I made it home. 6050 miles is the final count. The highlight of today was all the familiar earthy smells on the last 150 miles of I-29, closely followed by the nearly completely burned tractor/trailer I saw still smoldering west of Columbus. Also northeast SD was more scenic than I remembered it being although I have not traveled there more than a handful of times.
Sunday I departed at 6:40, shortly before the sun rose. I took highway 27 out of Miami which had a lot of stoplights but saw some non-downtown parts of the city that way. In Tampa I met my mom's friend from Medora--Howard--and had lunch with him at Tijuana Flats. I had a good burrito there and tried some interesting hot sauces. Of course the best non-backtracking route out of Tampa was a similar stoplight extravaganza as what I had in the morning so I didn't get as far as I wanted to. I spent the night in Ashburn, Georgia and forgot to watch my odometer but online maps say it was about 500 miles, with 1500 mile left to go.
Today I left at 7:15 and stayed on the interstate all day. I managed to make it 850 miles and am in Columbia, Missouri for the night. I drove through St. Louis and got a good view of the arch (from the highway) but not much else exciting happened. 730 miles to go tomorrow.
Saturday morning we slept in, and then took the bus over to see Lincoln Drive. It was Walter's first time taking the bus as previously he has just used his car, the trolley, or the MetroMover (overhead rail). So it was educational. Lincoln Drive is a bunch of fancy shops that all the rich tourists from around the world go to so they can get fancy stuff, and I realized I was sort of tired of being around all these classy people. I think Walter likes to people-watch more than I do, as pretty much everywhere we had gone in Miami was full of people dressed to impress, whether they were tourists or local well-off people. And of course I didn't pack any nice clothes so I felt a bit out of place.
But there was a Tesla "store" there where I got to check out the Model S and also a stripped chassis. And speaking of nice cars, there were plenty that I saw out on the streets: several Ferraris, a McLaren, Bentleys, Maseratis, Porsches, and BMWs and Mercedes as plentiful as Fords and Chevys are in ND. I guess I like looking at cars and Walter likes looking at people.
After Lincoln Drive we were going to go to the Marlins game but we had only used the awesome pool area for about 30 minutes and I wanted to spend some time there relaxing so I could be ready to head out of town at first light in the morning. So we did the pool and hot tub thing for a couple hours and then got a pizza and some beer to enjoy on his apartment balcony high above the city (23rd floor). And we watched a movie about Jackie Robinson after that--it's a good one.
On Friday Walter and I drove out to the Shark Valley visitors center in the Everglades. We got there about 2 hours before the next guided tour so glanced around for alligators (there were none) and drove a little ways to the Big Cypress Preserve where we watched a film about the cypress forest ecosystem. There were no alligators there either. Back at Shark Valley we went on the guided tour and learned all about the "river of grass" and saw a bunch of blue herons and other birds. Also we saw some baby alligators that were about 12" long. Depending on the season apparently there can just be tons of alligators everywhere, but not now--there were hardly any.
Then we went to a Miccosukee restaurant nearby and ate frybread burgers and a sample of alligator. Alligator is no good to eat but the burger was. Also behind the restaurant was a big alligator so I did get to see one (oh we saw a dead one on the side of the road too).
We headed back to Walter's apartment to clean up and then went out for some drinks with his sister and some of her teacher friends. We walked a ways back to the apartment and saw many interesting and bustling bars along the way.
Thursday I arrived in Miami at 3:30. I took a toll road this time so it was a pretty quick trip to right downtown where Walter lives. I met him and we headed up to his apartment on the 23rd floor (50 Biscayne is the building if you want to find it on a map). Then we headed up to the 54th floor to check out the view even though it is very nice from his own balcony, and to check out the infinity pool and view of the bay from nearer the ground. It is a pretty classy building and a great way to spend a few days in Miami.
We took the MetroMover around a loop and stopped to look at all the fancy open air restaurants and bars near the marina and Heat stadium. After that we drove over to near Midtown to a biker bar called Wood and had a beer and some tacos. Lots of bikes there, and a good variety of them. Then we drove to Ocean Drive and walked along there checking out all the restaurants and clubs--almost all of them have tables out on the sidewalks and it was a very lively atmosphere.
On Wednesday I walked over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and looked at the fort stuff there. There is a beach there too so I took a look but didn't have my swimming suit with. Then I went to the southernmost point of the continental USA where there is a big marker saying "90 miles to Cuba." According to the maps I've looked at the Navy base is further south but I guess it is close enough. I put on my swimming suit and swam at the southernmost beach but the water had poor visibility so I didn't stay long. I drove over to the state park with my swimming suit on this time and jumped in the water but quickly realized I should be snorkeling if the water has 30+ foot visibility.
So I rented a snorkel set and saw many different bright and colorful fish. It was like a real life Finding Nemo. The biggest I saw was maybe 30 inches long but it is tough to tell because everything looks magnified. I also saw some live conch shells.
Then I went back, cleaned up, and walked to the Sunset Celebration that they have nightly. It is a street-fair sort of thing with some jugglers and stuff, and a great view of the setting sun. That was on the far side of town so I stopped in a few bars for drinks as I worked my way back home.
My feet feel like they are at their limits with the combination of being in soaked boots for two days in a row, walking around more than normal, and walking on the really rough beach. Not bad yet but close to blisters in a few spots and they are sore all round.
Tuesday morning I did laundry and checked out the nifty outdoor hot tub with a waterfall. Then I departed at 11:00 for Key West. The drive was pretty uneventful except for when I really wished I would have taken a toll road instead of taking a highway through town and hitting a bunch of stoplights. Oh and rode through rain twice and quickly dried out except for my boots.
The sun was setting and the sea was nearly glassy as I drove through the Keys which made it a very beautiful drive. I got a motel room in the old town area and walked over to the main road to check out the nightlife. I saw many interesting things…
Monday was an early morning. To make it to Orlando at a reasonable hour I departed at 6:40. It is 160 miles there and I met Nick on the Epcot end of the monorail by 10:30. I remember when I was probably 8-10 years old my dad had gone through the Epcot sphere thingy and absolutely would not tell me what was in it. Now I know and it is pretty cool! So that was the first ride, and the rest I did included: around the whole country lake thing, Mission Space, Splash Mountain, People Mover, the paddle-wheel ferry, haunted something, and Carousel of …Innovation? Oh and also it rained constantly from about 2:00 on. For some reason we did not spring the $5 for a rain poncho; I think we got a little bit wet at first and decided to deal with it, and then when we started really getting wet we didn't want to give in. After thinking that maybe my jeans were finally wet enough to pose a risk to my phone, I put it in Nick's backpack.
All the rain and it being a weekday in the off-season meant that I spent a grand total of about 10 minutes waiting in line. That and having and experienced guide meant I was able to pack a lot in but I really barely scratched the surface. I had to leave before the parade and fireworks so I could meet Dan so I said goodbye to Nick and walked out the gate while he went back a different way. 50 yards out of the gate I reached for my phone and realized it was still in Nick's backpack. Hurrying back, I could not see him. So I ended up in guest relations calling all the numbers I have memorized-Mom, Dad, and their landline. My mom has Nick's number so it would have worked great but there was no answer on any of them. So I walked back outside to see if Nick had thought of my phone and come back, and I remembered that I knew my sister's number too (she would have had to think of someone she knew that had Nick's number so I wasn't real hopeful on that) but as I was going back to try that Nick came walking up waving my phone around. So here's to Nick's memory--it is pretty darn good. (At one point I was planning how I might have to call 1-800-MEDORA1 and persuade someone there to give me some numbers such as Sarah or Kinley.)
Then I dried out, found Dan at his hotel, and got him all caught up on my trip. It is pretty silly that he and I both live in Fargo and don't see each other much besides an annual hunting trip, and then we meet up in Orlando. But it was great to see a familiar face. Two for the day actually, because Nick counts for that too.
Another late start on Sunday morning--they should just make motel check-out times 8:00 so that I am forced to enjoy the morning. Or I could not stay out late at the karaoke place but hey it was a lot of fun. Anyways, I spent pretty much all afternoon cruising down A1A to West Palm Beach. It is sort of a difficult road to follow because it jumps between mainland and the barrier islands several times and sometimes I missed the turn signs.
West Palm Beach was part of Walter's must see list, including checking out Peanut Island and Clematis Street. For Peanut Island all I could do was look at it from a bridge. If you plan ahead and have some time to spend there I think you can take a boat out to the island and camp. Then I got a place to stay near Clematis Street, which is the nightlife part of WPB. It was a neat old hotel and the clerk said that most of the rooms are continuously rented by the same people, some going back 10 years.
There is a free trolley that drives around the Clematis Street area so I did a loop on that to get the feel for the area. I stopped at a few different places for drinks and food and had some good conversations with a couple people. There were a surprising amount of people out for a Sunday night. Back at the room by midnight, I heard from my godfather Dan that he was going to be in Orlando the next evening. So, remembering that Nick LeTang had offered to take me around Disney World and had Monday off I quickly made plans to head up there the next morning.
I went surfing today! I did a two hour lesson rather than struggle through learning on my own. I quickly became exhausted from all of the paddling and fighting my way back out against waves. The instructor said the conditions were really good as the waves were bigger than normal (about 4-foot swells), and of course the weather was beautiful. I managed to get a few decent runs in but most of the time I fell over right away or missed the wave so there is plenty left to learn. Also she totally used the word gnarly a couple times which really made the experience authentic. :)
After that I swam in the waves and laid on the beach for a while. I had some fish tacos for supper and then hung out at a bar that had karaoke for the rest of the night.