Figuring Out Base Camp

It’s December and I have the air on in the truck. Gainesville is hot and sunny, and I’m so excited to be here I can hardly stand it!  And hey, the cool air helps with my itching ankles! I pull in to the parking lot of my destination, Bear Archery, but alas there is no one here.  That’s odd.  Did I miss something?  Hmmm, what day is it, anyway?  While I am starring in disbelief at the locked building, several other cars pull in, then leave.  One guy gets out of the vehicle with his boy, they walk to the door, and linger there for a few minutes, then turn away. The kids disappointment is obvious as they walk back to their vehicle with heads hanging down.  At least I wasn’t the only one. I try again to reach out to my contact via phone—and have to leave another message.

So it’s on to the next step of the plan.  Apparently I will not be driving down to Hudson to see my friend.  So I reach out for Ben, a friend’s nephew who is also helping to set me up with a pig hunt.  He had suggested a good place to base camp, out of Astor FL.  Once again, the phone goes to voicemail.

“Hi Ben, I’m here in Florida!  I’m heading to Astor now, please give me a call to work out details!” 

We pull out of Bears parking lot, and stop at the grocery store for a few supplies before heading south east to Astor. In the meantime, the prospect of unloading my friends belongings is looking more and more grim.  My heart is heavy with sadness by how things are going, and concern for my friend and what she maybe isn’t telling me.

The sun is going down as I reach the city limits of Astor.  GPS directions lead me over a skinny draw bridge and directly to the campgrounds Ben talked about.  I get there but it’s after hours and no one is there to check me in.  I get a sneak peak at the place.  It looks like an RV park.  There are no other tents.  I decide to go find dinner, and try Ben again.

Back over the draw bridge we go and suddenly spot The Blackwater Inn right on the St. Johns River.  What a lovely place!  I turn left and head down to their parking lot.  This is the perfect place for a nice meal!  They have a big outdoor bar seating area along the water, and a very nice restaurant inside with views of the water. My waitress appeared quickly, offered me great recommendations, and was a wealth of information about Astor.  I told her a little bit about my plan to camp, and my reservations about the place I was referred to, and that I couldn’t get in there tonight anyway.

“But, I’m not concerned, because I saw several State and National Forest signs, so I can go back to one of those places tonight and just pull in somewhere and camp for the night in the vehicle.”

“Ohhh no, don’t go do that.  You can stay in our parking lot, I’ll just go check with the boss.” She comes back, “yes, feel free to stay in our lot tonight.  Once we close up by about 10:30 there won’t be anyone here to bother you at all.” 

“Awesome, who is the boss? I should thank him.”

“My husband.” She winks.

We laugh, and strike up a conversation.  Tina and her husband came to Florida from Alaska, looking for less people and hustle bustle. When I told her I was in Florida primarily to go pig hunting she disappeared once more, and came back with one of the cooks.  He is a big hunter as well, and is planning a pig hunt in the morning.  I can join him, but I’ll need to get a few things done first.

“You need to get to the Walmart about 20 miles away and get your small game non resident license then be here and ready to go at 7:00 am to get on the pontoon.” 

What?

Yep, he and his group are going to cruise down the St. Johns River on a pontoon boat and shoot the pigs with their 12 gauges when they come to drink in the morning.

Hmmm, I may not be able to do that, as I am hunting pigs with my bow…..but what the heck, it’ll be an interesting experience, anyway!  I finish my dinner and dash to Walmart.

Of course by 10:30 at night there was no one to be found in the hunting department to help me with what I need….as the excitement wore off,  I looked around the barren isles, reconsidered the cooks kind offer, and drove back to Williams Landing and the Blackwater Inn without the required license for pig hunting.

The next morning, I was up early, and left another message for Ben.  As I was heading toward the State Forest entrances I’d seen the day before,  the phone rang:

“Ye.., hello, you’ve be…en calli Ben?” was the poor connection, crackling voice on the other end of the line.

“Hey, Ben is that you?  I’m so glad to hear from you!”  I say.

“This isn’t Ben, no,” replies a mans voice.

I pull over to the side of the road, hoping for a better connection.

“Hello?  Ben?”

“no” the man says, “there is no Ben at this number.  I just checked my voicemail for the first time in days and found all your messages, perhaps I can help you, I’m a little familiar with Florida.

I was stupefied.  What happened to Ben?  This is the number he gave me.  When I had tried his original number, there was no voicemail, it just rang and rang.  He said to use this number, which apparently is not his……great….

So instead I chat with a very kind man from Ohio who will be in Florida after Christmas.  He advises me NOT to camp in the State Forests right now because of heavy panther and pig sightings, instead, stick with Bens recommendation.  His wife is on line, looking up other parks they are familiar with that would be good options.  How supportive and helpful.  Bless their hearts. 

In a nutshell, I can’t reach my hunting contacts, my friend’s significant other will not allow me at their place, it’s not safe to camp in the State Forest, so I’m on my own and heading back to Astors RV Campground until I can think of another idea.  Ohh, geez, my ankles are really itching.

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