Whalechaser's Musings

No Matter Where You Go...
There You Are
Make the Best of It

Friday, February 29, 2008

Thinkin' about...

Our Elderhostel program ended today and as we were making our way east to Jacksonville for the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail, I got to thinking about some of the more unusual occurrences of the past week.

The most interesting event happened when I went to the ladies room just before taking our hike to the Big Shoals. It was uneventful in every way until I was ready to flush. That's when I noticed the four foot wooden stick in the corner. My mind started racing,(as it is known to do when there is an unsolved mystery) and I was trying to determine what the purpose of its placement right there inside the stall was. I bent a little and noticed that there was another one in the stall next to me...I presumed there was one in the third stall as well. But why?

The place was spotlessly clean, so it was not for beating off spiders or anything like that.

Hummnn...maybe to fend off gators? Every tourist in Florida has wild imaginings about them and I guess I am no different. But even I realize that a skinny four foot stick is not going to be much help against a gator; no matter what size appears. Snakes...? Nah.

So, what is that stick doing there?

I thought I would ask the ranger, surely she would know. As I approached our picnic area I saw who I thought was our leader I(turned out to be another Elderhosteler) and began questioning her. Now, I realized right away this person was NOT the leader, but I was to embarrassed to stop the question midstream, so just went right ahead and asked anyway. She had no idea either and was at this point thinking about going behind a tree, rather than using the rest room. Now I am really feeling badly, I am starting some kind of fear thing. I just wanted an answer to why that stupid stick was in the stall area. I tried to lighten up the discussion and work my way over to the ranger without too much ado.

I sort of made her know I was asking a touchy question and was trying to be discreet; did she know what those sticks were in the ladies room stalls? I told her each stall had one and I was really getting curious. She had that fearful look and said she never noticed one in any rest room before and was absolutely sure they had nothing to do with gators.

I felt much better. But, still wanted a plausible answer.

We did our hike and got back to the Park center without an answer. As long as we were not at the hiking area anymore there was nothing to be afraid of. The next morning the ranger called over discreetly and said she had the answer to the sticks. I was relieved! And still curious.

She spoke with the park maintenance people and they told her the sticks were there to use in case of freezing weather. When the forecast is for freezing temps, they place the sticks in the toilet bowls and if the water starts to freeze the sticks prevent the commode from breaking.


Thank the Lord! No fear of gators swimming up though the plumbing anymore.

Two days later we had dinner at the local Baptist church and as we were geting ready for an oral presentation in the sanctuary, a fellow Elderhosteler told me to check out the ladies room.
I did...it was much less exciting than the earlier escapade and welcomed. All flowery and smellin' good.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Way Down upon the Suwanee River

Our group paddled the Suwanee River today; in spite of cooler weather and strong breezes. I understand now the meaning of the words to the song that is the state song of Florida: "The Old Folks at Home".

There is a peacefulness that can be had only from being on a wide and picturesque river such as the Suwanee. The water is so dark from the tannic acid that it appeared to be black while I paddled along. I had to keep reminding myself that the river is one of the cleanest in the country despite the apparent coloring.

Did you know that Stephen Foster was never actually in the state of Florida, nor ever on the Suwanee? Did you know the song was written for a river called the PeeDee in the Carolinas…nevertheless, the depth of meaning in the lyrics transcends the geographical location and transports the listener to their own version of heaven found in the dreams and heart of each of us.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Big Shoals Park, Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and more

We listened to a morning discussion on Florida folklore given by Merri McKenzie, included in the presentation were objects created by the folks living here for generations

Here is a long leaf pine basket with cover...quite intricate and the top has a little doll woven into it.
Ruby Shaw, a dynamite lady, prepared her specialty: chicken pileau (pronounced chicken perlow) This stuff was absolutely delicious! I have found a 'facsimile' recipe and will try it myself when I get home...I will be happy if I come close to this one!
We hiked with the Elderhostel group today at Big Shoals Park. Total distance was about 1.5 miles each way. Along the hike we came upon a quick and shy Gopher Tortoise (meaning we were not quick enough to get a picture of it before it tunneled itself in its hole).

Along the way we saw many saw palmettos but it was the Shoals that were the prize today. I have never seen deep brown but clean white water.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sierra Club Travlin' four rivers

We spent the week paddlin' some of the best rivers in Florida:

Lower Wekiwa, Upper Wekiwa, Econlockhatchee and the Blue Springs State Park.

On the one day it rained we went to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We drove/walked the loop around the lake and stopped at the visitors center (which has its own little preserve)!

Friday we went to Blue Springs State Park and saw bunches of Manatees then paddled over to Hontoon Island, via the St Johns River.

Our guide, Greg Pflug was the best (as always!) Showing us stuff we likely would have missed had he not been leading us...and the food was spectacular! It always amazes me that I can eat so much on these trips and not gain weight! Well, whatever...it's a gift that I truly appreciate!

Here are some shots of the weeks' activities:

Lunch on Merritt Island
Getting the kayaks to the river

A group picture on our last paddle...two of the group ducked out for a short hike.
The lodge at Big Oaks Lodge where we stayed all week and enjoyed the best food ever! Several meals were cooked over log fires others made in the kitchen the "old fashioned way" with the range.
We had a couple of group members who stayed off the river one day...here is how they stored those kayaks that weren't used...
We picked a great spot for lunch! nice beach and totally alone!
A short hike after lunch in the woods
Butterfly on Merritt Island

Saturday, February 16, 2008

West Orange Trail, Florida

Chuck and I drove to the Winter Garden area and discovered the West Orange Bicycle trail. It is actually 29 miles long, but we only rode 10.5 then turned around so we ended with a total of 21 miles.

The trail was wonderful, going through the historic section of Winter Garden and several other small communities. There were several small hills and curves, but nothing too challenging.

The temps were a comfortable 80 or so.

Florida Rivers and Biking Trails

We spent the week Biking and Canoeing in Central Florida at Brooksville.

Canoeing three rivers: Withlacoochee, Hillsborough and Weeki Wachee

Each of these rivers has their own personality. The first, Withlacoochee which gets its start from the Green Swamp in central Florida is a river that can quickly bring a canoeist back in time, say 100 to 200 years. The surrounding areas are woods, swamps and totally devoid of current civilization, for the most part. This was our starter paddle and we were getting used to the winding river and current. When we had it all down pretty good, we were surprised with a cloudburst. So we got to finish the run in the rain. It was colder than I thought and I was looking for the end so we could get off the river and dry again.
The water was tea colored from the acids in the Cyprus trees and the decaying foliage, but obviously very clean. We saw a few alligators and some birds, enough to enjoy the wonders nature has to offer.

The second outing was on the Hillsborough. We put in at Sergeant Park and were going to get out at Trout Creek for an 8 mile run. But as luck would have it, the take out area was getting new pavement and we had to press on to the University of Florida take out another three miles down river. This river was abundant with wildlife, too many to count. Suffice to say that I came face to face with so many alligators that I no longer fear them! We saw several gatherings of birds that Florida is famous for: Egrets, Blue Herons and even Rosette Spoonbills! The last are just too gorgeous! What was surprising, is that most of the birds just looked at us as we paddled by, totally unafraid and more into their hunt for food; the alligators occasionally slid into the water, as if we spoiled their days. Turtles galore and they continued to sun themselves. Oblivious of us.

Here is a boardwalk loop that we found at our lunch spot...the views were high and dry and quite nice
Chuck and Ken Kramer our guide...

The third paddling trip was on the Weeki Wachee River. We put in at the spring, which is the source of the river and paddled almost to the Gulf of Mexico. The water was a tempting 72 degrees and perfectly clear at the beginning of the trip. If the air were not so cool (about 55 degrees) I would have considered a quick dip. But that will have to wait for warmer days! This river was also winding but it had very little in the way of logs and obstacles, so the paddle was very leisurely and fun. Towards the end we came upon about 10 manatees. They are such gentle creatures, you get mesmerized by them. They were feeding in the river and did not seem to mind our being there at all.

I suppose you will take this as an excuse, but I was on the bow and Chuck was taking the pictures. Since I did not want to run the risk of dousing my camera, I relied on him for the photos on the rivers. The pictures that I am posting were taken from our ‘side’ bicycle trail trips or from the Elderhostel presentations that we had each evening.

Some of the presentations that we attended included the Ecology of West Central Florida which was quite an eye-opener. We really are stewards of the environment and the sooner we recognize it and plan our communities accordingly, the longer the natural environment will be here for us all to enjoy.
We also had the pleasure of hearing Judi Carter who is a licensed raptor rehabilitation-ist. She brought in two of her ‘flock’ and was a joy to listen to.

On Friday morning before we left for Orlando we heard Margaret Longhill provide many historical stories and folk music about the folklore and Indian history of Florida. She is a gem and I would recommend ‘sitting a spell’ with her and just be wowed!

Below are some pictures of stuff we’ve done this week;

In-between the canoeing and the presentations, we found some time for biking and managed to find some very nice agreeable trails that offered more mileage that we were able to do on any given day...and we managed over 20 miles on each ride! They were all flat, which really works for me and some had lots of wildlife to enjoy. Particularly the Van Fleet Trail which we did on Friday...I saw at least 9 Gopher Tortoise and one Turkey Vulture!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pinellas Trail and Tarpon Springs

We biked a nice round 20 miles on the Pinellas Bike Trail today. Since this is not a loop layout we parked at Oaks Wall, where there is a park and headed north to Tarpon Springs; then returned to do another ten miles south of the park. Caught a few interesting shots along the way.

After our ride we strolled the streets of Tarpon Springs and took in the flavor of this little seaport village where sponge diving is the mainstay. Then had a great dinner at Mykonos Restaurant.

Chuck had the combination plate which included, pastitsio, mousaka, dolmades, gyro and oven browned potatoes. He also had avgolemono soup which was delicous.
I opted for the Mangrove Snapper and was in heaven.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Santos Mountain Biking Trail

Today we are moving toward the Tampa-St Petersburg area and along the way we stopped for a great mountian bike ride on the Santos Trail located about 30 miles south of Gainesville, Florida.
There are many things about the area that make it outstanding, one is: they have a little practice area for you to get warmed up on before you go in to the more challenging trails.

Here I am getting the feel of it

Here is the practice section

Here is Chuck having a little fun before the real deal!

There are separate trails for hikers, horse back riding and mountain biking, so there is no fear about colliding with anyone other than someone who is doing the same thing you are. That is a real possibility, so you must keep alert and ready to dodge, since the single track is a two-way ride.

There was lots of shade and beautiful trees, some clear and open spaces and lots of challenges in the way of curves and roots and ruts and rocks.

If I were to rate the place on a scale of 0 to 10 (10 being the highest grade) I would have to give it a 15!!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gainesville - Hawthorne Trail

Today we drove to the trailhead of a Rails-to-Trails biking trail that starts in Gainesville and continues to Hawthorne...16 miles one way.

We did not do the entire thing, but did manage 21.4 miles, respectable distance for two old foggies trying to get back in shape after 'gold-brickin' for the last six weeks.

I tried multi-tasking today...riding my bike and taking a picture of Chuck. the first couple did not look so good, but I finally got a good one. Persistance is key to success!

We finished around 1:30 and went looking for a place for lunch. We thought we would just hit the food court at the local mall, since I wanted to get some new shorts but...after we parked the van I looked to the right and spotted a Boston Market (a place Chuck has been fantasizing about for the last year) so since there are none nearby where he lives, we went there for lunch. Mmmumm good he had meatloaf and I had a chicken pot pie, both delicious lots of veggie sides and nice little cornbread loaves for each of us. It was heaven...It started raining right after we entered the restaurant!

So it looks as though our timing was perfect again!