Our Florida Trail Excursion

March 21-28, 2015

My buddy, Don, summed it up nicely when he posted, “Two guys runnin’ wild and free headed to Florida for a few days of rail trail riding”. And so, we did. As usual I couldn’t resist a stop at the “Varsity” as we slowly passed thru Atlanta. It’s a tradition. A couple of hot dogs, some onion rings and a chocolate milkshake! After reaching Lake City, FL we chose to get off the interstate and travel the old highways. This led to our first trail ride, the Withlacoochee Bay Trail, a nice trail along the old Florida Barge Canal. Our second ride was the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Following a long day of travel, I had no problem getting in a good night’s sleep in my tent. We got the last available campsite in the campground! The next morning’s downpours were a little disappointing but gave us ample time to do some scouting and planning. It was 2 pm by the time we finally began riding our third trail, Venetian Waterway Park Trail. This beautiful greenway trail follows along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, from the ocean north and somewhat east, past the Venice Airport to north of Venice Avenue. We also had the opportunity of riding thru the nice little town of Venice. We began and ended this trail at the Historic Venice Train Depot which is also where our fourth trail, the Legacy Trail, began. This is a 10.7 mile trail that is flat and straight except for the nice bridge across US41. There are several other small bridges over waterways where you have some great views. After a 2pm start and 45 miles of riding we had a very good late dinner at Brian’s Place.

Tuesday morning, we left the Venice area and headed north to Dunedin where we were planning to meet Joe, my friend from Myrtle Beach. It was a beautiful morning. As we started across Tampa Bay, we stopped at the Terra Ceia Rest Area to enjoy the wonderful views and snap a few photos. We then proceeded across the beautiful Sunshine Skyway Bridge into Saint Petersburg, Clearwater Beach and finally, Dunedin. This is about the halfway point on the Pinellas Trail and is another of Florida’s quaint little towns. After connecting with Joe and grabbing some lunch we began our ride on the popular Pinellas Trail. We rode to Tarpon Springs where we spent quite a bit of time walking around town and enjoyed seeing the large boats docked there. This is a very active town with a lot of tourists having fun. After completing our 27 mile bike ride, we once again took to the road trying to find a campsite for the night. This was a harder task than we anticipated. We finally found a campground which was full but allowed us to pitch our tents in a large, open, grassy field. The bright moon and stars made for a beautiful night.

Wednesday, following a great breakfast at the Chef’s Café, a small family restaurant in Spring Hill, we drove to Inverness and the Withlacoochee Trail. Because we were a little late getting on our bikes today, we chose to ride north on the trail which was the shorter section and save the longer southern section for the next day. It is a nice, very popular trail. Following our ride, we found some primitive campsites at Fort Cooper State Park where we set up our tents for a couple of nights. Primitive was certainly a good description of this place and I think we were the only campers there.

Thursday, following another good breakfast at a local restaurant, we headed south on the Withlacoochee Trail. This section of trail was more scenic than the section we rode Wednesday. There was a bike shop beside the trail as well as a couple of places to grab something to eat. We saw several more bikers on the trail and most were riding trikes. Trikes are very popular in Florida because of the numerous rail-trails.  With 50 miles, it was our longest ride of the week. With an overnight forecast of 90% rain and a couple of thunder storms, Joe decided to pack up his tent and bid us farewell.

After surviving the all night rain in our tents, we were welcomed with a warm partly sunny morning on Friday. It was our last day to enjoy the wonderful Florida rail trails. We grabbed some breakfast and headed to the West Orange Trail near Winter Garden. It was our favorite trail and the weather was near perfect for the first 20 miles or so. Then we began encountering showers and finally an all-out rain. We got soaked and as the temp dropped to 63 degrees, we also got a little chilled by the end of our 41 miles. The ride was great, especially the part thru downtown Winter Garden. They make the claim that the West Orange Trail is the city’s Main Street. And I guess that’s true since the trail runs right down the middle of the street!

With the completion of the West Orange Trail our Florida Bike Trails Excursion was complete. Well, almost, we still had to drive home. We made it to Valdosta, GA where we spent the night before completing our journey on Saturday. We spent 2 days traveling there and back and 6 days riding 7 trails for 222 miles (and had no flat tires). We slept in our tents for 4 nights and motels for 3 nights. We ate mostly in small local restaurants and had some great meals. And the weather was very nice…except for the rain during the last 20 miles of our ride Friday! Thanks Don and Joe for hanging in there when we had no idea what we were going to do next! It was a fun week. Oh yea, I saw one alligator! And I got his picture!

Happy 75th Birthday!

One of the Best

You’re nice and kind and lots of fun too; when someone needs help, they call on you.
Serving and helping, you’re not one to rest; you’re a friend, their friend, and one of the best.

You’ve a heart full of love and start each day; giving thanks for your kids as you start to pray.
Always wondering, “Are they getting enough rest?” You’re a mother, their mother, and you are the best.

You really get excited when thinking of them; your four little grandkids, you’re favorite kin.
With lots more energy they can be quite the test, you’re a Nano, their Nano, and you are the best.

You’re a most special person to all of us, one we tell secrets with confidence and trust.
But in loving me you’ve reached your crest; you’re a wife, my wife and you are the best.

Though time has moved on and your now seventy-five, from each of us you get a high five.
And when you reach glory it will be no jest; when God says to you, “You’re one of the best.”

Love always,

“God’s Monkey”

During my first paddling adventure at Silver Springs I was amazed at the variety of wildlife viewable from my kayak. Many species of birds could be seen along the jungle like shoreline as well as flying across the beautiful, crystal clear water. And there were numerous alligators and turtles basking in the sun on a log or downed tree. But the animal I found most fascinating was the monkey. Watching them scrambling around on the ground or jumping from limb to limb in the tree tops was totally unexpected. I couldn’t wait to get a nice photo of a monkey playing in the wild! But it never happened. I diligently looked as I paddled the river but, although other kayakers kept saying there was a large group just around the next corner, I never found them.

So, as we launched again this year for another float down this beautiful river, once again I was hoping for that one special opportunity for a great photo of a monkey. An hour or so into our journey we spotted a couple of monkeys playing in a thicket of trees close to the water. But no good photo opportunities. Then there were several more playing about 20 yards into the woods but again no good photo available. Another hour passes and I continue to see birds, alligators, turtles and even a large manatee, but no monkey. Suddenly, there it is, the perfect shot! A beautiful small monkey sitting on a large log just a few feet from the water’s edge. As I slowly paddled closer and began fumbling around with my iPhone camera, safely enclosed in its water proof case, my perfect photo jumped off the log and ran into the woods. I watched as he began playing with some friends just out of range. I sat for several minutes and waited, hoping for his return, but it didn’t happen.

Over the years I’ve learned there are situations I can’t control. There are problems I can’t fix. There are desires I can’t fulfill regardless of how hard I try. During these times I’ve learned to rely on God’s help. Some people think I’m crazy while others have no doubt. But years of experience has taught me there is no prayer too trivial if it’s not contrary to God’s will or in conflict with my best interest. Just as I take delight in doing fun things for my grandkids, I believe God takes delight in doing the same for me. So, as I have often done in the past when I needed help, I prayed, “Lord, I would really like to get a good picture of a monkey.” And then I began to wait, and wait, and wait. Nothing. Now I’m thinking I need to change locations and begin to paddle back away from the bank. I notice a downed tree and think what a nice place that would be for a picture. Then I notice movement in some brush behind a tree. As I eagerly watch I see a monkey moving around and slowly coming my way. He sees me and stops. Starts again, looks at me and stops again. I’m getting a little nervous. He walks behind a tree and climbs upon the downed tree in front of me. I get my camera ready. He walks out on the downed tree and stops right in front of me and poses for a photo. I oblige him and snap a couple of photos. He looks the other way and I snap a couple more. He then turns around and poses one more time. Snap-Snap-Snap. He casually walks back, jumps down to the ground and walks off into the woods. Out of sight. After saying, “Thank you Lord!!!” I paddle back out into the river and start paddling hard to catch up with my group which by now is way ahead of me. No one else in my group saw this monkey. But they were amazed, as was I, with the photos he made possible. I refer to this kind of incident as a “God Thing”. And I refer to the monkey as, you guessed it, “God’s Monkey”.

Paddling In Florida 2019

2019 Pungo Paddlers

Last week I once again had the privilege of going to Florida for a few days to enjoy kayaking on crystal clear springs and cycling some beautiful rail trails. It was another amazing trip with 19 other fun loving, adventurous souls. Life can be so much fun when your camping, eating and playing outdoors with a bunch of people who know how to have a good time. Some camped at the beautiful Silver Springs Campground and the Ichetucknee Family Campground. Others chose a nearby motel or B&B. I did both, camping two nights and staying for three nights at an Airbnb ran by a most fascinating lady. She had traveled to 80 different countries and had countless stories to keep one entertained. While there I met a lady from Minnesota, a man from Michigan, another lady from Canada, a couple from Paris and a couple from New York. It was a good experience.

The “Pungo Paddlers” (our groups official name) chose Silver Springs for our first day’s paddle. This is a beautiful place with much wildlife such as birds, alligators, monkeys, snakes and I’m sure others that I just didn’t see. Our second day was on the beautiful Weeki Wachee Springs. This river has a nice current with lots of turns thru some dense wooded areas before encountering some neat water front cabins and homes along the west end. There is not as much wildlife to see but you’re almost certain to see some large manatees. The third day we took on the Juniper Run beginning at Juniper Springs SP. When I’m paddling here, I feel as if I’m in a jungle. It is very narrow with lots of twists and turns and lots of large vegetation and trees extending into and across the water way. It is very common to get entangled in bushes or caught on a downed tree as you paddle. There is even a short little rapids area where one is almost certain to get a little water in your boat. This area had been closed for 3 weeks before we got there due to excessive bear activity. Day four took us to the Ichetucknee River beginning at Ichetucknee Springs SP. This is another beautiful float on crystal clear water which maintains a year round temperature of 72 degrees making it a popular tubing site. One is also very likely to see manatees on this river as well as lots of big fish swimming around. And I guarantee you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of large turtles. It isn’t unusual to see 10 or more lined up on a log. It seemed that each spring/river had its own personality but each shared in having crystal clear water and beautiful surroundings. They all make for some great adventures.

A few of us got in some cycling as well as paddling. Some rode the Santos Trail. I chose to ride the Withlacoochee Bay Trail and the Dunnellon Trail. They were all paved trails thru the woods or along the water making for some most enjoyable riding.

Overall it was another great week for the Pungo Paddlers. A special thanks goes to Dennis and Nancy for planning, coordinating and serving as leaders for our adventure. Well done! Looking forward to our next outing.

View Photos

Silver Springs

Weeki Wachee Springs

Juniper Run

Ichetucknee Springs

Bike Trails

Letter From Camp

Bart – Brooke – Casey – Todd – Scott – Bryan

Dear Mom,
Our new scoutmaster, Uncle Felix, told us all to write to our parents in case you saw the flood on TV and became worried. We are OK. Only 1 of our tents and 2 sleeping bags got washed away. Luckily, none of us got drowned because we were all up on the mountain looking for Todd when it happened. Oh yes, please
call aunt Gwen and tell her Todd is OK. He can’t write because of the cast. I got to ride in one of the search & rescue jeeps. It was neat. We never would have found Todd in the dark if it hadn’t been for the lightning. Uncle Felix got mad at Todd for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Todd said he did tell him, but it was during the fire so he probably didn’t hear him. Did you know that if you pour gas on a fire, the gas can will blow up? The wet wood still didn’t burn, but one of our tents did, also some of our clothes. Casey is going to look weird until his hair grows back. We will be home on Saturday if Uncle Felix gets the station wagon fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked OK when we left. Uncle Felix said when a car is that old you have to expect something to break down; that’s probably why he can’t get insurance on it. We think it’s a neat old station wagon. And he doesn’t care if we get it dirty.
And if it’s hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the tailgate. It gets pretty hot with 10 people in a car. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrolman stopped and talked to us. Uncle Felix is a neat
guy. Don’t worry, he is a good driver. In fact, he is teaching Bart how to drive. But he only lets him drive on the mountain roads where there ain’t any traffic. All we ever see up there are logging trucks. This morning all of the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Uncle Felix wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim and Todd was afraid he would sink because of his cast, so he let us take the canoe across the lake and back. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. Uncle Felix says he is kind of new at this scoutmaster stuff but he isn’t crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn’t even get mad because we forgot our life jackets. He has to spend a lot of time working on the car so we are trying not to cause him any trouble. Guess what? We have all passed our first aid test and got our merit badges. When Bart dove in the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Also Casey and I threw up. Uncle Felix said it was probably just a little food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He said they got sick that way sometimes with the food they ate in the military. I’m so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he sure figured out how to get things done better while he was in there. I have to go now. We are going into town to mail our letters and buy some more bullets. Don’t worry about anything. We are fine.

Love, Bryan

P.S. How long has it been since I had a tetanus shot?

Slow Dance!

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast.
Time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you quickly run through each day on the fly?
When you ask, “How are you?” Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With tomorrow’s chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast.
Time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child we’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die?
‘Cause you never had time to call and say “Hi”?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast.
Time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race, do take it slower.
Hear the music before the song is over.

author unknown

Most of us go to our grave with our music still inside of us.

My Adventure to the Hike Inn

About three years ago I heard of this place in the mountains of Georgia called “Hike Inn”. After discussing with a friend just what it was like and reading more on the internet, I added it to my bucket list. Finally, after nearly three years my desire to visit the Hike Inn became a reality. A friend from Georgia agreed to join me on the two day adventure. It took me about three hours to drive to Amicalola Falls State Park. We quickly decided a good lunch would be appropriate before beginning our 5 mile hike. So, after a hamburger and fries in the nice dining hall at the state park, we put on our hiking boots, grabbed our backpacks and got on the trail. Because temps on our first day was near 70 and the forecast for our second day was a high near 40, we were forced to load our backpacks with some cold weather gear. And that made them a little heavier than we would have liked. But staying warm was a big deal to us both. Our hike up the mountain was very nice. The trail was in excellent condition and didn’t require a lot of climbing. We took our time and arrived in a little less than 3 hours. The Inn is very nice and the rooms very small. There are warm showers and restrooms available in a separate part of the Inn and they are very nice and clean. At check-in we each received a bag with 2 sheets, pillow case, towel and wash cloth. A pillow and some blankets were in the room. The Inn is a great place to spend the night, share a couple of meals with other hikers and then hike back out. The Inn host gave a guided tour of the property which we found interesting. The family style dinner and free time afterwards gave ample time to meet and talk with several other hikers. That was enjoyable. And there are plenty of rockers both on the porch and on the grounds to relax and enjoy the views and a little conversation. One of the highlights for us early risers is watching a beautiful morning sunrise over the mountains. But it was mostly cloudy when we were there making for a so-so sunrise. Following a hearty breakfast, we were asked to strip the sheets from our bed and put them in a basket outside along with our towels and wash clothes. Just like home. After a little more conversation with fellow hikers we were ready to head down the mountain. We chose the Springer Mountain Approach Trail as our way back down which was about 6 miles. The temp was in the upper 30’s with high winds. One might say it was cold! But we were prepared. Once back down the mountain we took another short hike to get a better view of the amazing Amicalola Falls. Wow, that is one gigantic water fall! Following our nearly 7 miles of hiking we were hungry, and I wanted pizza! We consulted with the Park staff and chose to try MOD Pizza in Dawsonville. It was a good choice. Then, after two fun days of fulfilling another bucket list item, it was back on the road for the long drive home.

Paddling in Florida 2018

Last month a few of our “Pungo Paddlers” group headed south to do a little kayaking and cycling in Florida. We had a fantastic time. There were 12 of us total but not all were able to do every day’s adventure. I missed the first day on the Itchetucknee River. But I was fortunate to join in on the fun as we paddled Juniper Springs, Silver Springs, Rainbow Springs and the Weeki Wachee Springs. While paddling along we would see beautiful birds, alligators, turtles, snakes, monkeys and of course fish. It would often look as if we were in a jungle! We took a day off from paddling and rode our bikes on the Withlacoochee Trail. We would go out to dinner together and sometimes just go out at night for a special piece of pie at the Back-Porch Restaurant. A couple of mornings were really cold, like 32, but it always warmed up in time to start our adventure of the day. This was a fun packed week with a great bunch of people. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip!

Day 1:  Itchetucknee River           I arrived a day late and missed the excitement of day one.

Day 2:  Juniper Springs                This was my introduction to kayaking in Florida and I loved it! Today was like paddling thru a jungle. The spring was very narrow in places and had a lot of tight turns.

Day 3: Silver Springs                   Wow! we saw lots of alligators today. And lots of turtles. Great paddle. There are lots of monkeys along the shoreline but we kept missing them.

Day 4: Rainbow Springs              This was our toughest day due to the constant headwind. Much more residential looking than our other days but still a very nice float with lots of fish.

Day 5: Withlacoochee Trail          We decided to get out of our boats and on our bikes today. We took a relaxing ride on the very popular Withlacoochee Trail. We did an out and back ride so each person
decided their own riding distance. I rode 58 miles. Following our ride we all had a great lunch together in Inverness.

Day 6: Weeki Wachee Springs     Wow! Suddenly it’s the last day of our 2018 Kayak and Cycling Adventure. And what a great finish it was. Beautiful weather once again as ten of the Pungo Paddlers floated down the marvelous Weeki Wachee River. It was a combination of jungle looking areas and areas of water front cabins and cottages. Our encounter with the manatees was a highlight. And to top off the day we shared a great dinner together at the Front Porch Restaurant in Dunnellon. What’s that again? You want another piece of pie? Sorry, but that was the Back Porch Restaurant.

Early Morning in Gatlinburg

One of my favorite things to do in late November is to get up before dawn and wander around Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Thousands of lights and other Christmas decorations cover the streets and small shops all around town. And with hardly anyone else on the streets and sidewalks the beauty of it all is just awesome. Thanks to the Donut Friar opening at 5am one can grab a delicious fresh donut and a hot cup of coffee to help battle the chill in the air. Sometimes, overcome with temptation, I hang around until 7am and have breakfast at the wonderful Pancake Pantry. My favorite is the Peach Delight, three thin rolled crepes filled with a delicious blend of ricotta and cream cheese and peaches. Then topped with peach compote, powdered sugar and whipped cream. Wow! When finished with my indulgence maybe I’ll take a short drive in the mountains before returning to the camper and greeting my wife “good morning”.

A Pat Summitt Recruit

Guess who was one of Pat Summitt’s early recruits?

It happened during the 1975-76 season. I was officiating a high school game between my alma mater, Fulton (which was terrible) and Bearden (led by Holly Warlick – now the head coach of the Lady Vols). Pat Summitt (Pat Head at the time) was there to watch Holly play. But I was the one she recruited that night. So, just to be clear, I was recruited before Holly!

Following the game Pat came to my dressing room while I was still changing clothes and ask if she could talk with me. “Sure” I said, and offered her a seat. We chatted briefly and then she asks if I would be interested in officiating her Tennessee games. They didn’t use an officials association at the time and each school was responsible for game officials. So I accepted her offer and was one of her referees for that year. The next year all schools began using a college basketball officials association and my short career came to an end. But our friendship didn’t.

This was only Pat’s second year at Tennessee and she had the worst record of her brilliant career, going 16-11. But she did receive her master’s degree in physical education that year. In Pat’s first year she earned $250 monthly and washed the players’ uniforms – uniforms purchased the previous year with proceeds from a doughnut sale. The next year, with Holly as her point guard, she was 28-5 and made it to the Final Four of the AIAW Tournament (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women), and the wins became a norm. It wasn’t until the ’81-’82 season that the NCAA sanctioned women’s college basketball as a sport.

I recall one day following a game Pat invited me back to her office to see a gold medal she had won. I can’t remember if it was for the World Championships or the Pan Am Games but she was so proud of it. And so was I. It wasn’t until that summer that she played in the Olympics. Her office at the time was a small dark room stuck way back in the old Alumni Gym. Game attendance was usually between 15-20 people but she was having fun. Pat was only 23 at the time. We seemed to lose touch with one another after several years but she has remained my favorite coach of all time.