Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Withlacoochee State Trail

We had many things on our list for today so we were looking for a fast walk just to get a little exercise (work off some of that strawberry shortcake from yesterday).  Laps around the outer loop of the campground would have worked, but we prefer something a little more scenic.  Withlacoochee State Trail was close by so that’s where we went.

This is another Rail/Trail conversion and is very similar to the Van Fleet Trail a few miles farther east.  The Withlacoochee State Trail has the distinction of being the longest paved rail/trail in Florida, coming in at a whopping 46 miles.  Like the Van Fleet, the trail is wide, relatively straight, with wide shoulders for dogs and horses.  The trail is open to walkers, bicyclists, skaters and horse back riders, but in our very limited observation, it is used mostly by bicyclists.  Today, for example, we saw one other walker and about a zillion bicyclists.
Railroad mile marker

We started at the Ridge Manor Trailhead.  We parked at this trailhead to access the River Trail last week.  It’s a large parking lot with restrooms and picnic area. Ridge Manor Trailhead is only 6 miles from the southern terminus at Owensboro Junction.  Today we walked north for about 2.5 miles then turned around to return to the car.

Lyre-leaved sage
Like the Van Fleet Trail, there were relics of the old railroad days.  We passed markers which we suspect give the milage to Richmond, but the brochure doesn’t say that.  The rest benches are farther apart than on the Van Fleet trail.  We finally came to a rest stop after a couple miles.  It was much nicer than the ones on Van Fleet.  This rest stop had a rack bicycles could be leaned against, a hitching post for the horses, and a covered picnic table as well as the resting bench.  Pretty nice.

After our walk we’ve been busy preparing for dinner guests this evening.  Tony and Diana will be leaving in the morning, so this is like their sendoff dinner.  We’ve also invited other friends to joins us for cocktails beforehand.

With guests coming, I better get busy.

Thanks for tagging along.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Plant City Strawberry Shortcake

‘Tis the season for the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City.  This 10-day celebration draws huge crowds every year.  This years festival starts Thursday, March 1, and runs through March 11th.  The entertainment during the festival includes some pretty big name stars and that always attracts folks, but the real attraction are the strawberries.  And, what’s the highest and best use of strawberries?  Shortcake, of course.

The Festival begins on Thursday, but Tony and Diana are leaving on Wednesday and they wanted to go check things out.  Our reasoning was that strawberries are already coming in and they’ve got shortcake made, why wait for the festival.  So we took off down to Plant City today.

Gene did the driving, so he got to pick the route.  He chose to take I-75 south to I-4 east.  The Plant City exit is only a few miles east of the I-75/I-4 interchange.  That’s a drive of about 60 miles.  Traffic was heavy on the interstate today so he decided to take Florida 301 for the return trip.  It’s a slower, more relaxing drive through rural farmland and only about 50 miles in distance.  Once again we were reminded that we greatly prefer back roads to interstates.

We had heard from those in the know that Parkesdale Farm Market was the place to go for shortcake.  Apparently, that’s correct and word has gotten around.  The parking lot was almost full when we pulled in and the line for shortcake was wrapped around the side of the building.  These folks know how to serve a crowd, though, and the line moved quickly.  We all ordered the #2 shortcake.  That’s the one with a layer of vanilla ice cream between the strawberries and the whipped topping.

Oh my gosh, we couldn’t eat it all. Only Tony cleaned his plate.  Next time (probably next year) I’ll go with the strawberry shake.   It looked really good, too.  The four of us agreed we didn’t think the soft serve ice cream was a significant improvement to the traditional strawberry shortcake.

Plant City has more to offer than just strawberries and Parkesdale Farm Market was selling potted flowers, a variety of citrus and other fruits, and almost any vegetable you might want.  You could also buy strawberry plants if you wanted to grow your own.
Grapefruit ready to be bagged.

Oranges for sale
With our tummies full of shortcake and our trunk full of fresh fruits and vegetables we headed home after a quick stop at Starbucks.  We pulled into our campground just as the next round of thunderstorms passed through.

We probably won’t go to the Festival.  Huge crowds are not something we enjoy.  But, we’ll put Plant City and Parkesdale Farm Market on our annual Florida “to do” list.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Men Sweat, Ladies Glisten

Contributed by Gene.

Do you remember leisure suits and double knit polyester pants?  Todays hiking clothes for next to skin wear are normally polyester.

Polyester for hiking took over from polypropylene .  The British Army used polypro base layers on Her Majesty’s forces in the Falkland War.  Since it was a plastic, it melted often compounding the soldiers’ injuries.

Polypro did not fall out of favor with hikers due to melting.  It was, to use the British colloquialism, the PONG factor.  Polypro was The Pro at retaining body odors.  It seems that after a while they could not be laundered fresh as a mountain breeze.  They’d stink soon as you put them on.

So polyester, still a form of plastic as it happens, took over.  Polyester does not retain odors nearly as badly. But, make no mistake, after many wearings during sweaty hikes, it to will lose it’s ability to come clean and fresh smelling

There are, of course, quite expensive athletic wash products with enzymes and such to combat this olfactory scourge on our sensibilities.  I spent an inordinate amount of time  on internet research and it was learned the common man or woman’s polyester anti-pong recommended stategey to be:

Wash early and often, in the hottest water the care label allows.  SHOUT and other pretreatments are generally okay and can be rubbed in with the fingertips, but don’t allow pretreatments to stay on the garment longer than five minutes, according to the instructions on the container, or unspecified disaster with result.

We’ve tried various techniques to get rid of the stink including soaking in a bleach solution.  Once over the line, it’s hard to retrieve.  My favorite strategy is to buy cheap poly garments to begin with.  No $40 shirts for me.  When they stink irrevocably, replace them with new, cheap hiking clothes.  Sooo, my blue shirt got to stinky and now I have a new red one--$5 at Marshell's.
Looks great with my orange hat, don't ya think?
That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

River Trail, Part Two

We were back on the trail again this morning.  Today, we put a couple of trails together and came up with a 4-mile (one way) hike which included the northern end of the River Trail.

Last Wednesday we hiked most of the River Trail beginning at the southern end.  We hiked north along the river to a point we were guessing was about 4 miles from the trailhead.  That left about a mile of the River Trail that we didn’t do.  After we got home and spent some time with the maps, we discovered that we could park the car at a point where the Florida Trail crosses the road and hike south to connect with the Silver Lake Trail, then use a connector trail to reach the northern end of the River Trail after about 3 miles.  With the mile of the River Trail that’d make 4 miles one way, 8 for the day--perfect.
I-75 overpass.  You can see how low the water is.

Silver Lake
We finally got to see Silver Lake today.  Even the Silver Lake Loop trail which we hiked a couple weeks ago doesn’t get close enough to the Lake to see it from the trail.  Today, we passed under the I-75 overpass and found ourselves right at the lake.  The trail skirted the lake for about a half mile.  Lucky for us the water level is very low so we got to walk through the swampy area on dry ground.
Swamp just at the edge of the lake
Near the lake are a couple of campgrounds.  We saw a few campers on the trail in this area.  Once we got past the lake and the campground zone all was quiet again.

All the trails we hiked today were well maintained. The connector trail south of the campgrounds all the way to and including the mile of the River Trail was an old road bed.  At one point, with the old fence posts and the live oaks overhanging the trail, it looked a lot like a country lane.

When we reached the point on the River Trail where we had stopped on Wednesday, we sat again on the bench for a short rest.  Shortly after putting our packs back on and heading toward the car, we noticed a little lady rushing toward us.  This was a little surprising since we’ve seen so few people on the trails.
Withlacoochee River
As she approached, she slowed down and stopped to speak.  She was wearing a t-shirt with something about Appalachian on it, so we asked if it was a reference to the Appalachian Trail.  It turned out that this little lady, who looked to be in her mid 70s, was Nitro, an Appalachian Trail section hiker.  She is planning to do a 150 miles in Virginia this spring and will then have completed everything from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia to Connecticut.  We enjoyed chatting with Nitro, but she was in a hurry to be on her way.  Training, I guess.

Of all the trail we’ve hiked in central Florida, our hike today was my favorite.  We had a woods walk, a short stretch by the lake and through the swamp, and about a mile along the river.  There were cypress, live oaks, saw palmetto, and longleaf pine.  The trail was mostly in the shade, as well.  That is so much more pleasant.

Gene was sporting his new red shirt today.  More about that tomorrow.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

River Trail

We were back on the trail today in Withlacoochee State Forest.  Today’s hike was along the River Trail.  There are several different trails along the Withlacoochee River.  Today’s trail was simply named “River Trail”.
We're seeing this along the roadways.  Don't have a name for it yet.
We started our hike at the Ridge Manor Trailhead which is only about 6 miles from our campground.  It’s the closest trailhead so far of the hikes we’ve done.  This trailhead gets more use from walkers and bicyclists using the Withlacoochee State Trail, a paved rail-trail conversion.  It has a large parking lot able to accommodate dozens of cars. There is a sheltered picnic area as well as an open picnic area under the live oaks.  There is an information kiosk about the paved trail.  It also has my favorite--a restroom.  A quick word about the restrooms.  In Withlacoochee State Forest the restrooms at the trailheads have all been clean, well stocked with tissue, hand soap, and towels, and are of the flush variety, not pit toilets.

To access the River Trail, we walked through the picnic area to an opening in the fence and the beginning of the River Trail.  There is an information kiosk located at the fence for this trail as well as a sign in sheet.  At almost all the trailheads in Withlacoochee State Forest there are sign in sheets.  We always sign in.  Forestry Service likes to keep track of trail usage.  We figure the more names on a sign in sheet the more likely they’ll maintain the trail.

This trail, for the 4 miles or so we hiked, is about 4 feet wide, about as wide as a lawn mower and it had been mowed recently.  We headed east for about a half mile before turning south, but soon turned north and continued north basically paralleling Withlacoochee State Trail and I-75 farther west.  After the trail turned north, we followed Withlacoochee River all the way until we turned around.  The trail continues on for another 3 miles and joins the Silver Lake Trail which we hiked a couple weeks ago.

We were hiking along the west side of the river on State Forest land.  Across the river on the east side the land is privately owned and we saw many fish camps.  These camps included everything from the run down hovel to modest cabins to elaborate homes with wrap-around screened porches.

For our lunch we stopped at the bench at Gator Watch.  We watched for gators, but saw none today.
Yellow wood sorrel
The River Trail is a linear trail.  We went out about 4 miles then turned around to come back.  About 2.5 miles from the trailhead is a junction with the Windmill Trail.  This 2 mile trail roughly parallels the River Trail, but is about a half mile shorter.  We took it for a change of scenery.  This trail leads away from the river and into the forest connecting back with the River Trail about a half mile from the trailhead.
The windmill on the Windmill Trail
We got back home before the rains set in.  Right now, we’re having a thunderstorm with plenty of thunder and lightning and a few strong gusts of wind.  Gene just got soaked trying to lower the awning.  This is drastically different from the 30% chance of isolated showers which was our forecast this morning.  Oh well, Florida needs the rain and a lot of it.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras to Alaska

We couldn’t be out on the trail today because there was just too much going on in our campground.  As you know, this is Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras or Carnival is at its peak today.

Not every area of the country gets quite as excited about Mardi Gras as Louisiana and lower Alabama, but way over here in central Florida we had our little parade.  It didn’t last long, but it was a whole lot of fun.  Not sure what the cows in the pasture across the fence thought about the commotion.

Several couples in the campground spent last summer in Alaska.  If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know Gene and I were there as well as Tony and Diana.  We didn’t travel together, but met up a couple times during the summer.  Also there were Wanda and Wallace, the campground managers at this park.  Traveling with them were Wanda’s cousin and her husband, Bea and Bennett as well as Fran and Sharon.  Also in Alaska, but traveling with a different group were Marilyn and Larry.

Diana took the initiative to get us all together for a little reminiscing this afternoon.  We all gathered at Tony and Diana’s rig to eat a little, drink a little, and swap a few tales.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Van Fleet State Trail

This has been an absolutely glorious day--lots of sunshine, low humidity, slight breeze, and temps in the low 70s.  I just love it.  This would have been a very nice day for hiking, but there were a couple things on our lists that needed to be taken care of today.   Not wanting to miss out on this fabulous day all together, we opted to go for a quick walk this morning instead of a hike.

About 25 miles from our campground is the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail.  This multiuse trail is named in honor of the American combat commander and veteran of WWI, WWII, and the Korean War.  This 29-mile length of paved trail is open to walkers, bicyclists, and in-line skaters.  Horses are allowed to walk along the wide shoulder on either side of the pavement.

There are four parking lots along the length of the trail.  The closest one to us is the Mabel trailhead parking lot.  It’s large with plenty of room for many cars, including a handicapped van parking area, a shelter with a couple picnic tables, and a restroom.  There is even drinking water, which is perhaps more rare at trailheads than restrooms.

The Van Fleet Trail is a rail-trail conversion and is straight as an arrow and flat as a pancake.  The trail description says there is a curve along the trail, but wasn’t in the section we walked today.  We did see one of the historic mile markers.  These markers indicate the distance to Richmond, Virginia, the hub for the railroad line and the home of many of the rail workers.  The northernmost section which we were on is located within the Richloam Wildlife Management Area of the Withlacoochee State Forest.  As the crow flies, it is relatively close to where we hiked on Saturday.
Historic mile marker.
We had in mind to walk for an hour then turn around and head back to the car.  That would give us time to get back home for lunch and have the afternoon to get our other errands run.  As is the case with many paved trails, the milage was painted on the pavement.  We were close to an hour at 2.5 miles.  We decided to turn around at that point making our walk a nice round 5 miles.
At the 1 and 2 mile marks, we came across these resting benches.
We got all the way to our turn around point without seeing anyone else, but on our return trip saw several bicyclists.  One gentleman was kind enough to tell us about the alligator and even road back and dropped a bit of Spanish moss on the trail so we wouldn’t miss the spot.  Across the ditch and tucked into a hole was the mama keeping a watchful eye on junior sunning himself on a rock.  There were several bushes between us, so it was hard to get a clear shot of the two, but I think you can see mama’s head behind junior.  Follow junior’s tail around.  He’s one long alligator, but his body is small compared to mama’s head.  It was all very exciting.

After lunch we were able to get our errands run quickly and efficiently.  Now, we’re ready to sit out and enjoy the rest of this marvelous day.

We want to welcome our latest followers, Ray and Wendy.  They have been RVing for many years in a variety of rigs loving those vacations and weekends away from home.  Now, they’re looking forward to the day when they can hit the road full-time. Welcome, Ray and Wendy.  We’re glad you’re tagging along.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Down Side of Hiking

Today, Gene and I are suffering from what I think is a major down side of hiking--bug bites.  We seemed to have been bitten more yesterday than on any of our hikes this winter.

Yesterday was warm and sticky--temperatures in the mid to upper 70s and very high humidity.  The slight breezes we’ve enjoyed on previous hikes were absent yesterday.  All in all, a great day for mosquitoes.  We got stabbed numerous times.

The trail we hiked yesterday is lightly traveled.  Grass was growing over the trail in many areas.  It had been mowed so wasn’t an overgrown trail, but grassy nonetheless.  Our lower legs are just covered with chigger bites.  We’re thinking all that grass is a good place for the chiggers to set up housekeeping.

Of course, the main line of defense for these pesky biters is Deet.  I just hate Deet and avoid using it, if at all possible.  Yesterday, the mosquitoes were so bad I sprayed my hands and arms.  Since I was wearing long pants, I didn’t bother with spraying my legs.  Big mistake.  Deet may have helped prevent some of those chigger bites.
Sunset out my window from a few days ago.

We have a whole new look in our campground.  The winds are blowing around here with gusts of about 30 mph.  Nearly everyone has stowed their awnings, lawn chairs are tucked under slides, and patio decorations are squirreled away in safe places.  About the only thing left out are flags of various types flapping in the breeze.

We’ve had a few brief showers, some heavier than others, but the sun is out now with blue skies overhead.  It feels like the humidity is a lot lower, as well.  Things are shaping up to be a great afternoon to sit outside.

Otherwise, we’ve had a quiet day around the old home place.  Cooler weather tomorrow should be nice for hiking.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Richloam Tract, East Loop Hike

We were back on the trail today.  For me, it’s been a week since my last hike.  Gene went on Wednesday by himself while I stayed home to rest my cold.  Today, Gene led Tony, Diana, and I on the trail he had hiked alone on Wednesday.
Looks like we weren't the first to hike this trail.

The trailhead was close, only about 10 miles from our campground, in the Richloam Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.  There is lots of parking at the trailhead, an information kiosk, and trail maps, but no restroom.  Us girls like to have a restroom at the trailhead.  It especially comes in handy after the hike for a place to change into dry clothes.

There are three loop hikes in the Richloam Tract. The East Loop is the shortest of the three at 7.5 miles with a half mile connector trail from the parking lot to the junction with the loop.  The trail and the surrounding environment is very similar to the trails we’ve been hiking in Withlacoochee State Forest.  In wet weather, this trail would be swampy, but that wasn’t a problem today.  Everything was dry even though it rained most of yesterday.
The guy painting the blazes got a little carried away.

We hiked the loop in the counterclockwise direction.  At about the 3 mile mark, we were at the East campsite.  It was a little early for lunch, but since there was a picnic table we didn’t stand on any lunchtime traditions.  This backcountry campsite was small compared to the others we’ve seen in the Withlacoochee.  It was off the trail by several hundred feet tucked away in the live oaks.  There were also several cypress trees nearby making us think there might be water there during wet weather.  Of course, all I could think about were the alligators that might also be there along with their friends the water moccasins.

The only wildlife we saw was a turtle, if you don’t count the dead armadillo on the side of the trial.  Lots of birds sang to us all day.  They must have been happy with the rain yesterday, too.

The hike was good, but us girls were pretty pooped by the time we got back to the connector trail.  The heat and humidity sapped our energy.  The only thing that kept us going was visions of the root beer floats which Diana was making for our after hike treat.

I have been copying early blog posts to Blogger from Trip Journal this week.  This morning I added the entry from November 17, 2008.  I mention that because that was the first time we sat down with Tony and Diana for a visit.  They have become dear friends since that time.  We always feel blessed when in their company.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fighting a Cold

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather the past few days--stuffy nose, slight headache, sneezing, very little energy.  Sounds like a cold; feels like a cold.  I haven’t taken to my bed, though.  We’ve been out doing a few things.

Sunday, we were all ready for a hike.  We got in the car and drove past Tony and Diana’s place and were surprised to see their car there.  We thought they were on their way to visit friends in Sarasota.  As it turned out, they had brake problems.  Forget the hike; we needed to take care of our friends.  We drove them to Auto Zone then to the grocery.  On Monday morning, they had their car towed to a dealership.  From there they went on to visit friends, so we don’t know the outcome of the brake issue.  They should be back tomorrow with all the details.

It’s just as well we didn’t go for our hike on Sunday.  I wasn’t feeling all that great and it was cold and windy.  Not a good day to be out.

Monday was a little warmer, although the early morning temperatures were below freezing.  We debated about hiking, but Webster flea market won that contest.  Gene has had funnel cake on his list since we got here.  I thought for sure he’d get it at the FMCA rally, but he didn’t.  Besides funnel cake, he wanted a pair of sunglasses so off to the flea market we went.

It was a very successful shopping day.  He got his funnel cake right away, then we strolled up and down, in and out looking at everything for sale.  I think you could find anything under the sun at that flea market.  He found is sunglasses as well as a buckle for his pack waist belt to replace the one he step on and broke on Sunday night.

Besides tomatoes and fresh strawberries, I found a pair of knockoff Crocs.  I’ve been wanting a pair of something that I could just slip on for quick trips outside.  These will work perfectly and can’t be beat for just $5.  They only weigh 4 ounces.  I may go back next week and get another pair. They would be great camp shoes for backpacking trips.

Speaking of backpacking.  Gene found the time to fix his Thermarest sleeping pad.  When we were on our trip to the Arctic Circle, he discovered that it had a leak.  Try as he might, he was never able to find a hole or feel where the leak was.  Since we don’t have a bathtub, he didn’t have a way to check for the leak.  He took it up to the indoor pool here at the campground.  It only took a couple minutes to find the tiny hole.  It was so small, he was able to fix it with glue.

We’ve had a fun Valentine’s Day.  I fixed Gene pancakes and bacon--one of his favorite breakfasts and he did the laundry for me.  Boy, was that a treat.  For the afternoon, we took a drive up to Ocala for lunch.  We had lunch at Murphy’s Oyster Bar, but it wasn’t all that great.  Oh well.  We both enjoy browsing through bookstores.  We found a Barnes and Noble, ordered coffee and a brownie to sip and munch while we leafed through a few books.  Gene was trying to find a Florida wildflower book, but he was not completely satisfied with any of the three they had to choose from.

Since I've mostly been resting, I've had time to work on the blanket for my next grand niece, who is due in April.  I'm finished all but weaving the loose ends through.

So, that’s what we’ve been up to.  Hope you’ve had a nice Valentine’s Day.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My First Ever Horse Pull

I’ve been to many places and done many things in my lifetime, but today was the first time I have ever been to a horse pulling event.  I guess I should say horse pulling contest, because the teams of horses were competing against each other and some of the spectators were betting on which team would pull the most weight.

Since I’ve never been to one of these events before, I really didn’t know much about what was going on and from what I could gather from listening to people around me, the horse pulling contests are different in Florida than in other parts of the country.  When we first approached the stands, we heard an auctioneer and thought we were at a horse auction.  We found out that the spectators and participants were bidding on the up coming team of horses.  The highest bidder contributed that amount of money to the jackpot which was awarded at the end of the competition.

The morning event was for the smaller horses.  We were there in the afternoon for the big guys.  The teams we saw competing weighed around 5,000 pounds and were pulling over 3,000 pounds.  To help the horse grip the dirt, their shoes had prongs on the back.  The handlers would bring a team around and hitch it to a heavy duty truck.  Once hitched, the teams were off.  Sometimes, they didn’t even wait to be hitched and they had to be brought around again.  A complete pull was 20 feet.

I enjoyed seeing the horses; they are such magnificent animals.  But, I wasn’t so thrilled with seeing them strain to pull the load.  I’ve been to tractor pulls and enjoyed those events, but it’s different when its a machine.  We stayed about thirty minutes.  I’d had all of that I wanted.

That was our excitement for today.  Other than that we’ve been doing chores and preparing for colder weather.  Temperatures are forecasted for below freezing tonight.  Looks like we won’t be having 80 degrees for the next several days.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.