Alarming Armadillo

The night before last Moxie & I camped in tropical Tomoka State Park, just north of Daytona Beach. It was good to be back on the road and great fun to set up the tent again. But a few hours after I fell asleep, Moxie went berserck... barking, growling, jumping against the screened back of the tent. I quieted her down long enough to hear footsteps outside. They were slow, seemingly deliberate -- not the scurrying I'd associate with a harmless animal.

As I lay wondering what do next (and allowing Moxie to bark!), two men were dispatched from the family tents next door. I heard them talking... look at it! it's huge!... and called out from my tent, too nervous to open the flap. "It's a big armadillo," one of them called out. And I still didn't know if we should go back to sleep or run for our lives. Fortunately my Treo was in the tent with us and a quick Google revealed there was nothing to fear. Armadillos are primarily insectivores that will feast on flesh only if they're lucky enough to stumble upon something already dead (which fortunately we were not). The men chased it away and we went back to sleep. My only regret is missing the chance to see a huge armadillo myself.

Yesterday we explored St. Augustine's historic downtown area, then hung a west. Whereas the drive up the coast from Tomoka to St. Augustine was beautiful in a beachy way, the journey westward was beautiful in a green way. The rolling scenery of farms and forests made it feel like driving through Pennsylvania... except with palm trees. We set up camp last night at Suwannee River State Park, which claims to represent "the Real Florida." I'm not sure what makes it more legit than the rest of the state, but it's a nice place. We'll do some hiking before pushing off today.

Tonight we're looking forward to meeting up with family in Tallahassee, where we plan to spend a night or two. Then it's off to Pensacola and beyond. Please note the destinations list that I've added on the right side of the page. I'm hoping it will inspire you to offer tips about these places, or other ones nearby. (I'm also working on enabling a way to comment directly on that list about specific places... stay tuned.) Some of our best experiences so far have been based on such insider tips!


Passing by Jupiter

It turns out the place to be if you're a dog in South Florida is Jupiter Beach. Dogs play in the surf with their humans there -- and Moxie joined the fun today. Her towel etiquette leaves something to be desired, though. We'll work on that.

Tonight finds us at a campsite north of Daytona Beach. Yes, I'm blogging from my tent.


Flashing Back

We're fired up to resume traveling today. But before we do, here's an update on the internet-starved days leading up to our arrival in Lake Worth. Also, this is the launch of my new star rating system. From here on out, I'll rate each place I visit with between 0 and 5 stars based on its "livability" for Moxie and me. 0 stars means it's definitely not a place we'd like to call home. But if a place gets 5 stars I'll start looking for a lease.

Charleston, SC
This city really is as beautiful as everyone says it is. I didn't get any decent pictures due to the steady rain that fell as we walked through the historic downtown, but I took plenty in my mind. There's something so statuesque, so graceful about the houses here. It's easy to imagine the town in its antebellum heyday, ladies in girdles and hoop skirts adorning the porches. (And enslaved Africans waiting on them, but who wants to imagine that?)

At the suggestion of a sales clerk at a surf shop in Carolina Beach, we detoured from Charleston to Folly Beach. What a fortuitous turn! The tiny town borders a long, dog-friendly beach where we played ball along the water before dropping in at the Lost Dog Café for lunch. Our waitress there treated Moxie to plenty of pets and biscuits and me to a tasty salad of spinach and strawberries while we chatted with a nice couple of Canadians.

While lovely historic Charleston isn't the kind of place one lives in (at least not before making one's first million), a suburb like Folly Beach has potential.

Savannah, GA
Savannah disappointed us, but it really wasn't her fault.Unlike Charleston, Savannah feels like a real city complete with... traffic. So far Moxie's herding instinct manifests itself uniquely but forcefully with moving cars, so it's very difficult take a peaceful walk with them zooming about. We did enjoy a walk along the water and posing with the statue of the waving woman and her dog, though. We also lounged about a city park that was overflowing with blooming azaleas. And of course, Moxie made new friends.

[While a big city with beautiful flowers has appeal, we just aren't cut out for southern summer heat.]

St. Simon's Island, GA
Three cheers for serendipity! Feeling directionless, I decided to follow a tip in my guidebook and visit this somewhat remote island. Free of Savannah's bustle, it retained the southern lush beauty -- Spanish-moss-strung palm fronds overhead and azaleas around the feet. We stopped at a pet boutique to pick up some fresh kibble and a tip for dog-friendly lodging, then walked and walked to enjoy such a beautiful place. At the Sea Gate Inn we lounged in oceanfront luxury and awoke to an awe-inspiring sunrise.

[The summers would surely be too hot here too, but we'd return in a heartbeat for a vacation retreat.]

How I Almost Lost $20.08
Continuing on the next day, we struggled with a string of booked-solid campgrounds and no-dogs-allowed beaches before landing at a bland motel off the interstate. But then our luck seemed to change the following day when we stumbled on an inland campground with vacancy.

It was early in the day when we set up camp, leaving plenty of time to pitch the tent and let Ocracoke's dew evaporate while Moxie chewed a bone and I read and wrote. Before we'd booked the site, I'd given Moxie a drink in the campground parking lot and thought nothing of it when a red car pulled up and paused near us. But a couple of hours later the same car pulled up in front of our campsite, then inched into the driveway of the site next to ours. I hurried toward the car, motioning "stop" with my hands to alert the driver to my clear tarp drying in that driveway's sun. An older fellow, he stopped, rolled down his window and said, "I won't go any further. I just want to watch you. You're beautiful." Foolish in my discomfort, I said, "thanks" and walked away. When he didn't leave (and Moxie chewed her bone under the picnic table, oblivious), I walked the short distance to the camp office. "Back at 1," a sign in the window said. My watch read 11:30. The red car pulled away.

I worried and wrote and worried some more. I called the local sheriff's office, hoping that if I recited the red car's registration someone would tell me, Oh, that's our crazy old man. He's kooky but harmless. No such luck. I decided to wait until the manager's return at 1 before deciding what to do. But then the red car came back. He drove by slowly, then left again. The tent was back in the car by the time the manager returned and kindly reimbursed my $20.08 in site and firewood fees. Moxie & I spent that night off the Interstate in a Motel 6 with no broadband.


Party Animal

It's a dog's life here in Key West, with chickens to chase by day and bars to hop by night. Moxie napped during our tour of Hemingway's house, but she didn't miss Sloppy Joe's, where Papa notoriously spent his evenings.

Today we're headed back north to Lake Worth to enjoy a few more days of Florida sun and fun with W and Penny.


Keys That Please

We arrived at cousin W's house in southern Florida on Saturday after a frustrating few internet-starved days. W's pooch Penny, a beagle, accepted Moxie graciously in spite of her energetic puppy ways. We've enjoyed lots walks through beautiful neighborhoods ripe with new treats like coconut shells to chew on and lizards to chase.

The four of us piled into the Subaru and drove down to Key West today. I like to think Moxie found it fun to have a canine friend with her in the backseat. By the end of the ride Penny had joined Moxie in her bed and the two were sound asleep against each other.

W & I had trouble finding accommodations here and discussed giving up and driving back north tonight. Resort towns like this one are generally packed right now due to spring break and dog-friendly lodgings here are sparse. After driving around and asking lots of people for advice, though, we finally found our perfect spot: a guest house in the heart of town that openly accepts well-loved dogs (as opposed to those who are neglected for days on end while their owners play without them). Our room is perfect: two twin beds, dark hardwood floors and walls, simply lovely white trim and furniture. (It's at the charming Casa 325 guest house, in case anyone out there is planning a visit.) We're considering staying on an additional night.

W's waiting for me... We're going out on the town with our pooches tonight! We're told that despite the lodging difficulty, this town is really quite "doggie," as my grandmother would have said, welcoming canines at most outdoor restaurants and bars.


Ferry On

Moxie & I have ridden four ferries in the past three days. (That's a ferry for every month of her new life!) On the first ride, she quickly found safe haven under a bench. But by ferry number four she acted like an old sea dog, heading straight for the front where the restraining net was conveniently sized to accommodate her head. I half expected her to bark out "I'm king of the world!"

It's been a lovely ride down the coast of the Carolinas. I can't say I ever considered the coastline between the Outer Banks and Florida. Perhaps that's why I'm so surprised. Carolina Beach State Park, where we stopped for a hike yesterday, impressed me especially. The visitors center and campgrounds appear to be immaculately maintained, and the ecosystems within the park range from beach to forest. We hiked through both, lollygagging to enjoy the wonders of the shoreline. (Note the tiny crab just below and left of center in the picture.) This would be a great spot to camp for a few days on our way back up the coast.

We pulled into Myrtle Beach after dark last night, having read that lodging prices there plummet in the off-season. Sure enough, for $33 we crashed at the Sea Banks Motor Inn on the Strand, across Ocean Boulevard from the beach. The Sea Banks reminded me of a motel in the movies -- the kind in which people do hard drugs and get shot. The outdoor common areas were carpeted in blue astroturf (a la Boise State) and the rooms all shared long balconies. The furnishings were sparse but clean, and the staff couldn't have been friendlier. The other guests were friendly, too... Here's a snippet from a conversation I had with a neighbor:

room 222: Where are you from?
me: Not really anywhere, just traveling.
room 222: Me, too. But I used to be from North Carolina. I came down here with my wife. Guess I'll leave without her.
me: Oh---
room 222: That was three years ago.
room 222: But that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Was this some kind of cosmic warning about dwelling in the grief of a breakup? (No, well-meaning friends, he wasn't my type. And that's all I'll say about that!) One final note about Myrtle Beach: with the disclaimer that I only saw it in the dark (we lifted parking brake at 0600), it surely doesn't seem as bad as everyone says it is. I wouldn't mind coming back for a weekend sometime.

Now we're at a Starbucks just a few miles north of Charleston. Moxie is angelically working a rawhide chew at my feet and I'm basking in the luxury of a caramel macchiato and modern technology. (The internet here is fast and strong, just the way I like it.) I'm not sure how far we'll get today. We'll definitely spend a few hours exploring Charleston, which receives only the highest marks from everyone I ask. The outdoor market and Folly Beach are on our list. And then, either today or tomorrow, on to Savannah!


On the Outer Banks

Moxie & I spent last night in a tent on Hatteras Island. That was a major breakthrough -- now that we know we can camp we don't have to be quite so reliant on hotels. However, the downside of tents is the lack of internet access... I'm now typing from a computer terminal in a surf shop on Ocracoke Island! (Sorry about the lack of pictures! I'll update later when I can use my own machine.)

We haven't decided yet if we'll camp out on Ocracoke for the night or push on. It's pretty deserted here. Not even the Ocracoke Coffee Company is open! (Don't the locals drink coffee?!!) But the island is tranquil as ever. Something about this place is just so lulling.


On the Road Again

Moxie & I pushed off around noontime today and put in some 250 miles to end up on Virginia's Eastern Shore. We couldn't have asked for a prettier day to do just about anything... temperatures apparently soared into the high seventies in suburban DC and an electronic sign in breezy Ocean City registered 64 degrees. What a great day to introduce this puppy to the Atlantic coast!

We stopped in Ocean City with hopes of playing on the beach and roaming a deserted boardwalk, then crashing in town for the night. But among the hundreds of hotels and motels in that gauds-ville, only a half dozen accept dogs according to the local Chamber of Commerce. We called or visited three of them. The first one is closed until April, the second could only offer a smoking room, and the third wanted what seemed like too dear a price for a far-flung location. (This last one also stipulated that a guest dog must weigh less than 25 pounds. Moxie weighed in at 25.1 pounds at yesterday's vet appointment!) So we opted to push on in search of room at a more dog-friendly inn.

We did park and enjoy the sights before leaving, though. Moxie seemed overwhelmed by all the new on the beach. Sand underfoot, crashing waves, salty water, screaming seagulls... all required urgent sniffing/watching/tasting/barking. A kite that looked like a black shark merited a particularly ferocious response -- barking and lunging toward it as if it were some attacking bird of prey. The boardwalk, too, provided much entertainment for my puppy. All the people and dogs to greet and sniff... a day in paradise for Miss Mox.

Geographically speaking, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia is quite lovely. The land lies low and flat, and today many fields were a bright shade of spring green. Houses lining the highways are Tara-like in their stately statures -- lots of pillars and porches. While Virginia's part of the peninsula would be an unfortunate place to be a chicken -- we passed sprawling complexes of both Tyson and Perdue -- it seems a lovely place to live as a person. But besides those poultry plants, there wasn't much evidence of an employment market. I did grab a local newspaper in the hotel lobby... the Eastern Shore Post touts itself as the only locally-owned rag. I don't think the climate here would work for Moxie & I in the long-term, though. With each day she seems to favor cold weather more clearly. And I'm no fan of southern summertime's hot humidity.

Tomorrow we'll aim for North Carolina's Outer Banks. If we can find acceptable (read: cheap with fast internet) lodging, we may spend a few days there. Please share your suggestions!


Our Ports are Safe with Moxie

We zipped east to Baltimore to visit C in Fell's Point on Saturday. The windchill was brutal, but we enjoyed exploring the historic port neighborhood just the same. C's new house really wowed us. Like many in her neighborhood, she has a roof deck! We think she should have a 4th of July party there to take full advantage of the free fireworks in the harbor. (Hint! Hint!)

Moxie charmed her way through this city, as usual... C was an easy sell, having once loved a border collie herself. But from the bums to the cute coffee shop guy to the transvestite dog walker, everyone whose path we crossed can now call Moxie a friend. That's just the kind of dog she is!