Why we’ve become US road trippers – and could it be for you?

Sarah and I have done two US road trips. Two years ago, in 2014, we set out from Chicago along Route 66 to Los Angeles, approximately 2,300 miles plus a few detours (some intentional and some not). Blogging this on Facebook day by day, we prompted an enthusiastic interest amongst our friends/followers. The blog even inspired some to already be planning their very own journey along the iconic Mother Road. So when we embarked on our second road adventure, a trip around South Florida, we decided to go one further and blog it on both Facebook and Twitter. Someone told me that it was as if they were with us, sitting in the back seat. What all this has led me to believe is that there are many potential road tripper’s out there who are perhaps afraid of giving it a go, not yet got round to it or simply didn’t realise that they wanted to do it until they had read our blogs. So I have been thinking about what qualities Sarah and I have that make it easy for us.

Sometimes, people imagine going on exciting adventures around the world, but never have the motivational push to make them take the leap into the unknown. And maybe nothing radical enough happens in their lives to urge them to change their general focus, do something spectacular and live for the moment. In 2009 I suffered a brain haemorrhage, survived (of course) after slipping into a coma and almost into oblivion. I had brain surgery twice (the first one didn’t work and we really didn’t know if I’d get out of hospital alive) before luckily making a more or less full recovery. Four years later, in 2013, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the prognosis was good, before she started her chemotherapy I told her that once it was over we would do Route 66 – whether we could afford to or not. A year later, that is exactly what we did. We hadn’t ridden in the back seat of someone else’s blogs to make us realise that we really could do it, we just took the plunge with both feet and hoped for the best.

The following year, we took a package holiday in the Dominican Republic. The bar had already been set very high, and the holiday fell abysmally short of our road trip adventure from the previous year. So this year, we decided to do another road trip – a tour of South Florida. Flying in to Miami Beach, we drove north to Orlando, west to Sarasota, down to Naples, through the Everglades to Florida City, down through the Florida Keys to Key West and back to Miami. Right now, as I am writing this, we are flying back from Miami Beach to Manchester Airport. It is a subject that I couldn’t wait to put down on iPad (can’t say “paper” these days) to encourage all of the would-be-but-weren’t-sure-about-it road trippers out there to be able to work out their own personal list of dos and don’ts and pros and cons. So here is our “take” on some important things that are required to do a US road trip by car the way we have done. This information is based on the assumption that you are using a car and not a camper van or motorcycle.

1. We have no dependants. All our children have grown up and flown the nest. I would imagine that our type of road trip could normally only be done in couples. Nobody would want to be in the back seat, and it would be less enjoyable for most people to do it solo (and harder because it helps to have a co-driver/navigator). Could you imagine the kids in the back with their the cries of, “Are we we there yet?” just after setting out on your first day? So do it either before you have kids or after they’ve grown up. I’m sorry that this is frustrating if you have young children and have to wait for what may seem like a lifetime before you could possibly do it, but I guess you’d probably figured that out before you started reading this, anyway.

2. We rarely argue. You must be able to get along with your fellow road tripper without arguing or falling out. Some situations can become stressful, especially where wrong turnings are taken or if you get lost. These situations are 100% inevitable and you have to both be able to adopt a “what the hell” attitude. The US is a wonderful place, and for me I couldn’t think of a better place to be lost. Each time you take a wrong turn, at least one of you has probably made a mistake. Once you start blaming each other, you are being unfair and selfish (it’s not easy to get around a foreign country, and no one took that wrong turn on purpose), you will make more mistakes because of the stress of arguing and you will, quite simply, ruin your holiday. If you think you can stay calm and live with each other’s inevitable mistakes, road tripping may be for you.

3. We both enjoy the same things. Ok there are some interests that we don’t share, but we have enough common ground to be able to find plenty to do for both of us. Occasionally a bit of compromise is needed, but that is a part of normal life anyway. It helps if you can appreciate spectacular scenery and enjoy looking for a variety of wildlife – there is plenty of both in America. If you have enough common ground, the levels of compromise won’t be sufficient to cause much friction or boredom.

4. I love driving and Sarah loves being a passenger. If the driving isn’t shared, both of you must be happy in your role as one or the other. I could enjoy driving all day, as long as I don’t get too tired. Sarah can sit and watch the world go by out of a car window without getting bored. Neither of us suffer from travel sickness. If you are a travel sickness sufferer, the distances involved would make it very unpleasant for you as a passenger. Drivers tend not to suffer travel sickness, so if one of you does, that person would need to be driver.

5. Sarah and I have allocated tasks which we adhere to quite strictly. That isn’t to say that we aren’t flexible where necessary, but this works for us. As you’ve probably guessed from point number 4, I do ALL of the driving when on an overseas road trip. Sarah likes to proudly boast that she’s “on clothes”. Being on clothes is more than just that. She does anything that involves packing or unpacking the suitcase. Clothes, toiletries, electronic gadgets, you name it – if it goes in the cases, she’s on it. That way, we are less likely to lose things as we don’t get a situation where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I am also very disorganised, while she isn’t. So it all makes sense for us to do it is way. I plan anything to do with times and distances (she doesn’t have a clue where it comes to maps, directions and working out anything to do with how long it will take or how far it is). However, she is very good at setting the sat nav and relaying any information from it that I need to know. We really do work as a great team on the road. She also likes to point out speed limits, traffic lights and STOP signs! I make all the teas and coffees and sort out anything to do with breakfast. She scours the Internet and books our forthcoming hotels as we are going along (we only ever book a few in advance of the holiday). I do money control and currency conversions. Our jobs list is well defined and it works perfectly for us. Each of our skills and strengths compliment the others’ weaknesses – it works like a charm.

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                      Sarah’s on clothes!

 

6. When you arrive at the car rental pick-up area, you will have the option to pay extra for a sat nav (they call it GPS and they won’t know what you’re talking about if you ask for a sat nav). Take our advice and don’t question it. GET ONE. Ours cost $99 for our two-week Florida trip. Some of the US roads and signage are confusing and seemingly vague if you’re not used to them. Even WITH a sat nav, major cities can be really complicated and require FULL concentration from both driver and co-driver. Don’t doubt this.

7. My job (my real day job, that is) is related to driver education and testing in the UK. This stands me in good stead for understanding my own limitations and how much I need to adapt when I have to drive on the “wrong” side of the road in a foreign country. I also need to adapt to driving a car with automatic transmission, which I never drive at home. As soon as you are faced with such drastic changes, your driving capabilities become significantly diminished. You suddenly become, effectively, a learner driver in a strange country to a very large extent. When I pick up the rental car, I spend about 20 to 30 minutes familiarising myself with the controls of the car, and drive around on quiet roads for a while (the car park where you pick it up may be your only option) to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road. The lack of familiarity with the car and roads will handicap you. You need to be prepared for this and to have the confidence that you can overcome it.

8. Both of our US road trips were done during summer months. When we reached the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and California, we were experiencing temperatures of +40C. On our detour to Las Vegas we recorded 51C on one occasion. During our Florida road trip, the temperature was around 40C much of the time. Sarah and I like heat. Our bodies demand it (although the 51C heat was unbearable even for us). Not everyone is the same, and I know that for some people, such high temperatures would be detrimental to their holiday.

9. When you live in small country like the UK, to look at a map of a country the size of America is meaningless unless you use a comparable means of measuring distance. For example, when we did Route 66, I drew a line along the road from Chicago to Los Angeles, then marked 150 mile intervals all the way along it. 150 miles is the distance from my home to London, and I can complete that journey comfortably in three hours. You need to work out a similar means of measuring distance before you start planning your US road trip, or you may find yourself overloading your holiday with too much driving.

10. Cost. Our flights for Route 66 cost us around £1,000 each return using American Airlines. This year, we managed to get them for £650 each using Thomas Cook. Hotels and motels will accurately reflect the price you pay. If you look for something cheap, you will get poor quality. I’d recommend $80 or more per night. Fuel is cheap and won’t be a big expense. Car hire is about $50 per day for a decent vehicle, although we get ours paid for by collecting Avios through Tesco Clubcard points using Tesco credit cards. Route 66 cost us £6,000 for a three week trip. That covered everything including spending money. Our recent Florida trip cost £4,000 for two weeks all in.

11. Make sure you remember to pack your driving licence. Without it, your road trip will be cancelled!
There is, of course, much more to road tripping in America than the points I have made above. But hopefully, this will give you some idea as to whether or not it’s for you. If it is for you, you’ll find it one of the best experiences of your life. We are addicted now. I’m already working out a plan for our next trip. There will come a time in your life when you will no longer be able to embark on these types of adventures. Serious illness afflicts many at some stage and old age gets to all of us if we live long enough. We both nearly lost it all in our late forties. We’re not going to put it off only to find out in a few years time that we missed our chance.

If you’d like to know more about our story or read our book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

The paperback is £7.99 UK and the e-book is £1.99 UK. It is available from Amazon in all major currencies and has mostly FIVE STAR REVIEWS.

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The more book sales we get, the more road trips we can do!

 

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Florida road trip – Day 13 (Reflections)

It’s becoming a tradition for us to spend the last day of our road trip at a hotel close to the airport, relaxing and reflecting upon our adventures. What am I talking about? It’s only our SECOND road trip! Anyone would think that we are experts! After completing Route 66 two years ago, we did just that at Los Angeles. It was a perfect end to the holiday and it gave us a warm feeling of achievement and contentment after fulfilling one of our dreams. So we decided to do the same today – or, at least, that was the plan. Miami called us, and on this occasion, we still had the car. Sarah has always wanted to see the Art Deco area of Miami Beach and we’d read that we should visit the Cuban area of the city – known as Little Havana. After rising early to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic from our high-rise apartment, we spent most of the morning relaxing and looking down on the city roads as the day began to unfold.

We then went out in our rental car for one last drive to find these two places. We spent about four hours driving around wondering what there really was to see (including a half hour picnic break on Miami Beach), but didn’t actually find anything really worth getting out of the car for. We had also read that Coconut Grove was a nice place to visit. We took wrong turnings twice and decided to give it a miss. All in all, our trip out was a fruitless one and we returned to our beautiful apartment. In the evening, we had a much more enjoyable walk around the local district, the highlight being Key Biscayne which offered good views of the city skyline.

Feeling a little down because our highly enjoyable and successful road trip was now coming to an end, it was time to look back on the many great (and not so great) things that had happened over the course of the last two weeks. The Kennedy Space Center and our first alligator experience, Universal Studios with the Harry Potter experiences, the worst day of torrential rain culminating in a depressing stay at a smelly motel in what would otherwise be a beautiful Sarasota. Then we fell in love with Naples, followed by our favourite day of all – the drive around Loop Road in the Everglades – photographing all kinds of wildlife. All this sounds enough, but the drive down to Key West and back was a road tripper’s paradise. Key West itself was a wonderful place to visit and Willie T’s restaurant is my favourite place to eat in the whole world – no, they haven’t paid me to say this. Then, our finale – Miami. This is a city which has everything. We are seriously considering one day having a two week holiday here and staying in the same luxury apartment forming a part of the jaw-dropping city skyline.
We will also never forget nearly being struck by lightning at Shark Valley in the Everglades and the vicious (I don’t use this word lightly) mosquito attacks at Flamingo.

For us, it has been another perfect road trip. We plan to do more. I fancy Utah, while Sarah wants to go to San Fransisco. They are only 700 miles apart. I am already salivating at the prospect. Maybe not next year – but who knows.

This is the only blog that I have written a day late. So right now, it’s tomorrow. We have just left the car at the rental drop-off, passed through airport security and are now at departures, just three hours from our return flight. Sarah has fallen asleep on my shoulder and I am typing one-fingered. We have enjoyed our road trip more than I can express in these blogs. I hope that anyone reading along with us has enjoyed being a part of the ride. This is not the end.

We’ll be back!
If you really have enjoyed our road trip, please go to our website and download our e-book or order our paperback, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), or order from our website http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk . We have so many experiences to share and, to be totally honest, the more books we sell, the more road trips we’ll be able to afford to do in the future.

Thank you.

Florida road trip – Day 12 (Key West to Miami)

We just couldn’t help ourselves. It had to be done. On our penultimate day before the day of the return flight, while driving from Key West to Miami, we couldn’t stop ourselves from going back to our favourite part of this highly enjoyable road trip. No, we didn’t go back up to Universal Studios or the Kennedy Space Center. We loved Naples, but I think we loved Key West even more. We certainly didn’t want to go back to the motel from hell at Sarasota in the pouring rain! No, the best part for us – and not by far, it has to be said – was the Everglades. There was one thing we had omitted that we were told was a “must”, so we had to go back and to try it – an airboat ride through the swamps at an alligator sanctuary.

Now this is where things didn’t quite meet our expectations. As we were about to embark our vessel with about 20 other eager explorers, we were told to put on ear muffs. Why? Well, the sound of the boat’s motor would be deafening. For me, from hereon in, the writing was on the wall. Stealth (one of the most important attributes of the wildlife observer) was clearly not on the agenda. As we cut through the swamp, announcing our arrival in high volume well in advance, all the wonderful creatures that we had hoped to see took cover, never to be seen. We saw a couple of small alligators, the top of a turtle and an iguana in a tree at the beginning and end of the trip when our boat was travelling slowly, but that was all. Not even a dragon fly. Even the mosquitos were probably scared away.

But this wasn’t a problem. There were other things to enjoy on the sanctuary, and we then continued our trip to Miami. I’ve always wanted to stay, or even live, in a high rise apartment in a US city, overlooking (and looking up to) the high-rise buildings. I used to love the idea of Frasier Crane’s accommodation at Seattle in the well-known sitcom, Frasier. We had booked just that for the final two nights of our journey, overlooking the city of Miami and with a sea view. When we arrived, we found that the place we had booked at Lyx Miami Suites was spectacular beyond anything we could have hoped for. So I’m sitting here on the balcony writing this blog with a glass of wine, overlooking the lit-up night skyline of Miami surrounded by electric storms. After a close encounter with a lightning bolt in the Everglades a few days ago (a terrifying 20 metres or so away), I feel a little safer in the city with the protection of the skyscrapers. Our balcony faces eastwards towards the sea. I plan to be up at 6am tomorrow to watch the sunrise.

If you’d like to know more about our story or read our book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 11 (a quiet day at Key West)

Today was quite a lazy day. When I say lazy, I suppose we busied ourselves, but we allowed our bodies to give in to the 40C heat and indulge in a two or three hour siesta in the afternoon. We didn’t use the car at all today – there’s little point in Key West – so we walked around the town, covering about 5 miles in the morning. We passed Ernest Hemmingway’s house. He was clearly busy as he had so many visitors, so we decided not to go in and use up any of his time.

After our afternoon sleep, we ate at Willie T’s restaurant again (a highly recommendable place to eat), and were able to get to Mallory Square in time for the sunset celebrations. While taking our sunset photos, Sarah saw a dolphin leap out of the water about 50 metres in front of us. I missed it, just catching the ripples after she’d excitedly pointed it out. We’ve returned to our chalet early, with nothing more to report. I suppose we can’t be bursting with news every day of our road trip.

Tomorrow will be our return to Miami in preparation for Thursday’s flight home. On the way, we are considering a quick visit to the Everglades for an air boat trip to get one final glimpse of the alligators and whatever wildlife comes to see us. But this will depend on how much time we have. In the meantime, an early night is in order. Road tripping takes its toll and we have another long drive tomorrow.

If you’d like to know more about our story or read our book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 10 (The journey to Key West)

Our hotel in Florida City is located on Route 1, the highway that serves the east coast of the USA, covering more than 2,300 miles from Fort Kent, Maine in the north, to today’s destination Key West in the south. It’s similar in length to Route 66, our only other previous US road trip. In order to reach our destination, we simply had to turn right out of the hotel and drive for 125 miles. It could easily be done in three hours, but we took seven. The road stretches out west into the Caribbean from the southern-most tip of the Florida mainland, passing over numerous islands, and past thousands (I think). Some are tiny areas of sand with one or two palm trees – you know, like the ones you see in cartoons where a marooned castaway receives a message in a bottle on a deserted island. They really exist!

We stopped at two main locations. We could have stopped hundreds of times to see what all the islands had to offer, but we have only two days to spend here before returning to Miami. The first port of call was a place called Robbie’s – a bar/restaurant with a marina where you can feed tarpons (which are a kind of fish). You buy small dead fish to feed big live ones. Some of them are four or five feet long. We didn’t feed any, but it was fun watching others do it.

We then moved on to the Bahia Honda State Park, which we were advised was the last tourist stop before Key West. Here, we picnicked and snorkelled, watched a few birds and generally relaxed in the typical tropical surroundings.

When we arrived at Key West, our accommodation, Westwinds, was perfect. It was a small collection of quirky chalets in oasis-style surroundings located in a residential area with an inviting pool just outside our door. We headed off into the bustling town around the harbours and shops. It’s both lively and friendly – except when I inadvertently stepped off the sidewalk and almost into the path a car, when it was just “lively”. Although we’re not much into shopping, each shop was so perfectly displayed that not only did we want to go in, but we felt that we wanted to buy everything inside. There were no price tags on anything. Key West is predictably more expensive than most places, reflecting transportation costs because of it’s remoteness. It, so far, seems such a wonderful place that we are quite prepared to spend a little more for things.

The island is very popular with gay tourists. It was ironic that we found ourselves singing YMCA’s “Go West”, as we were driving westwards through the Keys. The best T-shirt slogan I have seen so far read “I’m not gay, but $20 is $20!”

We ate at Willie T’s bar and restaurant (apparently world famous). We shared Key Lime Pie for desert. This is kind of significant for us, as the last time Sarah asked for Key Lime Pie was while she was suffering food cravings during her chemotherapy two and a half years ago. That was after she’d asked for a baked potato with custard. She received neither, but at least she’s now had her pie. We’d happily give Willie T’s a five star on Trip Advisor. There is a sunset celebration here every evening with street entertainers on the harbour edge close to a number of bars that overlook the scene. We just missed the sun going down this evening, but we intend to arrive in time tomorrow, after another meal at Willie T’s unless some other place calls us.

Sarah said it is the best “resort” style place she has ever visited. We are already planning our return. Tomorrow we shall explore further.

If you want to know more about our story or read our book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 9 (Our first taste of the Florida Keys)

The end of our amazing road trip is not yet upon us, but there is that feeling that it is soon to appear at the horizon. It is around this time that I begin to up the ante to make each moment count. We have great things ahead of us. Before we set out from the UK, Sarah booked us two nights at a hotel in Key West, the southern-most point of the US. Back in the hotel in Florida City after returning from a day at the beach, Sarah has just booked the next two nights (our last two nights) at a high-rise apartment overlooking the sea at Miami. That excites me. Both of our next two venues excite me, with the 100 mile or so drive over the Keys (a series of tropical islands joined by spectacular road bridges) and then back. I feel that the journey will be at least as enjoyable as the destinations. This is often the case for us. That, I presume, is why we’re road trippers.

There is not too much to write about today. We drove about 20 miles to Key Largo (the first of the Keys) and found a beach at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. We spent four or five hours here, swimming, snorkelling and sunning ourselves. We love to snorkel. The Caribbean doesn’t seem to be as teeming with tropical fish as does the Red Sea in our previous Egypt holidays, but nonetheless it is an experience that completely changes your perspective as the world around you takes on new texture and colour.

This evening will be a quiet, relaxing one. We have holidayed hard and, for me in particular, I need to recharge a little as I am in charge of driving. Sarah has the very important task of clothes (which encompasses numerous important organisational tasks – she tells me regularly), but it doesn’t matter too much if she falls asleep while packing the suitcase.

Bring on the final four days!

If you want to learn more about our incredible story or read or book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 8 (more Everglades and dancing in Miami)

 

Our hotel, the Holiday Inn, is situated on Route 1, the east coast highway from north to south. It is this road that will take us down to Key West on Sunday, where we will be spending two nights. For now though, we have taken advantage of its proximity to the Everglades where we took another trip today. We drove from Florida City to a place called Flamingo, on the south coast of Florida. There were no flamingos to be seen. I was pleased with a picture of a turkey vulture that I took, but they are probably commonplace around here – akin to our seagulls in the UK, but majestic with it.

We stopped off at various nature reserves with boardwalks taking us over the swamps, but really saw very little. The problem with boardwalks that are built for people in nature reserves to see the wildlife is that most animals are put off by the fact that there are boardwalks that are built for people to see them, so they go off in the other direction. I did, however, get bitten by the world’s deadliest animal – not once, but dozens of times. I have never known so many mosquitoes, and they put us off taking photos of some very interesting scenery. The only wildlife sounds to be heard were us two Brits cursing and swearing at the little blighters. I think all the other animals put the mosquitoes up to it to keep us away, or to give them an early warning system. So today wasn’t as successful a wildlife trip as yesterday’s. My advice, from our experience, is that anyone coming to the Everglades by car simply must do Loop Road as a priority, as featured in yesterday’s blog.

We did have an EPO. This is the term for a sudden need to take a wildlife picture that we invented yesterday (Emergency Photograph Opportunity). However, it came as a bit of a surprise to Sarah who, on the way back from the Everglades had briefly dropped off to sleep in the passenger seat. As I yelled, “EPO!” while braking suddenly, she was woken up violently and was in a clear state of shock. It was all worth it in the end, in more ways than one, as it involved not only photographing a turtle that was crossing the road, but also saving it by removing it to the side of the road to protect it from other traffic.

We finished the day off with an evening trip into Miami. It is here that we had been invited to a dance by a local swing dance organisation, the Lindy Collective. The venue was Fritz and Franz Bierhaus at Coral Gables, where Piano Bob was providing the entertainment. Three years ago, when Sarah had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, we’d only ever dreamt of doing a US road trip and we’d not taken up dancing. Here we were, dancing in Miami with complete strangers – although it has to be said that in the lindy dance community, nobody are strangers for long. It was a delight to meet Cici, the dance teacher who had invited us to the event, and some of her dancing friends.

If you want to know more about our story or read our book, I’M NEVER ILL ( A journey through brain surgery and beyond…), please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 7 (alligators, pig frogs and a lightning bolt)

One lesson I have learnt is never to listen to the Florida weather forecast. If it says sunny, it’ll be sunny. If it says rain, it’ll probably be sunny – except of course, when it wasn’t, on day 4.

Today we made our way from Naples around 9.30am, through the Everglades and arrived at our Holiday Inn at Florida City, about 30 miles south of Miami. To us, alligators are exciting. We couldn’t get enough of them. To the locals, they are just gators and probably wonder what all the fuss is about. Our journey today took about nine hours. If we had a dollar for every time we stopped to take pictures, that’d cover our eating bills for the remaining week of our road trip. The photo opportunities were outstanding. We have now devised a new term for something that cannot be missed – an emergency photo opportunity (or EPO). If one of us sees a snake crossing the road, for example, they shout “EPO”. Nine times out of ten it is up to me to make sure there isn’t a car following closely behind before taking immediate action.

Today, I’ll just talk about Loop Road. It is a detour off the main US 41 highway that goes deep into the heart of the Everglades. It is about 30 miles long and mostly gravel road, so it has to be done quite slowly. We took about three hours. Both sides of the road are lined with trees through which you can see swamp land, the home for all kinds of tropical wildlife. The trees aren’t just along the roadside, as they continue into the swamp, but that’s how it looks from the road. As we drove along Loop Road, we had a number of EPOs, but mostly random stops in the openings between the trees, revealing all kinds of fish, birds and, of course, gators. One of the highlights was an anhinga in a tree close to us, proudly boasting it’s plumage and unconcerned about our presence. We wondered what noise gators make. We could hear frequent grunting sounds that sounded kind of frog-like and assumed that these were alligator noises. We later learnt that the frog-like noises came from… well… frogs! Pig frogs, we believe. We still don’t know what noise gators make (other than “splash!” and “snap!” of course). I think I’ll Google it later. Anyway, Loop Road is a must if you ever come this way.

The biggest danger today was not from the wildlife. Towards the end of our journey, we visited a wildlife reserve called Shark Valley. There are no sharks there. We didn’t see any wildlife, as it happens, other than an egret and some other bird that caught our attention, but we did hear lots of gators making frog noises. However, as we were walking back to the car, there were some flashes of lightning. One lightning bolt struck the ground about 20 metres from us. I’ve never been so close to being struck by lightning. It all happened so fast, and we didn’t even get chance to shout “EPO!”.

We have noticed that the Americans love their air conditioning. We finished off the day by dining at Denny’s, a restaurant chain, just over the road from our hotel. Despite the heat outside – apparently it’s one of their hottest summers in a long time – inside it was like a refrigerator. We had to go back to the car to get our jackets while everyone else in the restaurant were in T shirts.

If you’d like to know more about our story or read our book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…),, please visit our website at:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk

Florida road trip – Day 6 (Dolphins, manatees and the weather man)

“There’s a low pressure over Florida. We’ve got rain, rain and more rain,” we were told. Well today, we’ve had sun, sun and more sun. I don’t know what forecast everyone is reading around here, but it’s certainly not the right one.

Today was a great day for us, but we still feel that the best is yet to come, with a trip to the Everglades and a journey down to Key West planned over the next four days. But we have fallen in love with Naples. This creates a dilemma for us. You see, we love our road trips now. Sarah wants to do San Fransisco soon. I want to do Utah. We both want to do Yosemite. How will we find the time and money to do all of these and come back to Naples.

This morning, we went to the white sands of Naples Beach just a short drive from The Cove Inn where we’re staying. After sunning ourselves and splashing in the sea for a bit, we went for a walk along the pier. While watching the pelicans searching for their dinner,  we certainly didn’t expect to see dolphins and a manatee in the relatively shallow waters alongside it. We got pictures of both. The photo of the manatee is not convincing, but at least we know it was a manatee.

Naples has an affluent, almost Beverly Hills, feel about it (we know – we went there two years ago and saw Simon Cowell’s house and Madonna’s bins). I loved driving through the palm tree lined avenues, with millionaire-type houses and classy boutiques. We were a bit disappointed at Walmart, not realising that  you can get much better quality food in Publix. It is here where we bought our food for this evening. We are self-catering at our apartment as the thunder and lightning crashes around us, planning the next couple of days at the Everglades. Earlier today we booked  two nights at the Holiday Inn in Florida City, about 30 miles south of Miami., which is central to the next two days’ activities before heading off to the Florida Keys – the highlight (or so we are expecting) of our tour.

Sarah said that our trip is very much like our Route 66 adventure, where she said each day is like going on a different holiday. Well, yes, I suppose there is a lot of variety in this one too.

I’ve not looked at tomorrow’s weather forecast yet. I wonder if they’ve forecast rain again.

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Florida road trip – Day 5 (Paradise found)

As I was checking us out of Hell Motel in Sarasota at about 8.30am, the lady behind the desk told me that the place just over the road does the best breakfast in town. So we got in our car and drove half a mile down the coast to Siesta Key and ate a lovely breakfast at Gilligan’s Island Bar and Grill.

It was a cloudy start with a few drops of rain, but as the day went on the sun began to break through a little and the fine weather put us in a more optimistic mood. If I’m honest, the weather and the poor quality motel made me feel a little down last night. But one of the benefits of doing a road trip is that, although you have a good chance of having the odd bad experience, you are also opening yourself up to increasing your chances of finding what could be your own personal paradise. After stopping off at Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach, we headed for Naples where Sarah had booked another place for us to stay for two nights. It was a place that she had found on the internet last night – The Cove Inn. The drive from Turtle Beach to Naples took us about two hours, taking us by road bridge over numerous coastal inlets boasting stunning waterside homes. Idyllic as the properties were, I couldn’t help but think that it would only take one tsunami to wipe the whole lot out.

The Cove Inn is a block of self-contained apartments overlooking a yacht harbour in Naples Bay. We arrived well before checking-in time, so we wandered around the jetties. A group of five pelicans (please don’t ask me or tell me what the collective noun is) were grooming themselves on one. I took some pictures, amazed at how big they were – I’m sure the Jamaican ones were smaller when we went on our honeymoon there five years ago. As we were checking in, we chatted to another British couple who had been coming to Naples for over twenty years – their very own paradise. From what we’ve seen so far, we could be doing the same ourselves for the next twenty years. At the very least, I can see us booking an extra night before heading off to Miami (about two hours away) on Friday for the dance we have been kindly invited to at Coral Gables by the Lindy Collective.

By now, the sun was out much of the time. We had an hour by the outdoor pool before going to Naples Pier, which reaches out from the white sands of Naples Beach into the Gulf of Mexico. Here, just before dusk we watched the pelicans diving spectacularly into the water from a great height against the backdrop of electric storms on the horizon.

Night has now fallen and the storms have come more inland. We could be in for a noisy night while we ponder over whether or not to book that extra night.
If you want to find out more about our story or read our book, please visit our website:

http://www.markdpritchard.co.uk