Cabin fever has hit us bigtime.
January is a peak time for the malady.
Cabin fever, as described by Wikipedia is: “A claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in … with nothing to do for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations.”
That’s us – Jennifer and me – every year about now. And, I suppose, Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound, who is as hooked on the motorhome lifestyle as his human companions.
It’s not that we dislike winter, though, admittedly, the older we get the more we tire of the cold.
But what gets us most about winter is that it keeps us homebound a lot more than we are during the warmer weather months.
It’s not that we still don’t head out in our RV during the winter.
We’ve traveled to a couple of RV shows even after the snow started flying, visited our grandkids in Georgia and – as I write this – are planning a winter campout in the snowbound Michigan Upper Peninsula next weekend.
But come every year, we want more than the occasional forays and break out from our sticks and bricks home for the warmer temperatures of the south.
We usually make our way to Florida. But first we hit the Gulf Coast and take in Mardis Gras time.
From Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans and all in between, the fun starts as early as two weeks before the Fat Tuesday day before Lent and if you time a visit right down there, you can take in Mardi Gras parades every day and many a night. RV parks are all along the coast in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana and this time of year, when the weather can still be slightly unpredictable, there are lots of vacancies.
We make our way to the town of Gautier, MS and Shepard State Park, part of a group of two dozen plus RVersfrom all across the country invited down here for fun and food and Mardi Gras festivities at an event called “Pogo’s Smokin’ on the Bayou.”
Pogo – real name Paul Konowalchuk Pogorzelski (see why we just call him Pogo?) – really lives on a Bayou that connects to the Gulf of Mexico. He times his event for the town of Gautier’s big Mardi Gras night parade.
Not that we need an excuse. Cabin fever is everywhere among RVers every February, it seems.
Pogo and his wife Vicki open their hearts and home to our band of RVers – even finding a way to squeeze a dozen Class B motorhomes in a vacant lot two doors down. Of course it doesn’t hurt that his next door neighbor Gordon Gollott, just happens to be the mayor of Gautier (pronounced Go-shea), a town of 18,000.
Last year, the mayor even invited me to ride on the official town float at the night Mardi Gras parade.
The weather this time of year is typically in the 50s and 60s, just enough to hint of spring.
From Gautier, Jennifer and I typically head east and south to southern Florida.
We head down to Southwest Florida, where the high 70s and low 80s cure us of the remnants of that cabin fever.
One of the places that has a special hold on me is the Everglades area of Florida, a wild, huge place filled with birds and wildlife that populate the flooded cypress and sawgrass prairies that make up the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.
Every time I’m in south Florida, I budget time for the glades. I’ve ridden my bicycle along an eight mile paved loop at Shark Valley, cruising yards past snoozing gators with their huge tooth-filled mouths open to cool off. There are air boat rides and nature walks where you can actually get wet and wade in the swamp along with fishing not to be believed.
The winter dry season, which lasts from December to April, is the best time for wildlife viewing in the park. Weather conditions are generally pleasant during the winter and standing water levels are low, causing wildlife to congregate at central water locations. Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm, and Eco Pond in the Flamingo area are popular areas for viewing alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife. Boaters have additional access to wildlife viewing opportunities in Florida Bay and along the Gulf Coast.
A favorite is the Big Cypress National Preserve, a 729,000 acre part of the Everglades whose crystal clean freshwater plays a vital roe in the health of the entire ecosystem of south Florida. We like to drive a 24 mile loop road that runs south and east off Highway 41 at about mile marker 59.
It’s a dirt and gravel road, well-maintained but meant for slow travel. Bounded on both sides by trees, there are frequent drainage ditches and small open spots all along the route. It’s fine for Class B and Class C RVs. Too rough for a Class A. And once you commit, there are limited spots to turn around.
Found here are dozens of species of mammals, birds, and reptiles unique to Florida’s climate. It is easy to view and appreciate Florida’s largest reptile, the American alligator, living here in its natural environment. They are in almost every water hole, all along the banks, even sunning themselves on the shoulder of the road. The birds are something else: Anhingas, egrets, wood storks and herons are found in plentiful numbers feeding, displaying courtship feathers, and nesting in and among the cypress trees.
There’s a reason the speed limit is 25 miles an hour. Herons often launch from the trees and fly right across and over the road. Because of their bulk, it takes them some considerable wing power to get to altitude and if we had been traveling faster, we would have hit one several times.
Occasionally, one can witness river otter, bobcats, black bear, and the endangered Florida panther on the Preserve’s back roads and trails. We didn’t see any panthers, but Route 41 is peppered with warning signs noting that panthers frequently cross the road.
We’ve never had trouble finding a place to overnight. There are numerous federal campgrounds right off 41 up and down 41 from Naples to Miami. Most have openings every day.
Alas, though, all good things come to an end.
As does our escape to the south.
By March, we’re usually back in Michigan. We have re-winterized the RV and await the coming of spring, usually another four to six weeks away.
Just long enough for cabin fever to flare up again.