It's absolutely crucial that I get a lot of sleep and if I don't sleep well, I can't just go on with my day anyway. And I can't deviate from my sleep schedule without consequences. Not only is there a three hour time difference between the West and East Coasts, but the wedding was scheduled to start four hours before I normally woke up. There was no way I could just show up in Florida, power through a couple days of getting up early to reset my clock and then be fine. I knew one of the most important things I would need to do was to shift my sleep schedule over to being in line with Eastern Time. So over the course of two months, I took my nighttime medicine half an hour earlier each week. That meant that in the weeks just before the trip I barely saw my parents at all because I was going to bed right when they came home from work, but it was a huge success in terms of being able to adjust to the three hour time difference without wreaking havoc on my migraines.
Food was another important factor. Florida is a lousy place in general to be a vegetarian and the area where the wedding was taking place, in the rural Panhandle area, was even worse. Eating out is also stressful for me because noise and other stimulation, while deciding where to eat, especially when already hungry or tired, is hard for me even when well. So I packed a lot of food that I could eat in the hotel room. For breakfast I had my usual dry cereal, dried fruit, and nuts. For dinners I packed instant soup cups that I could make by heating water in the hotel coffee maker. When we got to Florida, I supplemented the food I packed with applesauce cups, Triscuits, and grapes. It worked out well to have filling, nutritious food at my disposal so that I didn't have to wake up in time to ponder the items offered by the hotel's complimentary continental breakfast (not likely to be very appetizing) and at the end of the day, when tired, I didn't have to worry about dinner because I knew I had a couscous lentil soup cup that could be ready in five minutes. (My father, meanwhile, got to enjoy some genuine Southern barbecue and local seafood restaurants.) Having sufficient sleep and sufficient food made functioning possible.
Taking my father along was also an important part of the plan. There was no way I could have done all that driving and maneuvering of suitcases (especially since I started out the trip on crutches!) and his presence spared me the necessity of taking care of the mundane details of travel, like checking in and out of the hotels. We had separate rooms so I wouldn't have to contend with his snoring and he wouldn't have to tiptoe around my sleep schedule. His presence made things much easier.
In addition to modifying my sleep schedule, I had worked to build up my physical and social stamina during the months before the wedding. I also purchased several new, cute summer tops (my summer wardrobe had not been updated for several years and a number of my tops were worn out or didn't fit well anymore) and found a clutch I could take to the wedding that I'd be able to fit a pair of sandals inside so I could take off my heels. I covered all the bases I could think of, including scheduling in days for resting during the trip, but there was one big question mark that remained: how I would respond to air travel.
|Red stars mark stops during the trip.|
|The paradox that is Florida: gorgeous nature and|
|On the road in the Sunshine State.|
|My friend holding his new baby.|
|On the backroads of the Florida Panhandle.|
|The spring-fed Wakulla River|
It had been late enough when we finally checked into our hotel in Crawfordville that we put off visiting the springs until the next day. By then, I'd been on crutches for five and a half weeks. I'd gotten quite skilled at getting around with them, but found that using the crutches in the sweaty, humid Florida climate produced some agonizing chaffing under the arms. I'd been doing exercises to strengthen my back and reduce pressure on the nerve and had noticed it was getting easier for me to walk around my hotel room without crutches (or any pain) as long as I wore my shoes with major arch support. I decided to venture out that day without the crutches, and while I had to walk very slowly when I first started out, I haven't used the crutches since! It turns out that improving the nerve signals to my foot by strengthening my back helped the bones in my foot move back into their usual positions so that the bone spur no longer was digging painfully into places where it didn't belong!
|I loved this sunlit patch of swamp visible from the road that ran through the park to the lodge!|
I had been warned by my friend, the groom-to-be, to watch out for wild hogs because the best man had encountered two on one of the area roads, an incident that resulted in some damage to his car. I was quite delighted to add hogs (pronounced as two-syllable word when spoken by the locals) to my list of animals to keep an eye out for, but when my father and I arrived at the springs, the dominate wildlife on display was several hundred teenagers on a field trip. The cacophony they created was a great incentive for us to quickly hop on a boat for a tour of the Wakulla River, which is created by the 400,000 gallons of water flowing out of the spring every minute. It was a fantastic decision because that beautiful boat ride ranks as one of the greatest outdoor experiences of my life!
|The Wakulla River|
The river flows through a magnificent landscape of tall cypresses draped with long gray streamers of Spanish moss. The shores are dense with brush and the shallow river is dotted with swaths of pickerel weed and bullrushes. Ibises, anhingas, and egrets abound, as do turtles, common moorhens, and alligators. The very best part of all, however, was the manatees. During my previous years in Florida, the only manatees I saw were those in an aquarium, so seeing them in the wild was such a treat. We must have seen about a dozen of them, including a mother and baby. I was absolutely thrilled when one surfaced right next to where I was sitting in the boat, allowing me to snap several clear photographs! By the time the hour-long trip was over, the buses carrying the hundreds of rowdy teens were pulling away and my opinion of Florida had been vastly improved by the beautiful scenery of the Wakulla River.
|Wakulla River views.|
|A female anhinga.|
|A close encounter with a manatee.|
|A small alligator shares a sunning spot with four red-belled turtles.|
|A larger alligator swimming in the river.|
|The wedding guest.|
|Egrets wading in a pond in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.|
|Heavy rain falling |
on the refuge.
|A colorful Gulf fritillary.|
|The St. Marks lighthouse.|
|An osprey overhead.|
|A bizarre-looking Florida softshell turtle!|
|A large and brightly-colored grasshopper.|
|Here I am with the happy couple.|
We rolled back into Gainesville in the early afternoon with two items on the agenda: to hang out again with my friends and their new baby and also to meet some dogs I met on the internet.
|Bug and Pug share some love.|
|Mary Todd Lincoln and Martha Washington were nearly as happy to see me as I was happy to see them!|
|Dark clouds and rain move across Paynes Prairie|
|I couldn't believe my luck when this dragonfly remained still long enough for me to photograph it!|
|The innocently named "yellow garden orbweaver." |
It is bigger in real life than it appears on your screen!
And then it was time to see the baby again, now at home and five days old! It also gave me an opportunity to converse more closely with my friends, though make no mistake, I made sure I got to hold their infant again! It was such a pleasure to sit in the pretty sunroom of their apartment, cradling a baby, and having pleasant conversation with longtime friends! It was evening when my father and I finally got on the road again, heading south to Orlando. We were followed into town by yet another downpour, but Florida without storms wouldn't be Florida!
|Babies are cool.|
|Especially this baby.|
|Heavy rain in Orlando.|
|Yours truly enjoying|
|Laughing gulls taking it easy.|
|A flock of ibises flying over the wetlands in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.|