When the Covid hit back in early 2020, we thought that by the end of the year we would surely be able to fly international again. But as the months dragged on, we realized we were being overly optimistic and began to re-think our definition of “travel.”
In September of 2020, we bought Terrapin with the intention of exploring Florida for a year or so, driving no further than 2-3 hours away.
We’ve had an incredible time and are absolutely thrilled with how easily Oscar and Maddie have adapted to being happy campers.
We are now almost halfway through 2021, with no more clarity about when we can use our passports again than we had a year ago. Countries that are Covid-safe are either prohibitively expensive or do not want us. Countries that will accept us pose far greater health risks than we face here at home.
And there does not seem to be an end in sight. International travel is off the table for the rest of 2021 and most likely through most of 2022.
So, we have started to look beyond Florida to the rest of the USA. There are plenty of places in this great continent that we have never been and would love to visit.
But as much as we enjoy Terrapin, she only gets seven miles to the gallon. No big deal when driving the 35 miles to our favorite Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. But when planning a 5000-mile road trip, those gallons will add up quickly.
This week we began “Phase II” in re-defining travel. We bought a 10×14 tent and headed to Kissimmee Prairie for three nights.
The tent is big enough for a queen-size futon with plenty of room to spread out. If everyone were comfortable sleeping in the tent (including Oscar and Maddie), we could plan for longer distances in our much more fuel-efficient Jetta Sportwagon.
Because the forecast called for daytime highs in the 90’s, we also drove Terrapin so that we could leave the pups in cool A/C while we hiked during the day. But all of our cooking, washing, and sleeping would be in the tent.
Setting up camp took no time.
Once complete, we took a nap to introduce the pups to our new sleeping arrangement and escape some of the worst of the midday heat.
Later that afternoon we rode our bikes down to “alligator alley” for some fun gator action.
Storm clouds rolled in that evening and we fell asleep to the steady rhythm of the rain beating against the tent roof. Sometime after midnight we were awakened by two barred owls calling from the trees above us. “How wonderful!” I thought as I drifted back to sleep.
I woke long before dawn to find TG already up. The skies had cleared and the stars were shining bright. He had set up the tripod for a star stack, which turned out quite lovely.
While enjoying my first cup of coffee I heard the call of the barred owls again. I found one perched in a tree just a few yards away.
TG wanted to shoot the sunrise, so he took off east on his bike.
I was told about a nesting pair of white-tailed kites near the primitive campsites, about 2 ½ miles west. It was a beautiful morning, cool with a thin layer of mist hanging between the saw palmettos and the treetops.
On my way I saw at least a dozen deer including a shy buck,
Bunnies and fresh bobcat tracks,
Red-winged blackbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, caracara
Various warblers, ibis, herons, and eastern meadowlarks.
I also saw a large gator in a very small water hole right below the trail!
When I arrived at the nesting area, I spied a pair of swallow-tailed kites but not the promised white-tailed. But the swallow-taileds are also a beautiful bird and I was happy with the sighting.
That afternoon we rode our bikes back to the alligators, many of which were sunning themselves right along the trail!
We were also enchanted by the number of bobwhites out and about.
And I got to play “chicken” with an inquisitive yellow rat snake!
Although there were too many clouds to attempt any star shots that night, we did enjoy “glamping” with a freshly made pizza while listening to the night sounds.
TG was up early again Wednesday morning for another star stack.
I wanted one more chance for the white-tailed kites, so I rode my bike out to the nesting area.
Once there I found the swallow-taileds, a pair of red-shouldered hawks, crows, doves, a pileated woodpecker and even a bobwhite calling from a tree far away. But if there were white-tailed kites around, I did not spy them.
On of ride back, I passed a tiller coming from the opposite direction. He was getting the path ready for a controlled burn – cutting a six-foot wide swath of 3-inch deep furrowed rows in the soft dirt.
Not exactly bikeable, I walked the remainder of the way back to camp.
By the time I got back, TG had already begun to break down our campsite. Rain was in the forecast and we did not fancy packing a wet tent the following morning. We finished up and headed home.
All-in-all, “Phase II” was a success. Oscar only barked twice: once when a critter crunched in the gravel outside the tent, and a second time when noisy people walked by around midnight. If I were more awake, I would have barked, too! The pups did great and TG and I loved falling asleep under the stars, with the sounds of the night singing a sweet lullaby.
Before Covid, I never could have imagined tent camping. But so much has changed over the past fifteen months. And, as time goes on our bucket list has also evolved. Although we would love to see the temples of Nepal, Mt. Everest, or the Northern Lights, those trips are still just a dream. Until we can safely sit on a plane for ten hours, we are content to travel where Terrapin – or the Jetta – can take us.