We have arrived at my favorite campground ever! In the Ocala National Park, Florida, Fore Lake campground. It has completely private sites along the circle drive. It has warm showers, clean white sand and a swimmable beach. We could not enjoy any of it though, because Mother Nature decided it was time for record low temperatures in Florida again! Second time!! I can not believe that we travelled five days to be in Florida and the temperature is the same as in NYC!!
We have gotten used to the new routine and cooking does not annoy me any more. After Renzo reorganized everything in our car the loading in goes much smoother. Now that we got the material stuff down it is time to smell the roses.
When you drive for a long time on a highway I often find a car that is driving with just the right speed and follow it. It takes a while to find it. Some cars drive annoyingly slow, some are too fast and some are just right. My question is: do I have anything in common with that driver whose car I am following or not? Is our common sense of how fast the car should go on a highway the only thing that connects us? Traveling on the highway is a very lonely experience. Unlike traveling on Russian long distance trains where you eat and drink with strangers who tell you their innermost secrets. There is no sharing on the interstate highway.
To my disappointment we had to leave Ocala as fast as we could because it was too cold. We decided to change our plans yet again and go further south and find a campground that was half way between Ocala and the Everglades. Again, the iPhone came in handy. The weather was checked, campgrounds rated. We picked Highlands Hammock State Park.
On the way there a few exiting things happened. Renzo forgot a fuel cap at a gas station and we went to a Walmart to get me a car key. In Walmart our children had a meltdown of gigantic proportions. Yelisei was clutching a set of Hot Wheels that he already has and demanded that we get it. Timofei was crying that we don’t have space for a superhero in our car. We did not make a copy of my car key but we found a fuel cap replacement. Also we replaced the rear windshield wiper and got a ratchet cord to close our roof box because we realized yesterday that the locks pop open as you hit potholes. It is so difficult to stay on track and stop improvements!
When we arrived at Highlands Hammock State Park, it was cold and windy. In Ocala it was not windy, it was just cold. So we drove 3 hrs to be in a less pretty spot and have wind and cold. I was very disappointed and was ready to cry. The spot we were in was called wilderness camping: there was no water, bathroom, or trees. There were picnic tables, a fire ring, and 5′ tall palm trees that went as far as you can see. Every 50 yards or so there was a pine tree. There was a road nearby so you could see and hear cars and power lines going along the road. And did I mention WIND and COLD? And then I thought since there is no clouds and no trees then maybe it will be the most beautiful sky we have ever seen. After having shrimp for dinner that we got at a farmers market on our way, we sat by the fire and drank some wine. The stars were shining and the moon was full.
The wind and the cars stopped when the sun went down and by the fire we had the most peaceful evening yet. The moon was so bright that we did not use our flashlights to get around our campground. In the morning everything was covered with ice! But that happened on day six.
Something magical happens with kids when you keep them outside. They eat everything on their plate no matter what it is. And they go to sleep on their own at a reasonable time. Must be the fresh air.
We arrived to Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park near Cordele, GA last night at 7 pm and the gate to the campground was closed and the office was also locked. Renzo was very sad and disappointed. I took Yelisei on my hip and went over the fence to look for people to open the gate for us. I think cute children are the ice breakers for a conversation with strangers. Soon we found the campground host who told us the gate code and we were off picking a campground spot in no time. This park has a fishing lake, swimming beach, golf course and lots of camping sites with hookups and some of them on the waterfront. We picked one under pine trees that had the least amount of neighbors. Then we cooked, pitched our tent, had a fight about this or that (mostly about packing and the order of doing things), ate, put the children to bed, washed the dishes and finally sat by the fire and looked at the bright moon and fast moving clouds with a bottle of red wine. It is not easy to relax and enjoy yourself! By the time I was relaxed it was 11:30 pm so it was time to go to bed.
The next morning was cold in the low 40s F. Renzo was freezing again and the children were dressed in long johns and ski hats with gloves. You could not believe that just last night it was in the upper 60s F. Luckily, the children know now that they can hide in the car if they are very cold.
Since our next destination is only three hours away, Renzo took this opportunity to organize our crap. He is cursing me for taking so much stuff with us. So by noon our car was packed to perfection. Renzo is the king of organization! I bow my head to the king!
The park that we stayed in had an open museum of death machines. WW2 tanks, planes, Vietnam war helicopters, and large guns. I went with our boys to look at them up close. Yelisei wanted to touch the helicopter that was behind the fence and Timofei was picking up flowers for me and did not want to see anything. I was the one who was the most excited about the military might.
We had to be at the hot tub at 10 am all packed and ready and since you had to look for everything ten times and not doing the dishes is not an option, it creates some tension. I guess it takes time to get used to a new lifestyle. In the end the kids had their smorphs (graham cracker, chocolate and roasted marshmallow sandwich) and they did have their oatmeal in the morning and the parents had their wine in the evening and coffee in the morning. Life is good.
The town of Hot Springs was a backpacker paradise. The local grocery store has the widest selection of backpacking food I have ever seen. Powdered mixes in plastic bags. Look almost the same but with different labels: cream of broccoli soup, hot chili stew, camomille tea… I wonder how they made camomille tea into white powder?
It was raining as we went to the tubs. It was in the mid 40s F and I was hoping that the hot springs were indeed hot. The tubs were on stilts again on a walled off platform on the river bank with no wall casing the river. So you could see forest, the river and nothing else. I thought that our children would refuse to take off their clothes but I was wrong. Timofei was the fist in the tub followed by Yelisei. Go figure. The cruel thing is that when they come back to tell you that your time is up they also pull the plug!!!!! And the water starts to drain very very fast! Not only do we have to dress ourselves, but we have to dress our children as well. That was the fastest we dressed in history…
Now we had to change our plans because of the heavy rain in South Carolina. So we are going to Georgia and the kids are starting to ask every ten minutes are we there yet?
Waking up in Shenandoah valley was refreshing. Though it was cold, it was energizing also. We drove for an hour to a Virginia ski resort where we planned to go to a water park. Our kids were asking to go to one since last summer when we went to one in Russia in St Petersburg. They loved going down the water slides and we enjoyed the saunas. At first I was surprised how similar those waterparks were. It was a very similar construction, the structures and the slides were all the same in Russia and Virginia. The price was different – $20 in Russia and $140 in Virginia. There was no saunas and the hottest tub was only 98F so it was not warm enough even for the kids to get warm. On every corner there was a life guard who told everyone not to do anything fun! You could not even go together with your 3 year old on a somewhat tall slide, but were supposed to go first and catch them at the bottom. After only one hour our kids were freezing but there was one tub that had water over 100F – except you had to be over 18 to be allowed in there. So we had to leave, because we were also hungry. You can not eat your own food in there, but their cafe only had french fries and other deep fried goods that we usually don’t eat. Both kids were screaming and shivering and starving. We all had a blast though! We had lunch in the parking lot instead. And then we were off to the North Carolina town of Hot Springs.
We started the drive at 2:30 pm and arrived by 7:30pm. It was mostly uneventful. We switched drivers once and the last 20 minutes Yelisei was screaming “I can not wait any longer” for no reason in particular. I guess it was a long drive for them.
We made a reservation for a cabin and a hot tub at 10 am the next morning. Our cabin was on the river bank on stilts and it was very small. Surprisingly you could sleep 8 people there easily. The stilts and the shape of this cabin were the perfect “bad witch house” (izbushka na kurih nozhkah), so Timofei was jumping on a broomstick and playing the bad witch (baba jaga). Though it was late when we arrived and we were practically in the middle of town, we or I should say I, decided to test our new equipment. We have a new gas lantern and a new double burner stove and a 12 gallon water canister with a spout. I thought since Renzo did not have to put up a tent it would be perfect conditions to do a test run of the new stuff. It was the most frustrating experience! I am used to everything being in the kitchen, easily available and here imagine you dumped all your utensils and plates and pots together with paper towels and rags in one box and all your food in the other. The gasoline stove has very little flame control and the lantern can not be hung and the children are banging their spoons on the table and are demanding marshmallows! All I did was boil water and pour it into instant noodle miso soup and made some tea and hot coco. I felt like I ran a race.
The same experience was for breakfast but with the added benefit of rain and having to set up our kitchen on the bench of our porch so I can cook hunched over. I made oatmeal and coffee for breakfast and by the time I was doing the dishes we were fighting with Renzo, and the children were crying. But that happened on day 3…
We left Friday at 5:30 pm instead of planned 4:00 pm and that was a personal record of leaving on time. We hit almost no traffic as we left the city. A very rare thing as well, since it was Friday rush hour and beginning of spring break. We drove till 11:30 pm and stayed at some cheap hotel in Shenandoah Valley. Our kinds had a blast jumping on the bed singing “5 little monkeys”. Our room was cold and the heater was loud and the blankets were paper thin. I slept with my children, so nobody was rested when we woke up. Renzo was freezing all night and I was waking up at every move of my children. After a granola bar for breakfast, my darling husband found us a very nice coffee shop in Woodstock, VA. It had espresso and a wine shop which are both rare on a road.