Peddling Around Springfield

June, 2018 – Springfield, MO We spent all of June in Missouri. We hung out with our kids, played with our granddaughter, and caught up with our friends.

We also tried to get our bikes out as often as possible. Springfield is blessed with many great bike trails. It has miles of asphalt just for pedestrians and bicyclists.

It’s a little harder to find level pavement in this area of foothills. We certainly want to work up to some elevation gain but Jim’s trike doesn’t perform very well on hills. And I’m not even a huge fan of flying down hills. I usually ride the brake not wanting to take a chance on hitting something on the path and losing control.

Rails to trails are always a good bet for a fairly level ride since the trains the paths were designed for couldn’t handle steep grades any better that we can. Springfield has a great one of these, the Frisco Highline Trail.

It has about 8 miles of asphalt starting on the north side of Springfield and continuing south through Willard. It is a very nicely done trail with a bike rental stand at the Willard trailhead and rest stops like this one. The storage facility across the road has facilities for cyclists including a bike storage program.

This trail continues all the way to Bolivar, 30 miles away. The remainder of the trail is gravel. We rode a section of it and it was very hard packed. We’d like to do more of it as we have walked many miles of this trail in the past and it is very scenic.

One morning we checked out the Wilson’s Creek Greenway, one of the few trails we hadn’t walked before. The trail description I found said minimal inclines. Ha!

When we headed north from Tal’s Trailhead we had to climb a large hill through some woods almost immediately. At the top of the hill we came out of the woods and had to go through a gate. We were now in a cow pasture and there were gently rolling hills as far as we could see.

We made it about a mile farther before we came upon several short but steep hills and turned around. We pedaled back past the trailhead and continued another mile south hoping it would be easier in that direction. It was actually much hillier.

I ended up walking my bike a couple times and we finally called it quits with only 5 miles ridden but 370 feet in elevation gain

The trail was very pretty and if you are better prepared for the hills and ready for a challenge I absolutely recommend hiking or biking it if you are in the area.

One of our favorite trails is the Galloway Creek Greenway on the east side of town. We rode it on Father’s Day with our son Adam, an avid cyclist. This trail is very popular but it is also quite wide so sharing the path was never a problem. The trail has several metal sculptures along the way.

You ride past many businesses including several bars and restaurants.

And the funnest part is riding under some busy streets and one train trestle.

This particular day we rode from the trailhead at Pershing Middle School to the old iron bridge over James River for a round trip of around 10 miles.

The South Creek Greenway is another great trail in the heart of Springfield without too many hills. It includes a great bridge over the very busy Kansas Expressway.

It has 6 miles of total pavement so it is about the perfect length for us as we enjoy getting in about 10-12 miles if there is not too much up and down.

We took the bikes to the Lake Springfield Park one morning and discovered it has a really scenic trail along the lake.

It was better suited to walking however since it was only about a mile long. We rode some other roads in the park to eak out a 3 mile day.

I haven’t been carrying my cameral on the bike and instead enjoy taking photos with my phone, often while in motion. I have certainly missed my camera a few times like when this red winged black bird kept swooping by one morning.

For all its convenience though I think the phone does a decent job.

Residents and visitors of Springfield are lucky to have these and many other trails and parks to enjoy. Information and maps for all these trails can be found at the ozarkgreenways.org website.

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden!

Along with the Sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Lynn Anderson sure nailed it in her 1970 hit Rose Garden. It was released the year I was born and a favorite song of my dear departed mother who was known to regularly break out in song. So though I can’t specifically recall her singing me those exact lyrics when I threw a childish rant, I am still quite sure she did, and that she is the reason they, and many other lyrics, pop into my head, and usually out of my mouth, when an appropriate situation arises.

RVing is not all rose gardens, unicorns, and rainbows. I wouldn’t want to be accused of glossing over the pitfalls and troubles that sometimes go with the lifestyle. I try to tell it like it is in my posts and include in my accounts the bad with the good as in “A Great Weekend and One Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

But honestly there are a LOT of minor inconveniences and annoyances that it would just seem petty for me to bring up on a regular basis. But it also seems almost dishonest to never bring them up at all. So here is my top 5 list of the worst things about fulltime RVing.

Sometimes RVing Stinks! There, I’ve said it. Living in close proximity to your sewer system is usually the culprit. But why are you smelling your gray or, god forbid, your black tank? It is not always the easiest question to answer.

Example #1 When we first got our Mesa, it smelled really awful every time we changed locations. We thought it had to do with the actual movement of the trailer. We finally realized that trailer was so much more airtight than our last, that when we opened the slides it was pulling air from our sewer traps. All we had to do was open a vent or I often just hold the front door open a crack while I extend the slides and now it pulls fresh air into trailer instead of sewer gases.

Example #2 Our Mesa has a mechanical sewer vent in the basement. For some reason the manufacturer didn’t run the vent for the shower all the way through the roof. This results in a less than pleasant smell from our gray tank that sometimes emanates from under our kitchen sink. We thought the mechanical vent had just malfunctioned as they sometimes do, but we replaced it and it didn’t help. So we finally taped a plastic grocery bag over it, leaving some room for it to still work, and remarkably, it’s no longer a problem.

Example #3 The water from the bathroom faucet of the Mesa really smelled terrible. It didn’t make sense that the same water coming from the shower or the kitchen smelled just fine. It was just that sink.

This went on for months and was really annoying. We avoided using that faucet at all. Jim tried everything he could think of, even taking the faucet completely apart and cleaning it.

Finally, while perusing an RV site one sleepless night, he read that the clothes washer supply lines, when not in use or properly shut off, can somehow cause this. I still don’t exactly understand the how or why of it. But since he drained those lines and then closed the valves to them it has been fine.

Unfortunately it is not only your own sewer system you have to contend with. When you are in a trailer park you will often find your neighbor’s sewer dump in your front yard. You have no control over how or when they dump their tanks. If they want to do it in the middle of the family reunion you organized at your picnic table that is their prerogative.

They don’t make them like they used to. Our newer 5th wheel, which we love living in, just wasn’t built as sturdy as our old Alpenlite. Like so many things these days, it just wasn’t made to last. There are more durable models still out there but they are way, way out of our price range. There are also many less well made models available.

That brings me to the reason this song came to mind this particular morning and prompted me to finally write this post. On the way from Florida to Missouri one of our rear jacks stopped working. Jim announced that we had sheared a shear pin.

The same thing happened to the other rear jack about this time last year. Jim took that one off, finally located a new shear pin, and rebuilt it. So he knew what was necessary and he wasn’t prepared to tackle that project in the panhandle of Florida.

In order to get us moving again he did have to climb under the slide and remove the jack, which was not a minor project in itself. We’ve been making due with 3 jacks since then and Jim has worked on the jack several times and every time he puts it back together it shears the new pin. He’s finally decided that the jack is slightly bent and we’ve got a new one on the way.

My point is this. Jim is very mechanically inclined. He chooses to do the work himself. He wants to know how everything works so if we are in the middle of nowhere he can handle any situation. And he likes to save money too.

If he had to call for help or take the trailer into the shop every time there was an issue then we would be out some serious dough, occasionally homeless, AND probably dissatisfied with this lifestyle in general.

Where am I?! It is not at all unusual for it to take me a full minute or so to remember what is outside the thin walls of my trailer when I wake up, be it the middle of the night or at dawn. OK, that doesn’t sound like such a horrible dilemma.

But often sleeping in strange places night after night can be a challenge and disorienting. More often than not we are in an RV park, packed in like sardines, where other residents arrive late into the night or leave ridiculously early. Our neighbors are often celebrating their weekend or trying to enjoy their vacation and quiet time does not seem to apply to them. We try to go with the flow in these instances and are grateful that at least we don’t have to get up and punch a clock the next day.

That leads me to my next issue, lack of privacy! As a weekender, this is not a big deal. You’ll go back to your minimum quarter acre, your six inch walls, and your privacy fences on Monday.

However, if this is your whole existence then it is what it is. So if you are trying to enjoy your tiny patch of grass and one of your many neighbors is blasting some godawful music, having a fight with his girlfriend, or even enjoying (hopefully) marital relations on the other side of that 2 inch wall, well there is not much you can do about that. Boondocking is usually a dream, however if you are on public land and someone chooses to park right beside you, you are also out of luck.

Where the H E double hockey sticks is IT? Can your favorite and least favorite thing be the same?! I have a love/hate relationship with the amount of storage in my RV.

We once owned a large home. We also had an office in town with an apartment upstairs in case we didn’t want to drive a whole 30 miles home. And, of course, we had a travel trailer as well.

I swear we once owned a half dozen refrigerators. The only thing I disliked more than taking more perishables home than we needed, was getting home and having to waste gas to make the 10 mile trip back to the nearest grocery store for whatever we couldn’t live without.

I was constantly looking for stuff: tools, clothes, kitchen gadgets, etc. etc! I hated buying things we didn’t need because I couldn’t locate them. Usually as soon as I broke down and replaced an item I had given up on ever seeing again, it would magically appear.

My favorite thing about full time RVing is that practically everything we own is within a 50 foot radius. If it is not inside the trailer, in the truck, or in the basement of the trailer, then it just does not exist in our universe.  You would think keeping track of things in this limited space would be simple. Not!!

There are 44 cabinet doors and drawers in this trailer plus a large underbed storage area. There are plenty of places for us to lose things. Then we have a large basement which is thankfully accessible from both sides of the trailer. More often than not, whatever we are looking for is right in the middle of it and requires us to unload almost everything before we can reach it.

When we first started I was determined to stay organized. I made notes and drew diagrams of where everything in the trailer was stored. I even redid it a couple times. But I finally gave up.

The good news is we have the time to look for things and reorganize our storage areas as often as necessary. And when looking for one thing we often run across something else we forgot we even had. Sometimes we are very happy to see whatever it is and sometimes we realize we must not need it very badly and it joins our donate pile.

That’s all I have to say about that. That was a lot of words but I got it into one post and now I can go back to focusing on the many positives of having a location independent lifestyle. For us, they far outweigh the minor inconveniences and occasional unpleasantness.


Road Trip

Florida to Missouri – May, 2018 We completed our road trip from Florida to Missouri in 10 days. We made it back to Doniphan for Memorial Day weekend. We stayed there two weeks and have now relocated to Springfield where we plan to spend a few weeks.

After Top Sail we visited my dad and stepmom who live east of Birmingham, Alabama. From there we got an early start one morning and made the 5 hour drive to West Memphis, Arkansas where we stayed one night at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park. We paid $35 for a full hookup, gravel pull-thru site with our Good Sam discount.

We have considered staying at Tom Sawyer’s a few times in the past. But usually we get that close to home and find the energy to continue on. Not this day. We were happy to make to the I55 bridge and didn’t care to go another mile.

We were totally whipped and ready to throw in the towel even though it was only noon. We were also very intrigued by several awesome sounding bike paths in the Memphis area, one of which would have allowed us to ride over the Mississippi River. We hoped that after we had lunch and some rest we would be refreshed enough to load the bikes up and go have at least a short ride on one of them.

Unfortunately some storms moved in during the afternoon and ruined that plan. So we made a plan B. Jim has always wanted to visit Memphis’ Bass Pro Shops ever since it opened in the Memphis Pyramid.

From our campsite in West Memphis it was an easy 10 mile drive to reach it. Their parking is under a pretty impressive collection of overpasses. I liked how they framed the downtown skyline.

We have been to many Bass Pro stores but this one was one of their more impressive ones. Here’s Jim trying to decide where to begin.

Once you enter, the glass elevator in the middle of the pyramid is pretty hard to ignore.

You can ride it 28 stories to the top where there is an observation deck and a restaurant. The cost to ride the elevator was $10 per person. We would have paid it except for 2 things: I had forgotten my camera and it was raining pretty hard. We decided to save the experience for another day. Maybe we’ll even spring for dinner at the top someday.

This Bass Pro has the unusual distinction of having a hotel right in it. The screened balconies of more than a dozen rooms can be seen in this photo. I bet it would be a fun place to stay.

We wandered and enjoyed all the usual Bass Pro departments and a few unusual ones. The only thing I needed was a pair of sunglasses as I had made it out of Florida with only one pair and left that pair at my dad’s. But this store doesn’t just sell sunglasses.

They have a department where you can design your own custom pair and they will make it for you in a few minutes. No, I didn’t inquire what the price for that would be. I just held out for the next Walmart.

They had the usual Bass Pro fish ponds but some of these fish were gargantuan.

We wrapped up our tour of the two stories of merchandise without buying a thing. We headed back to camp as the storms where subsiding and wandered along the riverbank a bit. The campground has park benches spread out all along the riverbank and we enjoyed watching the barges go by.

The next morning there was a pretty nice sunrise over the river.

We made the short 3 hour drive to my hometown the next day. We spent the next two weeks working on my family’s river house and enjoying the Current River. They say the snakes are pretty bad this year. This one was right at the bottom of our steps one afternoon.

I don’t remember having so many foggy mornings.

It was just a year ago that we experienced An Epic Flood. My dad and older brother had reinsulated, sheetrocked, and painted over the winter. Jim and I hung the doors and trim and it is now ready for furniture. Fingers crossed that we don’t have to go through that again.

Topsail Hill Preserve

Santa Rosa Beach, FL – May, 2018 When we passed through this part of Florida last October we were really looking forward to visiting Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Unfortunately our reservation was summarily cancelled when Hurricane Nate made an unwelcome visit to the area the day before we were scheduled to arrive. Even though it was a little off of our planned route this trip, we decided to make the detour and spend a couple nights there.

We arrived an hour before the park’s 1pm checkout and were told they had not yet confirmed if our site was vacant. They directed us to park in their large day parking area and check back with them in an hour. We parked, had a quick lunch, then unloaded the bikes to have a look around.

The first thing that caught our eye were the numerous little ponds around the campground

and the many lily pads growing in them. Their blooms were quite lovely.

We made a quick tour of the park and confirmed our site was indeed vacant. Then back to the office to check in. Then back to the site to drop off the bikes and a quick walk to collect the camper.

Soon we were set up in our new home and, most importantly, plugged in to the power grid so our AC could work overtime to get our little tin box comfortable. The sites here aren’t overly large but they are big enough and thoughtfully laid out.

The rain that was in that afternoon’s forecast kept getting pushed back so we gratefully took advantage of the beautiful day. After a short rest we donned our bathing suits, threw a couple things in a bag, and headed for the beach. The beach is about a mile from the campground or from the day use parking lot. It is perfect for bicycling to or they have a tram that runs from 9 – 7 daily.

We arrived at the beach to find it fairly busy with families enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

The sand was at a premium but there was plenty of room in the water and all we cared about was getting our saltwater fix. We threw our bag down and plunged right in. The yellow flag was up so there were some pretty good sized waves we had to work our way through. But we finally got out to 4-5 feet of water and just bobbed around for a while.

The water was a deep shade of green and the perfect temperature. The only negative was little green globs of, I don’t know, seaweed? They were everywhere. That’s ok. We persevered long enough for our bodies to soak up their quotient of salt.

Some dark clouds were moving closer and we heard some thunder so we decided we better head for home. I was glad we weren’t stuck waiting on the tram. We jumped on our bikes and made it home just before the clouds let loose.

We were both looking forward to a good ride the next morning. A very popular trail starts across the highway from the park and travels 20 miles along Scenic Hwy 30-A. Unfortunately Jim’s trick knee had pulled one of its shenanigans the day before. He wisely decided he better let it rest.

I took a ride around the park. Primarily I wanted to take the paved trail to Campbell Lake. It was only about 3 miles roundtrip.

The lake is a rare freshwater coastal lake. It’s hard to see in this picture but the other side of the lake is actually a tall sand dune that protects it from the ocean.

The morning was pretty dreary and it was misting the whole ride. I kept hoping it would clear up and I’d get some better light for my photos. It didn’t.

Turns out it was pretty comfortable riding conditions so I kept going. I rode every stretch of pavement in the park, about 5 miles worth. I stopped at the beach and walked down the boardwalk.

The beach was now deserted.

Then I road most of the park again to complete an hour’s worth of morning exercise.

The rest of the day turned out cooler than expected, which was nice. We drove east a ways beside the bike path we had hoped to ride and found it was very congested in places and we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway (sour grapes anyone?). Jim wanted to visit a bike shop called Big Daddy’s. You can tell they are serious about bikes.

Then we explored the area to the west of the campground. There were tons of retail options in this area. There were high end shopping centers and a huge outlet mall.

Even though we didn’t need anything, roaming some of the strip malls was a good way to get in some walking and we always had a place to duck in out of the heat or the rain, depending on what Mother Nature chose to throw at us from one hour to the next. The easy walking was what Jim’s knee needed to keep it going without further straining it. Hopefully he’ll be back in the saddle by our next stop.

Silver Springs

Ocala, FL – May, 2018 The time finally came in the middle of May to leave Florida and slowly make our way to Missouri. We covered Bella and got her secured on her boat lift, closed up the house, loaded up the 5th wheel, and hit the road. Our first stop was Ocala, a five hour drive north.

A couple months ago, I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Wandering Dawgs, titled Historic Silver Springs. As soon as I read that their were wild monkeys in the park I knew we HAD to go. We have joked for years that what Florida needs is wild monkeys to make it really interesting. It has giant snakes, alligators, and crocs. Monkeys would fit right in!

We weren’t sure exactly what day we were leaving Goodland so we couldn’t make a reservation very far in advance. By the time we were sure of our departure date I could only get a rez for 2 nights, a Wednesday and Thursday. We’d have to vamoose on Friday.

The wet season had officially hit Florida that same week. We luckily avoided most of the storms (or they wisely avoided us) during the day’s drive. We got to Silver Springs State Park campground around 2 and just finished setting up when we heard the rain coming and made it indoors just in time.

Just before dinner the rain let up for a bit. We got the bikes out and road all the campground loops until another line of storms rolled in and chased us home. We had a great dinner waiting in the crockpot so we settled in to watch a movie.

The next morning until 11 was the only window of time that the weather guessers said we’d have a better chance of staying dry than being drenched. We planned to cram as much exploring in before lunch as possible. The campground is a few miles from the main entrance to the park. We road our bikes on the sidewalk beside the highway to the spring’s entrance.

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We locked up the bikes outside the admission gates and flashed our Florida State Park Pass to the gate attendant to avoid the $2 per person fee.

We walked around the grounds. The boat tours didn’t start for an hour so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. I love this structure with its many gables and stained glass.

The main spring was amazing. It was 30 feet deep and so incredibly clear you could watch the anhinga dive down and catch fish.

The glass bottom boats do look really cool. Next time …

There were lovely flowers everywhere. This bloom was as big as my head.

We used to have these growing in our back yard in Missouri. They are exquisite.

We followed the path along the water keeping an eye out for wildlife. Jim spotted these babies and called them ducklings. But I wondered if they were ducks or the offspring of the group of anhinga fishing in the background.

Upon further inspection of the pictures when I got home I realized there was actually a wood duck among the adult birds and these were obviously her ducklings. I was crushed that I didn’t notice her and get a clear shot. I have always wanted to see a wood duck and didn’t recognize what was right in front of me.

There were huge fish jumping ridiculously high all along this stretch water. You can barely see one of them jumping on the left of this photo.

We made our way back past the main spring and wandered over to the boardwalk trail. The surroundings were very jungle like.  Those monkeys wouldn’t have looked at all out of place there.

We moseyed down the boardwalk and met a nice lady walking two adorable dogs. She commented that the water was a little murky because of the previous day’s rain. We couldn’t imagine how it could be any clearer.

Since she was obviously a regular we asked her if she had ever seen monkeys from the boardwalk. She told us that she had once, about a year ago, and she hoped to never repeat the experience. She said that several adolescent males were on the bridge over the river and one of them made several aggressive advances toward her before she could get away.

We continued on along the boardwalk keeping our eyes to the trees, just in case.  I did see a beautiful woodpecker. He was having his way with this log lying on the ground. You can see from the holes in it that he is a regular.

I was struggling to get a better shot with all the greenery around him. He must have sensed my frustration. He jumped up to a nearby tree and poised beautifully for me just before I walked away.

We left the boardwalk and continued along the river to the kayak launch. Their kayak rentals are pretty reasonable and we definitely would have gone that route if the weather would have cooperated. You can also launch your own kayak here for a small fee. We talked to the guys collecting the launch fees and they said that if we kayaked the river we’d have about a 50/50 shot of seeing the monkeys.

We also discussed hiking trails with them and made the decision to hike back to camp and drive back to collect the bikes later. We headed down the trail and didn’t make it very far before we met this black racer.

He was just off the trail and he made his presence known by waving his skinny little tale at us and bobbing his head ferociously. We scooted right past him to a safe distance so I could get the shot.

After that we had an uneventful 2 and a half mile walk through the woods with only a few butterflies to keep us company. We were very attentive to our surroundings, keeping an eye to the trees (ever the optimists) and also watching the ground for snakes. We saw lots of signs of critters: deer tracks, gopher tortoise holes, scratch marks where something dug for food.  But it was just us and the trees for most of an hour.

We had hoped that we might have another rain free hour later that afternoon so we could explore more of the trails in the campground but we did not. It started raining at noon and never let up. So we kept busy finally putting everything away in the trailer, puttering on projects, and writing this post.

The campground is really awesome. The sites are huge and wooded. We loved our full hookup pull thru site, number 2.  It came to almost $30 per night after taxes and fees.

I wonder how many more times we would have driven right past this gem of a park had I not been lucky enough to read Wandering Dawgs’ account of it. If you want more info on the park her post is a good read. She also has great pictures and has actually seen the monkeys! We’ll get ’em next time!

Return to Shark Valley

Marco Island, FL – April, 2018 Jim has been wanting a recumbent bike for many years and the last couple he has been actively looking for a used one. He wasn’t willing to pay much over $500 and he was pretty picky about the style of recumbent. He hadn’t seen a single one for sale that met his criteria and was even worth test driving until now.

I saw a bike in his price range that looked like what he wanted on Facebook Marketplace when we were in the Keys. He looked the model up online and it had great reviews and seemed to be exactly what he had been looking for. It was in Key West which we were planning to visit that week anyway. We made arrangements to see it, rode it up and down their street, and finalized the deal for only $400.

We took it back to Fiesta Key and took turns riding it around the RV park the next few mornings. It was everything he hoped. It was easy on his knees and back which is what has kept him from enjoying biking for many years now. What he got was The Rover by TerraTrike. They start around $1100 new and his bike would have cost about $1500 with all the extra options it included. Here’s a pic I borrowed from their website.

He’s owned it a bit over a month now and is loving it. We’ve been riding almost every day. We generally ride a minimum of 5 miles, 7 to 9 miles is not unusual, and our longest ride has been 15. So what, you may ask am I riding.

We had a couple of cruisers we had picked up at a garage sale last season and they were fine for riding around Goodland but not what I’d like to spend hours on. I had some idea of what I wanted and after a little internet research I found it in what they call a crossover or hybrid bike. I wanted to sit upright on a comfortable seat like the cruiser, but I also wanted some gears.

I did not want to spend a lot of money either. If we ended up riding a lot then I could always upgrade to a better quality bike later. Most of the bikes I saw online that fit my criteria were around $250 but I finally found this one for under $150 at Walmart and the reviews were pretty good. It was in stock near our home so we picked it up the next week and I have been extremely happy with it.

My most common form of exercise up to this point is a three mile walk. If I walk every single public street in Goodland it adds up to just over 3 miles. So I have walked every street over and over during the last 6 months. I enjoy these walks and usually see something new each time. I really enjoy walking very early in the morning because there is hardly anyone out and about before 9.

There is a nice, paved walking/biking path from town, along Goodland Drive that leads to the highway. I usually don’t include this path in my morning walks but if we ride every single street in town and take the path to the highway we can get just over a 5 mile ride. Our typical ride looks something like this.

There isn’t much elevation gain on the city streets and only about a 10 foot rise in elevation from town to the highway. So to add a challenge I’ve been turning onto the highway and peddling to the top of the bridge. There is very little traffic in the mornings and there is a very wide shoulder.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how hard it is for me to get up there. But with the exception of my first attempt, I have made it every time without stopping (even though Jim said it looked like I was going so slow near the top that he was afraid I might fall over).

Jim has started joining me on the bridge. He’s at a disadvantage on the recumbent because he can’t put his weight into it. It’s all legwork for him whereas I can stand up if the going gets tough. He also has much smaller wheels but the same number of gears as me. Our goal for next season is to be able to go all the way over the bridge and then back up over it thereby adding two climbs to our usual ride.

Whether I walk 3 miles or ride 5 miles, it’s about 50 minutes of exercise and I’m burning a similar number of calories. Of course, that is the minimum amount of exercise I try to fit in most days (try being the operative word). The bikes are making it easier to reach that goal and also helping us do more than the minimum.

Jim often walks with me but walking up and down the same streets just doesn’t appeal to him. He enjoys biking them so much more. And it is much easier to exercise every day when you’ve got someone that’s excited to exercise with you.

Also when biking we create our own breeze. Therefore we are willing to bicycle when it is too hot to walk. And we can bike when there are some bugs about without being feasted on as we would if we were walking.

It’s a lot more interesting to ride somewhere new so a couple times a week we’ve been loading the bikes up and going in search of new trails. Luckily we have some great options in this area. One of our favorite trails is the Gordon River Greenway in Naples.

It has several parking areas but our favorite place to start is by the Naples Airport. There is a park there beside the runway and they have a platform where you can watch planes come and go and even listen to the tower on a loudspeaker. You never know what you might see there.

Then you can ride about a 5 mile loop that swings past the Naples Zoo and crisscrosses the Gordon River.

If you want to wrack up more miles you can add 5 by continuing past the parking lot and all the way around the airport and back.

One goal we set when we started riding was to return to Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park and ride its 15 mile loop before we left Florida for the season. Four weeks after we bought Jim’s bike we did just that.

They don’t open the gates until 8:30 so we arrived just after that time on a Monday morning. It was already 78 degrees out so we hustled to get on the trail which begins along the canal. We weren’t very far along before we were swarmed by bugs and I started to wonder what we were getting in to. There were a variety of buzzy things but the most annoying was the biting flies. Luckily that was the worst area we went through and it got better as we rode on.

During our last visit we hadn’t seen any bugs but we anticipated there being some this time and were wearing bug spray. Jim is usually the one the bugs love most so he had applied it more liberally than I did and surprise, surprise they didn’t bother him nearly as much as me. Unfortunately, when we stopped so I could apply more the can ran dry. Lesson for the day: always carry spare bug repellent in the Everglades.

The bugs were just bad enough that I didn’t want to stop to take pictures for fear of being swarmed. So we put the first 5 miles behind us pretty fast. As we were nearing the observation tower at mile 6 I finally got it out in hopes of seeing the crocodile that we saw last time. She must have been sleeping late as she did not make an appearance this day. There were plenty of alligators though.

And there were quite a few birds, although not as many as in April.

We climbed the tower and lingered there for a while. It was cooler up there and shady. There were no bugs and very few people. And it was nice not to be rushed as we had been when we took the tram tour last time.

There were tons of alligators in the pool below the tower this time and we had seen very few here during our last visit.

We finally drug ourselves away when the first tram tour of the day arrived to break our peace and quiet. We still had 9 miles to go.

The park prefers you ride the whole route counter clockwise, opposite of the trams which are the only other traffic allowed. We could have returned by the same route if we had needed to thereby reducing the day’s total miles to 12. But we were feeling pretty good and up to the challenge.

As we road on we found out why the alligators were now at the pond under the observation tower. The area that had been covered in water during our April visit was now mostly dry. We still saw a few smaller gators and several babies around the drainage ditches where the last of the water remained. There were some larger ponds, mostly a ways from the road.

The good news was that there were far fewer bugs on this side of the park. Unfortunately there was also zero shade. We got lucky and had some occasional cloud cover on the return trip but if we stopped we lost our breeze and it was too hot to stay long. We had intended to make it a leisurely day trip. We had brought a lunch and plenty of water. Instead we pressed on and finished in just over one and a half hours not counting our intermission at the tower.

We are looking forward to taking our bikes on the road with us this summer. Jim found us a rack for the RV that will carry them both. We are already planning our route and stops based on finding good bike paths.

Diving the Keys

Florida Keys – April, 2018 Jim and I are working through a short bucket list of items we want to do before leaving Florida for the summer. Diving in the Keys was at the top of that list. We still can’t believe we were nearing the end of our second season down here and hadn’t been diving at all.

We were optimistic that now that the high season was waning we could find a campsite in the Keys. We did, at Fiesta Key RV Resort, between Islamorada and Marathon. Even with a Passport America discount for the first two nights, the cost averaged $80 per night, but it was well worth it. The resort was surrounded by beautiful, clear water. It had a very nice pool we never used because there was a great ocean swim area. Most importantly, it was still half the cost of the cheapest hotel room we could find and we got to sleep in our own bed.

We drove down on Sunday and dove Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon off Islamorada. The first day we made two dives to an average depth of 50 feet. The coral wasn’t much to look at, it was more like rubble, but the sea life was astounding. We saw eels galore, a turtle, lionfish; all on the first dive.

Our second dive seemed a bit like a bust with not nearly as much to see. That is until the halfway point when the dive guide turned us back toward the boat. Jim and I were in the back of the pack as usual and a big nurse shark came straight at me.

I banged on my tank with the pointer I carry to get Jim’s attention so he wouldn’t miss it. The shark seemed interested in me and kept heading my way. I thought it might come up and give me a kiss so I kept my pointer aimed at it in case I needed to poke it in the eye to make it clear I was not that kind of girl!

It veered away just a few feet from me and kept cruising the reef. A few minutes later another, larger nurse shark came flying past. On the way back to the boat we spotted a nurse shark a total of 4 times. We assume there were just 2 sharks but there could have been more.

I chose not to take a camera with me that first day of diving so I have no evidence of these encounters. It had been over two years since our last dives in Cozumel therefore I thought it would be a good idea to concentrate on my diving and not be distracted by my camera. I had a new underwater camera I was dying to try though.

I had been struggling with the idea of buying a new underwater camera. I had a waterproof housing for my Sony and we owned a SeaLife DC600. But honestly I was floored by how great Jim’s underwater pics were turning out with his old GoPro in its waterproof case.

We stopped in a dive shop in Panama City on our way into Florida last fall and they showed me the Intova X2. It is similar to the GoPro but is waterproof without an extra case and has some built in filters and lighting options. It cost around $500.

I took it on our Wednesday afternoon dives and although I’m still getting used to the settings, I am really pleased with its performance. Usually in underwater photography close proximity to the subject is the key to any decent shot. But this camera takes some amazingly clear photos at a distance. Like this one of our dive leader joining us in the water. I took it from the bottom, 30 feet below.

Wednesday’s dive sites were teeming with fish.

Both sites had beautiful hard and soft corals and were relatively shallow at around 30 feet or less.

I may not be able to capture all the colors of the ocean with this little camera yet but I like the simplicity of it. This pufferfish is blotchy brown so it captured it perfectly, even if you can’t tell that some of the fans surrounding it were beautiful shades of purple.

It also flawlessly captured this black and gold french angelfish.

The highlight of the day was this gorgeous turtle who didn’t seem to mind the half dozen divers hovering around him.

The Florida Keys offer almost as good a diving experience as we’ve found anywhere in our dive travels. The dive trips are reasonably priced as well at $85 each. We do not intend to let another 2 years go by before going again.

On one of our non-diving days we drove 65 miles south to Key West. The drive was nice and there were a couple of places we wanted to see there. We had spent a long weekend in Key West in 2009 so we weren’t completely unfamiliar with the area.

First stop was the Key West Cemetery. You know we love cemeteries, the older the better, and we had somehow missed this one on our first visit. This cemetery was established in 1847, on the highest natural elevation in Key West, after the previous cemetery was destroyed by a hurricane. The cemetery is 19 acres so it made for a nice morning walk.

Jim had read that there were several humorous headstones with sayings like “I told you I was sick” and “I always dreamed of owning a small place in Key West.” He had also read to watch out for iguanas. We walked the aisles, he looking for interesting headstones, while I watched out for big slithery things.

The day was warming up so I had better luck than Jim did.

Despite some intelligence on where these humorous headstones were supposed to be, he never did find one.

Another thing we didn’t find was a parking space anywhere close to our next point of interest. After driving the narrow streets in our big truck looking for one, we got a bit fed up and decided we’d save that destination for our next visit because we know we’ll be back. We had been considering lunch downtown as well but instead we turned our carriage toward camp and found an awesome seafood place called the Square Grouper on our way home along the Overseas Highway.