Florida Winter Vacation 2016 February 11th – March 12th
Thursday, February 11
There was still about a half inch of snow on the driveway from the Tuesday snow when we pulled out on to Gleaves Road about 9 am. Our destination for the day was somewhere near Savannah. The day was sunny and the temperature was still in the 30's as we headed south down I-77.
We cleared Charlotte with no problems and stopped for lunch at a Subway near Richburg, SC. Someone had given us a Subway gift card for Christmas and we thought it was a good time to use it. The first gas stop was down I-26, southeast of Columbia. We paid $1.41 a gallon. These lower gas prices makes the poor mpg of the truck quite tolerable.
The evening's stop was at the Lake Jasper RV resort not far off the interstate in Hardeeville, right at the South Carolina / Georgia line; for a total mileage of just over 375 miles. As usual we had to pay more that we would like for just an overnight stay. The only sites available were the ones on the small lake, making them the higher priced ones. To make it even more costly, there was state, county, and town taxes totaling 15 percent. Even with the Good Sam discount the site was over forty-eight dollars. We are use to paying $25 to $32 plus tax.
The facility was neat, clean and we had a spacious site. The restroom/showers were very modern. We discovered that the desk clerk was from Colonial Heights, Virginia and was staying on one of the sites in a very small Scamp camper which she was towing with a small older model Jeep.
As the sunset, there was a slight breeze and it was getting chilly. We sat up our inside table and heated up some delicious leftover hamburger macaroni casserole in the microwave. The site did come with a cable hook up with forty or more channels.
Friday, February 12
The next morning, after a breakfast of egg salad on English muffin and apple sauce, we headed out. I had asked the desk clerk at the park when we checked it about a car wash and she told us that there not any at this exit, so we went down a couple of exits near Richmond Hill and found one on US 17. The truck, camper and bikes were coated with a film of salt or brine we had picked up from the road going from our driveway to the interstate. I wanted to find car wash to get as much of it off as possible. We stopped at a Walmart for some Raid Yard Guard for the bugs, some biodegradable toilet tissue, RV waste tank treatment and a bottle of concentrated cranberry tablets. The cranberry pills were to hopefully aid in my urinary health. I had been going through a ordeal with kidney stones. A clerk at the Walmart told us where we could find a car wash on US 17 about a mile or so in the direction we were going. We also stopped at the Dollar General next door to the wash and got some ice for the cooler and batteries for the indoor/outdoor thermometer.
Back on the interstate, we finished off Georgia, with a stop at the Florida Visitor Center for lunch of homemade ham salad. We made our way through Jacksonville and pass the heavy construction south of the St. Johns River. They have been working on that area at least the last three years. Beyond St. Augustine, we left I-95 and turned on to Fla. 207 toward Palatka. I always enjoy riding along this route, because there are a number of fields of cool weather vegetables growing or being harvested. We were not sure of all that was growing, but we saw one field that must have been cabbage, because there was one lying in the middle of the road in that area.
Just before we entered Palatka, I turned left (south) on U.S. 17 so we could drive a new route down beside the St. John River and Lake George. The last couple of trips down, we went through this area and took highway 19 on the west side of the lake and river to Salt Springs. We had stayed at a private resort and the federal campground last year and had a Valentine dinner at the Bass Champion's Restaurant. Along the way, we began to see a number of azaleas in bloom. Also, as we approached the little town of Seville, an Amtrak passenger trail was heading north on the rail line next to us. We speculated that it may have been the main line for the train that travels from Miami to New York.
We arrived at the Juniper Springs campground a little after 4 pm, checked in and got set up at our site on Sand Pine loop. The high for the day had been 75 degrees. It was sure nice to eat supper outside at the picnic table. I always enjoy staying at Juniper Springs even though it does not have hookups; dry camping, in other words. The restroom and shower facilities also, are not heated, but the sites are spacious and there is an incredible amount of vegetation all through out the park, much of it the palmetto palms. This feature gives each site a nice air of privacy. The park has close to a hundred camping sites (two RV loops and one tent loop). With the Federal Golden-age Passport, the rate per night is only $10.50 plus tax (half the regular rate). The campground was full with campers from all over.
Saturday, February 13
The day was starting out to be a beautiful day even though the outside temperature had been right chilly over night. We awoke to a temperature of around 45 degrees. I got up around 6:30 and started the generator so we could have heat. Generators were not allowed to run during “quiet hours” from 10pm to 6am. I did not feel too bad about running it, since the small Hondas are supposed to be the quietest on the market. After the generator was running, it did not take long for the propane furnace to heat the 12 by 7 interior. If the camper battery system had been operational, the battery would have supplied enough current for the spark and the fan and I would not have had to go outside. We were still much better off than most of the people in tents.
The day gradually warmed to a very comfortable 65 degrees. I put a new tube in the tire on the front of the bike. I discovered that it was flat when I loaded it back at home. We biked around the campground and out to the highway before lunch. Rhonda had noticed that the low beam light was out on the truck, so we drove up to Silver Springs to a Auto Zone to get a new one and have the 12 volt deep cycle battery checked out. The evening before, we realized that the 12 volt battery system was not working. After lunch, I installed the headlamp with some difficulty (the design does not make it easy to get to). To stay busy and feel productive, I waxed the truck and some of the newly acquired camper shell.
Sunday, February 14
It had been a cold night. It had gotten down to 29 degrees outside and it was 41 degrees inside at 6 am. Even though it had been 41 degrees inside(yes 41 degrees), we were very comfortable under the covers. I had worn a toboggan (ski cap) to bed so I would not loose body head from my head (I had gotten a short haircut before I left so as to be easier to dry and manage). I again waited until about 6:30 to start the generator. I had a feeling that a number of northerners spent an uncomfortable night, expecting it to be much warmer now that they were in Florida.
After breakfast and some dawdling inside, we took a hike to Fern Springs and on to the main springs in the park via a wooden 500 ft. boardwalk through the swamp along Juniper Run. Later in the afternoon, we went over to the greenway outside of Silver Springs near Ocala. We had ridden this same trail last year. After only six and half miles, our out of condition selves, decided it was enough.
Our Valentine's supper was at a great barbecue place called “Fat Boys”. Their sign claimed they had the best barbecue in Ocala, but it may be the best in Florida, especially the ribs. We split the Super dinner which had chicken, ribs, brisket and sliced pork with sides of baked potato and slaw. After finishing the meal, we had a take out box with enough for two sandwiches for another day's lunch. Mm Mm good.
Monday, February 15
The day was overcast, but mild with a morning low a 7 am of 45 outside and 55 inside and a high of 68. Rhonda had contacted her cousin who lives in Ormond Beach the day before and set up a lunch date in Astor between where we were and where she lived. Rhonda's brother and his wife (Jimmy and Linda) were camping in Williston north of Ocala and came by to pick us up. We had a great time talking about relatives and enjoying a good meal. Upon returning to Juniper Springs, we took Jimmy and Linda on a tour of the park before they headed back to Williston.
Before supper, I decided to make a closer examination of the outside light by the door of the camper, which wasn't working. On another outing I had replaced the bulb, but that did not remedy the problem. This time I decided to expand my troubleshooting, by taking off the lens and disconnecting the two wires going to the switch on the fixture. I took two pieces of insulated #14 wire, stripped a little bit on each end and connected it to the two terminals that I had removed from the switch - “bazinga”, it worked. Now I knew the source of the problem was in the switch. I removed the switch and told Rhonda we would need to look for one when we went to town. As I examined it, it appeared that there was some corrosion on the two terminals. Rhonda loaned her fingernail emery board and after going over both sides of both terminals thoroughly, I plugged it back in and it worked. Isn't it great when troubleshooting finds the problem and one is able to make a successful repair. What a productive day!
After supper, we played gin rummy using our solar charged lights for illumination. I started out strong, but in the end Rhonda beat me soundly. Before retiring for the evening, we got a few sprinkles of rain. The forecast said that there was a good chance of rain, so we had moved some things under the awning.
Tuesday, February 16
During the night, we got some heavy downpours, but not thunder and lighting. The news said that south of Orlando had much more severe storms. Mid-morning, we drove to Astor to check facebook and emails at the library and print some trail information. We had received a email from Jimmy giving us a cell phone number of a old high school friend who visits Florida every year with his wife about this time. We had emailed each other earlier about meeting up and I had left the phone at home. I tried to reach him while I was at the library, but had to leave a voice mail. Back at the campground I was able to talk to him and we set up a day to camp together.
Later, we had to go back to the library to make a reservation for a park in Pasco County near Dade City. They would only take reservations online or at one of three of their community centers. After an hour of trying, we were unsuccessful. We finally talked with a staff member who said to come by and if a regular site was not available, then we could stay in the overflow until one opened up. We had already made reservations at a RV park in Zephyrhills nearer to Tampa for the week starting on the 25th when our friends were coming down from Raleigh for a week. We just needed somewhere else for five days.
Wednesday, February 17
It was another cool start for the day, with 38 outside and 48 inside. I awoke before six and had to wait to crank the generator. We had a good breakfast of eggs, corn beef hash, and muffins with jelly. We lingered inside until nine reading and working crossword puzzles.
After getting out, I decided to make a giant effort to troubleshoot the DC power (battery) problem. I started by examining the wiring in the enclosed area at and under the foot of the bed. I saw where the red and white wire came in from underneath the camper and the battery. I followed it to the terminal and checked to see if it was tight. Next, I put a mat down and laid down underneath the camper with the intent of removing the cover on a junction box I had see mounted on the chassis. Just as I was about to remove the cover, I spotted a wire with a fuse terminal on it. I removed the 20 amp fuse and found that it had been blown. I replaced it and the system became operational. The biggest benefit was that the furnace would now come on without having to use the generator. I could use the generator later in the day to recharge the battery when needed.
More conditioning was needed to increase my bike riding endurance, so I headed out of the campground and up highway 40 to a forest service dirt road. It was fairly good riding with a hard dirt surface and some slight grade changes. The road surface was good for the most park except for where it dropped into low areas before going back up a little rise. The surface in the low areas was very sandy and the tires on my hybrid were not suited for sand.
At the four and a half mile point, I hit a large sandy area and the bike sank an inch or so and I came to a stop. I could have pushed it pass that area, but I would have come back through it on the return trip. I decided to turn around there and complete the ten miles by riding around the loops of the campground.
After lunch, I worked on writing this travel log before going to the spring for a swim. At around 2:30, I got my snorkel, mask, shorty wet suit and fins and headed over to the springs. When we arrived, there were several people getting out and several preparing to go in. Even at 72 degrees, it take some gradual getting use to. Once in, it is enjoyable and refreshing. It was so clear it was like swimming in drinking water, even where is was 15 feet deep.
Back at our site, I hung up my towel, trunks and wet suit. Note I said “my towel”, Rhonda is not the water person I am, especially below 80 degrees. I really like the idea of swimming out of doors in February. The springs are about the same temperature that it was two and a half weeks ago in the water off Grand Bahama Island near Freeport. ( we went on a short cruise with friends from Raleigh).
After supper, we played another game of gin rummy. This time I was the victor, but only by 37 points.
Thursday, February 18
It was nice to be able to reach over and bump the thermostat up to get heat. The in/out thermometer registered 39 out and 56 inside. Once the inside was above 60, we dressed and fixed breakfast. We waited until mid-morning to head to the library to check email and “myhealthyvet” site to see if anyone at the VA had replied to my message about scheduling my next appointment. After the last procedure on February 9th to remove a ureteral stent, blast the kidney stone, and put in another stent, the doctor said I would need another appointment in three or four weeks. We also were finally able to make the reservation at the Withlacoochee River Park. We stopped at the Dollar General for ice, bread, moisturizing lotion, Gatorade and some canned veggies.
Our lunch and afternoon plans were to picnic and swim at Silver Glen Springs north of highway 40 on highway 19 toward Salt Springs. It was a nice park and the swim was refreshing. The spring cavity was about twenty feet deep and the spring was quite strong. It was only one I had been in that I had to exert more effort to swim to and over. Even though the water area around the spring was a good size, there was not as much area to swim in because it was shallow out beyond the spring cavity. We met a nice couple from Providence, Rhode Island with two young children in the picnic area beside the springs. They had rented a motor home and driven down to the Fort Myers area. They were heading back and planned to be home by Sunday.
Back at camp, we began to make preparations to leave the next morning. I overheard a young woman saying something about having trouble with their camper battery, so I told her to have her husband bring the battery over and I would charge it with my generator. I charged the marine deep cycle and a jump box battery. He had bought the large pop up camper used and did not know the age of the battery and I could not find where the purchase date had been punched out on the battery. The jump box unit finally indicated it had a full charge, but we could not tell about the camper battery.
The couple was on a family leave from work with an eight month old child. They were from a little town north of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada. He was provincial police office assigned to the small town of WaWa. They both had thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2011.
Rhonda had bought hamburger patties at the store, so I fired up the small charcoal grill and cooked them. We had green beans and mac and cheese along with them. I had mixed fruit in jello for dessert.
Friday, February 19
(45 out and 55 in)
We we started to do the final campsite breakdown, I could not locate my wallet. We looked in every place we thought possible. The last time I remember having it was at Sliver Glen when I bought ice cream. On our way to meet Don and Mary Martin in Bartow, we drove back up to Silver Glen but the staff there had not seen it. We then called the credit company to check for activity and put the card on hold for 48 hours.
We arrived at the Outdoor World RV overnight parking area in Bartow around lunch. We backed in beside Don and Mary's motor home, did a quick set up and talked a while before we fixed tuna fish sandwiches. Mary had traveled all over Europe last summer for six weeks with a friend and she just had to tell us all about. We were amazed on how well they had done the planning and how everything went like clock work.
After eating and talking some more, Rhonda took me back to just south of Lakeland and I rode the almost eight mile Fort Fraser Trail back to Bartow. The trail was on the old rail bed of the South Florida Railroad (Plant System, ACL and CSX) that had ran from Sanford, to Orlando, to Lakeland, to Bartow and finally to Tampa; hauling fruit and lumber. The site of Fort Frazier was located along the route. It was built in 1837 during the Seminole Wars to protect the settlers in that area and was named for Captian Upton Frasier. Rhonda met me riding her bike a few miles from the end.
We planned to have spaghetti and meat balls for supper and wanted to get a salad mix from Publix that we had gotten before. It had kale, broccoli, thin sliced Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicory, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and poppy seed dressing. They also had some of their delicious key lime pie. We bought a half one so we could share it with Don and Mary.
After supper, we took our pie over to their motor home and ate it before playing a game of Rummy Cube and two rounds of Mexican Train dominoes. While we were playing, they told of the problem they had with the car they were towing. It was equipped with a braking system that was connected to the motor home. After starting out and a ways down the road, Don felt the motor home straining hard to pull the small car. When he stopped and checked, he found the tires hot, so he disconnected the system. After a short distance down the road, he was still have the problem. He discovered that the brakes had completely locked up and the tires had flat spots where it had been dragged. They had to call a roll back wrecker to haul the car to a garage. It was taken to a Chevrolet dealer. The entire brake system had to be replaced along with the tires. The bill came to right at five thousand dollars.
Saturday, February 20
The next morning we were off to the Withlacoochee River park near Dade City and they were relocating to the Thousand Trails Resort in Claremont where they have a membership. They were planning to pick a friend up at the Orlando airport the next day. The friend was staying with them until they returned home.
We stopped in Lakeland at a Wells Fargo to cancel the charge card and order a new one. In Dade City, we stopped at a laundromat and did laundry. At the park we set up the camper, after which I watched the second half of the Virginia Tech / Florida State basketball game. Before supper, we rode the paved trail that meanders through the woods in the park. Along the way, we stopped and talked to a couple who were cat fishing down on the river in the swamp.
Sunday, February 21
We left the park before 9am heading to town to find the baptist church. We went to McDonald's first to get some of their great coffee. Ours is not bad, but when given a choice, I'll go for McD's. We found the church rather quickly after asking a couple of dog walkers. We arrived at church in time for Sunday School and found a class of men and women our age. They were very cordial and we had a good teacher. The worship service started with a baptism. About a third of the service was praise music with guitars, drums, and a key board. It was a very worshipful service. The good sized sanctuary was about 80 percent full.
We went to Bubbacue's restaurant for lunch and while we were eating, the pastor and his wife from the church came in and sat down at the table next to us. We talked a few minutes and found he went to NC State and was originally from Greensboro. He appeared to be in his early fifties.
We returned to the campground and I watched the second half of the Maryland vs Michigan game. Rhonda and I rode a little more than six miles on the bikes. When we returned, I watched the end of the Daytona 500 and then went back out and rode another five miles. I was still trying to get is better shape for when my friend comes down from Raleigh. It wasn't easy since my stent bothered me at times. He rides regularly and we want to ride a few of the trails I had told him about. Before I retired and lived in Raleigh, we rode some together. They had a reservation at an airbnb in Tampa. Airbnb is a website for people to list, find, and and rent lodging. It has over a million and a half listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. It was founded in August 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco. The company is privately owned and operated by Airbnb, Inc.
Monday, Feb 22
We were up and out by 8:30 heading to the Webster Flea Market. It was open just on Mondays and it was huge. We met Don, Mary, and Mary's friend there. Don walked around with us until noon. They had had enough by then and we said our goodbyes. We had lunch and spent another hour looking at the vast displays of new, old, collectibles, antiques, and some produce.
We returned to camp and put up the screen tent. There were some gnats bothering us when we were trying to read and Rhonda knitting and playing the clarinet. We've had the screen tent for about eight years, but only have used it twice. I've taken it on a number of trips, but have seldom put it up.
Tuesday, February 23
After breakfast, we drove six miles north of town to the southern end of the 46 mile Withlacoochee State Trail. While I was unloading the bike, another rider drove up and took his bike out of his van. He looked like a real dedicated biker with all the riding attire and a high class road bike. I asked if he was riding the trail up and back. He said yes and that it would take him a between four and five hours to do the 92 miles.
I rode three miles up the paved trail, turned around and headed back to downtown on a sidewalk like trail that was put in to connect the trail to Dade City. After about ten or so miles, I arrived downtown and found Rhonda a few blocks off Main Street near the library. I had previously tried calling her on the phone, but she did not heard it ring in her purse. I put the bike on the truck rack and we went to walk down Main Street. It reminded us a little of Galax with all the antique and thrift shops.
We had eaten lunch out of the truck so now it was time to go to McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake. Afterward, we stopped at the Latino grocery store and picked up some fajita fixings and returned to camp by 2 pm. The weather forecasters were predicting a severe thunderstorm with high winds, possible hail and heavy rain for early the next morning. I took down the screen tent and put up the awning to be safe if the wind really got fierce.
Wednesday, Feb 24
We got up with some anxiety with the storm coming in from the gulf. It had already caused some damage in Louisiana and in Pensacola. There were tornado watches for areas south of us. Fortunately, the worst cells were to the north and south of us. Before lunch, we rode the short paved trail around the park and down the park road to a dirt road. The soft sand and brisk wind convinced us to turn back. I went out for a ride again before supper for about six miles.
Thursday, February 25
We started making final preparations for moving to another RV park in Zephyrhills. Something came over me during the night. I lost my appetite and felt very “yuk” with some lower track discomfort. I dragged through the day, which included setting up at Happy Days RV Resort. We had lunch Hardee's and visited a thrift shop.
Friday, February 26
We took it easy all day. There was jam session scheduled from 2 to 4:30 pm. We went over to the club house and really enjoyed the musicians. They sang and played mostly guitar with some fiddles, a keyboard and one accordion. I encouraged Rhonda to go get her clarinet. She got in the rotation and when it was her time, she played “Unchained Melody” and “ How Great Thou Are”. During the second piece, the audience was singing along and most of the instrumentalist accompanied her.
Saturday, February 27
We drove to Tampa and met with our friends from Raleigh, who were down visiting for a little over a week. We drove over to Ybor (Ebor) City for a street festival. There was parking lots all around charging up to ten dollars, but we quickly found a curbside space a block from the activities. We left there and drove into downtown Tampa to walk along the river walk I had seen on a map. Again, we found a free on the street space. There was a Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue event with live music at a park area next to the boardwalk. There was a good size line going into the event. We went down the sidewalk a little ways and found access to the river walk along the Hillsborough River. It was very scenic area to walk or ride bikes.
I had heard about a seafood restaurant that had been a family owned business for years. It was called Shells. We headed there for lunch. My appetite was not completely back, so Rhonda and I split a grilled shrimp and scollops lunch. Rhonda had a bowl of clam chowder that she said was one of the best she has ever had.
From there we drove out to Fort Desoto State Park near Clearwater to see the gulf beach and the old fort. There was a civil war re-enactment group on the grounds with some very good displays. The fort itself was a Spanish-American War installation. We returned to Chuck and Christine's rental apartment and then drove back to Zephyrhills. We had a great day with old friends, even though I was not feeling quite up to par.
Sunday, February 28
We attended a nice worship service in the park clubhouse from 9 to 10 am. We pretty much relaxed the rest of the day.
Monday, February 29
Chuck and Christine came over before nine and we headed for the Webster Flea Market. After two hours of carousing the hundreds of vendors, we headed over to Nobleton to begin a ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail. Before heading out, we stopped about a mile before the trail at a very simple little restaurant called the Riverside Restaurant described as “casual country setting with home style cooking”. By the time we left, the place was full. It had good food, a varied menu, and very reasonable prices.
While there, I went over to two cyclist in the restaurant to ask how far up the road was the trail crossing. It turned out that they were from Raleigh and lived off Wade Ave. They knew of a fellow that Chuck knew who rides on the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh. They had ridden down from Inverness about 20 miles to the north.
Rhonda and Christine dropped us off and went back to Dade City to look around. They picked us up after a 15 mile ride. With the ureter stent irritating me, it was all I wanted to ride. We stopped at Publix to get a half Key Lime pie and something to grill. We ended up settling on a whole roasted chicken, some potato salad, and a salad mix. We devoured it all except for a serving of potato salad. Afterward, Chuck and Christine returned to their Airbnb (rental apartment) in Tampa.
Tuesday, March 1
A trip back down to Lakeland for some bank business was on the slate for the morning. On the way, we came upon and accident just out of town. A bicyclist had been hit by a tractor trailer and was being administered CPR. It didn't look good. We later found out he did not survive and he was 72 years old.
After leaving the bank, we went down town to see if there were anything of interest. We found the downtown area to be very attractive; comprised of professional offices, a few restaurants, boutiques, government buildings and a nice hotel. I found out later that they were celebrating their centennial as a city. There thirty-eight lakes in the Lakeland area. The most prominent ones are Lake Parker, the largest, Lake Hollingsworth, Lake Gibson, Lake Morton, and Mirror Lake. Three of them are right in the immediate area of the business district.
Swans are one of the most visible features on the lakes of Lakeland. They have a long history, with the first swans appearing around 1923. By 1954, the swans were gone, eradicated by alligators and pets. A Lakeland resident who mourned the passing of the swans wrote to Queen Elizabeth. The royal family allowed the capture of two of the royal swans, and the most of swans now on the lakes of Lakeland are the descendants of the royal swans sent by the queen.
Like a number of cities we've seen, they had statutes around town chosen to be an icon of the city. In Blacksburg, it is the Hokie bird, in Raleigh it is a wolf, in Custer, South Dakota, a buffalo, and so on. Here in Lakeland, it is the swan. Most of these icons are painted in flamboyant colors and designs. At Mirror Lake there was a large bronze swan that had been place there long before the current trend began.
We walked down the walkway that surrounds the lake and saw that there was a landscaped garden on the right about a third of the way around. We love gardens and was excited to see what was blooming and how it was arranged. The sign at one of the gates said it was the Hollis Garden. Even though it wasn't large, it was very beautiful. There were beds of pansies, petunias and garden greens, but everything else were perennials. A large water feature ran down the center with walkway on either side. There also were walkways along the outer perimeter. There were a couple of stone benches, some modern art sculptures, and a small fish pond.
We stopped at a very well stocked military surplus store that probably would be a great source for outdoors men, hunters, and a white supremacy or other militia group. After delicious lunch at a Panda Express, I picked up a few things at a Harbor Express before leaving town.
Wednesday, March 2
I checked on the internet for the closest place we could go canoeing. It found that there was an outfitter called Canoe Escape on the Hillsborough River at John Sargent county park just outside of Thonotosassa. We got our water bottles, snacks and other items together and headed out. We found the location easily and were soon on the river after arrival. Rhonda wasn't sure how long she would be comfortable on the canoe seat, so I just signed up for the two hour trip.
It was a great trip. We saw five alligators, egrets, blue herons, many turtles and a large bird called an anhinga (some times called a snake bird, American darter or water turkey). It was a little over cast with the skies clearing gradually and the temperature was very pleasant. There were other older couples and a private school group also on the river as we went down to the take out at Morris Bridge. We thoroughly enjoyed the outing. Rhonda and I have developed a good canoeing partnership and felt we could have taken the four hour trip (maybe, next year). As we rode back to the county park, we talked with the bus driver and found out he was the owner of the business and a very active Christian. We ate lunch in the picnic area before returning to Zephryhills.
Back in town, I picked up a memory card reader to transfer photo to my laptop and a AA/AAA battery charger (both to keep in the camper for future trips). Later, Rhonda got a hair trim while I washed the truck at a car wash near by.
Thursday, March 3
The 81st annual Florida Strawberry Festival was on our schedule for Thursday. It was the first day of the event and senior discount day. We had arranged to meet Chuck and Christine there a little before ten. As we were parking, we suddenly realized we were parking right next to them. They drove from Tampa and we drove from Zephryhills and out of more than a dozen lots available, we parked right beside each other at the same time.
We looked at a number of exhibits before taking in the first show. A group of sisters originally from Palmer, Alaska called the Redhead Express (Kendra, Alisa, LaRae, and Megan Walker) was scheduled for 11 o'clock. They did a “Song of the Mountains” show at the Lincoln Theater in Marion, Va for the PBS network a year or so back. It was a fantastic show. They were a high energy group playing bluegrass and country rock. The show in itself was worth the price of admission to the festival. The show was followed by a Philly Cheese steak sandwich and some do it yourself strawberry shortcake. We ate in a shaded area because it was about 80 degrees in the sun.
The second show was at 1 o'clock. The entertainers were a duo called Kari and Billy. We had seen them the previous year and really enjoyed their performance. I bought one of their CDs, but it was not as good as the live show. It was primarily love songs written by Billy and did not have the variety of the show on stage. The live performance featured more of Kari on the fiddle and upbeat songs by other artist.
By three-thirty, we were ready to head back to Zephyrhills and Chuck and Christine were going to check out the midway. We bought a strawberry onion and a quart of strawberries as we were leaving. The onion was a sweet white onion much like the Vidallia. It was called a strawberry onion, because it was often planted on the outer row of the strawberry fields.
Friday, March 4
A few days earlier, we had made reservations at a RV park on the Suwanee River near Fanning Springs. I wanted to snorkel in the springs, ride some of the Nature Coast Trail, and be a few hours further north, thus reducing our travel time for the trip home.
Chuck and Christine decided to relocate to that area for their last two days in Florida. Their airbnb reservation ended on Friday morning so they reserved a room at a motel in Chiefland which is on the southern end of the 31 mile trail. They had originally planned to leave Florida on Friday, because their son was coming home for spring break. When they discovered that he was planning to visit his girl friend for the weekend, they decided to extend their Florida visit.
We decided to take our time and stay on US 98 all the way to Chiefland. We stopped and looked at used campers at two places along the way (in Brookville and Homosassa). We sort of started to think about trading up to the next size so we could have a dinette set up all the time, rather than converting the bed. It would also make it more comfortable to play games and watch TV. We stopped along the way and ate lunch in the camper at a wayside after 1 o'clock. It had become more overcast and cooler as we drove north. The temperature was 10 to 15 degrees cooler than what was predicted for Pasco County.
After a gas stop in Chiefland, we drove the final thirteen miles to the Suwanee River Hideaway RV Resort. It was quiet, remote and only had about 25 units. The sun was out, so after setting up, we walked down to the river on a 1500 feet board raised three or four feet above the swampy land beneath it. There was a small fishing dock at the end. The park owners had built it fifteen years earlier when they built the campground. The river at the end of the dock was about150 yards wide. It was up stream 20 miles from where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico north of Cedar Key.
We did not have reliable cell phone service, so I made contact with Chuck using the “Hang Outs” app on my tablet via the hot spot internet connection at the campground office. He answered the call while riding the NCT there in Chiefland. We made plans to meet them at the motel at 9 am the next morning for Chuck and I to ride the trail.
We discovered that there was a good seafood restaurant in Fanning Springs, so we headed there for supper. They had a great salad bar and plenty of choices on the menu. I ordered catfish after the waitress talked me out of mullet. I can't remember ever eating mullet, so I was curious to try it. She said the locals like it but is was very bony and its taste was stronger that some fish. Rhonda had an item called the “Dingy”, which consisted of a piece of fish, three shrimp, three oysters, three crab rolls. It was a popular place. The restaurant was full and with some waiting by the time we left.
Our plans for the next day included grilling out with Chuck and Christine after the bike ride and a visit to the springs. We headed to a grocery store in Old Town a short distance away. We bought steak, Kielbasa, marinate, pineapple, bell pepper, canned potatoes and some wooden skewers for making shish kabobs.
Saturday, March 5
After our rendezvous at the motel, we drove down to the trail head a few blocks away and headed out. It was good we waited until after nine to start. The temperature had dropped to 41 degrees over night and it was just above fifty when we started out. Rhonda and Christine were going to check out a couple of thrift stores and a flea market before heading over to Trenton about 15 miles and a half trail miles away.
We took our time and arrived in Trenton after eleven. The ladies were down at a quilt shop when we arrive at the old depot parking lot. We ate a leisurely lunch from items we had in our vehicles. Afterward, I drove back to where the trail had turned right to Trenton. The trail was a “T” and the next leg was the left or western side of the “T”. Chuck re-rode the right arm again. I joined him at the middle of the T and we rode on to Cross City. I ended up with 31 miles and Chuck finished with 40 miles.
We stopped at Fanning Springs State park where Chuck went in for a swim. I decided to wait for another day. With my recent ailments and the winter season, the thirty-one miles biking was all the exercise I wanted for the day.
Back at the campground, we made preparations for the evening meal. While that was underway, Chuck made the .65 mile walk to the river and back. After supper, we said our farewells. After they left, I watched the last half of the Carolina / Duke game and the first half of the Virginia / Louisville games on my tablet up by the office. The internet signal was strong enough to allow the use of the Watch ESPN app.
Sunday, March 6
We loafed around and had not looked to see what our possibilities were for church. By the time it was time for church, it was too late to go looking. We ended up going to a flea market in Chiefland. The last two Sundays we attended services that were good. One at a Baptist church and one at the campground. We bought oranges, strawberries, and a few other items before heading over to Bubbacue's for a sandwich and side for lunch. There are nine locations in Florida and one in Louisanna. After lunch, we drove to Williston, about twenty-five miles away to visit Rhonda's brother and sister-in-law. Also staying in the same RV resort, were two couples from our old home town. All eight of us graduated from the same high school within three years of each other (1968-66). We spent the afternoon talking about our careers and travels.
Monday, March 7
Just being lazy around the park was our mode for the morning. After lunch, we drove back into town to Fanning Springs State Park and rode our bikes toward Chiefland and then back to the Suwanee River bridge on the NCT. When we returned to the park, we both went in swimming. While I was in the springs, a manatee came in from the river. Another swimmer rubbed it on the back and it soon went back out. A little later it returned, but went over to the area with algae and aquatic plants and was undisturbed.
Tuesday, March 8
I found a bike trail of sorts on a map of the area. It was in the Suwanee River Wildlife Preserve near the village of Suwanee about 28 miles away down on the Gulf. We also wanted to go to Cedar Key, but we discovered that the only river crossing was back up at Fanning Springs. This would make it a 75 mile trip, just from Suwanee.
The bike trail was actually a preserve dirt road about eight miles long and connected county road 357 to county road 317. Most of the road had swamp or marshland on both sides and was a single vehicle wide. There were several small one lane bridges on the northern end. One was over a waterway large enough for canoeing and was marked as such. We did not see anyone else coming or going, until we took a side trip out to a viewing area overlooking the marsh land just in from the Gulf.
After the ride, we drove into the village of Suwanee. It's main interest was boating and fishing. All the vacation houses, cottages and condos were on canals. There wasn't much else there other than a bait and tackle shop, a restaurant that maybe was open only on weekends and a very small grocery store.
We returned to Old Town, ate lunch went to a thrift shop and returned to the campground. I planned to watch the N.C. State / Wake Forest tournament game at 2 o'clock. When I opened the Dish Anywhere app on my tablet, I discovered that I was wrong about the time. It had started at noon and was already over. We went to an ice cream social at three and met some nice folks. While there, Rhonda signed up for the pot luck supper on Thursday night.
Wednesday, March 9
We decided to drive down to Cedar Key forty-one miles to the southwest. Rhonda's brother and sister-in-law had visited there the previous year. It was a small harbor town on an island on the Gulf Coast. We arrived around nine o'clock and parked near down near the docks at 1st and C streets. We walked out on the city pier and down Dock Street past a couple restaurants and gifts shops. We made a complete circle back to the parking lot. We then strolled down 2nd Street and stopped in a very nice local art gallery. There was a maritime museum there, but it was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. We really wanted to eat a seafood lunch at Tony's, but we were too early and did not see any posted hours. We did not see much else of interest, so we headed back to Chiefland.
Rhonda had a hankering for pizza, so we took in the buffet at Pizza Hut and the stopped at a fruit stand for oranges and strawberries. We had seen a sign for Tony's award clam chowder down in Cedar Key and decided to see if Winn-Dixie stocked it. They did and we bought several cans.
Thursday, March 10
Jimmy and Linda along with one of the couples from our high school, Danny and Dorothy Burger, met us at the Lighthouse Restaurant for lunch. Afterward, they followed us out to the RV park. We all walked down the boardwalk to the river. While sitting at the pier, we watched a boater across the river that had come up the river, trying to start the boat, all the while drifting back down the river. We speculated whether he had been heading back to where he had launched or if the had started down river and was at least drifting back in the direction he needed to go.
Back at the camper, we socialized and quenched our thirst before they returned to Williston. There was a pot luck supper in the clubhouse and Rhonda had made deviled eggs and a plate of sliced ham. In a small camper like ours, there is a limited amount of things you do for a pot luck meal with limited pots, a small fridge, and no oven; except for a microwave.
Friday, March 11
We left for our trip home around 8:30. We first headed over to Gainesville to connect with US 301 and to fine the great fruit stand we had stopped at on two previous years. We did not remember exactly where it was so we stopped at a stand that actually had a better selection. We got a full flat of strawberries (12 pints) and two bags of oranges, primarily to give to our cat feeders.
We stopped in Walterboro, S.Carolina for the night in a campground just off I-95. We heard the hum of the highway just less than a hundred yards away. The drone was so steady and even it wasn't that bothersome. The campground users appeared to be primarily for overnight users either going back to the north or on their way south to Florida, not to say there isn't good reasons to stop in Walterboro. Most RV parks have people staying for extended stays for the weather and/or recreational resources in the area.
Saturday, March 12
We arrived home mid-afternoon after stopping in Hunterville for lunch. Then began the task of unloading the truck and camper. Again, it was a great month in Florida. We had great weather, enjoyed the sites and people we met and some had good times with friends. We traveled a total of around 2300 miles.