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  • Writer's pictureZack Demopoulos

Day 2: The freedom to reunite with friends.

St. Augustine / Ponte Vedra/ Jacksonville

Song for the day: Old Friends. Ben Rector. (2018)

This Ben Rector video is a must see and quite appropriate for our trip. He introduces the video by saying that this song is being played in the garage of the house he grew up with his old friends. Actually, it is his old high school band, Euromart, and they have not played together in 13 years.

Tip for the day: As you know, volunteering is a voluntary act of freely giving time and labor for your community. It is very rewarding and especially worthwhile for whomever you are volunteering for and for yourself! An animal rescue center, which typically is a nonprofit and runs on a very tight budget, is always looking for volunteers to help with day to day chores. Walking a dog is a great idea if you have some free time. Please consider it!

Reuniting with people in your past.

Speaking of "old friends", Phyllis and I decided early in our trip planning that we were going to make this about seeing friends and family as well as celebrating our freedom. Especially friends we have not seen in so long. So we sent out messages to people in advance and set up rendezvous dates sprinkled throughout the 24 days. More about that in a little bit.

Exercise when you can

In March, because the doctor told me I had to lose weight, I started on NOOM, a digital behavioral science backed life style modifier. One of the most effective among the diet fabs I have tried! In two months I went from 268 pounds to around 240! More importantly, it has helped me keep it off give or take a few peaks.

So I told myself I want to try and stay on the program as best as I can during the #Flafreetour. I got up this morning and asked to borrow one of the bikes I found in the garage (yes, the same one I used last night during the midnight run--see DAY 1). Though my brother-in-law is not Greek, I must say, I am impressed with the way he "rigged" a handlebar like a Greek would who typically only has duct tape and a hammer in their toolbox.

Florida is quite unique in local speak

Now Florida has a reputation for being different....not that there is anything wrong with it. From attractions, recreation, insects, lizards, terrain, pace, and application of laws, to stories that start with "A Florida man...." (just google that and see for yourself--1.4 billion results appear vs. if you type in "An Oklahoma man", you only get 420 million!). Most locals prefer a bicycle for their mode of transportation ( a cruiser with a basket) with no shoes, no shirt (men that is) and definitely no helmet. I was overdressed for sure. Then again, most people walking around are kind of "underdressed", aka Florida attire.

Florida people CRACK me up

I took a leisurely ride down the famous A1A stretch that goes through St. Augustine and I looped back on the A1A Beach Blvd. It is a beautiful ride if you do the entire 72 miles (which I only did 7) and it has quite a bit of history. From their website:

The land and waters on either side of the Byway have been part of the sweep of American history, nature, archaeology, and recreation for nearly 500 years.

My 15 mile roundtrip was just enough to get a sweat going, though I think it was more from the humid balmy 85 degree Florida temperature, even at 9 AM, than it was from exertion. Along the way I caught a few sights.

The Ocean Hammock Park Walkway consists of a long raised dune walkover which is very scenic. Their website claims that quite the wildlife can be found here.

The property provides habitat or nesting grounds for a variety of animal species, including loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles, gopher tortoises, and the Anastasia Island beach mouse.

I already mentioned the St. John's County Ocean & Fishing Pier from last night's midnight bike ride escapade, but worth repeating that it is much better to visit in the day time!

As a big rescue dog lover, (and already missing Athena (see Day -1), I had to note this animal rescue site. The S.A.F.E. Pet Rescue and Thrift Store is a pretty cool place to visit, open seven days a week. What a great idea their website suggests:

Want to get into shape? Enjoy beach walks? Our dogs love to get out and about! Consider becoming a volunteer dog walker at either of our locations.

Be sure to check out the medieval knight in armor guarding the entrance.

And you can't go too far in Florida without seeing a mini golf course. Fiesta Falls Mini Golf sits right by the ocean and boasts a unique collection of attractions. From their website:

It’s an award winning landscaped course featuring 8 waterfalls, caves, a 65 ft. Spanish ship and a view of the ocean from the mountaintop gazebo.

Cruisers for locals, rental cars for tourists

I never thought to go to a car dealership to rent a car. My brother-in-law works at Beaver Toyota and suggested I rent a car from them. The price was right (much less

than from an airport!), the convenience was great, and the people helping us were awesome! We drove out with a 2021 Highlander with a cool name for a color....Moon Dust! Kelly Book included this nice ride in it's 2021's 12 best family cars.

While we were waiting on our car, I was fascinated by this crew working on the gargantuan fish tank at the dealership. The three of them worked in tangent, quickly and simultaneously filling pails and moving hoses around. What was apparent was that they really enjoyed what they did and they looked good doing it. Not only are they wearing cool t-shirts but the name of their fish tank cleaning company, The Saltfather, is pretty clever.

Ponte Vedra

I have not seen Ray Ossi in person since the late 90's. Over 20 years. Reuniting with him and his wife Robyn was not just a pleasure, but a nice stretch down memory lane. We talked about old times, old friends, and our families. We enjoyed a leisurely long lunch at Nona Blue Modern Tavern. The food is excellent with a very wide choice of seafood and hardwood grilled items. They accommodated me by adding blackened mahi mahi to my salad.

  • I tasted the local ipa from Intuition Ale Works Brewery in Jacksonville. The Intuition IPA, or I-10 IPA, (6.75% ABV, 69 IBU), is a nice West Coast IPA full of hops and citrus aroma.

Ray and I both worked as sales managers in the state of Florida together for Parke-Davis, (Dilantin for epilepsy, Benadryl, vanilla, and compression stockings, etc) a company which was once considered the largest and oldest in the pharma industry . It started in 1867 and was acquired by Warner Lambert (Listerine, Chiclets, Halls, Dentyne, schick razor, Lipitor cholesterol drug, etc) in 1970 and they were acquired by Pfizer, (Viagra, Advil, Xanax, Zoloft, etc.) the second largest pharma company in the world, in 2000. We both had great careers in the pharma industry.


The freedom to celebrate like kids.

Our next stop was to pay a short visit with our goddaughter Kathryn (more about her tomorrow) and her family. To our considerable surprise, her two children had planned a "celebration" for Phyllis and me to honor our "freedom tour" and selling of our business. Their exhibit of emotion was priceless. The confetti push pops were a bonus!

Having the freedom to laugh and dance as a child, and play as if no one is watching (or if they are for that matter), is something to envy and perhaps we older adults should pay more attention.

By the way it took me forever to get comfortable wearing Birkenstock sandals. Now I cannot stop wearing them. One of the most comfortable summer shoes I've ever worn. I like to think my beautiful goddaughter has more in common with her Nouna (Greek for godmother) than her Nouno (Greek for godfather) so it was a pleasant surprise to see that we have the same taste in foot attire! Lol!

A stroll (and boat ride) down memory lane

Our next visit was just over a little bridge onto a small island on the Ortega River, literally 2/10th of a mile away. Our goddaughter was not even aware that Phyllis' roommate and Sorority sister from college lived that close. She was in the same sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, and it was great that Phyllis introduced our goddaughter to her sorority sister who happens to be her neighbor as well.

The small Ortega River branches off and runs somewhat parallel to the much bigger St. John's River. Phyllis' sorority sister and her husband live on the small island which is part of Ortega. The town's website states the following about this historic area:

Ortega, with its giant oaks, waterfront mansions, and series of parks is widely considered one of the most beautiful residential areas of Northeast Florida

Shannon Graham and her husband Jim were very hospitable, southern charm and all. Shannon had some great stories from the days she and Phyllis were at Florida State University and as they laughed together like college girls, you would never know they have aged one bit!

Phyllis and Shannon at Shannon's home in Ortega.

In addition to opening their beautiful home to us, Jim offered to take us on a little tour of the Ortega River on their boat before dinner. Jim was a great tour guide, narrating along the way with stories that highlighted places of interest, historic sites and different wildlife. At one point, I found us winding down this river as the sun was beginning to set and narrowing significantly with no sign of civilization to be found. It was an incredible experience!

This beaver looking animal is actually a nutria. Besides looking like a big river rat, they are a danger to the wetlands because of their huge appetites!

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