Sara Godwin

Archive for the ‘Florida’ Category

Ponce de Leon, Fitness, & the Fountain of Youth

In Baby Boomers, Fitness, Florida, Health, Travel, Wildlife on June 21, 2012 at 4:41 am

Ponce de Leon, Fitness, & the Fountain of Youth.

Ponce de Leon, Fitness, & the Fountain of Youth

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Fitness, Florida, Health, Travel, Wildlife on June 21, 2012 at 2:31 am

Adjusting the bike to the rider for a custom fit

Ponce de Leon believed that hidden somewhere in Florida was the fountain of youth.  If, by ‘fountain of youth’, he meant that you could drink the water and remain young, he was wrong.  If, on the other hand, he meant that  you could go to Florida and recapture the physical fitness of youth, he was right.  The essential difference is that while you can’t drink your way to youth in Florida — or any place else —  there are  a number of things you can do in Florida that will stave off some of the less attractive aspects of aging.  For example, loss of muscle tone, flexibility, mobility, painful  joints (as in hips and knees), and excess weight. What’s Florida got that makes this miracle possible?  Lots of lovely weather, which makes being outdoors a very pleasant place to be; Citrus County boasts 264 days of sunshine a year.  That’s a lot of Vitamin D. Plus the fact that along the Gulf Coast, Florida is blessedly flat.  Think Citrus, Hernandez, and Pasco Counties.  Now add in recumbent bikes.  Voila! Fitness forever.

Here’s how it has worked:  Baby Boomers were the first TV generation, and among the best-educated, which allowed them to have desk jobs as opposed to working manual labor jobs. Desk jobs + TV = Sedentary . And Baby Boomers have cars which allowed them to drive to work rather than walk.  Desk jobs + TV + cars = More Sedentary.    Forgive the pun, but don’t think the Baby Boomers took all this sitting down. No, a great many of them took up jogging or running as a way of combatting a sedentary lifestyle.  While healthy exercise can be highly beneficial,  jogging on paved surfaces resulted in a startling increase in joint damage which led to a truly shocking increase in hip, knee, and ankle surgeries. A great many Baby Boomers now find themselves facing hip and knee replacements, or worse, the loss of mobility . That’s a vicious cycle that can take them right back to a  sedentary lifestyle. (I’m not even going to get into high-calorie fast-food and processed food diets, or their consequences, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other unpleasant subjects. No, we are going to stick with the solution rather than the problem here.)

The key to achieving healthy fitness is low-impact exercise. Walking briskly is one way to do it; swimming laps is another, and so is recumbent biking.

Regis Hampton, the owner of Hampton’s Edge Trailside  Bicycles, faced this dilemma after an accident left him with a  serious hip injury.  A lifelong bike builder — he started repairing and rebuilding bikes at the ripe old age of 11 — he realized he had to  find a way to build and strengthen his leg and thigh muscles without interfering with the healing of the hip bone.  He built himself a recumbent bike, and the rest is history.  The muscles healed strong and flexible, and  Hampton’s Edge Trailside  Bicycles opened its doors at 8294 East Orange Avenue in Floral City, FL (352/419-4809) along the Withlacoochee State Trail, 46 miles of paved trail that  runs through Citrus, Hernandez, and Pasco Counties.

Recumbent bikes aren’t at all like what were called ‘two-wheelers’ when I was a kid.  They’re stable, so you don’t need to wonder if you can still balance a bike.  They’re as comfortable as a good armchair, so  getting ‘saddlesore’ isn’t even an issue. They’re easy to steer.  Best of all, they’re great good fun.  The fact that recumbent bikes provide healthy, low-impact exercise is a fringe benefit to the fun.

Regis led our group, which ranged in age from 23 to pushing 70, down the Withlacoochee Trail and back, about five miles.  The Trail is part of the national Rails To Trails program, converting abandoned railroad tracks and right-of-ways  to multi-use hiking and biking trails, safe and separate  from car traffic. Lined with a full complement of Florida’s oaks (Quercus spp.), scuppernong (fox grape) vines, and roadside wildflowers, the green hedgerows function as perfect cover for birds and native wildlife.  Exotic creatures included a farmyard of llamas. Wildlife sightings ranged from a spectacular piliated woodpecker (prototype for Woody the Woodpecker) to a scattering of squirrels.

Let us pause a moment to raise a small song of praise to the squirrels and the jays. (Florida has several native jays, including the Florida Scrub Jay which is rare enough to qualify as a life list bird if you’re a serious birder.) Why praise  jays? Because they and the squirrels are nature’s foresters,  busily burying the acorns that into mighty oaks will grow, an essential element of the great North American hardwood forest, a forest  that once covered much of the eastern third of the United States.

Along the Withlacoochee Trail, a local octogenarian has devoted his retirement years to building bluebird houses that he personally sets into the center strip green space.  One box we peeked in had a nest with five eggs.

On the ride back Regis and I discussed how useful recumbent bikes  could be for our aging population in terms of  improved health, increased mobility, reduced pain,  and less expense.  While recumbent bikes must be custom-fitted to the rider, they’re still probably less costly than the panoply of prescription pain-killers and mobility devices insurance companies cover for people with joint problems.  Wouldn’t it be cool if health insurance paid for a bike that solved those problem?  And wouldn’t it be even cooler if Ponce de Leon turned out to be right since Florida really can offer the fitness of youth?

Thumbs up for recumbent biking!
Ed Caum photos

Buccaneer Bay Water Park at Weeki Wachee

In Baby Boomers, Florida, Parent, Travel on June 20, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Buccaneer Bay Water Park at Weeki Wachee

White sand beaches and 72º pure spring water at Weeki Wachee’s Buccaneer Bay Water Park

Photos by Ed Caum

Time Warp at Weekie Wachee

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Parent, Travel, Wildlife on June 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Me, the kayak, and the river

A mermaid at Weeki Wachee

Mermaid-style water ballet

There were some pretty cool things about the Fifties: Peace and prosperity, for starters, and family car trips, and roadside attractions.  If you just happen to be nostalgic for backroads, picnics, and watching your kids transformed by a sense of wonder, you need to spend some time wending your way along the Gulf Coast of Florida, and spend a day at Weeki Waachee.

Suppose you could promise your kids birds six feet tall, a kayaking trip through the jungle, a waterslide with corkscrew turns, and, as a final lagniappe, mermaids, and know it was all true?   Once a roadside attraction based around a magnitude one freshwater spring — the kind that produces more 117 million gallons of pure water a day — Weeki Watchee is now a Florida state park, complete with uniformed park rangers whose duties include scheduling international tours for mermaids.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Start the day, as I did, with a five mile kayaking trip down the Weeki Wachee River. The kayaks are easy to manage, even for beginners: The current is slow, the water is smooth, and even if you managed to tip your kayak, the water is warm and shallow — you just climb back in.  It’s also exquisitely clear. That clarity lets you watch schools of fish slipping silently beneath the surface, or the spectacular wading birds that silently stalk the fish. Likely sightings include white ibis, snowy egrets, little blue herons, and great blue herons, the latter being the tall, long-necked ones that can stretch to six feet,   with a wingspan to match.  Kayaks are also quiet, so the wildlife is undisturbed. With lush forest canopy overarching the river, it’s like kayaking through a leafy green tunnel, silent, smooth, and serene. I overheard one kayaker say, “If I lived close enough, I’d do this every day,”  and I would too.  If you’re seeking peace of mind, serenity, or a sense of harmony with nature, this is the place to find it.

Buccaneer Bay is a water park with a huge swimming area, a huge water slide, and water that stays at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit. With white sand beaches for sunning, and a huge lagoon for swimming, you’ll have trouble prying the children out of the water for a picnic lunch.  Picnic pavilions with open-air tables are perfect for a packed-at-home picnic or for summer classics like all-American hamburgers and hot dogs.  Whatever you pick for your picnic, do not fail to get the chocolate-covered frozen bananas for dessert.  The person who doesn’t like chocolate-covered frozen bananas hasn’t been born yet.

Tummies full, make your way to the subterranean, underwater Mermaid Theatre.  The Navy SEAL who started the park in 1947 invented air tubes that allow the mermaids to perform underwater without SCUBA gear, and it’s as wonderful to watch today as it was then.  All of the mermaids are SCUBA-certified and go through rigorous training, and their underwater feats range from amusing to  delightfully graceful to seriously athletic: The mermaids free-dive more than 100 feet down to the karst cave from which the Weeki Wachee springs flow.  If  this doesn’t immediately strike you as impressive, it will when you try to hold your breath for the two minutes and more that the mermaid does. Most importantly, everyone walks out with a wraparound smile.  That’s never a bad way to end a day.

There are other attractions, too, including a glass-bottom boat river cruise, and Wildlife Shows starring Florida’s native animals, but whatever you choose to do, the kids will be happy, they’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home, and just for a while, it’ll feel like a time warp of the good parts of the Fifties, a nice, warm, nostalgic deja vu all over again. And the kids will never forget it.

Contact Information:

Weeki Wachee State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606

(352) 592-5656

http://weekiwachee.com/

Manatee Manners

In Florida, Travel, Wildlife on May 21, 2012 at 3:01 am

According to Captain Jeff at the Plantation Inn Dive Shop in Crystal River, to see manatees one must be versed in manatee manners.  It begins, as all successful social interactions do, with dressing properly for the occasion.  The correct dress for meeting one’s first manatees is a swimsuit over which a wet suit is layered.  Getting into a wet suit is one of those things which is easier said than done, but in the end, everyone managed to wiggle and wriggle, tug and twist until the fact was accomplished. Next comes the flippers, and last — at last! — a face mask and snorkel.  His students thus attired, Captain Jeff begins the lessons in etiquette.  First, slip into the water silently. Splashing and water vibrations cause the manatees to swim slowly out of sight. Use a breaststroke to swim, and keep your flippers underwater, again to keep splashing to a minimum.  Manatees don’t make any noise, and they’d rather you didn’t either.

Once you locate the manatees, just float off to one side.  Because their eyes are on the side of the head, hanging around the tale puts you in the manatee’s ‘blind spot’. Floating directly over them does the same, and it may startle both parties if the manatee comes up for air while you’re there. Since manatees are all bigger than you are, weighing in at around a ton or so, it’s best if they know where you are.  Since manatees have no natural predators — neither sharks nor alligators have them on the menu — they are both gentle and unafraid.

They look like exceedingly large gray sausages with absurdly small heads in proportion to the rest of the animal. If you make noise or surround them, they vanish.  If you don’t, they may move closer to you.  While it is bad manners for you to reach out to touch them, it is a moment of transcendent epiphany if you have behaved well enough by manatee standards for them to touch you.  I’m told it happens, but I wasn’t that lucky.  I did see manatees, both awake and sleeping, and that was thrilling enough for my first time out.  I can promise you that I will go back again to see if I can behave enough like a well-mannered manatee that one would like to make my acquaintance.

Look up Captain Jeff at the Plantation Inn on Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida.  The guy has three degrees in ecology, and  is exceptionally knowledgeable and informative.  Above all, don’t miss the manatees!

Florida Safari: Manatees, Skimmers, and Spoonbills

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Travel on May 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I almost missed the manatees. In the process of reading the itinerary so I’d be fully prepared for my Gulf Coast safari, I noticed that my flight arrived AFTER the swim with the manatees. A few phone calls later  (plus ticket change fees), things got sorted out, and I shall be en route to snorkeling with the manatees tonight. Having scrambled to get there, I REALLY hope I’ll actually see some.  I’m wildly curious about manatees.  History has it that manatees are the original mermaids. Having seen photos of manatees, one can only conclude that the sailors who described these ‘mermaids’ were a long way from home, had been a long time at sea, and were seriously lonely.   

I wonder how close one can get … With elephant seals on the beaches of Año Nuevo, California, the rule is 20 yards away.  When I swam with fur seals and sea lions in the Galapagos, the seals themselves decided how close they were willing to get.  The sea lions cavorted about 20 feet away, and acted as though they were inviting me to play. I’m a good swimmer, but I know when I’m out of my league.  I took my delight in watching them.  The fur seals came zipping toward me on a collision course, swerving off to one side just prior to impact.  I think they were as curious about me as I was about them.  But manatees?  I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as do.  Same goes for skimmers and roseate spoonbills.  I’ve seen both species before, but they’re so very odd-looking, I feel as if I should l look again, just to make sure they’re really a strange as I remember. Stay tuned!

 

Swimming with Manatees : Florida’s Gulf Coast Plus a Thousand Islands and a Fairy Tale Castle in France

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Health, Parent, Travel on May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Welcome to my very first ever blog post. I’ve been lucky enough to have wandered widely in this world, and I propose to take you with me from now on.

For me, there are three parts to a great trip: The anticipation, planning where we’ll go and what we hope to see. The trip itself, complete with all the sensory stimuli, from the tantalizing scent of bacon sizzling to the incessant itch of no-see-um bites, the sun hot on my back casting for fish, or the lights of the Bateaux Mouches flashing through the arched windows of a Paris apartment on the Seine. The third, of course, is the many memories, and all the tales to tell.

So here’s what’s on offer for anticipation: Winging our way to Florida’s Gulf Coast (look up Pasco County) to swim with manatees (OK, the manatees aren’t guaranteed — wildlife never is —  but they’re a real possibility); snorkeling in the Crystal River, fishing the Florida flats (fish aren’t guaranteed either, but if you don’t have your line in the water, you are guaranteed not to catch anything), plus golf on the Gulf.  There’ll be fun and photos, and some fine food, so come on along the week of May 20th.  I’m new at this, but my personal  technogeek (tall, slim, beautiful, and 12) tells me I can post from my phone, and I have every intention of finding out how.

(A moment of silence, please, for Steve Jobs, the guy who made it possible for me to share my world in real time. )

Next up:

How about Fourth of July in the Thousand Islands, those tiny dots in the St. Lawrence River that straddle the international border between upstate New York and the grand land of Canada? One of those dots is Grenell Island, not far from Clayton, New York.  Thousand Islands has long been a summer resort for those who seek to escape the East Coast’s  heat and humidity. The little clapboard church on Grenell  celebrates  one hundred years of service and services this year.  One of the cottages, of much the same vintage, needs its annual dose of repair, and we’ll be there.  New railings will go up on the second story veranda that looks across the river toward Canada.  A summer morning spent identifying the huge ships that ply their way up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway is time well spent.  Cheat sheets are available identifying the logos of the shipping lines, clearly emblazoned on the stacks of the vessels.  It’s the armchair traveler’s version of going to sea.  One can’t help but wonder where the ships are from, where they are bound, and how long from home they might be. Where I stay is a two-story cottage built by a friend’s grandfather on pre-Cambrian rocks that date from the last Ice Age. It’s still in the family, and every summer, family and friends alike show up to fix whatever needs fixing, and plant the garden (pockets, fissures, and small crevasses in the rock packed with soil)  with whatever needs planting from peas to peonies.

The coup de grace: Remember that apartment I mentioned on the Seine in Paris? A couple of days ago I received a phone call from the friend who lived there inviting me to come stay at  a big, old house in the French countryside belonging to a school chum from France’s highly regarded HEC (Haute Ecole Commerciale — think Harvard Business School or the London School of Economics, but way sexier. It is in Paris, after all.). Further conversation gave me to understand that the big, old house, aka the Chateau de Vermette,  is a 16th century  castle on France’s list of historic properties, a prized part of the French patrimony, once a portion of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s dowry, and now a privately owned castle complete with a moat, multiple turrets, and 30 beds.  Here are the pictures.  We’ll be there in mid-July if I can figure out a way to get there without swimming the Atlantic.  Follow the blog  to find out how things develop.

See you again soon!