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The Journey Home – Tampa to St. George

And so we leave Miami behind. With all the good, and the amazing, and the posh. On to Tampa and to head west. Leaving Miami, I feel humbled and thankful. I am alive. I hit the highway across Florida (Alligator Alley?), and I soon understand why there are so many accidents on it. High winds, uneven pavement, and a road that is straight as far as the eye can see. You can easily fall complacent, and a gust of wind or the uneven road could put you in the next lane. Scary.

I have a run in with an amazing Cuban sandwich at some rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Just as amazing as was the breakfast for the day, also Cuban, at David’s Café. Cuban french toast was my meal of choice, along with some café con leche. I had a long day of driving ahead, but I started out the day at the Standard Spa. The dog was allowed poolside, and my host Kiro and I spent the morning talking of the past, but of our lessons learned from it. It was a wonderful day already by the time I left Miami. I felt accomplished, and so the drive didn’t seem as bad.

Driving north on the Gulf Coast of Florida is different. I start to see sizable hills and evergreens—cattle country, it seems. As I pass through Tampa, the GPS takes me off the highway due to heavy traffic and through the less affluent part of town. At a light, a dude on a bike rolls slowly by, looks at me, and says through the open car window, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems…” I couldn’t agree more.

Arriving in the Tampa suburb where my friends live, I am exhausted. I pull up, and Holly is excited to hear the engine finally stop. Celeste is waiting, and so are the kids. All waiting for… Holly. We eat and have an early night. Danny, Celeste’s husband, was home late, and we didn’t get a chance to chat. Their home is gorgeous as well. But the morning brought with it another café con leche and a hearty breakfast. Danny smokes—finally someone I can enjoy a cig with and a good conversation over morning coffee, which stretched closer to noon. I found so many things in common with their views, and I was so happy to see their kids, all grown up.

I also saw their son’s avocado tree… seems he dreams of being an avocado! I loved it. I caught up on all the things a parent is going to share about their children—the proud moments, sometimes the failures, the lessons. And I learned that you can have everything and still remain thrifty and humble. Hard work has paid off for them, but it has not made them any less humble.

I leave with a feeling of a roller coaster ride. They remind me most of my friend in Miami, Sebastian. And so it has been somewhat extreme to go between Marc, then Jodi, then Seba, then Jodi again, and now Celeste and Danny. But what I liked the most is that, as different as they all are, everyone has found their way to make things work, everyone knows how to enjoy life and how to maximize the positive and minimize the negative. But after this whirlwind drive, I am ready for some alone time. And it is now that time.

I leave, but before I do, they hand me a bag of goodies, which contains lots of delicious food to last me for days. It was a short stay, but amazingly it seemed like much longer. How funny, when you know you have a few days to reconnect sometimes you forget to say things and end up not really getting to the meat of things. When you have one night, maybe a morning, it seems much more important to get to the real things. And so with little time, it still seemed worth every second, and I now feel that much closer to everyone.

I leave as a huge storm approaches. Looking at the radar map, I try to time my departure with the storm. I have to drive north first, and then southwest, while the storm is coming through in a southeasterly direction. I should be able to drive around it. My theory proved right. I made it around it.

The driving changed as soon as I got off the main highway. Imagine: I am now surrounded by huge trees, but in a sandy setting. The sun is setting, and I’m trying to make it to my campground. But as I drive, the storm still has something to say. Leftover downpours and gusts of wind make for an interesting drive. I finally hit the coast. All the houses are on stilts. As the last daylight fades, I drive over long causeways and finally find my way. I drive over the long bridge to St. George Island. The park is closed by now, but I called ahead and the rangers gave me the passcode to the gate. It feels strange, but I pull up and hope it works. After two tries I get frustrated and worried, but it must have been me. On the third try, it works and the gates open.

I drive 15 minutes on a deserted road into complete darkness. And then I get to the campground, pull up, and the weather finally has its last words, the last gusts end, and now the wind is just a soft caress. I set up the tent and am happy that I have a sandy spot versus a more gravely one. All settled in, I decide that it’s about time for a walk on the beach. Still cloudy, but a full moon is peeking through some openings in the otherwise still stormy-looking sky. Tomorrow should be a great day.

I sit on the beach, with Holly, pondering life. The waves are crashing a few feet away, but I am nestled in the dunes. I doubt anyone will come to tell me that the dog is not allowed on the beach since I know the rangers left for the day.

I have been blessed on this trip. I think of where the storm will go, what waves will start and what shores will those waves hit. I always stand in awe of nature, of its beauty, of its power. After we call it a night, a roving band of raccoons realized Holly left some food in her bowl, which I had put right by the tent entrance. Made for an interesting night and some well-fed ‘coons. I think that is when Holly finally started eating all her food again.

The morning was not the sunrise I had hoped for. The clouds were still lingering well into the late morning, so the clearing after the storm finally came around noon, and we went for a hike for a couple of hours on the bay side. A park worker (not a ranger) finally saw us on our return and told us a ranger could give us a ticket. Regardless, we made it back without any incident. Upon my return, I meet Bill (I think?), a man who volunteers with the parks along with his telescope. In the afternoon, we looked at the sun through a filter and saw sunspots. I was invited to return and did return at night to see Jupiter.

Sometimes I got nervous. My car was smoking so I decided to see if I could have it checked in town. Turns out one guy was telling me a week for an appointment and the other next morning. I made my way back to the campsite, and we had a little time to relax. Then as sunset was approaching, we went for another walk to get a good vantage point. I have no idea why I was alone because there were plenty of RVs and travelers there. But it seems I’m the one person who likes sunrises and sunsets. In awe of the orange glow, a few minutes of meditation and yoga seemed prefect. As the sun was setting, we returned to our campsite, and I started the arduous effort of making a fire after the downpour the day before. I made a lot of smoke, and a little bit of fire. But in the end, after a few hours of this, I had enough coal to cook a can of Chef Boyardee or something and boil some water for some tea. Along with some wine, it was a great day.

Loneliness hits, as it so often does, in those moments when you realize there should be someone next to you to share this with. But I did have this. At least I can say I did—some people may never have that chance. I have so many memories of wonderful places, wonderful sunsets, and even sunrises together with Danielle. So I will keep and cherish them. I guess now it’s time for new ones.

We leave bright and early the next morning… but not before getting the sunrise that went missing the day before. After a few short moments, the sun peeked from below the horizon. A little yoga on the beach, and we are off. The mechanic that I had talked to started working on another car since the delay made me late. Oh well… I didn’t feel very confident in him anyway. I continue on, and once I hit Pensacola, I find another shop on the side of the road. He can do it in half an hour. Perfect. I go grab a bite at a chain I already forget (maybe Captain D’s?), then come back at the shop to then finally realize it was a European car shop and the owner collected Porsches. Seems fate brought me to the right place. He took extra care, and we talked for a while. Seems his sister committed suicide back home in California. Suffice to say, we bonded in the short time I was there.

The car feeling better, we go for the distance. I have to get to New Mexico, and nothing in between is worth stopping for. A long drive ahead. I zoom through Mississippi and Arkansas. I get to my next stop around midnight.