February is upon us. Hard to believe, but it’s really here. I know I’m not the only one that thinks February is weird because it’s so short. Why don’t we take the two days from some of the months with 31 days and add them to February to balance it out a little bit? I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up. I guess I could use the same argument I make against the metric system - that would be boring! But it is February, and that means spring is coming. It’s just about a month until Mardi Gras, and then it’s only 40 days until Easter. Before we both know it, it’ll be May and I’ll be back at home in D.C. and planning my next moves. I’m not going to lie, I am going to need a break. I’ll be going back to guiding this summer where I hope to do some planning, some real site maintenance, some catch-up, and figure out where Miles2Go goes from here. In all honesty, the loneliness is getting to me. While I have amazing friends who have been super supportive and wonderful to catch up with around the country, my day to day is a little too isolating and a little too quiet. I don’t know what the answer is to that right now, but I will let you know.
It’s been a pretty good week out here in West Florida. My second Georgia podcast is finally done. This one took a while because the weather has been so great here, and my mind has been on other things, but it is finally up and published. You can find it at THIS link, or by searching “American Anthology” on iTunes, Stitcher or most podcasting apps. Other than that, I’ve been catching up with friends and trying to get out and enjoy this great weather in some of Florida’s beautiful parks. New this week and by request from my good friend Mike Vasko is a map associated with this post. You can view the map by clicking the link HERE.
Last Thursday, I took off from Sanibel, and made my way up to Siesta Key. Siesta Key is a really pretty beach. The sand is completely white and really soft and fine. I enjoyed a nice long walk along the beach there, and when the sun set, the sky was really cool. I would have liked to have been there longer, but it is definitely a beach worth going to.
Friday I headed into Sarasota and spent the morning at the Ringling Museum. This museum houses Ca’ d’Zan - the one time home of John and Mable Ringling. It is a beautiful 56 room mansion right on Sarasota Bay. The property also houses a circus museum with a scale model of an old big-top circus, some cool circus memorabilia and some great displays on life in the circus. I enjoyed this museum, but it was way more expensive than it was worth. At $25 for the museum and then an additional $10-40 for the mansion (depending on whether you go on a tour, and what tour(s) you go on, and there are no photos allowed), it would have been $65 to see the whole place. That’s just too much, even by Florida standards. I will also say that I much preferred the Circus World museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, but having been there, I almost felt like I had to see the other side of this story. The miniature circus was incredible, but everything else was just kind of so-so. If you are in the area and you are fascinated by the circus or have your heart set on it, then go. Otherwise you could probably give it a miss.
After the museum, I went to my friend Amber’s house in Bradenton. Amber and I worked together in the Ambassadors of the Environment program when we were on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is currently teaching in a local private school there in Bradenton. Amber, Darren (her fiance), Tyler (who worked at the same program after I left the island) and I all went out for a fun night at the 3 Keys Brewing Company in town. This is a great little brewery with excellent beers, attentive bartenders and a wonderful outdoor seating area. We enjoyed a few delicious craft beers (the guava milkshake was to die for) and some games and conversation and had a really good night out.
Saturday morning, Amber and I headed out for a nice long day at Myakka River State Park. This was a really cool spot and I enjoyed my visit. We started by going up to the Canopy Walk, a bridge and tower which took us high above the canopy of the forest. It was so cool to get this bird’s eye view out over the park. There wasn’t a building (or strip mall) anywhere in sight, which was a really welcome view here in Florida. Coming down from the tower, we headed over to Fox’s High Road and hiked out to Mossy Hammock campground. The trail was really wet, and we eventually came to knee-deep water and decided to take the road instead. It had some wet spots too, but it was such a pretty place. There were beautiful live oaks covered in Spanish moss, and tons of amazing vegetation to give us some shade. It was a really nice hike and really nice to catch up with Amber after a few years. After the hike we went out on the boardwalk for amazing views out over the lake with incredible reflections of the massive cumulus clouds.
After that, we headed back to her place and Darren cooked us a delicious Caribbean dinner. Then we cleaned up, scooped up Tyler and headed up to St. Pete’s Beach to the very cool Hideaway Cafe and Recording Studio. This is a really intimate little music venue with great sound and a very cool vibe. We were there to see my old pals Hey Monea, who you may remember hosted a music festival I went to a few months ago up in Canton, Ohio. I also featured their music on one of my Ohio podcasts. They are a great band and a lot of fun and if you ever get the chance to catch a show, you definitely should.
Sunday, I went in the morning to have brunch with my friend Shannon. Shannon had been on one of my tours in Canada a few years ago, and then came and spent some time with me in Alaska. It was wonderful to see her and catch up a bit and we had a great brunch at a little place called Shrimpy’s right at the end of St. Pete’s Beach, near where she lives on Treasure Island. Then I headed back over to Amber and Darren’s place to catch the Super Bowl.
The next day, I had to get my podcast finished, and as I mentioned above, I did. Once that was done, I headed out for a drive around Holmes Beach and Anna Maria west of Bradenton before heading out of town. I tried to beat the traffic, but ended up caught in it. It took a while to make my way up to Spring Hill where I hit the gym and went to bed early.
Tuesday I had an amazing kayak trip down the Weeki Wachee River. This spring-fed river is crystal clear and has a nice easy flow to it. If you’re not in a rush, you really only need to use your paddle to steer, and the river will do the rest. There were tons of fish in the water and lots of birds and turtles hanging out along the river’s edge. I even saw three manatees near the take out point at Roger’s Park. It was a great, relaxing day on the river under sunny, clear skies. The best part is that my kayak rental included a shuttle back to the start point, so I didn’t have to paddle back upstream. The whole day I felt like I was on a ride at an amusement park, minus the lines. The river did get a little crowded in the afternoon, but it was still an amazing day and I would highly recommend this trip. Weeki Wachee is also home to the famous Mermaid Shows which have made the town famous since 1947. It really is an amazing show, and I was disappointed that it was closed for renovations until March. I have seen it before though, and look forward to catching it next time.
This morning was an early one and an amazing one. I was up at 6 so I could get to Fun 2 Dive Manatee Encounters’ shop here in Crystal River by 6:45. Crystal River is the only place in Florida where you can legally get in the water with the manatee. When we arrived, we learned some of the basics about these wonderful mammals and then suited up and headed out on a boat to go find them. The manatee come and live near these springs in the winter because the water temperature is constant, but as the weather warms, they head out to find food. This morning was reasonably cool, so we went out with high hopes for our encounter. We didn’t end up finding a bunch of manatee, but did find one who was comfortable enough for us to get in the water with it. It was a wonderful experience. Manatees are such magnificent animals. They are big and graceful (like me) and yet are so tranquil and quiet (also like me). They just quietly go about their business of trying to find food and get through the day. Our guide and captain were great and our group was small (just 4 of us), which was really ideal. I would definitely recommend this company if you are coming to swim with the manatee. When we were headed back to the dock, sipping a hot chocolate to warm up, we came across two more manatee, a mother and calf. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get in the water with them as we were probably already late getting back, but Captain Peter did let us hang out and watch them for a while. It was truly a great morning in Florida.
This coming week, I’m headed north to Cedar Key and then on to some more of Florida’s beautiful natural springs. I’ve really enjoyed these springs so far, so am looking forward to seeing some more of them. Florida has definitely impressed me with its state parks and natural areas. Once I’ve had my fill, I’m out across the panhandle to Pensacola and then on my way to Louisiana for Mardi Gras. My folks are coming down to meet me there in under two weeks and I’m really looking forward to seeing them and to catching up with a lot of old friends. I lived in New Orleans for two years and it is definitely a city that is a part of me now. I still have about a week and a half left in Florida though, so I’m going to make the most of it. I hope you are making the most of wherever you are, even if that means sledding or skiing instead of paddling or snorkeling. Until next week then, don’t work too hard and enjoy these days as they get longer and longer.