A1A to Key West

Choosing door number three, we headed back along the gulf coast crossing through the top of Florida to the A1A highway.  Brian always wanted to travel the A1A, because he was a Jimmy Buffett fan in his younger years and A1A was an early Buffett album that came out in 1974.  On the cover there is a photo depicting Jimmy sitting under a tiki hut on the beach sipping a beer.  This was the Florida we where looking for, kinda like Mexico, totally like the Caribbean, yet still in the continental United States.  Picking a spot to camp on the ocean just below St. Augustine we found a RV sight right atop a huge seawall with the ocean crashing at our back door.  Sleeping to the ocean is such a peaceful sound.  A storm had just come through and the waves were crashing wildly on the beach.  The lady who ran the camp store told us that there had been lot of unpredictable storms since hurricane Irma.  This is also where we started to see more damage along the highway, mostly debris from trees.  It wasn’t too bad, but it was noticeable that a hurricane had been through.  There were huge trucks with giant claws that would stop along the A1A a regularly to to scoop up the piles of debris.  There were some roofs under repair, and some fences down.  Nothing too major.

St. Augustine was a very historic and beautiful town to visit.  It is considered to be the oldest town in America.  The town felt very European with the old historic buildings in style. The Spanish came through here first.  There were brick roads, cobblestone streets, and alleys that led you to shops.  It was the kind of place that pirates would hang out, minus all the other tourists.  There was a fort there that used to protect the city and we walked around it to check out the old canons, massive walls and the grounds.

From here we headed to Vero Beach to see a friend who Brian used to work with named Eric.  He was originally from Florida, and lived in the SF Bay Area for a couple years to work at Insalatas in Marin.  Now he is married and has two kids, and is all grown up!  He was only 20 back then, and we hadn’t seen him for 10 years.  He worked as a sous chef at many of the country clubs in Florida, and then recently became a culinary teacher at a high school.  We thought that was cool to hear they teach culinary skills in high school out here.

We stayed at St. Sebastian State Park just north. It was a very popular fishing spot.  There were piers, shores, small boats, and big boats with so many people fishing.  It was entertaining to watch.  We saw a sea turtle swimming in the ocean, and dolphins were swimming off shore as well.  This spot was popular and we could only get one night to camp, so we moved down the road about 100 miles to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This was a really nice place to camp!  We were looking for a dog beach to take Bianca to that was down the road in the town of Jupiter.  It was a popular recreation campground. All sorts of activities going on here, kayaking, road and off road biking trails, alligator viewing, patio boat rides and hiking.  It was a much bigger state park than the last one and the staff here were very friendly.

We decided that we were so close to Orlando that we couldn’t resist going to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios.  We found a great campground called Disney’s Fort Wilderness which is a campground in the Disney Resort.  What a great spot!  The grounds here were beautiful.  There were restaurants, stores, and pools with water slides.  We felt like kids again.  Once we arrived we realized that we were going to want to stay two nights, and go to Disney World too.  Brian and I had never been to Disneyland together, so this was a treat.  At first I thought I might be too old to go to Disney World, however once we were there, I remembered it is so everyone can feel like a kid.  It was magical!  We loved it!  One of the best parts was that we took a boat ride right from our campground to the park, and we timed it so that on the way back we could watch the fireworks while on the boat.

From here we did a longer drive and headed all the way to Key Largo.  We were pretty excited to get to Key West, to see the beautiful water and white beaches.  This is also where we started to see a lot more evidence of the hurricane.  Once we hit the Keys it felt like the third world with all the debris and wreckage on the side of the road.  It’s all been rather organized into piles for collection, but much larger piles and much more debris everywhere.  We started seeing lots more wreckage including cars, rvs, boats, jet skis, refrigerators, mattresses, and chairs all along the side of the road!  Piles and piles and piles!  There was a house that was once on the ocean side and now was on the other side of the road squashed.  It seemed that the most damage was done to the mobile home communities.  Many of them were along the water and do not have very strong foundations.  Other homes looked like they had roof issues, shingles missing, siding issues or tarps covering them.  Some houses lost more and some withstood the storm just fine, looked like they hadn’t even been touched.  It reminded me of the movie Twister, “Took this home, took that home, left that one just perfectly.”  We also kept saying, “We have debris…car…….cow!” Just kidding, no cows down here on the Keys!

We stayed one night at the John Pennekamp State Park.  We found a great old time bar and had cocktails at a place called the Caribbean Club – nice spot on the water with the charm of many years at it’s back.  We also learned that from here on down a lot of State Parks would be closed due to the hurricane.  We had a reservation for 1 week planned, but otherwise we had 4 nights we needed to find places for.  We decided to go all out and stay at a place called Blue Water Key RV, a luxury RV resort with cabanas and water views.  After all it was Brian’s birthday coming up.  This was one of the best camp spots of our trip.  We have stayed at a lot of nice spots, but this place was the bomb!  We had a cabana with a couch and two arm chairs, a TV with HBO, a bar, several seating areas, two kayaks, a bbq, a wood stove, an outdoor sink, and a dock!  It got me to really think about how it would be nice to have an outdoor living room in our future, especially cabana style.

Key West held up really well compared to the rest of the Keys.  The town is up and running, and we only saw one tree that fell through a house.  Otherwise, things looked good there like they just escaped the eye of the storm.  We found a great spot called Louie’s Backyard that had cocktails on the deck overlooking the water, and a small dog beach right next door.  Perfect combo for us!  Walking around the town was a hoot!  We checked out the main strip called Duval street.  Key West is a great walking town basically a mile from coast to coast.  The houses here have great style, very Caribbean with front porches and lots of color.  Sometimes you’d see a white house with blue shutters, then a yellow house with green shutters and two blue Adirondack chairs.

We received a surprise from Brian’s best friend, Tom, and his wife, Erin, that they were going to come down to Key West.  They were supposed to go to Amsterdam and Paris when they found out Tom’s passport was three months from expiring and wouldn’t be able to travel internationally.  Such a bummer to have to learn this at the airport, but the good news was they wanted to come down to the Keys!!!  And even better news they’d arrive in time to hang out on Brian’s birthday and also to be with us for Thanksgiving!  We were so excited!!!  This was going to be the third time we would see them since we departed on our Airstream adventures.  Once in Seattle, once in NYC, and now in Key West.  What a treat for us, truly!

We had moved to a campground for the week called Geiger Key Marina, and it was an amazing spot, the true Key West!  This was also one of our best spots of the trip, the Florida that we had been looking for, the cover of A1A. We were right on the water here, and the water was an amazing color.  There was a bar and restaurant here that was cabana style.  It was full of characters.  We met a couple named Tom and Amy who were staying with their two boys, and had been living there 6 weeks or more each year.  During the hurricane they packed up about 20 people from the campground and several dogs and took them all back to Atlanta where they have a house.  They said, it was a wild two weeks, they took the Keys to Atlanta, and because the staff here was so thankful for this, they basically drank for free now at the bar.

Here you would see people just fishing right of the backs of their campsites.  Brian and I had made friends at the last campsite with guys named John and Kevin.  They had a boat for fishing and offered to take out Brian.  The cool thing was we had a spot to park their boat right on the water.  We had a blast with them!  Made friends who we felt like we’d known for a lifetime!  The first day they all went fishing and caught sharks, lots and lots of sharks, which they released back into the ocean.  Then the second day they came back with yellow tail snapper and a pompano.  We had the restaurant cook it up for us half blackened, and half fried.  That day the restaurant was also cooking Sunday BBQ, and we ate a feast with our new friends.  They were awesome!

The day these guys left to go back home to Ohio, was the day Tom and Erin arrived, so we went from making new friends to seeing old friends.  We met them at the Louie’s Backyard for Brian’s birthday dinner.  Tom and Erin were going to stay for 5 days.  We decided to go kayaking one day, on a sunset sail boat one day, to lay on the beach one day, to go on a catamaran boat with kayaks and snorkels one day, and a day to eat thanksgiving and walk around town.  We love these guys and it was a blast hanging out with them.  Feel so lucky to have had them all to ourselves in Key West.  They are a big reason we want to move to the Washington area.  They are planning to move back there in a couple years, and it has us excited to get up there and see them much more regularly.

After Tom and Erin left Key West, we decided to start slowly heading back up Florida and make our way back to the west coast for Christmas.  On the way out of Florida we visited with friends living in Cape Canaveral.  Tim was in the Navy and is now raising their kids, and his wife works for NATO.  We had a blast with them, sitting in their outdoor living room by the pool.  Tim spoiled us, they had just gone to Italy, and he cooked us a carbanara pasta and broke out Italian wines.  They used to live in San Diego, and they are super happy here.  It’s a great life for them and their kids!  You just get so much more in Florida!

During this trip we have realized we could like living in so many places.  We could live in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida to name a few.  We are so lucky we live in such a great country with great people.  We have met the most amazing people on this trip.  All walks of life, all kinds of people, all kinds of jobs, all of them incredible, amazing, fascinating, and friendly people.  In a time when our country seems divided, on the road we have experienced the best of America.  We’ve seen that our country comes together when the going gets rough, people helping each other after fires, hurricanes and floods.  Most of us want the same things, to live a happy life, to take care of our families, and to enjoy our time here and together.  We all have a lot in common really.  Just because people may have different opinions, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends and learn something new about a perspective we never thought to think of.  We just need to remember sometimes that the world would be a boring place if we all were exactly alike.





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