And Now for Something Completely Different: Nick and Greg Make Goofy Faces

Truth be told, that’s been the same story between those two for a long time. Greg is the reigning king of goofiness, and Nicholas is a devoted acolyte. What I mean by ‘completely different’ is that I’m going to have an interlude of a couple non-Florida posts before we pick up that story again.

So with pride and joy I bring you:


I think I asked them to ‘look tough’ for this one, though one can never be sure:


Tomorrow: Nick can do goofy just fine on his own.

Florida: Overseas Railroad


When you want to go to Key West these days, you hop in your car in, say, Miami and you drive about four hours. But back at the end of the 19th century, things were a little different. No cars, obviously. But there was no Miami yet, either. And Key West, which was the biggest city in Florida at the time, was a way station between the sugar cane plantations of Cuba and ports of call on the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.

The story of how Henry Flagler built the Overseas Railroad from Miami, a city his company founded, all the way to Key West is better told elsewhere, so I can’t do it justice here. (I would suggest anybody interested in the topic take a look at Last Train to Paradise by Les Standifort. If it’s not the definitive telling of the story, it’s darned close.)

What I can say is that to look at the crumbling ruins of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, as you can do at Bahia Honda, is to gain a new appreciation for a bygone day when swagger and grit could almost – almost – overcome Mother Nature.



One of my very favorite parts of the story is that when the state of Florida finally decided to convert the railroad into a highway, they simply built the road on top of the railroad bridges, and tore up the rails to make guardrails for the roadway. In the case of the Bahia Honda bridge, they built that road on top of railroad trestles. That roadbed is still there, and visible from the one end you can access, though the main bridge is not in such good shape now:


The engineer in me was very impressed with the whole thing.

Happy weekend!

Florida: Kayaking at Bahia Honda


The water at Bahia Honda was shallow for hundreds of yards/meters out from the shoreline, and there was virtually no wave action at all on the water. So we rented a double kayak for a couple hours to mess around in the water.


Here are my kids looking like they are being photographed for a Land’s End catalog:



Friday: The Overseas Railroad.

Florida: Bahia Honda State Park

If you’re in Florida at the end of December, and the weather is warm enough, you really must go to the beach. We can all agree on that, right?


Our campground, the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, was located in the Lower Keys about 30 miles (50 km) north/east of Key West, the end of the road. Just above Big Pine Key is Bahia Honda (said “buy a Honda” or “ba-HEE-uh Honda” depending on who you ask) State Park. The weather was beautiful. The beach was small but lovely. The water was a little cold, but hey – wouldn’t it have been a little colder in Cape May?





Tomorrow: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Florida: Robert Is Here


We stopped in Tampa to link up with some old and dear friends of ours, who would go on with us to the Keys. We spent one night in Tampa and then set out on the 28th for the Keys.

One of the great virtues of traveling with another family is that you get to move everybody around between two cars. Chelsea and our friend Ginger split off to the other car, taking Maria, Anna, and Maria’s best girlfriend McKinley with them. In our van I had the big teenagers – Nick, Alan, and our friend Catie.

The route from Tampa to the Keys is pretty simple – you head south until you can’t head south no more (at the Everglades), turn east, hit the coast, turn south. Easy peasy. Along the way, though, is a real treat – a one-of-a-kind fruit stand near Homestead, Florida, called Robert Is Here.


Six-year-old Robert started selling his dad’s cucumber crop on this corner in 1959. More than 50 years later, he’s still out there, and in the meantime the place has grown into a local empire.


The main attraction at this place is fruit milkshakes – which are exactly what you would imagine. I got one with oranges, Nick got one with strawberries. They were delicious, though the strawberry one had all the seeds in it. Nick wasn’t such a big fan of a milkshake that gets stuck in your teeth.


Ginger had put us on to the spot, and because we got separated along the way, our two cars stopped there about half an hour apart. Night was falling over South Florida, so we would end up driving down through the Keys in absolute darkness. We set up our camper and tents in the dark – nothing new there – and waited for the first light of morning.

We would not be disappointed.


In the Key of Florida: How We Started


We started driving south on Christmas night. After an early dinner with the Kings, we put in about six hours of driving, which got us as far as Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Traffic was surprisingly heavy that night, but never slow.

In the morning, we woke to gray skies over Carolina and a heavy, wind-driven rain. (This rain would later fall as snow in Philadelphia.) It was about to become a long day, and a longer drive than we had imagined.

We learned on this trip that driving with the camper in the wintertime is different from the summertime in some important ways.

First is the weather – much likely to have an all-day disruption. If you think about it, storms in the summer tend to be intense but brief, or slow and steady. Winter brings both slow and intense. That was our lot as we trudged across the Piedmont.

Second is daylight – there’s a lot less of it in the winter, as you know if you’ve ever tried to get a suntan by sitting outside in January. The difference between July and December around us is about 5-6 hours of daylight, if you can believe it. Driving the camper at night takes more concentration and requires me to slow down for safety and visibility.

Finally, wind. Winter storms on the East Coast usually come with a chaser of west-to-east wind. When you’re driving north or south, that means a crosswind. Our van and camper together have as much surface area as a small sailboat, and they’re about as responsive to a stiff breeze.

All of this to say: We can (and did) drive safely. Getting the job done meant slowing down. I’ve since concluded that the right daily distance in the winter will be about 500 miles (800 km) as opposed to our summertime max of 700-800 miles (1,100-1,300 km).

Long story short, though we had originally planned to power through to Tampa on the 26th, we stopped for the night in Jacksonville to get some rest and allow a few more hours for the back end of the storm to pass. The rain stopped by Lumberton, North Carolina, but the wind was with us all day and all evening.

The morning of the 27th broke cold and bright in Jacksonville, with temperatures an un-Florida-like 34F/2C when we left the hotel. Everybody slept in the van while I finished out the last few hours of driving into Tampa.

Tomorrow: Robert Is Here, and so are we.

On the Road Again

Next week we will start looking at the big trip in detail. For now, I want to share this one thing – our exchange student Alan, who came along with us on the trip, had never been to Florida before, and had also never been camping before. So it was a big trip of ‘firsts’ for him, and also a fun opportunity for us to see an experience we’ve had before through new eyes. I got such a kick out of his reaction to arriving in the warmth of South Florida – he was clearly a happy boy:


Happy weekend to all!

Christmas Presents: Give Gramps Toys

Gramps is a fount of wisdom for our family. He has the first and last word on Christmas gifts: “Good things come in big packages.” In recent years we have seen that the Sperger paterfamilias is still very much a kid at heart. For instance, he likes getting his own coloring book and crayons when we’re out at a restaurant. And on Christmas day, the way to Gramps’ heart is with toys. I’m not sure if this gift actually qualifies as a toy – it’s a kind of massager to keep your skin healthy – but it’s plastic and colorful, and you can see it got the attention of the Kings’ dog:


We’ve scaled back as a family on the gift extravaganza in recent years, since the kids are all a bit older and it’s a different vibe these days. Even so, you can never go wrong giving Grampsie a toy, at any age.

Christmas Dinner at the Kings’

With our trailer in tow, and our hearts full of Christmas cheer, we drove down to visit our cousins, the Kings, who were hosting Christmas dinner. The kids all get on famously with each other – as do the adults, for that matter – so we had a grand time.






Thanks again to the Kings for hosting!

Christmas: Ready to Go

Between our two big Christmas celebrations on the day itself, we also had to spend a little time getting ready for our road trip to the Keys. I always enjoy the sight of the camper hooked up to the van, sitting outside our house and waiting for another adventure to begin:


Anna was helping me get the trailer ready, and since it was in Christmas and we were about to hit the road for a big trip, she was in a playful mood:


I like this one the most… she looks like Amelia Earhart:


We were only a few hours away from Christmas dinner, and the start of a very long drive.