Day 24: Friday, October 22nd, 2004
        When I packed up my tent to take off in the morning, I discovered that my tent bag, which I had left sitting on a log, had been on top of an ant hill and that the ants, liking this new roof, decided to incorporate it into their tunnels. I got quite the shock when I lifted it up and saw it was swarming with the little buggers. One of them even bit me in an attempt to keep me from stealing their roof. I had to give everything a thorough going over to make sure I didn't have any stragglers coming with me. Needed a good swim too. Ack, I hate swarms of crawling insects.

        In a desperate attempt to get away from the bikers I set off for Orlando bright and early. I was expecting Wet 'n Wild to be pretty much empty on a weekday morning with all the kids in school. But there was actually a pretty good crowd there already at 10am. Figuring it would be really insane on Saturday, I decided to go in right away. It turns out that most of the people there were British, so perhaps there is some kind of holiday going on there.

        With all the piercings, tattoos, and pot bellies on display I thought I was back with the bikers. I was actually a little disappointed by the selection of rides. Just didn't seem to be as many nice ones as I had remembered from so many years ago. And a fair number of them were designed for two or more people. The sign says "This ride is designed for two people. Bring a friend." Sure, rub it in!

        The best rides for me were Der Stuka, Bomb Bay, and Blue Niagra. Bomb Bay was especially crazy as they load you inside a "bomb", standing up, and then they press the button and a trap door opens at your feet and down you go. I just wish the attendant hadn't been so rushed. The door closes and a second later, off you go. Half the fun would be the anticipation, not knowing when he's going to drop you.

        I remember the good ole days when water parks were less concerned about getting sued. When people could go down two or three at a time if they wanted to. When they could send the next guy down the slide when the first guy was halfway down, because we know, they will never collide. But, no, they have to be very safe and wait until each person has completely gotten out of the pool at the bottom before the next one can go. Sensible in some cases, but ridiculous in others.

        All was going well until I decied to ride The Storm. You are supposed to ride it on your back as it sends you into the "drain", but I managed to flip halfway down, riding the thing on my chest instead and came away with what felt like a twisted elbow and a bruised rib. The elbow was fine the next day, but my chest still hurts three days later, kind of limiting what I do. My butt is also still pretty sore from riding Bomb Bay down on only one cheek...

        Not sure if I really got my money's worth out of Wet 'n Wild but I was exhausted and in pain and all ready to just leave the crowds for another while. So, off to Cape Canaveral I went, planning on checking out the Kennedy Space Center.

        I tracked down a campground in Port Canaveral. (As I recall, I saw news footage of a twister touching down near that area just two nights before...) At the gate I was met by a security guard who reminded me a bit of Morgan Freeman. "Now I see that you've got a twenty dollar bill in your hand", he says (the campground was $18/night) "but I can't make you change so I will write on this receipt that you paid $20 and you bring it to the office in the morning and you will get your two dollars back."

        He also eyed my car suspiciously and confirmed that I actually had a tent with me. Would I have been kicked out if I tried to sleep in the back of the car? I suppose such a campground needs to maintain a high standard of clientele.

        Yeah, like the couple in the tent across from me. You could tell they were high class when the woman explained to her husband (boyfriend? guy she picked up at a bar ten minutes earlier?) that she was going to the "pisser". The two were obviously high on something and going on and on about nonsense. Then, after it got dark they started cursing at each other and she said he had the smallest weenie on God's Green Earth and then he said that she could go F*$# Green, F@#% Earth, and F%#% God for that matter. And it went on and on and on for the next half hour. When they finally quieted down I wondered whether they had passed out. But no, the silence was replaced by a whole lot of grunting and groaning. Oh yes, these are the true Americans I came here to meet!

        Why do I always read the rules at these campgrounds? One of the last rules was "Please, no metal stakes in the ground." Why? Does it attract lightning? Does it mess with the worm migration? All I have is metal stakes for my tent. Do they mean those or do they just not want people setting up a volleyball court on their site? Of course without my pegs the tent would've fallen down and then I'd have had to sleep in my car! And where would that leave me?

        It rained off and on all night but I was able to ride it out. And at least by then the neanderthals next door had quieted down.

Day 25: Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

        My blanket, sleeping bag, and futon were fairly wet in the morning so I spent much of the day driving with the windows all down to help dry things off. In this heat it didn't take long at all to get the dampness out of everything.

        But before I did much driving I was off to Kennedy Space Center. I took the "Maximum Access Admission" for $35. You could also go on guided tours but they were each $22 extra and took between 2 and 2 1/2 hours each. I originally figured my whole stay here would just be a couple hours.

        An interesting place, but it would've been more interesting if I was more of a space buff or if I had simply done a little research beforehand. For instance they had a "meet a real astronaut" session with a fellow named Jon McBride, but I had no idea who he was or what he did.

        For the second time in as many days I had my backpack searched by security upon entering. They were a little more thorough here than at Wet 'n Wild, with the guard asking me to turn on my laptop and camera to prove they work, just like if I was getting on a plane. If I am going to be high tech enough to hide a bomb or a gun inside a camera, I think I'll be able to make it look like it works as well... Meanwhile, I saw one guard in the park walking around with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder.

        A couple of the attractions were geared too much towards kids. For instance, the one on space robots featured a few too many talking "cute" robots, giving them human emotions and basically telling us nothing about what they really did, aside from having to brave great temperature changes. At another section involving the history of space exploration, they had a great area with a mock living room from the 50s / 60s and when the old B&W tv came on I really hoped that they might show part of the moon landing or early rocket launches as they would've been seen back then. But, no, they had an obvious fake B&W news announcer who then got kicked off by a perky modern woman in color who then started ranting on about something.

        The Hall of Fame was quite interesting, with a very long timeline stretching along the walls telling the various space exploration landmarks as well as what else was going on in the world at the time. You just have to ignore the initial movie when you come in, which seems like a poorly done propaganda piece trying to convince us how heroic astronauts are. It spoke of great philosophers who were heroes as well, but said that they were not as great because they never risked their lives. I was glad to get out of that one.

        They had a smaller version of the classic "Vomit Comet", the G-Force trainer which would've had me barfing for days. There was no line up to give it a try but I wanted to keep my lunch. They also had a weightless simulator where you are strapped into a kind of bungee harness. However, you had to be under 150 pounds to try it out. Just a few pounds over on that one...

        But the best part of the place was the two IMAX films: "The Dream is Alive" and "Space Station 3D". The 3D one, though blurry at times, was easily the most impressive 3D film I have ever seen. Amazingly enough, it actually did seem as if things were coming off the screen at you, especially when we were sitting a few feet away from a rocket launch and got bombarded with smoke and debris.

        I ended up spending much longer than I intended to so by the time I was done it seemed pretty doubtful that I would make it very far towards The Keys that evening. At this point I was getting pretty tired. My back was sore, my chest was sore, my butt was sore, and part of me was ready to start heading for home. However, I decided that I would go to Key West first and maybe find a utopia there.

        So, I drove and drove and drove... Right at dusk I reached the John D. MacArthur State Park. But they were full. So, further south I went until I reached another park. I asked the lady at the gate whether they had spots available but she shook her head and seemed to say that she didn't speak English. I waited for about 15 minutes for the park ranger to return, only to have her say that the campground was closed for renovations. Fortunately, she pointed me to another campground just a few minutes further south.

         So, a night spent at a campground in Fort Lauderdale. This time the ranger couldn't take my cash but took my driver's license instead so that I'd be forced to pay in the morning when I went to reclaim it. Once again, this guy looked at my car suspiciously and said that they don't allow people to sleep in their cars, that they need a tent. He even showed up later to check on me. He claimed that he was noting my camping site, but we know he was hoping to catch me sleeping in my car.

on to the next day...