Summer ’19, Part I: Wingin’ It

Last summer, we departed Florida with a pretty solid plan: hotels in Charleston and Santa Fe, campsites in Yosemite and Yellowstone, and visits with friends in Oregon and Washington. We had freedom to fill in the blanks, but we had certain milestones to reach to keep us on track.

This year, our plan came together on shorter notice. We only had a couple of solid stops, and lots of freedom in between. We knew we’d visit my dad on day 1 in North Florida, and family in Pittsburgh later. We knew we had to stop in Ocean City, New Jersey mid-month. Other than that, we were wide open.

As we relaxed for two days at my dad’s house in rural North Florida, we pondered our route north to Pittsburgh . The most direct route would take us through Atlanta. With all apologies to Atlanta, it’s where you change planes or attend a conference – not where you vacation – or drive a 5-cylinder camper van that could care less about someone else’s commute.

Pondering the points of interest, we were paralyzed with indecision. The funky town of Asheville beckoned, but we were there last year. Plan B was to go along the coast. The route is less direct, but lined with noteworthy towns – starting with Charleston. Yes, we were in Charleston last summer too, but there was this ice cream sandwich I’ve been thinking of since last year. My in-laws, also happened to be hopping up the inter-coastal by boat and there was a chance we might rendezvous with them somewhere along the way.

What followed was a series of great discoveries, rich in history, some famous, some obscure – and none that were on our radar when we pulled away from our house.

 Several years ago, as we wandered the backroads of Florida’s “Nature Coast” I caught something out of the corner of my eye. “Did I just see a zebra?” The answer was yes. Somewhere near Mayo, Florida (which is known only for once changing its name to Miracle Whip), there is a zebra on a “preserve” where you can kill exotic game – if killing a fenced in, human-fed animal is your thing.

For many, Florida represents palm trees, theme parks and beaches. But that’s not the Florida I found when my family moved from Orange County, California (pop. 2.4 million), to Dowling Park, Florida, which isn’t even a town as much as a place with a flashing yellow light. It’s the deep south – closer to Georgia than to salt water. The main feature is rows and rows of pine trees, with chickens and a few crops mixed in. My time there gave me an appreciation for the kind of country music you don’t hear on the radio and hush puppies.

I spent three years of my life living along the banks of the Suwannee River. I went to Suwannee High School. I worked at Camp Suwannee. No one ever told me that there were RAPIDS nearby. We made a trip to Stephen Foster State Park (way down upon the Swannee River…) and then to Big Shoals State Park. The river was low, so the rapids were not rapid, but it was a cool change from the gentle tea-colored flow. The day-trip was highlighted by a visit to Fat Bellies BBQ. $8.99 for some of the best fried catfish I’ve had (and enough to feed an army). White Springs was Florida’s first resort town where a swimming pavilion was built over the spring. 

We took a nearly identical picture in the same spot at the start of last summer. Monica conquered the Cooper River Bridge on foot again as we made an abbreviated stop in Charleston.

We came upon these things that I’ve never noticed on previous visits to Charleston. They are called “Joggling Boards” and they are benches that are said to have been used in southern “courting” in which a young man and woman would sit on on the board, and the natural motion would bring them scandalously closer together. The explanation was a little fuzzy, and resulted in this:

Which is funnier, when you realize it is really supposed to go like this:


When we returned to our room (at the excellently located and charming Kings Courtyard Inn) I noticed that our 12 volt cooler (aka – our fridge) was acting up. If you read a previous post, you know that I now believe there is nothing I can’t fix. The 12 volt plug started shorting out and eventually stopped working. So I got out my tools:

I spent an hour troubleshooting the stupid plug. One of the wires had unsoldered (that’s a word). I rigged it back in place – to no effect. Ultimately, the fuse – which looked fine – was blown. I probably unsoldered the wire taking it apart. My hourlong fix, was probably a 1 minute fuse change. But hey – it works again – and Monica was impressed. 

After Charleston, we wandered up the coast to Swansboro, NC, near Camp Lejeune. While the ladies of the household took this as an opportunity to stay on my father-in-law’s boat, my son and I boondocked in the boatyard. And I’m still trying to figure out what statement the guy driving this pickup truck is making – with his simulated pile of cash painted on the tailgate. Note the faux wheel-wells. My biggest question is: Will any woman date a man driving this truck? 

We woke up each morning not really knowing where we were going that day. Leaving Swansboro, we weren’t sure when we’d get to Pittsburgh – or if we’d even make it there. We were further east than we planned to be at this point in the trip. What we didn’t know is that the State of Virginia – excuse me – the Commonwealth of Virginia would exert a gravitational pull on our trip.

Coming up next: We find that Plantation life agrees with us. But will we make it to Pittsburgh?

I got a thumbs up from this guy, so I feel like we’re living right.

Follow our Instagram and public Facebook page for updates and pics that don’t make the blog. 

“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at Monica is a marathoner, baker, freelance grant writer, non-profit consultant, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.

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