Thursday, January 7, 2016

Florida Dec 2015 2 weeks is too short: Or what we did for Richard's Christmas break

I could hardly believe it had been 8 months since we drove away from Richard's new apartment (and life) in Winter Park to hit the road.  Neither of us are big telephoners and Richard is even less of one, but we have texted some and talked some in that time and I was so excited-like over the moon, jittery, couldn't sleep for 2 nights excited-to see him again.  We knew he'd been doing well in school, had a nice group of friends and reportedly had cut neither the hair on his head nor his face in that time.  I texted him about once a bock for the last 15 minutes of our ride from Alexander Springs but first: that ride.

We really ended up liking Alexander Springs and had changed a reservation for later in the month (on the west coast of FL) to Salt Springs, Alexander's northern spring campground.  We got going a bit earlier than our normal time (yeah, that excitement thing gets me moving) and drove out onto the road when we heard a thud like we'd run over something in the road.  But nothing felt different and the edge of the roadbed at that point was sort of jagged and we figured we'd just hit a bump. We really don't ever learn, do we???  We drove blissfully along for about 1/2 hour (25 miles!!) when we got to the town of Eustis.  As we came up to a light a car passed us honking and gesturing wildly.  We decided to stop as it looked like they were trying to tell us something was wrong with the MoHo.  Don hopped out the driver's side and was making his way around when I came out the main door and right away saw what they meant:  the right front tire of the car was not just flat it was torn to shreds and we were riding on the rim.  As we got to it, a guy pulled up in a car and said he'd been trying to flag us down for about a mile.  He'd been in a parking lot when he "heard us coming" and being an RVer knew immediately what the problem was.  He then suggested we invest in a TireMinder and I was half embarrassed to tell him we have one, but it's the model that can't turn off and beeps constantly which drives us crazy, so we stopped using it. Clever is as clever does.  We had been discussing upgrading when we are in Jupiter, which is near the TireMinder store, and now it was a no-brainer.  OF COURSE, I have read numerous blogs of Full Timers ALL of whom say this is an indispensable item but...yeah, old dogs and all that. The good thing is that both Don and I know how to change a tire (Ha! We'd just practiced last month.) and within 1/2 hour we had the new one on the car, the old one (really the rim with a gatherings of rubber strips) on the back of the car and the bikes, which normally mount on it, inside the MoHo because the bike rack had nothing to latch to, and we were once again on our way.  I texted Richard and let him know we'd be a little later but still within the window of getting there before he had to leave for his last day of classes (1pm-9pm) before vacation.  We made good time and  that's when I started texting...

So, we pulled into the same spot in the parking lot at the apartments that we'd used in April and Richard came out to greet us.  How wonderful it is to hug one's child after a long separation!  Yes, his hair, as curly as mine and reaching his collar and beard, reds and golds and brown like Don's when he was young, were different but other than that he is still the guy we know and love. He was dressed in nice slacks and a dress shirt and it turned out he'd be making a presentation in class and needed to get there early.  He immediately made us welcome, we brought Cadbury and Phoenix in to reestablish their relationship with Chloe, Cadbury's sister and the cat who LOVED Phoenix, but she was having none of it.  She's not a hisser or fighter, she just went and sought sanctuary under Richard's desk. I then drove him over to school before heading to do some shopping then back to finish the laundry I had started virtually the minute we walked in.  When I got back from running errands Richard was home-the professor had let them go after their presentation was done and would text later to say Richard got an almost perfect score! Nice way to start vacation. Having Richard there was for dinner a bonus and then to make it even better he cooked it-his specialty: chicken fried rice. Delicious!!  He then convinced us to watch a movie, Whiplash, which was engrossing enough that I stayed awake through the entire thing, a rare event.  We retired for the evening then to the MoHo with plans to quietly enter to make our breakfast the next morning (the MoHo was completely shaded and would therefore not recharge the batteries the next day) and then get on with the various other tasks and shopping we needed to do.

The first thing on the agenda was finishing the laundry and by then Richard was up and we went over to Target to get him a new phone.  His old one was about to bite the dust and is his sole means of communication unless he is at home on a computer.  So, we found the one he wanted, got the cover and protector and when the guy finished ringing up the sale he handed me a slip and said, "Our special right now is a $200 gift card with the purchase of a new phone."  Well how great!  So, because I really did not like my clunky, heavy and difficult to manage bike, Don suggested we use the card to buy a new one.  After much trying and lifting to see weight and me pouting about not wanting racing handlebars or a "stupid crotch digger seat" we found the perfect bike.  And what a dream it is.  I have ridden it more miles in the past 2 weeks than I did the other in the past year.  Chores complete, we decided dinner out was the way to go.  Richard knew of a good Chinese restaurant so that's where we went and he was right.  China Garden serves fresh, delicious, made to order meals and that night the cook was busy also preparing and order of over $1000 of take out food.  (Full Sail University graduation had been earlier that day and we suspected someone's graduation party must have had Chinese take out.) 

Mid-morning was our launch time and so we drove off to Blue Spring State Park, only an hour away, after a stop at Costco to fill up with cheap gas.  The trip was uneventful and back along some of the same route we'd followed down.  The park is beautiful and with a cold spell upon us the manatees, for which it is known, had been flocking in all day.  Blue Springs is a designated manatee refuge and is becoming more and more of a home for the West Indian manatee. When we arrived the number stood at 155.  This meant there would be no swimming but we could kayak in the  waters of the St John's River downstream from the spring which is protected.  Richard and Don had changed the seat on my bike for me but still had to raise the handlebars so they went for a ride while I finished setting up.  They got back in time to do the needed work before the mosquitoes began their bombing runs and we retreated to the safety of the inside of the RV.

Now, one of the things we have noticed about virtually every RV we see is the number of TVs. Really, 40-42 feet and some of them have 3-Living Room, bedroom and outside.  We have 1-it's in the living room and it had not been on since we were at my sister's last January and watched a few movies.  But, we would watch it the first night at Blue Spring to see a DVD I picked up at a thrift store which was a Leonard DiCaprio thriller.  We also had to set up our Christmas lights laser projector that I'd ordered after seeing the one at Davis Bayou.  It projected 1000 green and red lights into the trees which looked pretty cool and had Cadbury intrigued since some of the dots of light fell inside the MoHo on the dash.

Our Christmas tree 

On Tuesday, since Don and Richard had finished my handlebars, we all rode over to the refuge area to see the manatees assembled.  It was an amazing sight to see groups of 10-12 huddled together near the shore or lazily swimming out into the center and then slowly swimming back.  There were other small fish and some larger ones, like gar, so an old dead tree held an assortment of birds but none of them were fishing, simply preening and drying their wings.  One lone cormorant finally swam around for awhile diving and surfacing after a few minutes and then sitting and drying his wings before flying off again. 

On Wednesday, Richard and I went into town to do some shopping and when we returned decided to go paddling on the St Jon's River.  With 3 of us we had to rent a kayak and had only 2.5 hours before we had to return it which turned out to be a perfect amount of time. I was floating along watching and trying to photograph a blue heron when I heard what sounded a like a bull frog.  I had floated a bit into the vegetation near the shore and then my thought process went like this: hmm I didn't realize there were frogs around, oh wait, Karen said alligators make a sound like bull frogs, OMG I am almost on shore and can't see anything in the vegetation, that bird just took off- Paddle! paddle fast!  I took some solace in remembering that a ranger had told us that our 14 foot kayaks are probably too big for an alligator to risk attacking but the adrenaline rush gave me power to catch up to Don and Richard without even getting winded. We sat in the kayaks for awhile next to the rope marking the refuge area and a cow and her calf swam under me making their way slowly out into the river.  We'd been told that morning that another 150 manatee had come up so there were over 300 but the weather was starting to get warmer and some of the manatee were starting to leave.  With almost 300 that morning their numbers had decreased by the next day and when we left on Monday there wold be only 72 left.

The bathrooms at Blue Spring are brand new and very nice and I was happy to see a washer and dryer there.  BUT, they cost $7 to wash and dry a load and after I decided to bite the bullet to do our bed linens I found out the hard way that the dryer was only 30 minutes and did not dry the stuff so even though it was Christmas Eve...I went to town.   Having dumped my ENTIRE large mug of coffee on my pajamas that morning I figured it would be a good idea anyway. So, while I did laundry Richard and Don did another kayaking trip in the river. 

Christmas Day was a subdued day with Eggs Benedict for breakfast and then Richard and I reading and writing while Don went for another paddle and a bike ride.  As he rode along the bike path he spied a 13" snake which he though looked like a rattler and indeed Googling it reaffirmed that he'd seen an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Even writing about it is making my toes curl and tingle.Richard went for a shorter ride later but I sat writing all day and getting ready to leave the next morning for our next stop Manatee Springs Sate Park.

What a disappointment.  We arrived at our site at Manatee Springs to find two things right away: our supposedly gravel site was actually dark grey sand with numerous leaves scattered about and there is absolutely NO cell reception.  The first was a minor irritation only because the one thing we didn't like at Blue Spring was the fine sand of the campsite which sticks to shoes like glue and tracked in each and every time one of the pets re-entered.  (People can be and are trained to remove footwear) But having no cell reception is a pain.  It is not something we haven't had to deal with it is just an irritation, especially when it took driving to to town to get it.  But, hey, we figured, we'll only be here for a few days might as well make the best of it AND there was a "concession" that sold food and drinks and rented kayaks/canoes where they had WiFi.  So really, with a minimum of effort we had what we needed/desired, why complain.  I guess it's because we have now been to over 35 RV parks-most of them state or federal parks and this is the first about which none of us found much to like.  Hiking trails? A few with nothing that we haven't seen before.  Swimming? Yes, in the spring where there were no manatees because the weather was warm. Boating? Yes, but only Don went and he said the paddle was boring and hard since the current was strong going back.  So what else?  Well, town is a long strip of road with mostly auto parts stores and fast food restaurants, although the laundromat was fine.  We drove over to Cedar Key to see Don's cousins' old property (they lived in Gainesville where their dad taught and had a small house right on the water which was lovely) but other than sitting on the old dock to eat lunch and watch and osprey and planes taking off from the nearby airport we chose not to do anything else.  The water is muddy, which is rare for the west coast of FL and being a hot and muggy day, a walk through the preserve was not attractive.  So we three whiny spoiled people went back to the campground.  I really hate not being able to find something about the park/campground that we liked but we really didn't.

We did get to see some wildlife that we hadn't seen in other places...this armadillo came snuffling through the site one evening 

Our not gravel site

Manatee Spring is a first magnitude spring

There were a few short walks along boardwalks in the park

Looking down the river from the spring

The concession where there was WiFi

It was with high hopes that we then set off on the 29th for Hillsborough River State Park, another 3 hour drive.  It is Florida's oldest state park and much of it built by the CCC  (Civilian Conservation Corps) which, as we have seen in so many places, was a phenomenal organization.  Started in 1933 as one of the first New Deal programs it was established to promote environmental conservation as well as provide n opportunity for "vigorous, disciplined outdoor labor.  (cue images of strapping young men digging, moving boulders, building rock dams, walls, culverts and buildings) We have seen CCC projects in our travels through the years and in several places during our year on the road, and the house my family lived in for a year in the mid-50s on St Croix was a CCC house-now gone.  From the moment we arrived we knew this was a nicer park. Aside from cell reception, which in the scheme of things is nice but not essential, the entire entrance road was well kept.  There are 4 parking lots for the various day activities, which include a 1/2 acre size (about 2000 m2) pool which was closed for the winter because the water temperature went below 70F/21C.  The river running through the park has a small rapids which Don ran with his kayak.  Richard and I limited ourselves, in our one short day there to bike riding and I spent a long time talking to our wonderful neighbors, Bucky and Linda and Ed and Linda-both couples from nearby but who come here frequently.  We could hear them having fun with a game that Bucky designed and built called Holey Hole (Holy Hole?) which is sort of like Corn Hole but played with large metal washers.  (I was invited to play but when I went over I ended up simply yakking and we all got into various state park campground recommendations.) we had originally scheduled our stay until Jan 1 but I realized Richard would miss an opportunity to see the family in West Palm and Jupiter so we were leaving a day early.

Richard and I took a bike ride along one of the trails

 Richard taking a picture of...
 ...this tree
 The rapids that Don ran in his kayak

The evening before we left, Jim, our campground host and a great and funny guy, came by to invite us to the weekly coffee and doughnut breakfast.  We expected to run over, pick up a cup of coffee and a donut or two, and then head out onto the road.  But, the breakfast is hosted by the volunteers and Rangers and we were treated to a gathering of many of the campers and lots of information about the campground.  One of the volunteers, a man of 83 who looked more like 63, told of coming here every year since 1961.  I found myself regretting more and more that we hadn't scheduled more time here.  But, we had to get on the road so after wishing goodbyes to our neighbors, who were off to tour Ft. Foster-a replica of a fort built  by the US Army to defend the bridge crossing on the Hillsborough River during the Second Seminole War, we drove on out to cross Florida to the east coast and family...To Be Continued next year:-)

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