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.