Monday, October 30, 2006

Bushnell, FL

On Saturday we drove a whopping 47 miles to Bushnell. Don't even try looking it up on a map, I highly doubt you would find this little town. But we came here to be close to more outdoor activities...biking the Withlacoochee State Trail (yea, same one we tried to find while we were in Ocala); mountain biking in Withlacoochee State Forest; and paddling the Withlacoochee River. I just like to say "Withlacoochee".

Sunday was the day we wanted to go mountain biking in the With. State Forest - Croom District. We figured if we went around noon, on a weekend, then most likely other bikers would've already de-webbed the trails for us. (Yes, we are still obsessed with these lovely ladies!) As we were driving to the State Forest to get to the trailhead, we encountered several ominous signs that told us we would not be biking that day. First it was the pedestrians walking on the paved trail that runs alongside the State Forest - all wearing orange, even their dogs had orange vests on. Then it was the number of pickup trucks...with several men inside...all wearing camouflaged...holding guns. Hhhmmmmm. We decided to go to the main trailhead to read the postings on hunting season. This weekend was "muzzle-loading gun" hunting season. After hearing a few shots we thought we were in the middle of a civil-war reenactment. The trails were closed to non-hunters and the Fl. Forest Service Volunteers strongly encouraged us to come back later in the week. They figured the hunters were overly anxious to catch their limit being there were only a few hours left to their 3-day season. "Trigger-happy" is how we interpreted their warning...and mountain bikers could be easily mistaken for a deer. So instead they walked us (they had orange vests on) to an old cemetery from the late 1800's that they had recently unburied from the forest growth. And, they allowed us to go up into the Fire Tower to look out over the forest. Not a bad exchange for not being able to bike.

We did still want to bike, so we drove to the Nobleton Trailhead for the Withlacoochee State Trail. The trail runs for a total of 46 miles, one-way. We rode to the town of Inverness and back for a 32-mile round-trip ride. The trail is paved, and is generally flat. By that I mean that the hills are long and gradual, but noticeable. There are trees lining both sides of the trail most of the way in this section. It is primarily a rural, residential area. In one area you can find several gopher tortoise holes dug into the sides of the sandy banks - just be careful you don't run over one of these large tortoises, that would be one heckuva speed bump! There were a number of other riders and walkers enjoying this path. Once we reached Inverness, we stopped at Liberty Park to check out the weekend-long Cooter Fest. Note: a Cooter is a turtle. Apparently, most of Florida's turtles are a type of 'cooter'. It was a family-festival, with all of the kids entering Halloween-costume contests; kayak-races; and there were fair rides, etc. We enjoyed the Hawaiian Shaved Ice before heading back down the trail.

Crystal River, FL - Manatees

We dropped our kayaks in Kings Bay, started paddling, and crossed our fingers that we were going to find Three Sisters Springs. Sometimes the directions you get for paddling places are like directions you get when you are visiting a really rural area: "go down the road a bit, make a left at the old tree stump, make a right at the third dirt road, go through the stream, open the gate...." - ever get those kind of directions? Anyway, the directions to Three Sisters were:
"Put in at the boat ramp by Charlie's Fishhouse
Paddle around Pete's Pier
Go under the bridge
Stay to the right, and it's on your right, don't worry - you'll see it, it's a small cut-through in the trees so you'll have to go single-file."
We prefer to go armed with a little more information, so after some searching online prior to our excursion, I found this great directory for Florida Springs Good thing we did, too, because the Springs were to the left and on our left, and I had a picture of the entrance to the canal confirming we were at the right place. Otherwise, I don't think we would've passed through these pilings with the 30-plus "no trespassing" signs on the embankments.

Three Sisters was beautiful - the blue, blue crystal-clear waters of springs is just breathtaking. And Three Sisters is tucked away in its own private alcove off of the river. The only drawback was that there weren't any manatees here in the afternoon. We later learned that the manatees sleep in there at night, but after being bombarded by hundreds of divers in the morning, they leave to find peace and quiet elsewhere.

Since I was now armed with a rudimentary map marking several other springs in the area, we started to paddle to find Manatee Sanctuary Springs. There we did come across three manatees and another one later as we paddled out into Kings Bay. None of them seemed to be in a playful mood, so we just stayed around long enough to snap a few photos.

To learn more about manatees, or even "adopt" one - visit Save the Manatee Club.
Kings Bay is quite shallow and there is an abundance of aquatic plants that you have to paddle through (near shore). We found out this prolific, non-native plant is Lyngbea. There were these Aquatic Plant Boats that moved around the bay collecting this stuff. Interesting boats - conveyor belts in the front, and paddle wheels on each side. Still not sure how these "tractor-boats" even floated.

Crystal River, FL - State Park & Preserve

Quick Note: Blogger had been down for the last several days which has put my posts even further behind. I knew I wasn't the only one having problems when I checked on Jim and Chris' site and saw that they hadn't posted anything either. They're pretty religious about their posting, so I then figured it was Blogger. I finally found Blogger's technical support section too to confirm that they knew they were having problems. So, I'll try to catch up quickly!

We did some other fun things in Crystal River. We took a break from trading one afternoon and went mountain biking at Crystal River State Buffer Preserve (at the western end of State Park Road). Andy was still twitching from his last encounter with the Golden Orb, so we were relieved that this was a double-track. The wider path made it less likely to bike into a web. It was an easy 11-mile pedal through Florida forests. We passed by some ponds (or old sink holes?). We could hear animals rustling in the bushes around us, but never got a good look at them. It was peaceful, and just what we needed that afternoon.

Afterward we stopped at the Crystal River Archeological State Park which is just down the road. Still clad in our sexy spandex shorts (thankfully, only one other couple was walking the grounds at that time), we toured this small park that preserves several burial and temple mounds. Audio boxes were located in several areas providing information on what the mounds were used for and what was found during archeological digs. The park had many oaks and magnolia trees scattered throughout.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Crystal River, FL - Birds and Sunsets

The "Nature Coast" is for the birds...and birdwatching. There's such a wonderful variety of birds that live in this area. Perhaps it has to do with the marshes, rivers, springs, beaches, and the choice of habitat that is available. The Great Florida Birding Trail has several spots within a couple of miles of our RV Park (Encore Superpark). We've seen egrets, herons, gulls, hawks, ospreys, brown pelicans, white pelicans, eastern bluebirds (my first), sparrows, woodpeckers, woodstorks, possibly a bald eagle, and so much more.
This one I think is a juvenile yellow-bellied sapsucker. If anyone knows better, I'd appreciate the correction. I can't tell you how many times I see a pretty bird, but can't identify it for sure.
We saw a flock of these Black Skimmers the last time we were here. I think they were in the same exact spot! Love how their lower beaks stick out longer than the upper - perfect for skimming the waters as they fly along.

The sunsets have been stunning here. I'll just share two of my photos:

Traveling Traders

Sorry I haven't written all week, but we've been trying to merge working and traveling. Prior to starting our trip, we picked up a Linksys Travel Router. This little router allows the two of us to share one internet connection. So when we have to pay for a service, such as Linkspot, Tengo, or Coach Connect, we pay one fee and share the service. The other reason I like it, is that I feel a little more protected on WIFI since we're "behind" the router.

It's been working well for us so far. We used it in Ocala and again all of this week in Crystal River. Eventually we'll recoup the $95 that it cost us to buy the router! The other places we stayed had WIFI or high-speed in the clubhouses. Our planning has been different so far, because we now need to have high-speed access all the time. Whereas the last two years it wasn't critical.

Here I am working in my new office. Well, it does look a little different everytime we move, but I love it. Out here, my biggest distractions are watching the birds and squirrels. When I bring out my binoculars and camera, I realize that I'm not working as hard as I should!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Inglis, FL

We chose to stay in Inglis because it is also on the Cross Florida Greenway Trail and near the Gulf of Mexico. The RV park we stayed at, Nature Coast Landings, was located right next to the trail. We just had to ride our bikes out the driveway, turn right and pedal til we hit the Old Barge Canal. This portion of the trail (also called the Withlacoochee Bay Trail / Felburn Park Trailhead) ran east for just about one-half mile. To the west, it ran 4.5 miles and here is how it dead ended:
Not a bad view, eh? We rode our bikes along this trail at sunset both nights we were here. Sunsets on the Gulf are beautiful. Ok, so we're partial to sunsets and sunrises over water.
Along the trail there were several fishing pavilions on the Old Barge Canal side, and then observation towers on the marsh side of the trail. Back in the 1930's Florida had decided to build a canal across Central/North Florida (more history) but it was eventually deauthorized by Pres.Nixon. It's great that all the land originally designated for this canal was preserved and is now available for public use.
The trail was bordered with palms, cypress, oaks, and different types of shrubs and wildflowers. This grass radiated pink with the sun behind it, but was more purple otherwise. We saw racoons and an armadillo on the trail in addition to many birds.
The second night we stayed as long as we could to watch the sunset. The problem was that the park closed at sunset. We waited til this point, and then raced back down the trail. They had already closed the gates, but we were able to ride between some rocks. Since it is such a prime spot to watch the sunset, we think the park should stay open til one hour past sunset to give people time to exit after enjoying the beautiful scenery at that hour.

Where's George?

Have you ever come across a bill with a stamp on it saying "Track this"? I had heard of this for years, but hadn't come across one until yesterday. It took some concentration not to spend the money until we were able to log it at the website. We were hoping to see some interesting information and see all of the places this particular $10 bill had traveled, but we were the first to record it in the 2+ years its been circulating around. Oh well, maybe we'll check on "George" someday down the road to see how far he has traveled since leaving our hands.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ocala, FL - Spiders

We hopped on our bikes early this morning and did the Land Bridge Trail (part of the Cross Florida Greenway). Again my cavalier husband decided that I should blaze the trail and clear it of any cobwebs. And, again, at first I didn't mind. Until...

Here's Andy laughing it up after I rode through a huge web that made my helmet look like it was wearing a hair net.

The riding was great, the trail was perfect, but my arachnaphobia started to kick in after peeling off several webs and seeing Golden Orbs and some hard-shelled, red-legged spiders. Have you ever seen a Golden Orb? Well, here is one:
Now that you've seen how big some of these ladies (the females are the larger of the species) can be, I'm sure you can appreciate our heightened anxiety.
The Land Bridge was just part of our destination. It's an overpass over I-75 that is earthen and landscaped on the top for trail-users...human or not.
So from our perspective, it felt like part of the trail.
But the viewing portals reminded us that we were riding over I-75.
We continued along the singletrack on the eastern side of I-75, but after Andy came face-to-face with a Golden Orb we decided to turn around. Prior to this encounter, he had even picked up a large stick and was biking with one hand and waving this stick in front of him with the other trying to knock down all the webs. He missed this web with the stick and got a face full of sticky yellow web and when it hit him he saw this 5" spider, at eye-level, just inches away from his face.
Now, some of you might think I'm exaggerating, so click on this link for OMBA (Ocala Mtn Bike Assn) and you'll see their warnings!
So we turned around and still had to continue dodging webs and spiders. Oh, don't get us wrong - these critters are beautiful and fascinating to look at...but to have one touch me? No way!
And that's exactly what Andy. We were approaching the Trailhead when Andy felt something tickle his ear. As he was brushing it away he saw a Golden Orb fall to the ground. Here she is:
Our question is still, "How long had she been on him?" I still have shivers! That caused us to boycott the ride on Santos Trail - we no longer want to be the firsts on the trails.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ocala, FL

We had a great run yesterday. A friend of mine, Heidi, works for the Forest Service out in Oregon. She once mentioned to me that she never liked to run until someone introduced her to trail-running. I have to agree with her. There is something so peaceful and energizing about running through the trees.

A long story short: we drove to the Withlacoochee River looking for the Withlacoochee Trail. According to the map, it ran right alongside the river. What we found, however, was that this particular W. Trail was not the Withlacoochee State Trail we knew about, but a ROAD called Withlacoochee Trail. Oh well, these are some of the common issues when you're always in a new neighborhood.

So what we did was backtracked a few miles and stopped at the Ross Prairie State Forest that we drove past. And this is where we had our great run! A 2.5 mile loop through pines, oaks, and spotted-something-or-others. The path was cushioned with leaves, pine needles and spanish moss. We had to duck under limbs and jump over downed trees. But it was flat and easy. Andy made me go first to catch all of the spider webs...but, I left the high ones for him. I got used to the single strands going over the path quickly enough, but there was one that was so big I could hear it's sticky tendrils break as I ran through it. That required a quick spider-check to make sure a 3" Golden Orb spider or something worse wasn't crawling on me. Shortly thereafter my "sneaker came untied" and it was Andy's turn to catch webs. About a mile later, after another big web and Andy's sneaker came untied, I was back in the lead. We finished off our run with a spin through the campground here. If they offered WIFI we could've saved $15/night.

The Ross Prairie SF is on the Cross Florida Greenway Trail, which runs from Palatka to the Gulf. There are hiking, mtn biking, and equestrian trails all along this Greenway. Thanks to our friend, John, at Kayuba for mentioning this to us. John mountain bikes at the Santos Trailhead quite frequently. We're going to try to get over there in the morning.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Five Points of Life Ride

While in Mt Dora, we met and listened to speeches by several members of the Five Points of Life Ride. The Ride began in Ottawa, CA and ends in South Beach, FL. Their purpose is to increase awareness on the Five Points of Life, which is donating: Organs and Tissue, Whole Blood, Cord Blood, Marrow, and Apheresis. One of the riders told her personal story of losing her 17 yr old son in a car accident. By donating his organs, etc, he greatly impacted the lives of 60 other people. Saving the lives of at least 3 with donations of his heart, liver, and kidney.

Another gentleman we spoke to explained how he donated some of his marrow to a young boy...who is now over 17 years old and doing well. He mentioned that when you place your name on a bone marrow registry there's about a 1 in 6,000 chance that you'll be called to donate. But if you need a bone marrow replacement you might only have a 1 in 600 chance of finding a match; if you're African American that rate is reduced to 1 in 2,000. (I hope I'm remembering his facts correctly). There's just not enough donors.

It was very impactful information. So, if you're interested in donating: have "organ donor" put on your driver's license, or have a witnessed statement placed in your wallet; sign up with your State Registry; and, most important of all, tell your family of your wishes.

Andy and I are organ donors, but we didn't know about the State Registry. I'm also now going to read more about marrow donations. And we will continue to try to give blood. My thoughts are that I don't need these things when I'm dead and gone, right? And, if I can save a life while living mine, that's pretty powerful.

Best of luck to the Five Points of Life Riders for a safe, fun, and successful ride.

Mt Dora, FL

What a beautiful weekend for biking. Great temperatures, albeit a little windy on Saturday. Winds were blowing at 20mph on Saturday, so that didn't help us on our 54 mile bike ride to the Yalaha Bakery. We didn't expect much at the bakery - we pictured a small little shop that wouldn't be able to handle the 125 bikers that were coming. What we found, however, was this wonderful stand-alone building with a parking lot that was filled with cars, bikes and Harleys. It looked like it was straight from Germany with these colorful painted walls and a backyard filled with picnic tables and a band. The bakery was packed with people waiting for their number to be called - breads, danishes, tarts, and, Andy's favorite, Pretzel Rolls. Andy does not have a sweet tooth, but he's from Philly and loves his pretzels. We took a 40-minute break at the bakery (mostly waiting in line) before completing the second-half of our ride. It is so hard starting up again after taking that long of a break. Around mile marker 48/50 we started thinking it was time to get off of those hard seats.

Back in Mt Dora we took a one-and-a-half hours off, but then hopped back on for another 5-mile ride. This short family ride is called the Poker Ride. You stop at 4 locations and pick up a playing card at each stop. The 5th you get at the finish. Then whoever has the best hand, wins the pot. I had a pair of Aces and was actually winning for a little while until someone showed me up with three 10's. We never win, so I don't know why we always do this little ride around the hilly streets of Mt Dora.

Just a quick note so you can appreciate how much we're hurting right now: our recent rides (this summer) have only been 25 miles. So we have already more than doubled our mileage in one day.

On Sunday, we did the 26.5 mile Mount Plymouth Ride. Described as "curving roads and rolling hills". Not many rides up here that don't fit that description. It must've been around mile marker 23 when my thighs locked up. I went from doing 17mph in a headwind and screeched down to about 14mph. What a disgrace, but my thighs said "enough is enough".

So, why do we keep coming back to the Mount Dora Bike Festival? Oddly enough, it's because of these hills and curving roads. It's because of the horse farms and cattle pastures. This wonderful pink-colored wheat grass that glow in the dew and morning light. And the views of the lakes that are so abundant throughout Lake County. It's a world away from South Florida. It's a great area to ride.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Who is this little girl?

Here are some hints:
* She's wearing sandles, so she's probably from a warm place...
* She's holding a stuffed alligator, so she's probably from the southeast...
* Her Shirley Temple-curls look highlighted from the sun, so perhaps somewhere beachy...

Now we'll just have to wait for her to come visit my blog and confirm her identity...then I'll tell you more about this little girl.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We're On the Road...Again!

Wow! It feels so strange to be back in Spirit. Here we are in Kissimmee, FL for our first two nights back on the road. We have an appointment tomorrow morning at Camping World. It's time for two new coach batteries (these will be #4&5 for the year: we've replaced the batteries on both cars, the Ford cab, and now the coach batteries, all in one year); and some other minor servicing including an upgrade to our bathroom fan. The little one that was installed when we bought the RV is useless and the seal has shrunk all around it, and it makes noises, and we just didn't like it anymore. So, we're treating ourselves!

From here we'll go to Mt Dora for it's annual Bicycle Festival. We'll arrive sometime on Friday and pedal Saturday and Sunday. We haven't been able to do this ride the last two years because of our travels, but we had done it several times before. You forget you're in Florida riding in this area of the state...there are actually hills! There's one ride I like. It's called Thrill Hill. If you get up enough momemtum just prior to going down, you can get up some great speed. The last time we did it, I broke 40 mph going downhill. Very exciting. Unfortunately you lose that speed quite quickly because the uphill that immediately follows it is just as steep. Just picture a big "V".

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Wildlife Care Center

My last two weeks at Wildlife allowed me to work with some of the mammals for a change. The baby-season is over for songbirds, so the birds under my care whittled down to one (one moor hen) two weeks ago. So as the number of songbirds decreased, I started to help more with doves and pigeons, and then more recently squirrels and opossums. Jessica and Dani taught me how to hand-feed baby squirrels. And I was shown how to clean and feed the larger squirrels and opossums. Very cool. I'm looking forward to learning more about these little critters when I go back to the WCC after our travels. Freda, Jessica, and Freddi - remember you promised I can work with the mammals on my next tour of duty! Ha! They made this promise to me in order to lure me back to the nursery. They also provided me with this framed and signed picture:

The staff in the nursery all signed the picture of these baby mockingbirds...the white one is a rare albino mockingbird we had gotten in over the summer. He had red eyes and was beautiful. What a wonderful gift to remember all of my babies and the great staff at Wildlife Care Center. Thanks to everyone there for their patience and all of the information that they shared with me over these past months. I look forward to going back when I'm back in town.