Monday, June 28, 2010

A Four Minute Tour

It's been another hot and humid week here in White Springs, FL, the place of our current stay at Kelly's RV Park located along the banks of the historic Suwannee River. There has been more rain, mostly in the form of heavy thunderstorms blanketing the area late afternoons and early evenings. The rains brought a nice break to the heat for short periods, swelled the Spanish moss that is everywhere you look and, unfortunately, also created an increase of Deer flies that can bite off chunks of your skin large enough to draw blood. Welcome to Florida in the Summer.

On Wednesday of last week we decided to unhook the power and sewer lines, roll in the awning and drive our trusty RV Howie (House On Wheels Is Excellent) through White Springs. We saw a very small portion of the North side of town during our stay at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park about a year ago, but had not yet spent time exploring the original "Historic District". During our walks into the South end (always in the early morning hours), we only get as far as the closest Gas mart before we have to head back home to beat the oppressive heat. As it turned out, it would have been quicker to see the town by foot as opposed to the time it took for us to unhook and then set things back up after our return. The entire drive, from the town limits going South to North, took a grand total of four minutes.

According to the latest figures, the population of White Springs is 829. It may be small, but the town is beautifully kept, has a very "Old Florida" atmosphere and is filled with stately, turn-of-the-century Southern Victorian homes featuring large, wrap-around front porches. The business community is comprised of four Gas marts (two are owned by the same company), a bar-b-que restaurant, a small flower/gift shop, a bed 'n breakfast, the historic Telford hotel/restaurant (pictured above in its early years), a garage that seems to specialize in beat-up stock cars, an "old-fashioned" hardware/feed store that hosts a monthly swap meet, a small auto supply store and a Dollar General store that the locals refer to as the White Springs Mall. The center of town consists of four old storefronts that appear to be circa 1900 (now empty) and a rusted-out, tin-sided cotton gin/grist mill circa 1930. Today, most of the town's economy is supported by visitors to the Stephen Foster and Big Shoals State Parks, surrounding rural residents and people traveling along highway U.S 41 between Jasper to the North and Lake City to the Southeast.

Yet, for as small and rural as the town may appear to people as they pass through, this area has a fascinating history.

The banks of the Suwannee River around White Sulphur Springs have been a place of refuge and restoration for its visitors and residents for centuries. To this day, evidence in the form of shards of pottery, hunting and cooking tools and even weapons are found in places where the early visitors to the region spent their time.
Timucuan Indians were living on the banks of the Suwannee River at White Springs when the Spanish explorers came to what is now North Florida in the 1530s. The Suwannee River formed the boundary between the Timucuans on the east and the Apalachees on the west, and even then it was considered special, and historic.

White Sulphur Springs was considered to be a sacred healing ground and warring tribes could come to bathe in and drink the mineral waters here while putting aside their disagreements.

In 1835, Bryant and Elizabeth Sheffield bought land for a plantation in the Suwannee River valley region, including the spring and most of what is now the Town of White Springs. Mr. Sheffield's testimonials about the good effects the sulfurous spring water had on his health brought others to the ancient healing place who were in need of relief from rheumatism, kidney trouble, nervousness, and other ailments.

Sheffield built a log hotel beside the spring to provide lodging for the visitors, and Florida's first tourist attraction was in business. A log house surrounded the spring until 1903, when Minnie Mosher Jackson built the concrete and coquina wall (still standing) along with a four-tiered structure that included treatment rooms, a concession area, and an elevator. (Pictured above.) Admission was 25 cents and ladies were permitted to bathe without stockings: a bawdy atmosphere for the times!

Because of this one business, White Springs was once a premier destination for thousands of people each year from throughout the world. In the late 1800s, there were 14 luxury hotels (only the Telford remains standing) and many more boarding houses to accommodate the visitors who came by special excursion train to enjoy the river, the spring, and the climate. There was a bowling alley, a skating rink, moving picture shows, and boutiques filled with the latest fashions in gowns and hats. The town incorporated in 1885, and soon provided its citizens with waterworks, sidewalks, and a night watchman.

It was surprising to learn that the mineral spa remained in operation until the mid-1970's. But by that time people were more interested in visiting the Mouse in Orlando and, unfortunately, the underground springs that supplied billions of gallons of fresh water a year to the spa began to run dry. With the increase of agricultural development and a demand for more water to be diverted to Central Florida, most of the springs that once fed into the Suwannee have slowly disappeared.

While the town of White Springs may not have the excitements of larger cities, it still has a lot to offer. It's peaceful, surrounded by beautiful natural areas and comprised of people who are genuinely friendly. If you're passing through, don't blink or you'll miss everything. But better yet, stop for a little while and enjoy the atmosphere. There are very few places like this left in Florida.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photo by Deb

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Sunned In

It's been over a week of very hot, humid weather during our current stay here at Kelly's RV Park in White Springs, Florida. Would like to say that we have continued to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the historic Suwanee River, but by mid-morning it's just too frigging hot to be outside for any length of time. We're not alone in suffering through this because I am hearing via friends on Facebook of similar conditions in the Carolinas. Nice to know others are sharing the same malaise that comes with these conditions, but it doesn't take away the feeling of being in a state of cabin-fever. We spend most of our days inside, with the air-conditioning cranked to high, and emerge around 5 P.M. for a little time outdoors.

Down here that is known as being Sunned In; it's the Northern equivalent of being Snowed In, but still consists of the same feelings of being cooped-up too long inside because of atmospheric limitations upon the aging human body. Call me a wimp. I know there were days before A/C when people lived here, worked here, carried on happy, productive lives and never complained about the heat. Good for them. I'm proud of those old Florida Crackers and the mark they left on society, but give me cool air anytime over sweating my hiney off all day.

When I first moved to South Florida over ten years ago all of the locals warned me about being Sunned In. Of course, being from the the frigid climes of Northern Indiana, I couldn't get enough of the sun. For the first time in years I was bone-deep warm, tanned like a Caribbean native and basking in the glory of the tropical atmosphere. "Watch out", they said, "the sun down here will strip the hide off an alligator." Right, I thought, and continued to bask in the heat like a Sunday roast awaiting the family gathering after a rousing sermon. At the time, I really didn't care and wasn't paying attention to the good advise.

Then about a year later I did pay attention. I looked upon the elderly people in the grocery store who, in the midst of August heat, wore hats, long-sleeved shirts and jeans and covered their already cancerous noses in heavy sunscreen lotion or nose guards. I began to feel the draining effects upon my body of constant sun exposure. I began paying attention to the daily UV index reports and really began to understand that the sun, down here, has to be respected.

The problem down here is not with the heat and humidity, it's with the UV levels. Once you cross the border into Florida there is a rapid increase of the sun's intensity. Most days, during the summer months, the UV index is 10+; that translates to less than 8 minutes burn-time on the human skin. For about three months out of the year this area will "Strip the hide off an alligator." I know. Been there. Felt it, and decided it was better in the long-run to be Sunned In rather than become a poster-child for the American Cancer Society.

It was always a source of great amusement for Deb & I when we managed the resort in Hollywood, FL to deal with people from the Northern states who decided to book stays during June, July, August and September. Our pool and sun-deck were on the roof with no real escape from the elements. Yet, they would come to the front-desk on scorching days and say things like, "Wow, why is it so HOT here!"

At first we tried to do the professional thing and assure them it would cool by sundown. And then, after being tired of idiots who decided to book cheaper rooms, cheaper flights and didn't realize they were traveling to the sub-tropics in Summer (yes folks, that means closer to the equator and more heat in case you were asleep in Biology class) we got clever with our responses: Little snide remarks like, "Oh, I forgot to put the protective bubble over the roof this morning". Or, "I'm sorry sir, the broiler setting for the roof wasn't supposed to go on until after you left". Sometimes they got the sarcasm and other times the sun had already fried their brains beyond caring.

So for now we will stay Sunned In, enjoy the blessings of that marvelous invention called the air-conditioner and avoid the direct sun. Stay cool, stay happy and we'll update you later on our journey.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Local Color

During our travels we always try to find local newspapers to get a better feeling for the areas in which we stay. Many of them have provided insights into regional norms we would not have known otherwise and, in a few cases, brought us a lot of laughs.

While shopping last week in White Springs we picked up a copy of the Lake City News Advertiser; a free weekly offering classified ads from throughout the greater Suwannee Valley area.

The Suwannee Valley runs approximately from Live Oak, which is 20 miles to our West, to the general area of Lake City located 12 miles to our East. This part of Florida is still very rural, very agricultural and a popular destination for hunters and fishermen. Given the largely undeveloped nature of the local land, we weren't surprised to find a lot of ads offering services for bush-hogging, tree trimming, land clearing, culvert placements and trenching. However, there we some that made us say, "Well, that's something you don't see everywhere".

Here are a few of them:

- For whatever reason, there are numerous ads offering M-16 Bayonets with scabbard for $35 or 10 for $300.

- This is one of the only places where we have seen an ad offering a Male Donkey for $200 or will trade for Jenny or mare.

- Fresh or smoked Mullet can be easily purchased with a 2 lbs. minimum order.

- Many ads are seeking help for a petition drive to stop Columbia County from forcing residents to connect to electrical utilities. The county passed a resolution on the matter earlier this year. It appears there are hundreds of residents who feel they just don't need electricity and, most importantly, find the resolution to be another example of governmental interference on private properties. (So far, they have collected over 3,000 signatures.)

- This is also a good area to find wild hogs; all sizes and willing to make a deal on prices.

- Of the many people offering to haul away scrap-metal of any kind at no charge, the most clever is someone who advertises in bold letters I Buy Rust. This one caught my attention because my immediate thought was that if there's a local market for rust, it would be a quick way to make easy money.

- On the flip side of clever advertising, I had to wonder about the tree service called Hazardous Tree Trimming. I hope they're referring to removing rotted or dead trees endangering buildings and not to the possible mishaps in their work. I'd strongly suggest they rename the company.

- The one that really caught our attention was a very large ad promoting a fundraiser called Undies For Sundaes being held this coming Saturday at a Lutheran church in Lake City. It features a drawing of various types of underwear hanging on a clothesline and promotes a "FREE Ice Cream Sundae for One New Pair of Undies!" The weird thing is that nowhere in the ad does it say what the undies will be used for. I'm hoping it's a charity drive to help needy families, but if it's not that's one strange sect I want to stay away from.

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Wonderful Year

On the first of this month, Deb and I celebrated our one-year anniversary of being full-time RVers. In looking back on how many places we have been and all the wonderful things we have experienced (see previous posts), it's amazing how fast the time passed. It seems like it was just yesterday that we departed Hollywood, FL with no previous experience in this lifestyle and no set goals except to enjoy whatever the journey brought our way. So far, the journey has been nothing short of incredible.

During our extended stay in Taylors, SC over the past Winter, we began referring to our first year on the road as the East Coast Tour 2009. We slowly made our way North from S. Florida until our stop in the Boston, MA area in late September. From there we headed West into Indiana and then back South until our current stay here in White Springs, FL. Overall, we travelled through fifteen states and stayed at fifteen different places in less than ten months. As I've shared in the previous posts, the things we have seen and the people we met brought us unexpected blessings beyond compare. If someone were to ask me how I would describe the past 365 days, there's only one phrase that comes to mind - "Wow, what an awesome ride!"

Along the way we have also learned many things about the full-time RV lifestyle and about each other. We now see we were naive when we first set out about travel times, cooking in a smaller kitchen and not thoroughly researching the truths about some of the places we stayed. We have learned that less really can mean more and have always kept to the advise we were given of taking something out if something new comes into our house-on-wheels. We have adapted to constantly being around each other in a small space and have learned it really is true in this lifestyle that you can't just simply love each other, you really have to like each other.

Perhaps the most important thing we learned is to slow down. We kept up a very hectic pace for most of last year in order to spend time with our children, my grandson, my parents and be as far South as possible before cold weather arrived. During some of that time, the pace wore us out and took away opportunities to really get to better know the places and local people where we stayed. Although our time in Taylors was longer than anticipated due to my mother's heart problems, it provided a blessing in keeping us in one place long enough to realize that we don't have to go everywhere and see everything as soon as possible. We have the rest of our lives to continue this journey, so why push the pace and miss out on so much along the way?

In keeping with the spirit of slowing down, we have decided to call this next stage in our journey the Year Of Doing Nothing 2010. Of course, we will be doing the basic, daily routines that are required, but have decided to make no definite plans on travel until we feel like moving on. We'll go where we want, only when we want and do nothing about living by definitive routes or timetables. If we find a really nice place like Kelly's RV Park here in White Springs, we'll stay to enjoy the area and people until we both agree we're ready for a change. This slower pace may not be suitable to other full-time Rvers, but for right now it's working for us.

The only sure thing I do know is that I can't wait to see what this next year brings our way!

copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer
photos by Deb

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