughly 100 miles from Cuba, 70 miles from Key West, and 300 miles from Mexico.
Basically, we taxied out to the middle of nowhere. Just us and an old, crumbling Civil War-era fort with coral growing along the walls.
To begin a day in the Keys, you need the right shirt and a cup of fruity coffee. So, I finally got my Jimmy Buffet goin’. I’d been waiting for the right moment to wear that shirt.
We began the day with another bright and early wake-up — rise at 5:30, in the car by 6:00, to drive to Key West and board the Yankee Freedom III for a 2-hour ferry out to the islands.
The old fort was a fascinating sight in the middle of the ocean with nothing else in sight.
After a tour of the fort, we got our snorkel gear from the ferry company and added another new experience for our family. We snorkeled in the shallow reef around the island. It was interesting seeing all of the little fish in the area. When hiking the upper walls of the fort, we even saw a few large barracuda swimming in the reef below.
Addie was disappointed that we didn’t encounter any sharks or sea turtles on the trip.
We did, however, encounter a different living creature — Speedo Stan. At least, that’s the name I gave him.
On the ride out, he was as concealed as they come. Jeans, baggy shirt, cap. But, on the island, all bets were off — as were most of his clothes. Speedo Stan was there to make the most of the occasion in nothing besides a little blue Speedo and his — ahem — snorkel.
Libbie thought he was hilariously gross.
Egg Farts at Camp
Jumping back to our arrival in the Keys, we were struck by, of all things, the smell. It was an aroma we encountered last year in Yellowstone when we stood beside the sulfur pots. The girls regularly refer to the stench as “egg farts,” like when someone has eaten too many deviled eggs at a family reunion.
At first, the girls attempted to lay SBD blame on LaShera.
But, soon enough, we discovered that it is something specific to the shallow waters of the keys and the bacteria that live in the muds below them. When the wind turns just right, it smells a bit eggy.
I even turned the propane off during the night because I was concerned that if we did have a leak, I wouldn’t be able to detect it.
The stench doesn’t follow everywhere in the Keys. But, we haven’t quite figured out the differences in geography that cause it in key locations (pun intended).
The campground does have a healthy population of key deer. They aren’t the least bit shy. The girls walked outside our camper door to feed them some grapes.
Even after a day in the hot sun, the girls were intent upon us going to the campground swimming pool. Since the grounds had just wrapped up happy hour, everyone else in camp when back to their campers. We had the pool to ourselves.
Then, one of those south Florida rain storms rolled through with a bit of lightning. So, we bounced out of the pool. After a change of clothes, we spent the event playing ping pong, pool, and cornhole in the campground clubhouse.
While I’m not the most enamored with our campsite at this campground, they do have great facilities. Plus, the ocean is about 30 yards from our back bunk.
The headline of this post is a reference to our shirts for the day.
At the moment it is after midnight LaShera is off doing laundry and I just finished lunch and snack preps for tomorrow.
I also have this snazzy picture of our camper table. I think the kids feel special, since we never eat this much junk when we’re home. To our credit, the sandwiches, apple sauce, etc., are in the fridge until we pack them in the kids’ backpacks in the morning. And, trail mix and granola bars count as health food, right?
Our Day at Epcot
After the day we put in at Magic Kingdom yesterday, Epcot was a well timed second day. We were there early to hit the big ride experiences on the list plus character signings with Baymax (for Emmie), Elsa & Anna (for Libbie), Mulan (for all of them); and we adapted our plan.
The girls all thought that Soarin’ at Epcot was better than any of the 19 things they did at Magic Kingdom. Full disclosure — my oldest 2 girls are chickens when it comes to rides. So, they aren’t comparing against Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, or basically anything with mountain in the name.
As I’ve said many times — “Plan the trip, work the plan, be flexible.” I like rides with excitement, and Libbie (aside from LaShera) is the only one that enjoys them. Sadly, she’s too short for some of the more exciting stuff by about 2 inches.
I am, however, glad that all 3 of my girls are still at the stage in life where they enjoy the fantasy of people in costumes posing as cartoon characters.
When the day was getting long and hot today, snacks and the free cola samples at Coke Around the World were enough to buy us grace to stick it out straight through 3:30. Then, back to the camper for rest while the afternoon rain moved in.
Skillet Quesadillas — Another Meal Standard for Camping
The girls let off some unspent energy while I made skillet quesadillas, which is becoming a substitute go-to quick meal. These were cheese with fajita chicken. (The chicken is pre-prepped.)
If you go camping, I don’t think there is any utensil more crucial than our big cast iron skillet. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner; quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, burgers, breakfast burritos, hotdogs, etc.; our skillet has been well seasoned.
After our early dinner, Rather than going back to Epcot, we took naps. Then, around 8:30pm we went down to the resort pool. The girls had been asking since we arrived.
I’m beginning to think we’re checking off a list of swimming environments on this trip. So far, beach, spring/river and pool. I don’t think I have a Lake on the itinerary though.
As for tomorrow — we’re bracing ourselves for a long day at Hollywood Studios.
LaShera and Paula made shirts for each day of the trip. So, part of the fun for the girls is the night before — like opening early Christmas presents to see what their shirts for the next day will be.
We were up at 6am this morning, on a bus by 7:15, on the ferry by 7:45, at the park by 8 when it opened, and it was off to the races from there.
Forgive me for the abbreviated blog entry, but I’m crazy tired.
We managed to do 19 things, which I understand is pretty great — especially considering that 2 of our fast rides broke and changed our schedule, and we had rain move in at 6pm which closed a number of the rides.
After a long day, even with the option of extra hours available from 11pm-1am that would have let us squeeze in a few more things, our children decided they were ready to go back for a shower and sleep.
All of them, except Libbie.
I was most concerned about Libbie hanging in there today. But, she seemed good to go for another hour, even after we’d been in the park for 15 hours.
My favorite moments of the day were with this turkey. She giggled the whole way through the 4D Mickey movie. She also ahhed everything in the fireworks show.
I’m writing this as we ride the ferry back to camp, and her head is beginning to bounce against my shoulder as her eyes fall heavy.
The most amazing moment of the day for the girls was the castle fireworks show. I must admit, it was impressive.
We succeeded on our budget goals for the day. We all had a Dole Whip toward the end of the day, after we had consumed our 2 carry-in meals and all of our snacks.
We brought insulated water bottles and filled those all day for drinks. So, we stayed well hydrated and I don’t think any of us suffered even a smidge of sunburn. Perhaps because I put sunscreen on everyone like a layer of cellophane.
I suspect everyone will sleep hard for the 6 hours they get tonight before we get up and do it again.
I think we’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow at Epcot. We’ll still get there early. But, we’ll take a mid-day break for a hearty meal and either a nap or swim before heading back. We’ll see how that plan shakes out.
The girls are hankering for a swim tomorrow night.
In 2017, LaShera and I were planning our first cross-country camp excursion with our children. For us, it was ambitious — from Texas to the far western coast of California, up, and back again.
On that first trip, we contemplated whether we should go for the big bang and bite off a couple of days in Disneyland. After an initial price check, and after comparing Disneyland to Disney World, we decided that perhaps that once-in-a-childhood experience for our kids would need to hold off for if we ever took a Florida trip.
As you know, we are currently on our third summer cross-country trip. This time, we were Eastbound, with a trajectory straight through Orlando.