Thursday, December 14, 2006

Collecting on the Road

This goes back to my remarks earlier about Lucy collecting rocks along their trip in "Long, Long Trailer". I'm usually pretty good about resisting these temptations...but it's not easy. While out West, I did want to collect rocks - there's such a beautiful array of colors and textures you just want to keep a 'piece' to remember it all. I think I did permit myself two or three thumbnail-sized rocks...they were so small I've lost them by now.

But seashells are too hard for me to resist. Especially when I'm close to home and I'm heading that direction. Then I'll allow myself. Actually, Andy will allow me to. He's more disciplined about such things then me. And the Gulf Coast is so splendid for shell-collecting.

I wanted to show you the new additions to my collection:
The total gathering from this two-month trip.













And, here are some of my special finds:
A Gaudy Natica.
I've found some different moon shells over the years, but never found this pretty, or should I say "gaudy", shell.
Banded Tulips.
These shells are so delicate that it is very hard to find them in one piece.
A Horse Conch.
Oh, I have many, many conch shells scattered around my house - but mostly Queen Conchs or Florida Fighting Conchs. One winged conch. This is our first Horse Conch. He's a little weathered and we had to chip off some of the barnacles, but I don't throw back my "firsts". I already had to give up several Crowned Conchs because they were occupied - either by the original owners, or crabs.
Lightning Whelks.
Generally, not an unusual find. But look at the one on the right...it's different. It curves in the opposite direction and has a flatter cone up front. I'll have to find out what this one is.
Olives.
Again, not an unusual find, but I liked the colors on these three. The picture doesn't do them justice.
My "Sunset Collection"
Scallops, Coquina, Jingles - all in pinks, yellows, oranges, purples, and reds.
In the rear - some type of a Fig shell. According to my shell book, it is commonly found off of western Mexico to Peru. So, albeit weathered and dull, still a keeper.
In the front - Apple Murex. Another uncommon find for my collection. Especially with color.
The other two? Not so sure - sorry!


One of the reasons I enjoy collecting seashells so much is because of the environment. Imagine yourself on a white-sand beach with the Gulf gently lapping at your feet and the sun setting off to the west. Breathe in the fresh salt air. The pelicans are diving for fish, dolphins breach, the fist-sized sandpipers are darting along the water's edge, the gulls and terns just stand there and watch you stoop and walk, stoop and walk. If you get too tired of the stooping and walking, you can sit and dig through the sand at your feet. Shells are buried about a foot deep in spots. It feels like a vacation all in itself. You forget your worries, or let your mind casually process life. And with all of this surrounding you your eyes are looking for that special shell - it could be the color that strikes you, or the pattern, or knowing that you find a fragile one in one piece, or it is one you haven't found before. But each one is unique and beautiful like a piece of art.

So, now what that I've collected another mass of shells? I have to find more glass containers to store these in. My current containers are all full :)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bonita Springs, FL

We wanted to end our trip on the Gulf Coast. So on Sunday, we finally peeled ourselves away from our friends in Zolfo (we were supposed to leave Saturday) and headed southwest. Bonita Springs is just south of Ft Myers. It's about 6 miles inland, but was as close to the sand as we could get. The prices of the Florida RV parks are outrageous in the wintertime and it's a good thing we are heading home soon. We were joking that if we do get back out on the road in January, we are going to have to drive straight through the state. We're still earnestly trying to stay around $20/night, but it was harder on this trip. Partly because of our need for WIFI reduced our options.

Bonita Lake RV Park has WIFI, but it wasn't working well. They've been waiting for weeks for the repairman. Not an unfamiliar story. But at least we were able to get WIFI most of the time if we sat outside at the pool deck. Not a bad arrangement at all, actually. It was covered and had electric and there were large picnic tables to use. One night we could get WIFI in our rig by placing our Linksys Travel Router on the roof of Spirit in line-of-sight with the antennae. That was cool, too.

We went road-biking one day up Hickory Rd which runs north-south close to the beach. We rode from Bonita Beach up to Ft Myers and back. Twenty-two miles. It was pretty, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Bike lanes were only on a portion of the road, and several drivers were not very courteous when sharing the road. A dump truck that passed within inches of us shattered my already frayed nerves. In Florida they just passed a "three-foot rule" which states that drivers are required to allow three feet of space when passing bicyclists. Even three feet doesn't feel like much allowance if the car is going 50 mph. So, a "thank you" to each of you who moves out of the lane when passing a bicyclist, slows down when passing, or waits til its safe to pass for all parties involved. I know it might not mean much to some people, but it is my life. And, as Jon Bon Jovi sings, "I want to live my life while I'm alive!". So thanks again to those who share the road, and brickbats to the dump truck driver who thought the law was a "three-inch rule".

Besides the views of the waterways on our bike ride, I also enjoyed the amusing mailboxes along Hickory Road. Here's just two of the many creative ones I saw.










We went shelling at sunset...

















We went shelling via our kayaks...I can't really say we went "kayaking" because we only paddled about 3/4 of a mile before getting sidetracked with the shells. You could see them at low-tide along the shores of deserted beaches or on the sandbars.


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Zolfo Springs, FL

After leaving Cortez we drove to stay with Jim and Chris in Zolfo Springs. They are working at the Thousand Trails - Peace River RV Park. Jim is so lucky! His job is to work 12 hrs/wk in the community center helping people with their computers and how to use WIFI. This is a perfect job for a Geek. This is what he loves to do and is a perfect opportunity for him and Chris to make contacts to promote their company Geeks on Tour. Jim does the hardware: installs Datastorm satellite dishes; installs WIFI systems in RV parks; repairs computers; etc. While Chris is the software girl: she builds websites for individuals and companies; she creates Access databases; she is teaching Picasa and Blogger seminars; and more and more and more. These two can do it all in my mind. By the end of the weekend I began to refer to them as "Gods on Tour". They've been bugging me to create email addresses @diandy.com. Well, I was having a problem and couldn't get it to work. Jim sat down at my computer and ,viola, five minutes later he had it working. I'm telling you - he's a god. I would've never thought to retype my password entered into my email account settings! Ha! Yeah, sometimes Jim has to deal with idiots like me who mistype passwords...but hey, in my defense - it's hard to know you mistyped something when it just looks like a bunch of dots.

We had a great time hanging out with them and we learned a lot, too. The Park had WIFI at the clubhouse, but not at the sites. We parked behind Jim and Chris and tapped into their Datastorm (satellite internet dish). Satellite is slower than WIFI but we could do what we needed to do. We learned, however, that JiWire, a new program installed for WIFI security, caused us some grief watching our video or audio casts. Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing Picasa and Blogger. Two programs that allow us to organize our pictures and share them with you all. She's gotten nitty gritty with these programs and I thank her for it. She is able to tell me the pros and cons to help me ensure I won't lose my precious memories. So, if you want to learn more about these programs - you can visit her site(s). She has articles and tutorials and all sorts of information.

Oh, it wasn't all "business". We played some pool and found that after several games we were better at giving away the win then deserving it. Only once did someone actually win the game and put the eight-ball in vs. scratching or causing some other foul. And, believe it or not, it was Andy that won. Yes, we were all in shock at that.

We also had two movie-nights. One was outside at the pool area and was hosted by Jim and Chris for the entire park to enjoy. The movie was 'Long, Long Trailer' with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. It was a beautiful, starry night and a great movie for this RVing crowd. We actually found that it was a better movie than the more recent "RV" with Robin Williams. Alot of what was poked at is still true with today's RVers. For example, Lucy liked to collect rocks to remind themselves of all of the places they visited...well, doing that in an RV could be hazardous. But there is a desire to "collect" things along your travels. More on that later. Our second movie night was more intimate. It was in Jim and Chris' RV using their projector and pull-down window shade as a screen. We watched one of our movies that we got from Netflix. Yeah, we are still using them. We dropped down to the basic account: one movie at a time, two per month at $10/mo. We figured that with mailing time and viewing time, two would be the most we could get anyway. It's about the same as a rental, and cheaper than buying movies, and it's fun to get a movie delivered every two weeks.

Another exciting moment for us while in Zolfo was that we were able to see the shuttle, Discovery, take-off on Saturday night. I had my camera with me at the pool-hall, but not my tripod. Zolfo is about 100 miles away from Cape Canaveral, so we were surprised as to how bright the sky lit up at take-off, and then how clearly we could see the shuttle itself.



You can read more about our stay with Jim and Chris on their blog. Oh, while you're over there, take a look at the video from Namibia from Marilyn's trip over to Africa. Chris' mom, Marilyn, takes such wonderful, wonderful trips around the world. I want to be just like her when I grow up!

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cortez, FL

Cortez is just on the eastside of the Gulf Intracoastal from Anna Maria Island/Bradenton Beach. The RV Park we stayed at, Holiday Cove, was great for several reasons: it was only a 3/4 mile run to the beach; our site backed up to a canal; and lots of different birds liked to roost in the Australian Pines along the canal. Ok, and their WIFI was fast and steady.
Here's our view of the canal. We could've paddled from here out to the bay and then onto the Gulf. Time just didn't allow for that on this visit.

There were several nests that Blue Herons were making. It was interesting to watch the males go out and collect the large sticks, and the females place them in preparation for their nesting season.

I think these mature brown pelicans are so pretty with their white and yellow heads.

An overly friendly squirrel decided to come for a visit. We were initially shocked when he stayed on the step when Andy exited the RV, but I was even more surprised when he jumped up onto the screen door. Do you think he's used to being hand-fed????



Our friends, Jim and Chris, came to visit one day. They're currently working at a Thousand Trails park in Zolfo Springs - about 60 miles east of here. We all hopped on our bikes and biked to the beach. We ate lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating with views of the Gulf and watched dolphins jump out of the water while we dined. From there we just pedaled around town and then ended with a beer on the outside deck of a bar overlooking the Intracoastal.
Here's our crowd posing in front of our lunch-spot with a view.
On our bike ride we came across some sand sculptures. Most had started to deteriorate, but this Pirate Ship was in perfect condition still - look at the details on this.
Here's the rest of the pirate ship.
You can read more their visit at jimandchris.com.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Dunedin, FL

"Not all who wander are lost." I forget who said this, but I sometimes feel it is very apropos for the way we travel. We are again on the west coast of Florida, having cut straight across the state. We stopped in Seffner for one night along the way at Lazy Days. This is the dealership where we bought Spirit. They have an RV Park next door...offering WIFI and a jacuzzi. Sometimes we need to keep our needs simple.

We chose Dunedin because of its proximity to Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island. Since we're not "collecting" national parks on this short trip, we had decided to add to our collection of Florida State Parks. We picked up two more this past weekend.

Our first night in town we read that there was to be an "Old Fashioned Christmas" in downtown Dunedin. I thought it would help me get into the Christmas spirit. There was an outdoor concert, carriage rides with horses wearing sleigh bells, luminarias lining the sidewalks and the shops were all decorated for the holidays. There was also a lightpole decorating contest - these were just two of my favorites. The two guys hanging on the pole on the left are from my favorite Christmas special!


















Saturday morning we went over to Honeymoon Island just to walk the beach, look for seashells, and check out kayak launching for Caladesi. (Caladesi Island is only accessible by boat.) We had a wonderful time just scouring the white sand beaches for shells. We found lots of conch shells, lightning whelks, and a variety of smaller ones. But Andy eventually pulled me away so we could go to Caladesi. We launched from the Causeway instead of from within Honeymoon Island State Park. It was an easier put in and the water was flatter in the harbor then trying to paddle across Hurricane Pass.

Once we reached Caladesi, we paddled to the marina and ate lunch on a picnic table overlooking all of the sailboats. A short hike took us to the other side of the island and to the beach that is rated as one of the prettiest beaches in the country. We couldn't stay long because low tide would stop us from continuing our paddle along the interior canoe trail. The 3/4 mile section we did was narrow, and this particular section required us to separate our paddles and paddle our kayaks like a canoe. Wonderful - like a tunnel. Good thing I didn't notice all of the little crabs waiting to jump from the mangroves.
Quick Notes for those wanting to paddle Caladesi: watch your tides and when you're in the mangrove tunnels follow the PVC markers. Always turn to the side that the PVC pole is located - for example, if it's on your lft, turn left. Otherwise, who knows where you'll end up in this maze. More on paddling Caladesi.



Back out in the harbor the tide was going out and we noticed that the edge of the island was lined with oyster beds. Paddling close to these beds, we noticed all of the living shells taking up residence here as well. We picked up lightning whelks and a variety of conchs. All were still occupied which meant I couldn't keep them. Bummer! We continued our paddle to the north end of the island and got out to walk the beach. There were only two other people at this remote end. There are tons of birds in this area - oystercatchers, terns, sandpipers, plovers, pelicans, ospreys, herons, and more. And when you paddle across the shallow, grassy areas the fish start jumping. And if they don't jump out of the water, their movements alone will cause the water to boil. It was a great paddle. We spent about five hours on our tour today.

On Sunday we rode our bikes along the Pinellas Trail north to Tarpon Springs, then south again to downtown Dunedin and then out the causeway and into Honeymoon Island for more shelling.

We noticed that there were a variety of birds that liked to visit the canal right by our RV park. Here you can see woodstorks, a roseate spoonbill, and an egret.

A wonderful variety of birds here on the Gulf.

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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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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

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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