Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Titusville, FL

After leaving Smyrna, we decided to stop for a night at Titusville. It's only about 50 miles south, so it wasn't because of the long drive. I have a girlfriend that lives in neighboring Rockledge and we thought we'd take advantage of our driving route and stop to visit. Thankfully she didn't mind the 24-hour notice.

Laura and Bob drove up to our campsite at Manatee Hammock County Park prior to going out to dinner. We decided on a Malaysian restaurant so we could eat meat-free tonight. After four days at the Thomases, we needed to get back to our normal diet. Laura and Andy both ordered the Basil Fried Rice - comes with string beans, mushrooms, snow peas, and basil. Sounds yummy, right? Well, much to our surprise, the Basil Fried Rice arrives loaded with shrimp and calamari and no vegetables! After asking our waiter, who just came to the States 4 months ago, about this - his response was "It's the menu's fault". We almost burst out laughing right there.
Anyway, they fixed the meals, gave us a free desert, and gave Bob & Laura coupons for their next visit.

Our one-night stopover in Titusville turned into three nights. The WIFI at the park worked great and we were getting caught up on stuff. We got to see Laura again for lunch on Wednesday. We went to her house and then walked along the Intercoastal to Cocoa Village. Had a great lunch at Osorio's. Andy gave this pizza a "10" - which is an almost impossible rating in his mind. Cocoa Village is an adorable little shopping area. I wish I had more time to shop, but we had to get back to work. We cursed the weatherman on our walk back because they said the rains would stop in the morning, but we got soaked. Good thing we had our raincoats with us...but we had left them in the car back at Laura's.
Titusville is located on the "Space Coast" - think Cape Canaveral. There are lots of museums here, the Space Center, and some great kayaking spots. But we couldn't take advantage of any of those on this visit. At least the RV Park was on the intercoastal so we could look at the water periodically. The Intercoastal is so wide here, it doesn't feel like it could be part of the same waterway in Ft Lauderdale.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving

Aaaah, a jacuzzi!! One reason we were so excited to go to Joe & Dot's for Thanksgiving was their jacuzzi. No offense guys, but we have not been in a jacuzzi since leaving home. We had stayed at several RV parks that said they had "spas" but they weren't "real" or didn't work - one place had some jets in a circular section of the pool and said that was a spa (same temperature as the pool); another place had a jacuzzi that was so small we wouldn't have been able to sit in it together; and another place had a fire the night before we arrived and it burned up all of the pool equipment.

Here's our RV in Joe's driveway in New Smyrna Beach. They had such a crowd for the holiday weekend that we even made space for our nephew, Nick, and his fiance, Amy, to sleepover in the RV. Our first sleepover! It was a great weekend - ping pong, bocci, croquet, eating, drinking, hanging out, biking, or whatever. But the surf was a little rough, and whenever I went to the beach, the high tide had the surf up against the buildings and the ramps to the beach.

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Looking Back

Just a quick photo from the beach at Hannah Park in Jacksonville. I finally uploaded more pictures onto my computer and realized I didn't post any pictures from our short stop in Jville. As you can see by the sky, it wasn't much of a beach day.
Andy bought a new toy - an air compressor. For some unknown reason he didn't like pumping up our 10 tires (6 RV, 4 Car) with the bicycle pump any longer. Not to mention 4 bike tires, and 2 air springs. But he got such a good workout from doing it the 'old' way!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Andy and I will be with his family. We'll be splitting our time between New Smyrna Beach and Lake Mary. For the first time ever we have parked our RV in someone's driveway. We'll post pictures later. We're on 20 amp and have left no space in the driveway for cars. It'll be a crazy weekend.

Jacksonville, FL

It's always strange to go home again. We lived in Jacksonville back in the early 1990's and hadn't been back much since. Maybe once or twice in all these years. Our friend Glenn now lives here, and on the same road we used to live on. We came to spend a few more days visiting with him. We stayed at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Unfortunately we didn't have the time or cooperating weather to do some of the things we would've loved to do on this visit. We would've loved to have tried out their network of off-road biking trails; and enjoyed the beach; and enjoyed the beautiful setting. We had a great site - with a view of the lake. But when we were at the RV it was too damp and chilly to sit out and enjoy it. I should mention that this city park borders Mayport Naval Station. So, occasionally there'd be planes or helicopters flying overhead, but for some reason it is cool when they're doing military maneuvers, and just plain ole noisy if its private/commercial planes.

We did, however, meet Glenn that first night at Ragtime in Atlantic Beach. We used to love this restaurant and found we still love their beers. The little neighborhood looks even better than we remembered. It felt odd to recognize some places and take in all that was new. Tuesday we worked at the public library and then drove by our old house. They had all of our bushes and trees we planted and the house was still the same color. Wow! Later that night we met Glenn at his new apartment and then grabbed a casual meal at Tijuana Flats and tried all their different hot sauces.

Glenn, we hope you continue enjoying Jville, but we sure do miss you down in Ft Lauderdale. Next time we come to Jville, we'll spend more time so we can see more of the rivers and the State Parks there.

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Glennubatime

Our friend Glenn came to visit us in White Springs for the weekend. He was our first "overnight" guest. He didn't actually stay with us in the RV, though. He brought with him all of his new camping gear and camped out in the tent area of Kelly's RV Park. It was his first experience in cold-weather camping. Friday night was aroud 38 degrees, and Saturday night dropped to 30. Good thing we didn't have to chisel him out of his sleeping bag. We just lured him into our RV for some hot coffee instead.

We took him on the hike to Big Shoals:


We paddled the Suwannee River. This time we set up a shuttle system with both of our cars so we could paddle further. Some of the karst formations reminded me of the hoo-doos from out west.
There was also lots of interesting cypress tree trunks.
This area proved to be a narrow paddle. We went single file. But at least it had enough water. Other areas were so low that we had to portage. At least Glenn had waterproof socks on, and waterproof pants, and waterproof gloves. What did we have on? Our bathing suits. Not very nice of you Glenn to outgear us!


Then we took him mountain biking on Sunday. We did one lap through Gar Pond and one lap through Swift Creek. We would've loved to have tried the trails at Big Shoals, but we didn't know if they were advanced or not. Glenn hadn't been on his mountain bike in a year, so we didn't want to get too technical. Not to mention that I'm not capable...


It was about this point that I think Glenn started to lose faith in our ability to be "trail leaders". Or at least our ability to remember the trail details. He asked us how much more of the "Rollercoasters" section there was, and I told him I thought we were at the river, so it was done. Not quite so. We had several more hills. Then he'd ask us how much further on the singletrack. And we said, "oh not that far". Not quite accurate on that either. Note: I'm leaving out some of his expletives on that last question. Needless to say, when we tried to pursuade him to take another trail to get back to the campground and I described it as "direct", he was smart to say no. I had again forgotten how many hills and twists and turns there were. Oh, well. That's what happens when you've only done a trail twice before. Sorry Glenn!

I still think he had fun, eventhough he wasn't expecting us to suck him into our weekend-warrior mentality. We did have some downtime - hanging around the fire ring at night, we played a little pool, watched some football, and just caught up on life.

If you want to read about Glenn's Version of his weekend, you can click on the link and go to his blog.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

White Springs, FL - Biking

Andy's threatening to take away my mountain bike (again). He says if I can't play without getting hurt, he's not going to let me play anymore. It was our second day of mountain biking, and my second day of some blood-letting. Oh, nothing major. More scrapes and bruises. We were biking the Swift Creek Conservation Area (accessible from our doorstep) and I was really enjoying this area called "Rollercoasters". I came down this steep grade, hit the sand pit at the bottom, which sent my front wheel towards the left and I realized I was heading straight for this little tree (the one next to me in this picture). I took my foot out to prepare for a stop when my pedal spun back and smacked me in my shin. I think "embedded" might be a better word because I did have to remove its toothy edges from my skin. A little blood, a big bruise. Here's my problem: I would like to say I'm a Mountain Biking Momma (skilled, aggressive, confident); instead I'm a Mountain Biking Baby. Most of my accidents and minor injuries are caused by me being overly-cautious. I lose confidence on rocky, rooty uphills causing me to slow, lose my balance and teeter over. My first reaction when I doubt myself is to bail-out. And bailing-out on hills, next to ravines, heading towards trees, riding over log towers, etc aren't always the best place to try and put your foot down. I find more often than not that the ground is just not there. Practice, practice, practice. As with anything in life, everything gets easier the more your practice. Lap two around this area proves my point. This is me loving the Rollercoasters again - and this time I stayed straight thru the sand pit.
The Swift Creek Area is a little more challenging than Gar Pond, in my Mtn Biking Baby's opinion. Tons of fun - don't get me wrong. I'm just glad we did Gar Pond first as a warm up the other day.

"Walk bikes"? When you get a warning sign like this, it is usually recommended to comply. They are not posted frequently. At this marker you could've gone clear off into a dry ravine once you got the speed and power to get up this short, steep, rooty slope and failed to make that sharp left.

(Sorry, Blogger is giving me grief with my photos. I'll revisit this page to try and fix pic#2 when I think its working again. Blogger has been giving lots of people problems. See Chris' post for more information on why.

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White Springs, FL - Suwannee

On this trip we learned that there are a system of hubs all along the Suwannee River. It's called the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. The hubs include state parks, river camps, and county parks. All allow overnight camping and are situated about one-day's paddle away from one another so you can design paddling trips of various lengths. Thought this might be interesting to someday plan a multiday trip down the Suwannee.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

White Springs, FL - Kayaking

So what if the nighttime temperatures dropped to 34 degrees! And so what if the Suwannee River is only inches deep! We are going kayaking!

The reality was that the low levels provided such an incredible perspective of the river that we absolutely loved it. And, being the wimps we are, we waited til 2:00 to go out so it was comfortable in the low 70's.

This area of Florida is known for its karst limestone formations - which surrounds our springs, our aquifer, and creates sinkholes. With the low water levels, the karst features were very apparent. And so fascinating with their sponge-like holes and channels.

We put in at the public boat ramp on Rte 41 - about one mile from Kelly's RV Park.
Here Andy is trying to find an access route past Little Shoals. After the first portage over the rocky ledge, Andy saw that two others would be required, so we decided to head west instead today. A fun little maze to paddle into though.
Limestone boulders lined the edges of the river. The white rocks provided a contrast to the golds, greens, and reds of the changing leaves.
Karst shelves jutted out from the river bank at various levels. You can see where tree trunks and roots grow through the holes and cracks of the limestone. So with the low waters both sides were visible - topside and bottomside.
We were able to make it downriver past two sets of small 'ripples', but there just wasn't enough water to dig your paddles into to get back up and over these shallow, rocky sections. We were very, very surprised when we began this first wet portage...the water was freezing, Colorado-like temperatures. I swear it was in the 50's. Our feet were frozen for the rest of the paddle.
Andy's first message in a bottle! How cool. During a second wet portage, he found this bottle caught up in a log jam. After reaching the boat ramp he popped it open and found a note. Someone in the Atlanta area code is searching for a soul mate. Since Andy wasn't eligible, we wrapped it back up and threw it back into the river to see what fate will bring her.
The note was dated 11/11/06 and was decorated with a Christmas theme. Tiny white beads made it look like a snow-globe, and tiny figures of Santa and Christmas presents were snug inside. Hopefully she'll get the Christmas present she's wishing for.

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White Springs, FL

We revisited Stephen Foster State Park. Now, of course, I can't get the song out of my head..."way down upon the Swannee Ribber"...but a nice place to visit. The museum has several dioramas depicting scenes from his songs, the carillon bells toll his songs every two hours, and just walking the grounds with all of the live oak trees puts you back in time.

Afterward we drove over to Big Shoals conservation area and took a one-mile hike to the Big Shoals. Now this is some low water levels! At normal levels this is a Class III rapid. At these levels, you can't even get a kayak down. I tried to find out exactly what water level the river is at, but couldn't find the information. Average I think is 40-50' (above sea level); flood stage is 70'; 18 mos ago it reached 82'. We've seen signs showing how high the water level reached in previous floods - 5' above ground, half a mile from the river! One of the reasons the conservation areas were created was to reduce property loss during these floods. One of the advantages, hopefully, of having such low water levels (besides no motor boats on the river) is that we are hoping to find some fossils or artifacts. Several rivers in Florida are known for finding shark's teeth and other interesting fossils.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

White Springs, FL

We stopped here in White Springs in 2004 on our trip, but it was so cold we didn't take advantage of all of the fun things to do here. So, we've returned and we are spending a week to take in all the mountain biking and kayaking we can do. This visit we're staying at Kelley's RV Park which backs up to a conservation area. We took one of the trails out the back yard and biked the trails of the Gar Pond district. How convenient!

Our only concern was getting lost. We knew that we were hemmed in on all sides by roads or rivers, so there's only so far we'd get before finding our bearings, but the doubletracks and singletracks crisscrossed in every direction, that it took some time, without a map, to get our bearings. Plus a few glances at my compass. One thing that helped us was that Miss Lilly's (a biker bar near our campground) was having a Battle of the Bands outdoors, so we could hear music in certain areas that would help us know which way was east.

The singletrack was great - packed surface, narrow, winding. The saw palmettos were one of the biggest hazzards. Their razor edged blades will cut if you veer off the path (or, in my case, fall into one). But my biggest dread is their roots. It looks like it is a constant battle for the Suwannee Bicycle Association to keep these plants from taking over the trails. Only one small section was a nuisance.

We were disappointed though that we missed the SBA's Fat Tire Festival Nov 3-5. We'll have to try and remember that for another year. Check out their website for maps and other information when visiting this area.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Florida Snakes

A couple of weeks ago we were talking with a neighbor in a campground about the variety of snakes in Florida. We laughed it off and said we never seem to run into snakes in our home state, just out in the deserts of the West.

Well, you know what happens when you make comments like that? You start to see snakes everywhere...
This Black Racer came to visit at one of our campgrounds. He slithered up into a vacant space next to us. As long as he doesn't come into ours, no problem. A little while later we saw him crossing into the field and getting attacked by a mockingbird. Guess he got too close for comfort for the bird as well.
This Yellow Rat Snake was basking in the sun on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail. Andy and I were riding side-by-side and had just been distracted crossing an intersection when we came upon him. I was on his tail, Andy on his head. We both had to swerve to miss him by an inch on either end. The poor guy was scared stiff. It wasn't until after taking this photo that he started to move.

The one that made us nervous was the "red on yellow will kill a fellow" - the venomous Coral Snake. Not to be confused with "red on black, ok for Jack" - the Kingsnake. Needless to say, we're always confusing the saying so when we see these red, yellow, black ringed snakes we start yelling, "how does that saying go again? aaahhh!" Anyway, I digress. We were biking on an off-road trail in Paynes Prairie when he almost ran over a Coral Snake. Andy never even saw it. I was the one behind him screaming, "snake!". With Andy's allergies and his reactions to ant bites and bee stings, I never want to see him bit by a venomous snake. Especially when we're in the woods or another remote location.

Something tells me we are going to be encountering more of Florida's snakes, so stay tuned! It's time for us to get another identification book. I just try to identify them after an encounter. We currently use this website for Florida Snake Identification.

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Micanopy, FL - Gainesville Hawthorne Trail

We found yet another rail-trail. The Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail is 16 miles each way. My favorite section was the first four miles just south of Gainesville. It runs along Paynes Prairie curving around sink holes and dipping and swerving through, what they call, the Hilly Hammocks. There are several spur trails and overlooks with views of the Prairie, Alachua Lake, and Paynes Prairie Creek. Keep your eyes out for the common armadillos and gopher tortoises. One of these days we're going to have to stop and pet an armadillo. We figure that since they appear so blind and deaf to our existence that we could walk right up and pet them. The trails that we've been on recently have been in very good shape. On this trail there were some sections that trees have begun to uproot, but they were clearly marked with yellow and black paint. With all the trees in the area, you have to expect some of these bumps.



The boardwalk along Paynes Prairie Creek.
Andy laughs as I take his picture over my shoulder...as I'm riding. He gets impatient when I want to stop to take photos, so occasionally I'll pull my old Nikon out of my butt-pack while I'm riding. And, sometimes it works!
My favorite section - the Hilly Hammocks. It was more fun going downhill on these s-curves, but uphill wasn't too bad.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Micanopy, FL - Paynes Prairie Preserve

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is just south of Gainesville. There's something quite fascinating about this park. I think it's because of the changes in landscape and texture. There is the wooded hammock, dry meadows, wet prairies, hills, and lakes. And with that the variety of wildlife: songbirds, wading birds, hawks, bobcats, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and believe it or not, a herd of wild "cracker" horses and even 18 bison have been re-introduced. The "wet prairie" used to be a lake until a sinkhole drained it.
The entrance to the park and the campground is so wooded that we initially forgot we were in a park called a "Prairie". That was until we visited the observation tower that overlooks the prairie. It felt like we were standing at a window looking into another world; the line between prairie and hammock is so clearly defined it seems planned.

There are hiking and biking trails throughout the woods and a couple out into the prairie. The Gainesville-Hawthorne trail runs along the eastern edge of the State Park. Just another reason we came.

One night when the moon was out we strolled down to the lake. Tiny bats were zipping about and in the darkness you would think they are going to fly right into you. Good thing for their radar!

A mile down the road is the historic town of Micanopy (mick-ah-nahpee). Most of the shops were antique shops, but there were a couple of art galleries and two cafes. Small but quaint. Loved the old buildings.

Now I'm jumping ahead, chronologically speaking, so I can tell you a story about what happened yesterday morning when we left the State Park. Have you seen the movie "RV" with Robin Williams? In it there is a scene when they are dumping their sewage and it backs up and shoots skyward. Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic...but gross just the same. This has never happened to us before, but as Andy was dumping the black tank (think the worst stuff) when it immediately backed up and started gurgling back up out of the hole in the ground! There was no time to stop the outflow so the only thing Andy could do was jump back and away from the rapidly growing pool. Two seconds later, it started to go down the drain but it was too late. Andy had to hose down the area, his shoes, the tires on the RV and everything else. Funny thing was when he said to me, "At least it doesn't stink." I, however, was standing downwind of this fiasco and told him how wrong he was. Aahhh, just another RVing adventure.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bushnell, FL - Van Fleet Trail

It's only 795 miles to Richmond, VA via this old rail line. The General James A. Van Fleet Trail is a Rail-to-Trail, and has to be one of the most remote biking trails in Florida. It runs 29.2 miles from the town of Mabel to Polk City. It is paved, extremely flat, and extremely straight. You could see the path ahead of you as far as your eyes could see. The only houses we saw (on the 15-mile section we biked) were near Mabel, the northernmost trailhead, and near the Bay Lake Road, another trailhead. Otherwise you are riding past fields, forests, tree farms, marshes and swamp. Hunting is allowed in the area, as it is part of a Wildlife Management Area, so pay attention to your seasons. The trail cuts through the Green Swamp Conservation Area.

We started in Mabel and headed south. If you are trying to find the Mabel trailhead from Bushnell (like us) note that the Trailhead is just west of 469. We had a 50/50 chance of guessing which way to turn, and, yep, we turned east at first. It seemed like such a fall day, except that it was a little warm (80's). There were crunchy leaves on the path, and a blustery wind. Some of the trees were changing colors. The most dangerous aspect of pedaling this path was dodging the butterflies, erratic dragonflies, and swirling leaves. Birds were chirping and fluttering back and forth. We saw lots of gopher tortoises perched at the holes of their sandy burrows. But my best surprise of the day was when I heard some rustling in the bushes on the edge of the path. I figured it would be a tortoise or an armadillo, the ususal critters, but instead I saw this little round, black face. By the time I stopped and turned around this wet river otter had gotten almost onto the trail, he saw me watching him, twirled around and was gone. And here I had been searching for a river otter in the rivers while kayaking - never expecting to see one on a bike trail! Wow. Unfortunately for Andy, he was about a mile ahead of me trying to get exercise out of this ride...whereas I always ride looking around at the scenery.

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Bushnell, FL - Paddling

We celebrated Halloween by paddling the Withlacoochee River. We put in at a little city park in Nobleton and paddled upriver for about 1 1/2 hours before turning around. This picture is from our lunch break at our turnaround point. The water level was extremely low. Although we didn't have to portage in any spots, there was no floating back. It was a paddle both ways. And if you weren't paying attention, it was easy to bump into submerged tree trunks, branches or rocks (adding some excitement). And being such a pretty river, it was easy to get distracted. There were a variety of birds and lots of basking turtles. The surrounding forest itself was entrancing. Once we paddled past that first mile, and past Duval's RV Park, there weren't many other houses along the river. The one thing we found interesting, though, was the lack of alligators. We're so used to seeing them, we were surprised by their absence. Only once did we hear a huge splash, but never got a visual to confirm it was a gator.

We'd like to do this river again some day when the water is at normal levels. Water lines on the trees showed it was about six feet below normal.