A local Savannah magazine had directed us to a beach park outside of Jacksonville, FL which was evidently "a great getaway." However, the "lake" had signs that prohibited feeding the gators, raccoons, possums, and birds. So swimming was out. And so was sun bathing on the short, littered beach where the waves and rip current pounded the shores. After seeing a young man in a baseball cap and cowboy boots on the sand, we decided to leave to head to the other "great getaway" mentioned in the mag.
We pulled into Tomoka State Park, just 9 miles north of Daytona Beach on the eastern coast of Florida. It was lush and jungle like and I even, yes I, spotted a wild boar on the road on the way in. According to Ranger Dave, aka Ranger Beardo due to his full face ginger beard, the pigs were wild and ferrel and a huge problem throughout Florida. They recreate like mice and eat everything in sight and can get as big as 300 pounds. Other things lurking here at Tomoka were snakes, bobcats, possums, black bears, coons, armadillos, birds, and bugs, oh my. We made chili and ate outside, later we played dice and cards by lantern at our picnic table. Joining us were cockroaches, ants, mosquitoes, and giant stick bugs (a name we came up with for the large bugs that look just like sticks). During a mean game of UNO, Lindsay said that this was her favorite night on the trip so far, camping in the warm jungle instead of looking at more historical buildings and museums. We all agreed we were pretty burnt out from the East Coast Tour de Force old houses, old plantations, old squares, old boats, old buildings, old monuments, old statues, and so on...
Brandon and Lindsay set up camp with our tent and sleeping bags and annoyed with all the bugs we decided to hit the hay. It was sooooo hot, sooooo humid that you could hardly breath in the van. I refused to open the windows as I had already about 8 new mosquito bites and wasn't planning on getting more. Brandon and Lindsay removed the rain fly on the tent because the heat was so intense. After about an hour of laying in our midget bed, sweating, and angry, the rain began to fall. It rained and rained and rained. Kaylee came back to our bed whining, afraid of the loud thunder and lightning. Shortly after settling her in, water began to drip on us. The rain was so powerful that the seals on the rear doors to the van couldn't keep it out. Rain dripped down through the fan above Kai's side of the bed also. We shut the vent and water still flowed. Screw it, at least it was cooler. I opened all the windows and wondered what the hell Brandon was doing outside of the tent, naked and flapping the rain fly around. I didnt have my glasses on and he didnt seem to be swearing, not that you could hear much over the thundering rain. The mattress and our top sheet was drenched in 2 areas when we awoke the next morning. So were the clothing I had hung out to dry on the line Kai made for me. So was our tent and sleeping bags and all of Brandon and Lindsay's clothing they had used as pillows. There was a river created by the rain that had flowed under the van and directly into the tent. Floating in about 3 inches of water was Brandon's water bottle and our sleep pads. Lindsay had given up mid-night and slept in the car, while Brandon slept in the pool, happy to be cooled off. The rain fly was no match for the storm, sheesh, the van wasnt even water tight. We planned on renting canoes and kayaks and checking out the area which was heavily populated with gators and manatees but the rain soon returned. We were completely soaked by the time we got the tent, wet laundry, and chairs and cooler loaded. We went to breakfast still drenched and then to a laundromat to get what we could dry.
|Swimming Pool Tent|
|It's Like a Shower from Nature|
We drove on through Orlando and to Tampa Bay where it was hot and dry. We looked like super Alaska hillbillies as we set up our tent, camp chairs and clothing in the parking lot of the Motel 6. Kai unloaded the two action packers filled with gear that ride on our hitch rack and nearly broke his back. Gallons and gallons of water poured out of the pack containing all of our rock climbing gear. Mold was actually growing on Kai's backpack and the gear reaked like must. To top it all off, the propane in the fridge ran out around this time as well creating an oven out of the fridge in the 90 degree heat. We were able to salvage most of the food and keep it on ice in coolers while we search for propane.
But we had plenty of beer, a skeezy motel room, a pool, and we were about a mile's walk away from Busch Gardens Theme Park. We bought our tickets online the night before and got a great deal on a dining pass as well. This pass allowed us entry to the park as well as all we could eat all day AND half off alcohol. All for just 8 bucks more than a regular admission ticket! It was a gluttonous day as we ventured from ride to ride, restaurant to restaurant, and bar to bar. Although the weather report had called for thunderstorms, it was bright, sunny, and hot all day. Which was good because everyone had shut down my garbage bag poncho idea back at the hotel. But, as it turns out, we didnt need them. We actually wanted to get wet, riding log rides and river rapids over and over again to stay cool. While there were less thrill rides than Cedar Point in Ohio, it was such a better organized and themed park. There was an African theme throughout the park including a zoo, each section representing a different area such as the Sahara or Kenya or Morocco. We saw elephants, tigers, impala, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and tropical birds to name a few. I still needed throat lozenges at the end of the day because of screaming so much and I easily gained 10 pounds from eating all I could eat and half off beers. Drenched from our last River Rapid ride, we walked soggily down Busch Avenue back to the Motel 6.
We relaxed in the ghetto fabulous pool for a while before retiring in the room to watch a movie and sleep. Brandon and Lindsay had one more park to hit up, Universal Studios back in Orlando so Brandon could see his favorite, Harry Potter World. We said goodbye early that morning so they could get to the park when it opened, I asked Lindsay if Tomoka State Park night was still her favorite of the whole trip. I think not. I think that may have just been the worst camping trip they'd ever been on. We were in the Truckster and it still sucked super hard. While Brandon played Quidditch all day in Orlando, we headed up Florida's Gulf Coast New Orleans bound.