Sunday, August 18, 2019

Michael's plunder

August 18, 2019—I have lived in Florida since April 1998. Throughout those 21 years, the only hurricane I personally experienced was Irene, in 1999. A category 1 storm, its winds were a “mild” 75 mph, but brought with it torrential rainfall.

I remember lying in bed, talking on the phone to a family member, as the eye of the hurricane went directly over Palm Beach Gardens, where I was living. As the wind and rain died down, I finally lost electricity for a short time. My small yard was prone to flooding, but I had taken the precaution of placing sandbags around the doors. I had no damage from this mild ‘cane.

Two years ago, Jacksonville had a brush with Hurricane Irma, a category 4 storm, with winds up to 130 mph. St. Augustine, about 30 miles to the south and located directly on the water, received the brunt of the storm, and parts of Jacksonville were thoroughly flooded because of surges from the river and extraordinary high tides. I think we lost electricity for perhaps an hour or so, and we had no damage, not even branches down.

We have been lucky.

The residents in Mexico Beach, Fla., a small beach community that sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico in the Hidden Coast of Florida, were not so lucky last year. Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, literally wiped out the entire town. Few buildings on the coast were left unscathed.

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Mexico Beach, Fla., after Hurrican Michael. Photo credit: Herald-Mail Media.

For the last several days, Jim and I have been vacationing at Grayton Beach State Park, about 60 miles west of Mexico Beach. We decided to return to Jacksonville via the “scenic route” (U.S. 98), which partially hugs the coast and goes through Mexico Beach. We wanted to see for ourselves the havoc that Hurricane Michael wrought on the area. (Mind you, where we were staying, there had been virtually no hurricane damage from that storm.)

As we approached Panama City Beach (about 37 miles from the state park), we began to see signs of storm destruction, with roofs and sides of buildings torn off. It wasn’t unusual to see blue tarps covering leaky roofs. I tried to capture some of the devastation on my cell phone's camera as we drove. (It was a rainy day.)

 Toward Tyndall AFB (after Panama City Beach), we witnessed the might of the storm: We saw a couple of hangars at the air base that were just shells; their roofs were gone, along with sides of buildings. Down the road, forests of pine trees stood with bare limbs and few needles on their branches. Those trees reminded Jim of the time when he survived a category 5 hurricane in Jamaica. He said that the palm fronds had whipped around so violently that they lost their green color.

Another mile or so east of Tyndall AFB, we began to see a strange phenomenon: pine trees snapped in half. The really strange thing was that all of the trees were snapped like straws at essentially the same height, and all of them had been snapped by winds blowing out of the south. However, a little farther down the road, we saw the same situation—snapped trees—but these trees had been broken by winds coming out of the north! Obviously, Michael’s gales came from all directions.

We finally reached Mexico Beach. We were disappointed that we could not go downtown, because the road was barricaded. I suspect that downtown buildings were either being razed and/or the road was being rebuilt. As we detoured inland, we could see fewer buildings in disrepair, but blue tarps were still very prevalent. And back on the highway, where there used to be condos and houses, now stand vacant lots.

All along the beach, there used to be houses and condos. No more.


We continued to see devastation for a few miles east of Mexico Beach, but then it suddenly stopped. It was as if the hurricane had never existed.

This condo building, one of several in the complex, is empty, cordoned off as it gets repaired...maybe.

Our hearts go out to those who are trying to recover from Michael’s wrath.

So far, this year we have not had any hurricanes hit Florida. Let’s hope our luck stays with us.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Our last night at Grayton Beach

August 17, 2019—All good things must come to an end. This is our last night at Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa, Fla. It was a good vacation.

Fishing? Well, no “big-uns” but we took home, over the course of three days fishing at the pier, 29 croakers and whiting. Not a bad haul, and a delicious one at that. These little fish fry up “real good.”

Although, like any other angler, we would like to pull in black drum and redfish, when you are fishing from a pier or shore, you have to go for what comes by. If you are not in a boat, wishful thinking will not lure the fish to you. We have learned that when the big ones are not biting, but the little ones are, go for the little ones. Instead of consistently losing bait placed on big hooks (for big fish), switch to little hooks and catch little fish. That’s what we have been doing, and we’re having a great time. We will catch big fish in the future.

Something else we have learned—how to pack our truck. In our last outing, we forgot the rod holders for surf fishing. (We left them home.) We had also left some equipment under the truck camper because we had unloaded everything when we had arrived.

Not this time. This time, we packed the fishing equipment to be on the bottom of the pile in the back seat of the truck. The camping chairs and tented canopy were the last items in, and the first (and only) items we had to take out. The fishing gear stayed in the truck, so we always had everything we needed with us. We’re learning…
We are rank amateurs, little more than novices, in this angling business. But today we felt like pros. As we were setting up our gear, a young (40ish) couple and their pre-teen daughter came over to us and started asking us about the fish they were catching. They didn’t know the species (we didn’t either, when we first started) and were concerned that they had “legal” fish. They said it was their first time out—ever. We identified their catch and shared our limited angling expertise, which improved their first fishing expedition. They were grateful for our help.

We are all packed. Tomorrow morning all we have to do (after coffee, of course) is put the camper on the truck and leave. We are considering taking the coastal route that will take us through Mexico Beach, the community that was literally wiped out by the hurricane last year. If we do, I’ll post some photos.

Right now my task is a tasty one: I am going to cook up a number of those delicious croakers for dinner tonight.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Friday, August 16, 2019


August 16, 2019--This is an addendum to my earlier blog:

When we were at the beach this morning, sitting in the shade of the umbrella and drying off from a dip in the Gulf, Jim spotted some dolphins.

It is not unusual to see dolphins, whether you are at the beach, one of the many rivers that empty into the Gulf or the Atlantic, or at a bay. But it is rare to see what we saw today: dolphins frolicking the the sea, jumping high into the air, as if they were performing at Sea World! I don't know if they were entertaining themselves or us, but it was spectacular to view.

Of course, by the time I took out my camera, they had stopped playing. Just my luck. So, I have no photos to post. You only have my word that we did, indeed, see a pod of dolphins having fun at the beach.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer


Beautiful clear water, but no fish

August 16, 2019—We decided to surf fish today. It was a rare day in which the warm water was an emerald green in the shallows and deep blue past the sand bars. Aside from seaweed, the water was crystal clear. Usually, clear water means good surf fishing, but not today. All Jim caught was a tiny little jack crevalle. I don't think we even had any other bites!
Jim caught only one puny jack crevalle! He let it go to grow up.

We had fun any way, and although the temperature was in the mid 90s, our umbrella and a sea breeze kept us comfortable.

The camera did not do justice to the color of the Gulf. It was a beautiful emerald green in the shallows, juxtaposed against the deep blue where the water deepened.

We were amazed, however, at the thoughtlessness of beach goers.

As anglers, we are considerate; we walk down the beach away from any bathers. We would not want anyone to become entangled in our lines or caught by a hook. However, we weren’t fishing very long, however, when a group of teenagers (I think it was some type of church or community group) led by a man jumped into the water with boogie boards. They were very near our lines. We finally got their attention and all but one (stubborn) girl relocated away from the lines. (She finally got out of the water.)

An hour later, a mother with her two young kids walked by us and plopped down about 10 yards from us and decided that was a good place to play in the waves. They were oblivious that the current and wave action were slowly taking our lines in their direction.

We decided to give up. The fish weren’t biting anyway…why get in a hassle with swimmers?

We reeled in the lines and decided to take a dip ourselves. It was the first time in probably seven or eight years that I have swum in the sea. The last time was when either my son or my daughter and their family were visiting. Wave-hopping isn’t my favorite pastime, but we had great fun anyway.
We went home, rested, and we are going back to the pier on the bay later. The last two days we have fished off the pier and have caught some croakers—not many, but enough for dinner. Maybe we will add to their number before I cook tonight.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hot, hot, hot! A last summer vacation

August 14, 2019—On the go again, this time at Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa, Fla., which is in the Florida Panhandle, about midway between Panama City and Pensacola. We arrived yesterday afternoon, after about a five-hour drive from Jacksonville.

The drive was uneventful—until we decided to get fuel in Marianna. We pulled into a Murphy Express Station by a Walmart. The station was very busy; we had to wait a bit to get to a diesel pump. After filling up with diesel, Jim pulled out and patiently waited to exit the station. Finally, we turned out of the station and headed for a Hardee’s, about three miles up the road, for lunch.

Below the reflection of Jim's legs (he was taking a photo of the damage), you can see the small scratch our camper made on the car. Ouch!

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Hardee’s, a car pulled up next to us, and the driver (nicely) confronted Jim: Jim had inadvertently sideswiped his car when he had pulled out of the gas station. Our truck and camper are big and heavy; we never felt the scratch occur. We know what happened, however. The long “legs” of the camper stick out a bit from the body of the camper and the truck. Apparently, the truck pulled up too close to the much smaller car and the bottom of the leg scraped the car.

Stuff happens. This was one of those instances. Jim reported the accident to the insurance company, and right now, we are waiting for an adjuster to come out and look at our truck and camper, despite the fact that there was no damage to our vehicle(s), a fact we repeatedly assured the adjuster.
Waiting for the adjuster is making us postpone our first day of fishing—not a real tragedy, because the heat index is 106 degrees. We hope that when we are by the water’s edge it will be cooler.

This is a nice state park, which has access to the Gulf as well as a briny lake. We are also near a bay. The park is outstanding for two things: First, we have internet! Yea! The last couple of state-park stays have found us “stranded” without access to the outside world, except for nightly news on a network station. Second, we have sewers! Being able to hook up sewer lines is really nice. We took a shower in our camper for the first time.

Our campsite at Grayton Beach State Park--complete with electric, water, and sewers!
It is actually too hot to use our tented canopy but we put it up anyway. 

On the downside, however, the park has no fishing facilities—no piers, no cleaning stations—a disappointment. We can fish from the shore of the Gulf as well as the lake, but it would be nice if there were a pier. Also, the park is far enough away from both Panama City and Pensacola that we are unable to get any network or PBS television stations, only a couple of local stations. We aren’t big TV watchers, so that is not a big deal, but it would be nice to watch the news. (We keep forgetting to contact DirecTV to ask if it is possible to take our satellite box with us and use it in the camper. Our camper actually has a satellite dish built into it!)

Enough for now. Wish us luck when we fish. I hope the fish aren’t as lethargic as we feel in the heat.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Back home again...

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