Leaving Florida: Old Storms and New Storms

Park Just Reopened

Torreya State Park in Bristol, Florida had just reopened after Hurricane Michael’s damage six months ago. Bruce had been back-country backpacking here over 25 years ago and wanted to see it again on our way out of Florida April 17th.

The park is named for the rare and endangered Florida nutmeg trees (Torreya taxifolia) endemic to the local east bank of the Apalachicola River’s limestone bluffs. The park is just inland from Mexico Beach where the eye of Hurricane Michael hit last October. Analysis was just completed as I write this which upgraded Hurricane Michael to the strongest rating, a Category 5! 

The trails in the park remain 90% closed and the lush forest trees were still broken like matchsticks. It did open up the view of the Apalachicola River a bit more but in a sad way. The sites are surprisingly close together on a forested hill.

We explored the remnants of trails the first day and felt the forest mourning its broken trees. Floodways cut into the steep trails like river washes in the sandy mud. Bruce found the area unrecognizable from the dense forest he remembered.

First Time in Tornado Land

That first night, a storm front moved in. The ranger told us in his slow southern drawl, “You know, a storm is coming in. If you hear what sounds like a freight train, it’s time to go to the bathroom for cover ‘cause there aren’t any trains anywhere near here!” I woke up at 1:30 am just a minute after the storm watch was quietly updated to include a tornado watch

I consulted our weather app and was surprised at my awareness to wake up just then. It was confusing being on the line between Eastern and Central Time, our devices mostly switched over to central time but signs in the park warn that we are still in Eastern Time. There was a difference between our AT&T and Verizon device times making it even worse! Whatever time it was, I have never been in a tornado watch. I did some quick tornado research (of course) and checked outside which was oddly lit despite it being the middle of the night. Being on the hilltop, there was no flooding danger so I traded in my hyper-alert ‘flood lady’ persona for a new ‘tornado lady’ persona. I packed up the laptop, added our passports and a few things to my ‘go-bag’ and wondered what would happen as I watched the storm howling through the remaining trees. Deciding whether to pull in the slides and hoping all the campers wouldn’t have to crowd into the tiny bath house together – it would be standing room only! 

The storm was upgraded from a tornado watch to a warning at 6:00 am when Bruce got up to the sound of our weather apps chiming alerts on every device. I was already up. The wind was strong and rocking the RV and it pushed rain up under the slide toppers (the small awnings over the slide-out rooms help reduce debris when they are retracted). The slides themselves are water tight but there must be a weak seal somewhere, because there was some water dripping from a light fixture. We pulled the slides in and dried off the water, adding one more thing to the repair list – slide seals!

As quickly as the storm reared up, it ended, mostly. We cleaned up, opened the slides and went out exploring.

Gregory House

The storm let up just in time for a ranger-led tour of Gregory House, a beautiful plantation house that overlooks the Apalachicola River in the park. It was originally built on the other side of the river on an elevated platform in event of river flooding. The house was donated to the park, disassembled and moved to it’s current location in the park in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps “CCC”. The house had beautiful antiques on display, some of which were from the original home. There is a CCC bunkhouse building that is now the park office with a common room for games and relaxation for campers.

Florida Panhandle Still Rebuilding

Following the tour, we went into Bristol for lunch, groceries and Jeep fuel but had to expand our visit across the Apalachicola River to Blountstown to complete all of our stops. The river divides the Central and Eastern time zones.

Some signs to a Pioneer Village in Blountstown took us on an unexpected adventure. The storm had interrupted the village’s annual fundraising rummage sale so they were still stowing items under the large porch. The cute little settlement buildings were still closed after Hurricane Michael and are awaiting completion of roof repairs.  Suddenly, the sky darkened again and rain started pouring as were were walking around in the village so we dashed back to the car.

Even 6 months after the hurricane, there were still tarps on many roofs in town, including historic buildings. Piles of debris and mangled metal buildings were everywhere. RVs seemed to be used as temporary housing next to ruined houses. Some of the side roads looked like a sandy river bottom, rather than a road.

We enjoyed a nice meal at the Sandbar Grille although we were chilled from getting caught in the rain again. Headed to Piggly Wiggly for groceries but we had to backtrack to get wine at the liquor store (rules, rules, rules) and then again for fuel. Not knowing our surroundings is always a challenge with RV life but changing between Eastern and Central time zones multiple times left us feeling a little loopy. We couldn’t tell what time it really was until we got back to our analog clock in the RV – in Eastern Time!

We didn’t try the Sugarland Shines moonshine but I got a kick out of the names: Preshow Punch, Appalachian Sippin’ Cream (Eggnog Cream or Butter Pecan Cream flavors), Peppermint Moonshine, Tickles Dynamite Cinnamon Moonshine.

Staying a minimum of 3 nights seems to be a great pace. We were refreshed and ready to continue our journey West and North. Next up, Mississippi.

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