One Thursday evening several weeks ago Nick & I were finishing our dinner at home and discussing how nice it would be to go on a vacation. Nick had just quit his job and his new job was scheduled to start in 10 days. "We should go to Florida. Let's leave tonight" he said. Being an equally spontaneous person and always up for an adventure, I agreed readily! I had just finished up brewing a few batches of kombucha that week and would be able to leave for the next week if necessary. We packed a few bags, our tent, (we planned on camping most nights) and a few kitchens essentials including our sturdy cast iron skillet. With no time to find a dog sitter and no family nearby, we decided to bring Ruger along for the ride. Let me tell you, traveling with a dog, especially one who has anxiety and doesn't like to eat or drink when he's around new people, is not easy! But we made it work.
An hour & 30 minutes later we were loaded up in the car and ready to drive all night, hoping to make it to the panhandle of Florida by morning. Nick drove straight through all night, besides a stop for gas and coffee until we got to Montgomery AL. It was 5 am by then so we parked at a truck stop and rested for about 30 minutes before grabbing breakfast.
I had messaged my friend Ange Heese who lives in Florida the evening before and asked her if we could stop in to see her at her farm on our trip. Ange bought a turmeric farm last year and now grows and sells the most amazing turmeric at local farmers markets. You can learn all about it here!
So after breakfast, we made our way towards Mossy Head, Florida. We got to Ange's place around 9:30 am and she welcomed us with open arms and big hugs.
A little back story on how I met Ange. Several years ago when I was vending at a little farmers market on OU Athens campus, Ange came up to my stand and said if I ever needed help with anything, she would love to help me. I took her up on her offer and for the next couple of years she helped with everything from bottling kombucha to selling it at the Athens Farmers Market. She was my main gal for a while! She managed to do all this while continuing her education in nutrition at Ohio University. Ange has such a passion for health and life and is an unforgettable person when you meet her.
So after we set up our tent under a tree in her yard, Ange gave us a tour of the farm. I got to dig up a massive turmeric root along with her which was a pretty cool experience.
Of course after driving all night, we were tired and decided to try to nap a few hours. Ange brought turmeric smoothies to us which were so delish and refreshing! But a few minutes later after we had finished the smoothies, we realized we weren't tired at all anymore! A light bulb went off in my mind and I realized that this turmeric is really special. Later we ended up going to the beach about 40 minutes away and spent a few hours there, with no travel effects or lingering tiredness.
On our way back to the farm, we grabbed a few items to make some sushi. Ange had some fresh local tuna so we cooked and prepped all of the other ingredients in her outdoor kitchen. Cooking together was definitely another highlight of our visit. Ange is an awesome chef and we all 3 love to cook with fresh local ingredients.
We slept in the next morning and then packed our tent & bags and drove to Seaside Farmers Market where Ange was selling her turmeric. It was so fun walking through the market, picking out some local caught blue crab, fresh bread and veggies for the next leg of our journey. We even found a local Kombucha, Noli South, and tried their delicious vanilla pineberry booch!
Crab Boil made with our farmers market finds. Noli South Pineberry Booch.
We headed to the Seaside beach together after the farmers market. Bruce and Ruger enjoyed the waves for a while before we had to leave. On to the next part of our journey!
We headed toward Gainesville and stayed at Lake City Campground for the night. Supper that evening was an ordeal, let me tell you. We were expecting a grill at our campsite, but no grill was to be found. Only an open firepit without a grill cover. We then realized that grills only came with the sites that had cabins. Hmm. By this time it was already 8:30. We had set up our tent upon arrival because darkness was drawing nigh, people. So off to the store we went to find some firewood and something metal that could be used as a makeshift firepit grill cover. No idea what that was supposed to be. We walked around Publix trying to find a few items for the crab boil we planned on making and in search of grill cover thingy. No firewood was to be found and no grill cover either. BUT. We found this!
Maybe we can make it work, we thought. Note- learn from our experience and DO not buy these. They are a total piece of trash if you're trying to cook with a cast iron skillet. LOL. We learned the hard way. So we took our new found grill back to the campsite along with some foil and Old Bay seasoning. I got all of the ingredients prepped while Nick worked on getting the grill ready. By this time it was 9:30 pm. And we were getting hungry.
The charcoal wouldn't light, so we asked our neighbors at the fancy cabin spot if they happened to have some fire starter we could use. They did! And kindly shared with us. After the coals were lit, we began the wait to let them thoroughly heat. It was taking forever so one of us had the idea to use our air mattress pump to blow on the coals. We popped our skillet on top and low and behold, the skillet, now full of crab and raw potatoes weighed far more than the grill and made an attempt to crush it along with our tiny hard earned fire! So, we put our brains to work and tried to come up with a solution. We put a few sticks, under the skillet, on top of the grill, to put space between the grill and pan so the fire could breathe. Oh, and our mattress pump's batteries were getting weak so it was a matter of time until we had no more air. We madly fanned the flames, for the next 45 minutes and oh glory, the crab boil began to steam! Let me tell you, that was the best smelling crab boil ever and simple fare it was, but tasted so delicious. We made it to bed after 11 that night.
The next morning we were up before dawn and on our way towards Sarasota! While there we tried to go to several beaches but none were dog friendly so we ended up just going to a park instead which was beautiful. Nick found several sea urchins and I took photos/watched Ruger.
A few hours before that, after taking a little walk at a pull off/park where people were fishing under a bridge, I left my phone on top of the car and forgot to grab it before we drove away. A few minutes down the road, I realized my phone was missing. We pulled over and while Nick called it, I searched the trunk. I had a sinking feeling and knew my phone was probably gone forever. We retraced our steps all the way back to the park and asked folks if they had seen a phone laying around. No luck there, so I decided to just make the best of it and deal with the loss. Nick continued to call it and a few minutes later, a lady answered!! She said she had found it laying in the road in front of Libby's restaurant and would leave it with the hostess. I was so happy and a few minutes later had my phone back intact and undamaged!
We stopped at Philippi Creek Oyster Bar for lunch. They let us bring Ruger in and the stuffed grouper was delish!
Our next stop was a dog park beach in Venice, about 30 minutes away. We spent the rest of the day there, and Ruger had so much fun playing with other dogs and swimming out in the waves with us.
That night we camped at Myakka State Park. I haven't been to many of Florida's state parks, but this has to be one of the most beautiful. We got campsite A in the Big Flats campground. It was the most beautiful, private and cozy spot. When we drove in the Park Ranger told us we would love the spot (it was his favorite) and he was right. The wildlife at this park is incredible. We saw alligators, roseate spoonbills, a mama and baby deer up close, turkeys, wild hogs, and even had a late night visit from a coon digging through our left over crab legs that were hanging from a stump in a trash bag.
We drove through the park the next morning and took a walk back to where the gators were hanging out on the river bed. By mid morning it was getting really warm. We left and headed further south to Captiva Island!
We spent that afternoon on Captiva Island swimming, searching for shells and meeting new folks.
That evening after dinner at a local favorite spot, Bonita Bills Waterfront Cafe, we found a hotel for the night. This gave us the chance to get our laundry done and was a nice break from setting up camp every night.
The following day, we spent most of our time at a doggie beach in Cape Coral. We met other folks on vacation and locals and had a great time. One couple who were fishing ended up giving us some mangrove snapper as they caught them. They already had a freezer full of fish, they said. We were glad for a free dinner! We actually ended up packing it in ice and cooking it the following evening.
That night we slept in our car! Since we had just been booking campsites day to day, it was really hard to find anything available most days. And some campgrounds don't allow dogs. Perks of spontaneous trips! We paid for a parking spot where they told us we could be there all night, just had to be gone by 6 am. We walked the beach after dark and when we got tired went to our car to sleep. The next morning Nick was up early and started driving towards the Keys. I continued to sleep a few more hours while he drove. After I woke, I found a campground we could stay at that night in Key Largo. We stopped at the campground on our way to the Keys and set up camp early. We drove down to Key West and spent the afternoon there.
Our highlights in Key West-
Chickens! apparently it's a thing there. They roam free everywhere and nobody seems to care.
Key Lime pie- and key lime pie ice cream!
Finding live conches.
For Nick, meeting someone on the beach who has a youtube channel he follows. He was actually filming an episode there on his underwater finds that day. Pretty cool. You can watch his channel here.
BLUE water. The water in the Keys is gorgeous. It might to be hard to find any good beaches tho. The sandy beaches are mostly along the mainland coasts of Florida apparently. But Simonton Beach is great for finding conches underwater!
We headed back up the Keys to Key Largo Campground for the night. That evening we cooked the mangrove snapper up. What a treat!
We spent the next morning in the Northern part of the Keys at the beach, and then drove north to West Palm Beach. We arrived at Jonathon Dickinson State Park where we stayed that night. This was another beautiful spot with really lovely landscape. We saw lots of blooming cactus and an alligator under a bridge. We made some friends that evening at our campground. Our neighbors were a friendly couple from Massachusetts & Rhode Island. We learned that Kelly was born and raised in a little town in south eastern Ohio (Belpre) near where I grew up!
Kelly & Karen provided conversation and good times. We chatted over beer & kombucha ( Karen was a big fan of kombucha. Luckily I still had a few bottles left to share) and the next morning after they were raided by coons overnight, we shared our breakfast and they shared their grill with us! We ate together and then parted ways.
We drove north all day and ended up in Savannah GA that evening. What a beautiful town! Someday we hope to return and spend more time there. The crystal museum at JW Marriot was incredible. As was the history and beautifully preserved architecture from the 18th century.
And that was pretty much the extent of our vacation. We were gone for 9 days and covered a lot of ground. We learned a lot about traveling spontaneously, living as minimally as possible and traveling with a pet. It can be done, but is challenging. We were able to take him into some restaurants, as well as campgrounds and a hotel. And since we spent a lot of time on beaches and outdoors he went almost everywhere with us.