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  • Writer's pictureMiranda

Swamp, Ships, Sand, Space, Surf & Sun

The month of December was a count down to coming home for Christmas. Those 20 days added to our adventure in new ways and provided a shot of vitamin D in the form of sunshine.

Charleston, SC, was our first destination. We shopped the historic Market and took a carriage ride through a neighborhood of homes and churches dating back to the start of American history.

The next day we drove two hours west to the Congaree National Park. The description in the National Park book was less than illustrious, describing the park as a "mosquito infested swamp". Thankfully the "mosquito meter" at the Visitor Center read "none". It was an unseasonably warm, sunny 75 degree day. But the prior week had dipped below freezing many nights, so the mosquitos were dormant. The snakes and alligators were also already in hibernation as well. This made us much less nervous as we began a six-mile canoe trip through the Park. The guided adventure took us both with and then against the slow current of the South Cedar Creek, a fork of the Congaree River. Ben and Mal buddied-up, Kate and I were partners, while Chuck and our guide Bill were paddling solo.

The water level was very low, about 10 feet below flood stage in the spring. This made the trees, snags (dead trees) and knees (stump-like growths that emerge from the roots of the Cyprus trees) harder to navigate around. Unless you are Ben and Mal who saw these as obstacles to be over come with ramming speed. After about two hours we stopped for a picnic on the shore. As we were getting ready to paddle upstream Ben and Mal, often our lead canoe, spotted a raccoon caught in a trap on the opposite shore.

Bill our guide decided to take a closer look and see if he could free the adolescent animal. He was able to unhook the chain from the trap but the raccoon's leg couldn't be freed. However, survival instinct had nearly gotten the job done with just a small part of the bone needing to be severed. After a call to the local animal rescue, an attempt to transport him in canoe, and knowledge that we were deep in the National Park; we decided to let nature take its course. We left the little fella with our last pieces of salami for nourishment and free to move about. Back at the Park headquarters Kate was sworn in as a Junior Ranger and we explored the 2.5-mile boardwalk that wound through the various landscapes of the Congaree.

The next morning we went to Patriots Point to learn about and develop a greater appreciation for our veterans. What we thought would be a few hours in the morning turned into nearly an entire day. The Vietnam Exhibit included a video and recreated base camp complete with sounds, tents and equipment. Then, we toured the USS Laffey Destroyer. This ship was similar to the destroyer Chuck's dad Dan served on in the Navy. An impressive ship, but looked tiny in comparison to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier docked next to it. A private captain's tour of this ship was significant to our family history as Chuck's Grandpa Jacobson served on it for four years during WWII. Later that afternoon, we drove to the Angel Tree in John's Island for a quick selfie at a spot that appeared in the TV series Outer Banks and then enjoyed an early dinner at Stono Farm Market & Tomato Shed. Ending the day with a sunset 3-mile walk along a boardwalk in Stono County Park.

Although there was much more of Charleston to explore we hit the road the next morning for Georgia. We discovered that if we wanted to visit the Florida Keys it needed to happen before Christmas. So, we trimmed a few days off each of our upcoming stays to gain a week. The roads were foggy for the first hour as we happened to drive along an evacuation route to higher ground. The signage we saw along the route was so unique to us, but life essential to those that live near the coast.

We arrived at the KOA in Kingsland, GA, to find that the pool heater was broken, but that didn't stop our kids from jumping in! We enjoyed a spaghetti dinner, watched the Vikings loose in the last 4 seconds, played UNO, and read Luke chapter 5. We were reading a chapter of Luke each evening in December so by Christmas Eve we will have read about the life of Christ.

Based on a recommendation from the local KOA staff we changed our plan from visiting a National Seashore to exploring Jekyll Island. It was amazing! We found dozens of sand dollars on a hard sand beach. A few miles further, we drove down a road draped with Spanish moss trees to a beach full of driftwood trees and tide pools for finding creatures from the underwater world. We enjoyed a picnic dinner, volleyball, paddle ball, collected sand dollars, and waded out on a sandbar during low tide. As we were leaving the island at dusk we drove through a community light display and ended with an outdoor Christmas movie back at the RV.

The next day the morning was dedicated to work, school and getting an oil change and errands done. After such an amazing day at Jekyll Island we were disappointed in the town of St. Mary's and nearby state park so we ended our exploring early and returned to pack-up. Girls did dishes. Chuck and Ben loaded the trailer and bikes. And all enjoyed a campfire dinner of pizza pockets and brats.

Heading south, we crossed the Florida Georgia line traveling to a KOA in Mims, FL, near Cape Canaveral. The kids bailed out of the RV in their swim suits before we finished checking in. It was 80 degrees and sunny. Sweaty and hot after setting up the site for about an hour, Chuck and I joined the kids at the pool. We had a full evening to kill as we were staying up late for a rocket launch at 1am. So we...ate a chicken stir fry dinner, listened intently to story time proofing our blog post for November, did school work, watched movies, and had quiet personal time. Finally it was midnight!

We climbed into the Explorer with freeze dried fruit, like the astronauts eat, for a short drive to a viewing spot Chuck had scoped out earlier in the day. However, when we arrived the park was gated shut at both entrances. But, we discovered people standing on a nearby bridge. So we joined 100 other people on the long bridge, with mullet fish jumping below, for the perfect spot to view the Space X Falcon 9 Rocket launch from the ground into space. Minutes after the launch, we were walking back to the car and spotted raccoons climbing the palm trees in the parking lot.

We have decided raccoons are the mascot for our adventure.

We slept in the next morning and then booked lessons with the Ron Jon Surf School on Cocoa Beach at noon. This announcement got Kate and Ben up and out of bed quickly! Mal and I soaked up the sun while Chuck and the kids learned how to read the waves, timing for paddling and then rising to stand at the right moment to ride the crest. I left the family for a nearby library to work while they passed on their skills to Mallory and rode the waves all afternoon. I picked them up at sunset and we visited the largest Ron Jon Surf Shop for some Christmas shopping before returning to the campground for hot dogs and brats over the campfire.

The next afternoon we all went back to the beach for more surfing and sun! This time we were a little further north near the Cocoa Beach Pier which had showers, bathrooms and surf board rentals. The ocean was active with other surfers and swimmers, sting rays leaping out of the water, and dolphins surfacing nearby. We ended this beautiful day with smash burgers and a family game back at the RV.

Saturday was a full day at the Kennedy Space Center. This was the first place marked on our atlas as we planned our adventure. Kate had come from school with a small post-it note excited to ask if we could visit this place in Florida that she had learned about. Ten months later; tours, movies, exhibits, and simulations taught us about the history and future of space exploration.

Sunday morning we made a course change as we headed south, cancelling our Harvest Host and instead driving all the way to the Keys. When we left Mims, FL, our GPS was showing almost two hours of time saved due to light traffic if we kept driving. After a call to the campground to confirm we could arrive a day early we decided to bend one of our rules: Put in park before dark.

We arrived just after sunset, to find a beautiful oasis. The description online had disclosed that the campground was still under-construction following Hurricane Irma four years earlier, but I had confirmed that the pool was open. The kids took off to check out the pool as we set-up, returning within minutes to put on their suits! Palm trees, hammocks, a 20-person hot tub, large pool, and bar was the center point of the campground. Lucky for us, not many others enjoyed an evening swim and soak so this space became virtually our own every evening until they kicked us out at closing time (9-10pm).

We were staying in the lower keys about 17 miles south of the 7-mile bridge in Summerland Key. The forecast all week was highs in the mid 80s and a low of 75 degrees. No rain, but wind each day that prevented us from snorkeling or fishing. When we weren't doing school or work you could find us either at the beach or pool. We witnessed a sunrise and a sunset. Made a visit to Key West at the end of Highway 1 visiting the southern most point marker and Mallory Square. Fishing and family games of bocce and bags provided breaks from the water. Chickens and lizards we expected to see and did, but the no-see-um bugs were fierce at sunset each evening.

When we left the Keys the kids could hardly wait to start packing for the trip home for Christmas. When we began planning this adventure 10 months earlier, home for Christmas was on the "Must Have" list.

A stay at a Harvest Host that night was the perfect time to pack as there wasn't anything else to do after the sunset. After we picked out our spot in the field, we went for a bike ride in an area neighborhood that had large Miami Vice style homes with small chihuahua guard dogs. Along the way, we bought fresh fruit and veggies from local farmers markets for dinner. We also enjoyed the Latin influence of horses pulling chariot like carts down the bike trail and roads and music playing at a local establishment.

However, there wasn't much sleep that night. Not due to anticipation for getting home, but due to the heat. It was 75 degrees, humid and we had no power to run A/C. So the windows stayed open just in case a breeze should blow. Our seven freezer packs were being rotated to cool down. The music played until closing time at 2am and then at 4am the roosters began crowing. At 7:30am we hit the road with the air conditioner on high and rain pouring down!

On our way from Miami Beach to a KOA in Orlando we passed our 8th vehicle since we left on September 10. It is a rare occasion that Harvey the RV gets to pass a vehicle with a steady 57 MPH pace, unless of course we are climbing elevation then the pace slows to 35-40 MPH.

Upon arrival, a dip in the pool and finalizing more packing and departure plans brought us to the realization that one more suit case was needed. So Chuck and Ben went out to the local thrift shops in search. Kate loved the bag they returned with claiming it as her own and repacking her items into it.

Our final day was dedicated to school, work, cleaning, finding homes for the few food items that weren't going to be eaten, laundry, and securing all spaces from critters and moisture. We ended the evening with a late night spilling of milk on one of the beds, so one more load of laundry at midnight was needed. Like we always say, accidents happen... But nothing could dampen the anticipation of family, friends, snow, and Christmas.

We were blessed with safe travels home, time with those we love, and all the things that we had hoped for including a newly licensed driver as we celebrated Mallory's sixteenth birthday.

Our adventure continues in January as we return to Florida. There is still so much to experience. Although we have four more months, it is also sad that our time is already half over.


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Feb 14, 2022

Hope things are going awesome for you all! I know it is not the priority to publish new stories but it would make the endless days of below zero temps more tolerable if I could live vicariously through your family adventures in warmer places. I love what you are doing and hope you are having the time of your lives.


Alaina Bundy
Alaina Bundy
Jan 24, 2022

It was so good to see you (so briefly!) at Christmas! I love reading your posts. What an amazing experience you are having, and such wonderful memories your family will have forever!


Jan 17, 2022

Thoughts on the pic of Chuck surfing…..hmmmmm Word Work or Surfing????? What to pick what yo pick????

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