Monday, April 18, 2016

Florida Road Trip 2016 // The Everglades

 When I was planning this trip I didn't give The Everglades a second thought until I was asking Jasper what he wanted to do while we were down there. He wanted to take an airboat ride. I had never heard of an airboat before, but it sounded kinda fun, and it wasn't too expensive, so we added it to the list of things to do.

We were warned by some locals about the "boring" drive from Tampa to the Keys (around five hours), but our path took us through the Everglades, which boasted some pretty scenery and lots to take in for a couple Midwesterners. We decided to stop at a random airboat tour stop - they are everywhere down there - and we couldn't have asked for a better time for forty dollars ($20 each).

The coolest part for me was seeing the wild alligators. Guys, gators are pretty cool. I've seen them before, but never in their natural habitat, and never this close! I was surprised how much they looked like small dinosaurs with those little ridges down their backs. Also, their little legs are so cute. (Cute, but able to run and swim quite fast!) I was also impressed by how still they can sit. I thought some of them weren't even real before they slithered away from us into the swamp.
Just a lil' guy. He was SO. CUTE.
This gator is over fifty years old! He likes to hang around the docks mid-swamp.
Now I have to tell you a story. At the end of our tour I noticed a gator sitting over by a house on the river. It had been there before we left, too. I pointed it out to Jasper. The tour guide noticed me pointing and said, "That's Spike. Do you guys want to see Spike?" Well heck yeah we did. We walked over to the side of the river while our guide proceeded to call this gator over like a dog. "Spike, come here, boy! Come here, Spike!" The gator remained motionless for a few seconds before slowly getting up and wading into the water. He swam over, hopped up on the river bank, and opened his mouth. We could hardly believe it, it was a bit crazy. I will definitely never forget that moment, though. The pictures below are of Spike!

Monday, April 11, 2016

road trip tips // my hygiene essentials and how to pack them

Over the past couple of years I've taken a few road trips (and lived on the road in my van!), but it wasn't until my last trip that I finally figured out how exactly to pack my personal hygiene items. I found this plastic box thrifting, and I immediately knew I had solved my problems. (Now, I am trying pretty hard to not buy plastic things brand new (and in general), but I figured buying this used box wouldn't be so bad, considering I'm planning on using it pretty much for the rest of my life.) It is PERFECT for van life (and road trips in general) because it's easy to put my hands on, it holds everything I need all together, and if something breaks or spills it's contained inside the box and will be easy to clean up.
On the road, similar to my life at home, I like to attempt to be as green as possible. Pretty much all of my toiletries and such are all natural, and they're almost all homemade. Here's a list of my must-haves on the road. What are yours?

1. COSMETIC BAG // Used for small things such as lip balm, nail clippers, and any makeup.
2. OVERNIGHT FACIAL OIL (homemade) // A non-greasy moisturizing oil used before bed.
4. ROSE WATER // A mild toner, I use this before applying facial oil at night, and to refresh my face throughout the day if needed.
5. ROSE FRESHENER (all natural and homemade) // Can be used to mildly cleanse and deodorize "down there" (only topically, ladies) if showers are few and far between. 
6. TEA TREE ESSENTIAL OIL // Antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic (among many other things), and can be applied directly to the skin without diluting.
7. SMALL TIN BOXES // I reuse my old Altoids tins to store items such as bobby pins, floss, lip balm, band-aids, and hair elastics.
8. HAND SANITIZER (all natural and homemade) // Can also be used as a spray-on deodorant.
9. TOOTHBRUSH // This company, Preserve, makes their toothbrushes from recycled yogurt cups (razors with replaceable blades, too!)!
10.  PERFUME OIL // I use Jasmine essential oil (blended with jojoba oil) as a perfume on my skin and in my hair.
11. LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OIL // The most versatile of essential oils, this can be used to remedy practically anything (not including vehicle trouble, unfortunately, haha). It can also be used directly on the skin without diluting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Key West road trip 2016 // the trip where things went wrong

The drive from Door County, Wisconsin, to Tampa, Florida (our first destination) is about twenty two hours. It took us two days to get there, where we stayed the night at Jasper's parent's condo. The next morning we had a manatee snorkel tour booked at six in the morning out of Crystal River, which is almost an hour north, so we woke up after a few hours of sleep and hit the road again. The manatee tour, which I'm sure I'll write a separate post about later, was amazing, and one of the best experiences of my life. Afterwards I remember saying to Jasper (because it became so ironic later), "I am just so happy right now, in this moment. Everything is perfect." (I probably jinxed everything good job, me.)

The next stop we made I noticed something dripping from underneath the front end of the van. We drove back to the condo and tried to find a garage to check out the leak (which was SO frustrating and difficult because it was a Sunday, and lots of places are closed that day). I had our trip planned out on a timeline and this was screwing everything way up, so I was a bit edgy as we drove the van over to a Tire Kingdom to have them take a look.

Four hours later we had a diagnosis - there was a leak in the motor oil pan. At first this didn't sound so bad (but then again, I know absolutely noting about vehicles and how they work), but then over the next day we learned that there was so much rust up there that it was making the labor quite intense. The head mechanic said to us "I wouldn't stick any money into this van," which basically means he thought we should scrap it pretty much right then and there.
At this point I was beside myself. Not only was our trip way effed up, we were looking at a huge repair that would cost upwards of $500, and the van might not even make it back to Wisconsin. This might be hard for some people to understand, but this van is MY BABY. I count my decision to buy it one of the greatest things I've done in my life, and I have put so much love into her that hearing these terrible things had me reeling. I actually broke down and cried in front of the receptionist at the repair shop, it was not chill at all.

I decided that, no matter what, I had to get Trixy back to Wisconsin. I was in no mental state to even fathom trading her in and picking out a new vehicle under pressure in the short amount of time we had in Florida before we had to be back to work. We ended up taking her to a different shop for a second opinion where the mechanic told us he could patch the oil pan, which would probably be enough of a repair to get us back home. We also had some work done on the breaks which had started to vibrate on the drive south, and the tires replaced, as some scary cracks had developed in our old ones during the trip. This mechanic would do all the work for about $750, where the other shop estimated the parts and labor to be double that amount. Obviously, we took the cheaper option.
I, in my hyper stressed and emotional state, wanted to scrap the rest of the trip to the Keys right there. I thought we should save what money we could and stay where we were until we could drive the van home. Jasper, on the other hand, knew how much I had been looking forward to the rest of the trip, so he offered to rent a car and drive to the Keys while the van was being fixed. Eventually I agreed, and we hit the road in a snappy little red Ford Focus.

We hit Sanibel Island for a night and morning, cruised through Everglades, finally made it to the Keys for a few days, and then headed back to Tampa to wait for the van.

Though I was trying to so hard to get away and onto our adventure at the beginning of the trip, the last days in Florida we spent at the condo were by far the best and most relaxing. We had no more tour deadlines, and there were hardly the crowds we faced in the Keys. We finally got to swim in the gulf at Madeira Beach, and then once again on Honeymoon Island. We spent quality time with Jasper's parents. We breathed a little.
Waiting for parts we needed for the repair took longer than expected so we had to call work and have two more of our shifts covered. (Though I guess when you're stranded it's not so bad to be in sunny Florida!) When the van was finally ready, we wasted no time getting on the road again. The drive home always seems to take so long, especially when you're driving into cold weather. 

Trixy made it home without a problem. She's sitting in the driveway right now, still waiting to be unpacked. We haven't thought about repairs or trade-ins, we are just trying to readjust to normal everyday life again after that whirlwind trip.
These first few days of the road trip after the manatee tour were pretty terrible. Jasper and I argued a lot over what we should do about the van, and I was hyper emotional at every turn. Looking back, however, I realize we were quite lucky for several reasons. We had not broken down while driving. We were in a location where we knew family that helped us by letting us stay as long as we needed, and by driving their vehicle when needed.  Though it was hard not to feel helpless and trapped, the support system we had was pretty amazing. We went completely over budget with the maintenance on the van, the rental car, and two nights in very expensive hotels, but we were prepared for an emergency so we tried to make the most of our time. 

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on my adventures with the manatees, our trip through the Everglades, and the Hemingway House in Key West (there will be cats)!
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