Tuesday 24th January – A Bit of Everything

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My body ached all over, especially round the top from my work. Since I hadn’t called Red the night before, I called him this morning and asked if he was on for breakfast, which he was. I used the facilities inside Walmart, then head off ten minutes down the road to Richmond Hill. I got to the Hardees (a lot like Maccas) a few minutes before Red. I found him when he drove right up to me in his dump track as I was walking across the carpark. He was off to his job for the day clearing a property. He wouldn’t let me pay for breakfast and we sat down to two “big breakfasts” which had absolutely nothing healthy anywhere near it. The eggs, bacon, tater tots and biscuit (scone) came with some white gravy with chunky bits – I’ve no idea what it was made of.

As we ate, we talked about life, then got onto religion because Red is a bit of a preacher. This was in no way a bad thing. He had discovered religion and it had been a turning point in his life and he shared his story along with others who had been in a lowly state, then found God and turned their lives around. We both shared the idea that you should surround yourself with positivity, anyone who is negative or brings you down, you don’t need them. We definitely connected on that point. You must always stay positive! Not only was Red wise, he was hilarious. He had sayings like “You might as well try pissing up a rope” (implying something is quite impossible to do) and “That person wouldn’t piss on you if you was on fire” (implying someone would not lift a finger to help you even if you were in great need). We talked nonstop for a good hour before Red had to get off to work and I had to hit the road. The whole time we talked, I was brimming with gratefulness that Red had stopped in the O’Reillys carpark.

Before we left, he made me take his change from breakfast and we hugged and went our separate ways. I was almost crying as I crossed the carpark this man had affected me so much. He is a wise man who lifted my spirits to the sky. He waved me off as he drove past in his massive dump truck and I gave him the biggest smile I had. As soon as I got on the road, I called Kevin because I had to talk to someone about this experience and I knew he would understand. We both awed at my good fortune. Not long after we hung up, my rear view mirror dropped right off the windscreen without notice. It had obviously been close to falling off for a while and couldn’t take it any longer. The poor girl is falling apart on me!

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I drove south, finishing my audiobook which turned out to be a huge disappointment so I switched to music. I stopped in at Fort Frederica (I know, another one) to have a peek at another national monument. The fort itself was a disappointment since there was hardly anything left of it, apart from a few foundations and a recreation of the military part, but I didn’t mind, it was a nice break from driving. I still needed a jacket, but the weather was otherwise perfect and I loved walking under the Live Oak trees with tonnes of Spanish moss hanging off the branches, swaying gently in the breeze. I carried on driving after having a good wander.

I was going to stop and have a look at Jekyll Island before crossing the border to Florida but decided against it since I was on a time limit to get to Florida and meet some Craigslist people. In the end I was glad I did. At a tiny town right on the border of Georgia and Florida I stopped at a supermarket to try find some wraps but found nothing so had a salad for lunch instead. After the Wendy’s dinner and Hardee’s breakfast, my tummy still wasn’t feeling quite right and it was now nearly 1:30pm.

I carried on driving, trying out a few different podcasts and not really finding anything I liked so just settled on music. When I crossed the border into Florida, it was sunny and 22*C. This is what I was here for. I was ecstatic! Not long after entering the state, I got off the Ocean Highway and head east to Jacksonville (aka “Jax”) beach where I was meeting a Craiglist guy about a wetsuit. He lived in a flash house and had a flash car within view of Neptune beach. Chris was a lovely guy, about 50, with the look of a surfer. He pegged me as an Aussie immediately and told me about his surf trip along the east coast. I tried on the suit and it fit well enough so I handed over $40 and head off again after he told me a few good beaches to hit for surf.

My next stop was Ocala, which honestly, was a lot further away than I’d thought, but I’d committed to meet Craigslist Larry at around 6pm so I was straight on the interstate to get out of Jax. Just driving through the place, I got the feel of a touristy beach town, so I can only imagine what Miami beach will be like. I looked forward to coming back this way. The next two hours of driving was incredibly boring. Two lane highway all the way, thankfully not much traffic, but nothing at all to look at and I was wrecked from a whole day of driving. I started wondering if I was doing the right thing. Was there really any point to buying a surfboard, was it a waste of money? I concluded that it would not be.

I made it to Larry’s place which felt like tropical “country” and saw the surfboard sitting on the porch of the house. He came out and greeted me and I knew immediately I’d be buying the board. It was pretty much new and he also gave me an ankle strap and travel bag, all for $180. He’d used the board to teach surfing lessons and had no need for it any more. I was stoked since he confirmed I’d be able to use it as a paddleboard as well. The sun was setting and I was eager to get on and find camp before dark, but Larry was so full of camping and travelling tips for Florida that it was hard to leave. Everything he told me I urgently typed out on my phone for later research, I was grateful he was such a good wealth of information! He even told me the number one ranked mountain biking in the South East was two miles away from his house, right next to a campground!

Eventually, with the sun thoroughly gone, I got away and after checking out the campground and finding it had a closed security gate, I decided not to bother inquiring because I figured if it had a security gate, it was going to cost more money than I wanted to spend. I’d sussed out a National Forest spot nearby and groaned when I saw it was half an hour away. I did NOT want to do anymore driving, but with no other option, I carried on. After Google maps took me on some random residential streets, I was driving on narrow highway through the bush and eventually found my spot. Without any signage or hint whatsoever of a campground, I only took one wrong road before I found the right place. My bike squeaked unsubtly on the roof on the uneven dirt road, disturbing all the campers. Not really being able to see anything, I drove to the end where I saw a yellow school bus and what looked like a scout group, then turned back around and found a spot by the road.

No long after I’d pulled up, my camping neighbour, Chris, came over to say hi. I hadn’t even noticed someone else was camped nearby, but we both had enough room. I was starving, so I cooked while Chris and I talked. Him and his wife had been travelling for seven months, following the good weather. Along with Chris came three cats from somewhere in the wilderness, but they were so friendly they were obviously domesticated. They helped themselves to my van, thankfully not pissing in it, but making themselves quite at home!

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Chris and I had a lot in common so had easy conversation, so much so that we were still talking after I’d cooked dinner, eaten dinner and done the dishes. We were still going when a random person from the dark shouted a “hello” and came over to join us. Anthony was different. A reminded me of Christopher McCandless (the guy from “Into the Wild” that goes out into the Alaskan wilderness without carrying much). Anthony was barefoot and had only a 50L litre backpack that looked mostly empty. When I asked he told us he was carrying a tarp, a parka, a toothbrush & toothpaste, his journal, his cigarettes and his bottle of water. No food, so I gave him a contained of my leftover spaghetti which he gratefully accepted and stashed away in his bag for later. The conversation shifted as Anthony started talking about his experience as a traveller, hitching his was across the country, getting arrested for climbing Mt Rushmore and working as a therapist for traumatised war veterans. Definitely someone with an interesting story, but Chris later told me he was sure he was high on acid or something, which made a lot of sense. We all talked about where we’d been across the country, shared travel tips and book recommendations.

Just as I was falling asleep standing up, it became obvious something was happening in another corner of the camp. People were fighting about something and doing it very loudly. From what we could gather, someone had gone into someone else’s camp and pissed them off and there was a dog involved somehow. Anthony, probably a bit drunk now from drinking Chris’ whiskey, kept yelling out to them in a strange voice telling them not to fight. Eventually he went over to play peacekeeper and after chatting with Chris a bit more, I took that opportunity to retire to the van.

Not being able to sleep with all the commotion going on, I heard everything. There was a lot of swearing and people saying “Get out of my woods!” and someone was bleeding from being hit. A group of people were trying to force some others out of the camp, so they were literally marching them out. Chris had gone over to the group too, to see if he could be any help but I stayed right out of it. At around 11:30pm, they still hadn’t settled anything and that’s when a cop car showed up. About ten minutes later, another cop car came, then an ambulance. I watched it all happen from my bed, in disbelief that people can get in these situations. I felt bad for the scout group that was surely hearing every word when they were just out to experience the wilderness.

I saw the ambulance leave soon after it arrived, but the cop cars were still at camp by the time I went to sleep.

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