Road Trip to Florida: Highs and Lows

road trip

The past few weeks have been vacation time for hubby and I, on a road trip to Florida. The first step involved renting a car as our 2009 Toyota Sienna would most likely not survive the trip. If you have tried to purchase a new vehicle recently, you will know what I mean when I say it’s not as simple as it used to be. With our Florida destination booked for three weeks we decided to wing the rest, ie stop when we were tired.

We have experienced a few hiccups along the way but nothing insurmountable. So far.

Thanksgiving (US) Weekend

When I planned this trip, I did not realize we were leaving Canada the day before the four day Thanksgiving weekend in the USA. Apparently most Americans travel that weekend. This became obvious as soon as we crossed the border…the highways were packed!

road trip

GPS

The Ford Escape (we love it BTW and it’s similar in size to what we are hoping to purchase in a Toyota product) we rented included an onboard GPS system. Although hubby is (still) more of a map guy, he grudgingly admits to liking the commands to “turn right now!” I must say, he listens to her voice better than he does to mine. We did get lost in Fredericksburg Virginia looking for our first hotel though. The hotel clerk excused the GPS though blaming the confusion on a recent road name change.

Then I panicked when I thought I saw our turnoff near Jacksonville and told hubby to take a different exit than what the GPS said, only to get stuck in construction traffic.

Since that mistake, we have both learned to trust the GPS to guide us to restaurants, beaches, and tourist spots here in the Nokomis area of Florida.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Our second night we reached Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. A slight mix-up with Expedia on our reservations made using McDonald’s Wi-Fi (they booked us for two rooms for one night, instead of one room for two nights) was efficiently handled by that hotel clerk. So efficiently we ended up with a significant discount. Who doesn’t love a discount, especially when travelling?

Hilton Head Island is a gorgeous vacation paradise on the Atlantic coast. I cannot believe we have have never stopped there before but know we will again. It was cool and cloudy with a threat of rain the day we spent there but the beach was spectacular; our favourite kind of beach that stretches for miles.

road trip

Red Tide

Our road trip to Florida continued after Hilton Head, arriving at our final destination on Casey Key, located on the gulf coast, twenty minutes south of Sarasota, the next day. Unfortunately, we had not heard that Red Tide had also made an appearance a month earlier, and was still hanging around like an unwelcome house guest. Luckily for us it had (for the most part) moved on by the end of our first week.

In the meantime we became beach hoppers, searching for red tide-free beaches to walk. I did develop a sinus infection that developed into a hacking (covid negative) dry cough, mostly just when sleeping. It just meant lots of take out instead on enjoying the ambiance at local restaurants.

Self Professed Beach Bums

We are definitely beach lovers. Our routine here develops quickly. In the morning we walk as far as we can one way down the shoreline, (approximately three hours) past the massive, gorgeous homes. Stephen King and Rosie O’Donnell own homes down there (the north end of Casey Key) and Oprah used to.

In the afternoon we make the shorter trek (two hours) the other way, past Nokomis beach, to the north jetty. Watching the dolphins frolic there is a favourite pastime. During the stormy weather several dolphins were surfing the waves just beyond the human surfers that gathered there to enjoy the massive waves. Even the surfers stopped to watch the better-than-SeaWorld show. If only I was quicker with my camera! I caught one of the playful dolphins on a video, see it at the ten second mark.

The sunsets along this shoreline of Casey Key in Nokomis Florida are also spectacular!

road trip

Following the sunset, we would head back to our rental unit for a shower, then go out to dinner (or bring back take out) Our favourite restaurants here include Paya Thai Curry for pineapple chicken or the chicken avocado salad from Mi Pueblo, both restaurants are located on the 41 bypass in Venice, Florida. Paradise Grill in Nokomis offered daily cocktail specials, happy hour and early bird dinner specials. And, Pops’ Sunset Grill was just a short walk away, on the other side of the drawbridge.

Family Visits

A favourite part of this Florida road trip was the fact that one of our sons and his family flew down for twelve days. Having two of our six grandchildren (and their parents, of course) for at least part of the trip was an added bonus. In fact, I’ve decided if I ever win the lottery, I will rent a big house down here where we all could be beach bums together. It would have to be a big house to fit all thirteen of us at once!

Elton John wrote Your Song with those (similar) lyrics:

I don’t have much money, but boy if I did, I’d buy(rent) a big house where we both (all) could live (stay)

Elton John

Weather

The weather has been unusually warm and sunny for this time of year on this road trip to Florida.

Other years we have not been so fortunate. Cooler and wetter weather is forecast this coming weekend though, just in time for our departure.

One storm moved through the area two days before we had to leave with lots of big waves and winds but the temperature is still warm and thankfully we saw no sign of a tornado.

Bugs in Florida

For some reason, we have both have more bug bites this visit to Florida. Researching the reason why lead me to Tuxedo Mosquito Control which lists five foods that attract mosquitoes:

  • beer
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • salty foods
  • sugary foods

This list made lots of sense since I had been snacking on bananas and guacamole on the long trip down to Florida. I don’t drink beer, but I admit vacation food has much more salt and sugar in in than my usual diet at home. Since I laid off the bananas I have noticed less mosquito bites.

Now to figure out the no see ums and chiggers. Apparently the lush vegetation around the VRBO property we rented attracts both of these tiny biting buggers. They are the reason most Florida residents have screened in porches AKA lanais attached to their homes. Unfortunately, our rental does not!

I’ll be Home for Christmas

Like that song says, we will be home well before Christmas and this road trip will be a memory in the rear view mirror. Although local residents here try to decorate for the holidays and plan a boat parade, a wintery white Christmas is for me!

We also managed to fit in some Christmas shopping in the evenings, including a specific ornament for our newest grandbaby was born last March. I had purchased four of these gorgeous stockings on our last visit here, right after our fourth grandchild was born. My sister had to mail me one from Texas due to the travel bans of Covid when our youngest grandson was born in April of 2020.

road trip

The cold front promised by weather forecasters has arrived, time to head north. Hopefully our road trip back to Canada will be uneventful!

Red Tide Devastates Florida Gulf Beaches

red tide

Florida’s gulf beaches are (slowly) recovering from a devastating bloom of algae that both experts and locals refer to as red tide. Although this phenomenon has been around for years, rearing its ugly head in late summer or early fall, many insist it was more deadly than ever these past few months after hurricane Ian ravaged the same coastline.

What is Red Tide?

National Ocean Service refers to red tide as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The problem arises when this microscopic, naturally occurring, algae called Karenia Brevis rages out of control, spewing toxins into the water and air, killing fish and other water inhabitants. The airborne toxins cause respiratory concerns in humans such as coughing, burning nose and eyes.

This particular algae bloom is red in colour, which, when combined with the blue-green of clean ocean water, creates a grotesque, purplish-brown, sludge-like appearance. (think red paint added to green or blue paint) The ugly colour of the water and the carnage of dead, stinky sea life on the shores made the typically beautiful gulf coast beaches not so beautiful.

What Causes Red Tide

There are several theories on what causes Karenia Brevis to bloom out of control. The most plausible (due to the fact that this is occurring on an increasingly regular basis) blames human-generated pollution. The Mississippi River runs from north to south through many of the united states, collecting garbage, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers, and more, dumping it all into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf currents moving north along the Texas shore gather pollutants, sweeping them across the gulf and south up the Florida coast. The algae feeds on this pollution, causing the outbreaks. In turn, the fish killed by the toxins the algae blooms release are left to rot on the shorelines. The tide then carries the rotting fish back into the water to refuel the expanding algae bloom.

The severity of this recent red tide outbreak is being blamed by some on hurricane Ian that destroyed many communities along the Florida gulf with heavy winds and flooding a few months ago. Many of the resorts and homes along the coast use septic systems which overflow under such extensive flooding. As a result, sewage and other algae fueling debris ended up in the gulf.

Getting Red Tide Under Control

Mother Nature does her part attempting to get the situation under control. The ebb and flow of tides, huge waves, constant currents, storms, and human clean-up teams all help to break up the algae bloom. Vultures and smaller birds do their part too, congregating to feast on the rotting flesh of the dead fish and crabs.

Fortunately for my vacation plans, Mother Nature appears to be winning the battle. We had to turn back on our first beach walk when my burning nose and eyes felt like I was sniffing hot peppers! Every day since has been better and now I am happy to report that the pristine beauty of our favourite, swim-in-the ocean-in-December beach is back!