Woodpecker Trail

I can always count on John to find new trails to hike or ride. Last week he suggested we ride the Woodpecker Trail in White Springs. That meant setting the alarm clock for 6:00 (during the first week of school), but we had a two hour drive ahead of us and didn’t want to ride in the heat of the day.

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Since Woodpecker Trail is only seven miles round trip, we decided to not only ride, but to also hike to Big Shoals, Florida’s largest whitewater rapids.

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It’s an easy mile to the shoals, but since we were the first on the trail, we had the pleasure of breaking through all of the spider webs. I looked like a crazy Ninja chopping my way down the path trying to avoid having webs across my face. And after a short while, John took the lead and handled the webs and spiders blocking the way.

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The overlook provided a good view of the Class III whitewater. But of course, we had to climb down the rocks to get a closer view. image

The first time we were on this part of the Suwannee River was in the early 1980s…in a canoe. We watched two canoes attempt to manuever through the rapids unsuccessfully, but that didn’t prevent us from making our own attempt. I’m pleased to say we paddled through without any difficulty and plucked the items from the overturned canoes out of the river tossing them on the bank so they could be retrieved by their owners once they were back on the water.

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When we completed the hike and returned to our car, we unloaded the bikes and started down the paved trail.

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Within the first couple hundred feet, we found the trail blocked by a tree upended in a recent storm, but John wouldn’t let me use that as an excuse to call it a day.

 

The 3.4 mile Woodpecker Trail connects the Big Shoals and the Little Shoals through a mostly wooded path with bridges crossing tributaries of the Suwannee.

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Big Shoals State Park offers over 28 miles of wooded trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and birding, and for those interested in water, there’s a canoe launch and plenty of opportunities for fishing.

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However, be aware that those who own the property adjacent to the park don’t take lightly to trespassers.

Celebrating Sun & Wind

Days with both sun and wind have been few and far between this summer. We’ve had many windy days, in fact one day it was so windy the sailboat was picked up and tossed on its side. However, like the sailboat tossing afternoon, most often the wind has been accompanied by heavy rainfall and usually lightning as well.

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So when we awoke this morning to both sunny skies and steady winds we wasted no time in raising the sails to take advantage of a morning sail on the lake.

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A morning sail followed by a swim and then lunch on the porch…couldn’t do any better loading the car and heading to the beach.

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What a good reminder take advantage of our backyard! No need to always pack a suitcase or travel when we live in Florida.

It’s a VanFleet Kind of Day

It’s been hard to get motivated to go for a bike ride in the heat of the summer, but when we decided it was time for a twenty mile ride, I knew immediately I wanted to ride the Van Fleet Trail in Mable. It’s a trail I described as flat, straight and shady after riding it the first time a couple of years ago, and those qualities make it possible to not only survive, but to enjoy a summer ride.

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We didn’t start as early as we should to avoid the heat, but we were riding by 8:45 on a beautiful sunny morning.

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During our drive to Mable, we heard a story on NPR about the efforts of Rangers at our National Parks trying to insure that park visitors are able to enjoy the natural sounds as well as the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. Despite the location of the trailhead only a couple hundred yards off SR 50, the sounds of nature were quite evident on the Van Fleet trail. The chirping of insects, singing of birds and bellowing of alligators were just a few of the sounds piercing the otherwise silence of the ride.

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And what a contrast of wildlife – a Pygmy Rattler and a Magnolia bloom.

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As a bonus, I burned 600 calories in less than two hours. It really was a Van Fleet kind of day.

Ready for National Seashell Day?

Are you ready for the first annual National Seashell Day on June 20th? If not, it’s not too late to make plans to hit the beach with bucket and shovel in hand for a little treasure hunting Florida style.

 

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This year’s inaugural seashell event is something created by The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, a sheller’s paradise. I’m not sure why it’s scheduled for a Monday, but it seems like a good excuse for a long weekend.

The fifty miles of white sand beaches in Lee County are a perfect place to start or add to a shell collection, but they certainly don’t have a monopoly on this beachy pastime.

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It’s nearly impossible for me to walk on the beach without picking up at least a pocketful of shells. You’ll find shells in the cup holder in my car, on the dresser, in my purse and in the washing machine.

Bettie Lou, my mother-in-law, celebrated her own version of National Seashell Day starting forty years ago, scheduling annual trips to Sanibel or Captiva collecting bucketfuls of shells. In fact, we have some of her treasures displayed on the wall and others in a vase on the end table.

Her shelling addiction resulted in more than one parking ticket as she wasn’t one to let a little thing like a No Parking sign prevent a shelling expedition. And she didn’t complain about the $35 tickets…just the cost of having a little fun. GO TO SHELL could have been her personal motto.

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I’m not sure if I’ll be on the beach on the “official” National Seashell Day next week, but I’ll be in Sanibel in July doing the famous “Sanibel Stoop” lathered in sunscreen, wearing my hat and sunglasses, carrying a bucket and shovel looking for the elusive lion’s paw.

Where’s your favorite beach for shelling?

TBT: A Sculpture of Love and Anguish

Today, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m reposting our visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach which we visited in June 2013.

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A Sculpture of Love and Anguish

The Holocaust Memorial located in Miami Beach leads visitors through a series of exhibits providing an emotional and detailed history of Holocaust events. The center piece of the memorial, A Sculpture of Love and Anguish, is a dramatic bronze sculpture of a 42-foot arm stretching toward the sky in a plea for remembrance. An Auschwitz number on the outstretched arm on which 130 human figures cling provides a powerful image.

In addition to the central sculpture, a series of smaller sculptures depicting figures in anguish surround the arm reaching toward heaven. The Garden of Meditation and the Arbor of History with panels documenting historical events, the Wall of Memory, and the Lonely Path provide reminders of the fate of more than six million victims of the Holocaust.

This was not a scheduled part of our trip to Miami, but we made a U-turn after passing the memorial so we could get a closer look. The memorial is located only blocks from South Beach between 1933-1945 Meridian Avenue, and it’s certainly worth a visit.

Grab a Tarp!

In the summer of 2005 we were greeted at Everglades National Park with the Skeeter Meter registering HYSTERICAL. Needless to say, our visit was a short one as we detoured to Sanibel.

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This year’s visit in early April, the Skeeter Meter registered BEARABLE, and to be honest I didn’t get a bite. No need for a bug jacket.

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But this year, there was a new sign:

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Tarps? As I looked around the parking lot, tarps were draped over most of the cars. The tarps are needed to protect vehicles from the black vultures.

What’s the problem?

The black vulture, the gray-headed cousin of the turkey vulture, is causing damage to vehicles–often trucks and SUVs –parked at boat ramps. Windshield wipers, sunroof seals, and rubber or vinyl parts are at particular risk. Most of the time, perching black vultures do little or no damage. However, in some cases, the destruction can be extensive. The vultures can tear out rubber seals, peck pieces out of truck bed liners, and scratch paint with their claws.

So before hiking the trail, we secured tarps on our Suburban to avoid any damage.

Yes, the Everglades is a one of a kind place and habitat to amazing wildlife; but it’s truly a WILD place. Where else will you find a Skeeter Meter, bug suits in the gift store, reminders to cover your car with tarps and warnings about both alligators and crocodiles?

What’s Happening in May?

Fleet Week Port Everglades – Port Everglades; Fort Lauderdale

May 2-9

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This annual event makes it possible for 12,000 lucky people who manage to get one of the coveted reservations to tour active Navy and Coast Guard ships at no charge. Tour a nuclear submarine, an amphibious assault ship, a destroyer or a Coast Guard Cutter. Unable to get a reservation this year? Add it to your 2017 calendar now.

Food and Wine on Pine – Anna Maria

May 7 (May 8 in case of rain)

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Anna Maria showcases its best food, wine, art and music at Food and Wine on Pine. For only a $5 admission guests receive a glass of wine and a buffet tray. Then purchase food tickets for $1 each and start sampling…food and drink can be purchased for 2-10 tickets. Warning: This is a cash only event so get some green before you make your way to Pine Avenue.

Papio’s Kinetic Sculpture Parade – Key West

May 13-15

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Join the inaugural event of human-powered, family-friendly, art-inspired float parade through the streets of Key West. This is not only a parade for viewing, but one in which you can participate. With an entry fee of $15, anyone can enter their own Art human powered Art Bike in the 1.5 mile parade.

Forgotten Coast Paddle Jam – Apalachicola and St. George Island

May 20-22

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Three days of water based activities including a 3-mile, 6-mile, and 14-mile races for kayaks and standup paddleboards. In addition, there will be boat blessings, live entertainment, exhibitors and outfitters, and what else but a BBQ competition.

Tupelo Honey Festival -Wewahitchka

May 21

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What could be more old Florida than a festival for honey in a place called Wewahitchka. Featuring plenty of local honey products and the crowning of Miss Tupelo, plan to spend the day listening to music, eating and playing.

Florida Folk Festival – Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

May 27-29

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This three day celebration takes place annually on Memorial Day weekend at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. The state’s cultural heritage is the focus of the festival, celebrating everything from storytelling, the art of pine needle basket making, square dance, native plants and animals, and Florida foods. It’s also the site of the annual Fiddle Contest.

What do you have on your calendar for May?

Triathlon Florida Keys Style

Ever since we completed the Tamiami Triathlon, an event sponsored by Everglades National Park to encourage visitors to enjoy hiking, bike riding and kayaking in the Everglades, we’ve found more ways to create our own versions of triathlon for non-athletes. No competition or entry fee or awards, just our own plan to bike, hike and paddle.

We didn’t set out to do a freestyle triathlon in the Keys but after kayaking, snorkeling and then hiking over three miles in Key West, we knew we had to bike ride to make it complete.

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We started the morning sailing with Danger Charters where we snorkeled in sponge beds and kayaked around Mule Island.

When the boat docked and we disembarked, it was off to Fort Zachary Taylor where we explored the old fort.

This turned into a three mile city hike by the time we traveled from the dock to the fort to Blue Heaven for a little key lime pie snack and then back to our car.

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On the way to Long Key State Patk to set up camp, we decided to add a bike ride that evening to catch the sunset on the opposite side of the island – a five mile round trip ride to exit the park and get to an open area for sunset viewing.

Even without a medal, it felt good to accomplish another triathlon and a full day of actively enjoying our surroundings.

 

 

Say Yes to the Conch Fritters

Alabama Jacks, located in “Downtown Card Sound”, or more precisely on Card Sound Road between Homestead and Key Largo is one of those seafood dives that receives a lot of attention due to its unique location. This isn’t a place you just stumble upon since Card Sound Road is a toll road which can easily be avoided by taking US 1, the preferred route to the Florida Keys.

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Emeril’s Florida, Food Paradise’s Manliest Restaurants, the Food Network’s Bobbie Flay, Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and even Kathie Lee Gifford have all sung the praises of Alabama Jacks, touting it as one of the state’s best beach shacks (although not on the beach), seafood dives or biker bars.

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This rustic, open-air bar and restaurant claims to serve the world’s best conch fritters, and on that front I whole heartedly agree. Unlike the bite-sized fritters usually served, Alabama Jacks’ fritters look like fritters. Two large fried pieces of batter filled with conch and other yummy ingredients.

On a Monday afternoon, the crowds were light so there was no waiting and we were served quickly at our table overlooking the mangrove lined waterway behind the restaurant.

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While we thoroughly enjoyed our conch fritters at this highly recommended eatery, I would not encourage anyone to wait two or more hours to be seated as is sometimes necessary on weekends. Stop in for a fritter and a cold drink on your way to or from the Keys, but go elsewhere for dinner. There are so many places to get really good seafood in south Florida, but I can’t say that Alabama Jacks is one of them.

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If you do go, avoid the weekend crowds and make sure you’re there early since they close at dusk before the influx of mosquitoes.

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Posing in Key West

After spending six hours on a sailboat, the sun obviously affected my decision making.

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Instead of walking directly to a restaurant to get something to eat and drink, I got side tracked by all the crazy photo opportunities.

Posing with cigars and the statues located around the grounds of the Weston.

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Finally, hunger took over and ended the picture taking detour. But, there’s really no place like the Florida Keys for such nonsense.