Kayaking and Driving Northwest

Our check-out time from the Alexander Spring campground in the Ocala National Forest was 1:00PM. We needed to leave earlier than that, because we had a 5 to 6-hour drive ahead of us. But that still left considerable time in the morning for kayaking in the Alexander Spring area.

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I launched the kayak just downstream from the lovely spring, and drifted and paddled for a bit more than a half hour before beginning the paddle back upstream. I got a close-up view of another gator, but no video or pics of it this time. I also saw many turtles, a couple of big fish, and a big black bird. The water was crystal-clear the whole time.

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After we packed up we drove the 5 and a half hours to our reserved campsite at the Coastline RV Campground in Eastpoint, FL. This is in about the center of the panhandle, right on the coast. There is a large bay and a barrier island separating us from the Gulf. The weather was much, much cooler today than it has been, and it was windy the whole day.

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Crystal Clear Waters

Today we turned the corner and began to head back north. We won’t be going straight home, however, so this was just the beginning of the northward part of the journey.

 

Our destination was the Ocala National Forest, and in particular, the campground at Alexander Spring. I have been reading about various natural springs in Florida, and they sound absolutely amazing. Crystal-clear water, at a constant temperature of 73 degrees. I couldn’t wait to swim in one of them.

 

 

It took us longer to get there than we expected, and by the time we got everything set up and settled there wasn’t too much time for swimming in the spring. Just at the minute we got to the parking area for the swimming hole the sky opened and we found ourselves in the middle of a torrential downpour. Swimming was out of the question. But, after a short time, the sky cleared up and I was able to enjoy a swim. The water was a beautiful mixture of blue, green and turquoise. It wasn’t exactly warm, but it was really refreshing and fun.

Arbuckle Creek – Central FL

My sister and her husband moved to Sebring, FL this past fall, and when they heard we were going to be touring Florida they invited us to stop by and see them. On Thursday, after our brief beach time, we headed east to the center of Florida for a couple of more family days.

 

On Saturday my sister found me a creek to kayak in, so off I went to experience an inland Florida paddling adventure. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got to the launch site I found a peaceful river flowing among farm fields and cypress trees.

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Parts of the paddle were really beautiful; parts not so much.

 

The most exciting part was the slight tinge of fear that came from not knowing just what I might find. Would there be alligators? Snakes? I knew there would be birds, because there are birds everywhere in Florida.

 

I was paddling slowly and very quietly through some areas that I thought might support some wildlife. Up ahead – way ahead – I spotted something that just might be an alligator. I was way too far away to tell for sure, so I got out my binoculars to see what I could see. Sure enough! It was a gator! I have a video camera with great zoom feature, so I dug that out and began filming. I was able to get some decent footage of this fellow as he slid through the water. I didn’t go any closer, because I didn’t know how he’d react to my presence.

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A short time later I got a good look at a wading bird that was fishing. It may be a type of heron.

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A little while later I got a good look at some sort of raptor enjoying a picnic lunch.

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It was quite a morning!

A Pause in the Action

My 91-year-old mom lives in Sarasota during the winter months, and we found out a few days ago that she had come down with the flu and pneumonia. We had planned on stopping by to visit her at some point in our southern sojourn, so we headed for Sarasota for a few days to be with her and to help her get back on her feet.

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On Thursday we headed for Lido Key, one of our favorite Florida, Gulf-coast beaches, for a couple hours of beach time.

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Sweetness from Florida Grapes

Today our agenda had us moving about 90 miles further down the coast to a Harvest Host winery in Fort Pierce. They were having their first annual “Old Florida Festival,” with live music, cowboy poetry, and cowboy demonstrations. There would be food fit for the occasion: gator, catfish, froglegs, and so on. We had invited my sister and brother-in-law to join us there, and they agreed to come. (They live about an hour and a half from Fort Pierce.)

 

After having us sign a bunch of papers acknowledging their (many) rules, and signing off on all sort of risks and liabilities, they had us park next to a nice little pond. We were the first of what would turn out to be three Harvest Host guests, and I think we got the nicest parking spot.

 

It was fun to see our relatives, and it was fun to hang out together at the festival. The music was pretty good. One of the bands was a bluegrass band (Blast of Grass), and they played a continuous set for over two hours. Those guys have stamina! No one opted for any of the unusual foods. By the time I was ready to purchase some food it was getting pretty late. All they had left was some of the different main dishes and some key lime pie. Since they were out of sides, they offered to give a double portion of meats. I chose pork and chicken ($12 total). I gave them $15 and they said they’d have to round up some change. I told them if they threw a piece of pie in ($6) they could skip the change. They went along with it. The food was excellent, and the BBQ sauce was great too.

 

We spent some time chatting with a Florida cowboy (known as a “cracker”) named Buddy Miles. He demonstrated for us how he fashions a bull whip out of deer hide. It was amazing to hear and watch how he does this. The finished product is pretty much a work of art.

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Buddy Miles

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We found that there were two other parties of Harvest Host “campers” in premises tonight, so we spent some time getting to know them. JJ and Robin were from West Palm Beach, and they were traveling in a motor home. They told us about their son who is is pitcher in a farm team affiliated with the Washington Nationals. We promised to look for him and to follow his career. Edith and Graham were from Nova Scotia and they were traveling in a travel trailer. We listened to the interesting stories of their travels, and they filled us in on some places we missed seeing when we did our Nova Scotia trip in 2011. We’ll have to go back!

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JJ and Robin
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Graham and Edith

Chillin’ in the Heat

This was a day to lay low. We’ve been pretty busy so far on this trip, with very little time to “do nothing.” The campground we’re in (Manatee Hammock Campground) has access to the Indian River, and it has a pretty nice little pool, so we decided to stay “home” today.

 

When I say “the river,” it’s a little hard to convey the actual size of this thing. It is WIDE! I’m guessing the land across the river is about 2 miles distant. It’s a substantial body of water. I was able to get out on the river at about quarter to ten. This was probably about an hour later than I should have started out, because shortly after I was on the water the wind began to increase. I’ve been out on Cayuga Lake in very heavy seas, so I knew what the kayak could handle, and I knew I wasn’t in any danger. Yet. But I was aware, the whole time I was out there, of the rapidly increasing wind and waves. I knew my time was limited. I paddled along the shore and enjoyed seeing various camps, mobile home parks, and a few expensive properties. There is hurricane damage all along here, and even the expensive homes are still unable to use their docks and boathouses. I think what I’ve heard is that there is such a backlog of repair work that no one can find contractors to do the jobs. (This is from Hurricane Irma which touched virtually the entire state of Florida in fall, 2017.)

 

The whole time I was on the water I was looking for wildlife. Manatees? Alligators? Who knew what might be lurking below the brown waters?  After I turned to head back I did spot a dolphin about 30 yards away.

 

The rest of the day was very peaceful and restful as we relaxed in the campground. It felt really good to have a day without an agenda.

 

(Space)-High Expectations

Kennedy Space Center. Cape Canaveral. Places that absolutely captured my imagination throughout my childhood. Growing up in the 1960’s I was enthralled by the space program. I followed every news story of the Mercury program, the Gemini program, and the Apollo program. At the age of 15 I could tell you every detail of how the moon launch was going to unfold. Much later, when the Teacher-in-Space program was first announced I gave serious consideration to applying. I watched, live, in horror as the Challenger disaster occurred. I have truly been a space enthusiast from my earliest days. So, to find ourselves camping a mere 10 miles from the launch site, it was a no-brainer that we had to visit. Never mind the expense. I had to see it. It was almost like a Pilgrimage.

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Our first indication that things were going to be a little more complicated than I had thought came when we found ourselves in a line of cars trying to get in to park, and the parking fee was going to be $10. This felt more like a trip to an amusement park than a serious museum visit. The next thing was a massive line to get in to purchase tickets.

I had found discount coupons, but even with that, our bill for the two of us was north of $94. We were now into this for over $100. Still, this was NASA. This was the space race. It had to be worth it. Right?

 

Included in our ticket price was a bus tour of the launch pads and a building dedicated to the moon landing. Awesome! Also included were two shows at the 3-D IMAX theater. Sounds good. But the ticket agent told us to arrive at the IMAX at least 15 minutes before the scheduled time of the shows we wanted because seating was limited and not guaranteed. Hmm.

 

After a brief tour through the “rocket garden” where we could see some actual 1960’s era rockets, we headed to the tour-bus-loading area. I was surprised to see the length of the lines! It took us well over a half hour to work our way through a line to get on a bus. The last time I remember waiting in a half-hour line was at an amusement park waiting for a roller-coaster ride. It seemed like the comparison to an amusement park was becoming a theme for the day. By the time we boarded the bus we had been at the Kennedy Space Center for over an hour, and we had only had a brief taste of anything approaching an educational experience (the walk through the rocket garden).

 

Fortunately the bus ride and the Saturn V building were very worthwhile. It was absolutely amazing to stand beneath a real Saturn V rocket and experience the sheer size and scale of it.

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The rest of the day was back to disappointing. There were long lines to everything. There was a massive over-dependence on multimedia presentations, there was overbearing crowd-control, and generally an amusement park feel to everything we did. The opportunity to see firsthand the actual space shuttle Atlantis was the exception. That experience nearly took my breath away.

 

By the time we left, at 7:00PM, we had been there nearly 8 hours. Unlike most visits to museums, this experience had very little learning associated with it. It’s a shame, really, that NASA couldn’t have done a better job of this.

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