Ft. McAlister SP, North Beach CG & Resort
Our departure from Skidaway SP was my birthday, Wednesday, April 7, which dawned with a noisy territorial (?) battle amongst four or five barred owls above and around the newest of the nearby bath houses. We listened and watched—the fight included great volumes of vocalization, and flapping and chasing of groups. It was fascinating!
Annie also departed, and we rolled out of the campground headed for Ft. McAlister State Park at about the same time. She recommended a BBQ place en route called the Smokin’ Pig—all of their outdoor seating was taken, so we grabbed a couple of pulled pork sandwiches and ate ours in the car. I can highly recommend their mustard sauce (mild or hot).
We arrived for our one-night stay at Ft. McAlister fairly early (1PM) but were able to check into our pull-through site (#46) under the scrutiny of an older couple across the road.
Our older neighbors seemed to be grandparents to at least part of a mob of loud, rambunctious kids running wild. Our site backs to a tents-only loop where a pack of Good Ole Boys are planted and spread over a large portion of the area, sharing cooking, fishing, and drinking options.
While the showers at the bath house were individual rooms, the child mob harassed us both as we used the facilities. Unsure if they didn’t realize that a locked door meant the room was in use or not, I slapped the door and shouted “someone’s in here!” during an especially prolonged rattle of the doorknob. That seemed to quiet things down a bit and I was able to finish my shower in peace.
We wandered through the loops just to see what Ft. McAlister was like, and took a few photos for the record. Not much there except pretty live oaks adorned with Spanish moss, and a boat launch into a deep water channel.
Because the temps had risen to a still, humid 80+ degrees, we kept the AC running not only for comfort, but to help drown out the screeching and shouting of the child-mob. The cool AC indoors also eased my itchy bumps from yesterday’s mosquito feed.
My “birthday cake” after a dinner of leftovers (they don’t call me the Leftover Queen for nothing) consisted of hot biscuits with camembert cheese, dried figs, and almonds. Yum.
Managed to exit Ft. McAlister by about 8:30A on Thursday, April 8. Listened to the end of Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me, and were delighted to re-visit one of the long-time characters of Hiaasen’s novels, Skink: Florida Ex-Governor, who’d gone off the rails.
Otherwise the drive to North Beach Campground and Resort, a private campground hard off the A1A near St. Augustine was uneventful. Choosing to drive down A1A (the Coastal Highway) we found traffic was not the problem we’d feared even with all the lights along the way.
Recommended to us by JB, North Beach Resort offered sites closely-packed, but there was always decent visual barriers between. Ours was #21, with lots of shade from lovely old live oaks. The bath house was up at the main structure, but not a horrible walk, and the toilet/shower areas were decently kept, although could be better in my estimation.
After setup, we tried to ride our bikes around the campground loops, but found the sand too fine, deep, and dry for our tires. We finally escaped through one of the back access points through the surrounding fences (near a restaurant adjacent to the CG called Aunt Kate’s) and into the neighborhood to the south. All of the east/west roads start at the A1A and stop/dead end at the Tolomato River, which one must cross, over a long, arched bridge near a harbor, to go anywhere except the beach. It was a good ride, totaling a bit over 7 miles that we enjoyed a couple of times while staying at North Beach.
Last stop that evening, we rode a small distance along A1A toward the entrance gate to North Beach Resort but paused on the beach-side of the road at a restaurant called The Reef. We got a menu and asked if they fixed take-out (yes) and headed back to #21 to shower and decide on dinner.
Jack called our order in, and drove across the road to bring it back and it was yummy: Jack had the seafood pasta and I ate fried shrimp, enjoying the evening in the Clam.
Friday, April 9 was the first of several days away, riding rail-trails we’d read about. But first, we arose a bit before dawn and took a long stroll along the public beach to catch the sunrise and some shore birds, as well as a couple of fliers.
The first trail went east/west, and had been adopted from the Rails to Trails Conservancy by the locality of Palatka. We parked at a trailhead in a dodgy neighborhood off Armstrong Rd, but there was a toilet and some potable water with which to fill water bottles. This trailhead was closer to St. Augustine than Palatka, but it was a nice ~13 mile stretch to the outskirts of Palatka, where we turned around. It is possible to ride all the way from St. Augustine, but we elected to avoid as much urban cycling as possible.
En route back to site 21, we got a nice birthday steak, mushies to sauté, and zucchini to grill beside the steak. I made some hassle back potatoes in the 8” DO, and Jack whipped together some roquefort butter to melt on the steaks, done perfectly.
- Temp = 77
- Ride Time = 2 hr
- Distance = 26 mi
- Average speed = 13.35 mph
The next day (Ap. 10) we drove to Palatka and rode to the Lake Butler State Trail. This was a 40-odd mile multi-use trail, of which we rode ~10 miles (one way). Our trailhead was on the west side of Palatka near the municipal airport. This time, we’d remembered to bring snacks, and had a nice break at our turn-around point.
Rain was forecast, so we buttoned down the hatches in prep, and ate a nice, easy egg salad on greens dinner.
- Temp = 80
- Ride Time = 1.5 hr
- Distance = 21 mi
- Average speed = 14.3 mph
The rain came on Sunday, April 11, and we drove into Jacksonville to see if REI had any “flip clip” pedals for my bike (clip-ins on one side and flat surface on the other). But like all bicycle components during this Time of Plague, they were out and didn’t expect them to be available anytime soon.
But since it was REI, we prowled around a bit and bought a few things that we couldn’t live without.
Got a Domino’s pizza to eat in the car for lunch, and the rain had stopped by the time we got back to the campsite. Tried to close our rings (Apple Watch exercise) by walking around the loops and the next-door neighborhood, exiting through the fence near Aunt Kate’s Restaurant. Saw some pelicans, and fisher-people.
Ordered from The Reef again: Jack tried their shrimp imperial and I ate shrimp & grits and it was another delicious meal.