Day 11 – Okefenokee Swamp, GA -> Wilson, NC

We just watched something fly out of our roof box. Renzo went back to pick it up. Luckily, it was not on 95 with heavy traffic. Thank god! We did drive all day with the box not locked yesterday.

Because we did so well on the drive yesterday (7 hrs), we decided to take a detour and possibly camp in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

We had our BBQ finally yesterday in GA. It was a very small fish market with a separate outside shack for meat barbecuing – we had the best shrimp I ever had, best ribs, and not so good pulled pork. The Jamaican man from the Bronx who made it was not very happy about his job here, nor was the toothless woman who made the shrimp. She asked me if I could make her robes for her church after I had mentioned that I used to make costumes for Broadway. I struggled to find excuses why I can not do it, but she was hard to shake off. She finally grabbed Timofei, because he was trying to kill himself by running under a UPS truck. Timofei got scared of her grabbing him and started wailing. That finally got this woman off my back with the robes. She did make the very best shrimp though.

Last night we discovered that by 11 pm on 95 all the hotels are booked. So we went a little off the main drag and found plenty of room in a borderline gross Super 8 motel in Wilson, NC. Every one who worked there was a shining example of what happens to people if they drink and smoke too much. It was bad. The beds were clean, but the towels had stains and the plastic bathtub had cigarette burns in our non smoking room. The boys were still having fun jumping on the bed and playing in the warm bath though. It is always amazing to me how little kids need.

We briefly considered going to Norfolk NC but chose more nature, so now we are on our way to the coast.

Day 9 and 10 – Okefenokee Swamp, GA

Sadly, it was our last night camping. We are heading back home, from Georgia to New York. We will stay in hotels on the way. Our last stop was Okefenokee National Park. Another paradise, but with mosquitos. Otherwise, the temperature for camping was perfect. Not too cold at night and not too hot at noon.

We arrived on Wednesday night, set up camp and met a three year old boy with his Air Force father, eight month old brother and his grandma. Timofei and Yelisei had a blast. They have not seen any other children for a while. So they ran around in circles like mad people. Then they invited us to have our first smorphs (marshmallow chocolate sandwiches). I have to say I was prejudiced at first, but I do agree it was not bad at all. Timofei and Yelisei enjoyed it as well.

After a nice sleep we had a boat ride on the swamp. This park and shark valley in Florida are the best places to see the wildlife. On our one and a half hour trip, we saw countless alligators, beautiful big birds like ibis and cranes, and small birds like swamp canary. Also turtles and deer. After that majestic trip on the swamp, we had lunch of rice and canned organic chicken. I was hoping that both boys will collapse for a nap but they thought differently.

We took a stroll on a boardwalk in the swamp. There was a fire in that forest that was caused by lightning and was burning for a year. It finished burning couple of months ago. So our board walk was not as long as it needed to be for those boys to fall a sleep. Tired of walking in circles we lay down on the floor and Renzo had a nap. Strangely no one else did.

In the evening we were going to do some star watching. They were going to put out 3 telescopes. Since this camp is at the end of a 17 mile dead end road with no light pollution, the sky is pretty incredible even without a telescope. But stupidly we did not register and when we showed up at 9 pm with children in stroller we found nobody with no telescope!! I was so mad at our stupidity! Lesson learned I hope.

I wanted to share a list of equipment that we found useful in our camping trip. It is not complete. I just wanted to mention things I liked.

Our MSR Spider stove. It is small and packable and takes any fuel. We use kerosine, which is a popular item on the countryside. We are thinking of getting one with 2 burners (and a bigger car).

Sleeping bags that can zip together. You never know when the mood strikes you and when the nights are freezing.

REI Basecamp 4 tent. Best compromise between size an comfort. You can stand up to put on your pants but it is small enough not to take over your trunk. It is also very waterproof. We were lucky not to have rain this time but we have slept in it through over night storms. It also was good in windy conditions.

Two large plastic boxes with lids attached. You can find those at McMaster Carr in the shipping box category. One has all the food and the other all the dishes and stove and everything else. If you put the stove on the picnic table and boxes on either side, it works like a relatively comfortable kitchen.

Kitchen sink. Normal people would probably use tubs but we have a rather small car and we stupidly brought our huge stroller. Luckily there is a ‘Sea to Summit’ packable kitchen sink. Worked very nicely.

Do not leave your house without charcoal! Often camp fires are prohibited but charcoal is not. I have cooked entire meals on it.

Swiss army knife.

Wine. It is cold at night and when you wake up with full bladder in the middle of the night it is such a pain to get out of the tent. Stick to wine, not beer.

Find a herbal concoction that you and your children can drink besides water. I made orange hibiscus honey tea or camomile honey. Put it in thermos cups and drink all day.

iPhone. I can not imagine how people travelled without it. GPS is also important. Use them in combination and you can find and make reservations in coming up town or campground. Find out that all the BBQ places are closed without driving to each one.

Day 7 and 8 – Ocala National Forest, FL -> Okefenokee Swamp, GA

We found the paradise. Here is the address: 14753–15021 Salt Springs Hwy, Silver Springs, Florida 34488, United States.

After a minor detour to nothing, we arrived at Fore Lake. Out of 30 sites only five were occupied. We picked the one furthest from the bathroom and the beach. With so much driving, we have not walked much, so a few little strolls in this fairytale forest was much appreciated. Even at night, it was beautiful to see all the fire flys twinkling in the low palm trees and up in the sky the bright stars. So walking to the shower and bathroom was like a mini wonderland trip. The beach had alligator signs posted, but apparently it was safe to swim there. Timofei and Yelisei had a blast, running in and out of the water with me and Renzo. While sitting by the camp fire, we saw an armadillo walking through our site. He looked at us briefly and went on sniffing the ground. The beach was full of animal footprints. But we have not seen anyone else.

It was such a nice place, we stayed for two nights. But the next day the boys were not interested in the beach, but kept asking if we can go take shower, which was clean and warm. I am wondering if we ever go back to backpacking. I am starting to get used to this luxurious way of camping. Eating and sitting on the ground and not takin a shower for a week seems crazy now.

Is there a law written somewhere that says that as soon as you mention any good behavior of your children they turn into monsters? Yesterday, they did not stop screaming! This reason or that, one stops, the other one starts. It was just crazy. They would stop briefly to see the fire flys or for swimming but otherwise it was the worst children day in the best camping spot. Why? Oh why!?

I really liked that area of Ocala National Forest though. It is truly in the sticks. The guy who sold me some kerosine looked like ‘Crocodile Dundee’ – my favorite movie from when I was 12 years old. Everybody has a pickup truck and at the local gas station we were parked in between the two fanciest wheeled pick up trucks I have ever seen. The drivers were some hot studs as well. Very young and very tan. Our closest grocery / gas station had a wall of killed dear with hunters displaying the kill in various ways, including one holding the dead dear by the antlers and holding his eyes open.

Day 6 – Fort George Inlet, FL -> Jacksonville Zoo, FL -> Ocala National Forest, FL

Camping on the beach in Florida sounded like such a good idea. I was worried that there would not be any spots left. But there were, and in fact a lot of spots, so we had a place to ourselves, with some people in campers here and there, but not too close. I thought that was great!

But then I learned that there might be a flip side to an empty field near the beach. Wind! Cold wind! Though it was warm and we were nice and toasty inside our tent, when you try to cook or eat outside, it is not so much fun with such a wind. But we managed to make some spaghetti with clams and pesto. I wanted to go out to have dinner, but the boys were having so much fun playing on the beach with sand that it would have been useless to drag them out. Also, it was Easter Sunday and most of the good places were closed. While we were driving through Georgia, it was impossible to find a BBQ place in that was open.

Next morning we woke up in the middle of the movie “Birds”. Seagulls were everywhere screaming from all directions. Also, we were across the river from a Navy port where the cranes were working all night. That sounded not very unlike Myrtle Ave traffic, so it did not bother me very much. Besides, the birds in the morning were actually nice. Even the wind stopped for a second. We had our breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and packed as usual for three hours, but this time I was actually enjoying it and so was Renzo.

I thought that we really want to be hiking and backpacking. It is only because of the children that we are doing it by car. Renzo had another theory – that we are looking for a perfect spot and we might find it at the very next national park, so we have to keep driving.

But either way we both agree that our boys are happier than usual and they don’t have tantrums at all, or even minor melt downs. They eat everything in front of them, go sit in the car when they know it’s time to get moving, and are generally quite easy – unlike some days at home in Brooklyn…

Next destination: Ocala National Park, Florida. But first we finally made it to the zoo. Jacksonville, FL has one – it was a very nice and well done zoo! The boys loved the train, they fed giraffes, and they were running all over the place. Another nice day yet again!

Day 5 – Sumter National Forest, SC -> Fort George Inlet, FL

We thought we found a paradise where we could stay for couple of days but at 9:00 pm last night, we were harassed by a very large local man with a trailer and his tiny, wordless, smoking wife. They had apparently reserved the spot by putting a broken chair and a broken cooler on a picnic table. We thought this garbage was left there by previous campers, and we were not going to move at this hour. They naturally called the police…

We thought ‘Oh no, as long as I manage not to curse at the sheriff, we are probably going to be ok.’ (Four years ago I got a ticket while camping at Harriman State Park in NJ, for saying ‘fucking fire’ and had to go to court to fight it…) And then we met the nicest sheriff ever – and he told us it’s ok to stay. And so the large man and his tiny wife with their big trailer moved on to a different area of the campground.

It was a beautiful spot. The kids took a swim in the lake earlier in the day. And you did not hear anything but birds chirping and kids laughing. We had a gourmet dinner of vegetable soup, grilled steak and asparagus and green salad with a bottle of red wine (which the sheriff luckily did not see). Then, after that minor war with the locals, we enjoyed the camp fire and a most beautiful full moon that was casting shadows of giant pines and was lighting the shimmering low fog above the perfectly still lake.

We were finally not cold at night, and I did not need a down jacket in the morning either. Now that we have warm breakfast I realized that Yelisei likes granola and we did not have it. It was very tragic. But he got over it. The morning was so beautiful that I was loving the packing as well as driving. I almost felt like apologizing to the large man, but I stopped myself.

Today we were going to go to the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia, but there was no campground around that looked promising. So we changed our plans and we are going to Jacksonville. FL instead. I don’t have high hopes for a tranquil campsite, but at least the boys will swim play in the sand.