Sunday Walk To Fern Hammock Springs @ Fort McCoy, FL

This cluster of vents is located at the back of Juniper Springs Recreation Area. Always best to visit when the park opens. The morning silence gives way to Cardinals, turtles and hikers.

More information check out;

http://www.flsprings.com/content/fern-hammock-springs

The Glow Of A Blue Springs July Descent @ Orange City, FL

Dive #74. So what ya’ might already know about Blue Springs in Orange City? The surrounding waters are popular for swimming, free diving and floating away on inter-tubes during warmer weather. If lucky, you might even see gators basking in the sunlight and other indigenous aquatic life moving around the waterline.

Approaching the spring head, the strength of the current increases significantly. At times, one can walk or swim on the far right in the shallows avoiding possible over exertion. The fallen tree laying across mouth of the entrance is about 15 – 20 feet deep depending on rain fall. After breaching this depth, if certified for cave diving, you can choose to go down all the way to the cavern between 90 – 120 feet. We stop at a depth of 55 feet. For my outing, it is one of two diagnostic runs for checking equipment and physical recovery from a surgery in March 2018.  Some may describe the dive as pedestrian but, Blue Springs provides a nice warm up if out of practice before heading to the big blue ocean or new to diving. Looking skyward in the crevasse, bubbles illuminate in the water column while exhaling into the penetrating sunlight. The imagery is eerie yet, calming.

Before the trip, the folks at Seminole Scuba dive shop did offer tips on an early arrival with a possibility of sighting a baby manatee. How early is the question? Due to the high volume of traffic, the park does get full on summer weekends. On this Sunday, we arrive at 6 AM, a full two hours before gates open at 8 AM. The rangers close the park around 9 AM due to full capacity. Being the first divers in line, the payoff is viewing three adult manatees and two calves around the boil prior to our descent. This marks the first time I see these gentle creatures while scuba diving.

Bits of advice should you make your way out to Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, call the front gate a day ahead. The spring run closes in fall and winter because manatees use Blue Springs to stay warm during colder weather. Get there at least an hour before open. If diving, bring hard copies of your certification cards. This Florida State park will not accept electronic copies. If diving or swimming isn’t in the cards, one can opt for other water borne activities like kayaking or hopping onto a riverboat ride on the St. John’s.

A December Hike Through Wekiwa Springs 13-Mile White-Loop

How do you remember a walk in the woods? With months past now, I had reflected on this winter outing because of the sunlight illuminating the golden, brown and red hues of dry brush and weeds. On this morning, it hadn’t mattered how near or far this location. More important was the immersion into adult introspection contrasting with childish titillation.

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Traveling the first mile of the artery feeding the majority of park trails, a wooden marker had signaled a break in the path. Turning left and moving across a paved road, my friend and I had encountered a campground. At the edge of this encampment of vehicles was a small row of wooden benches converging into a theater like area. Much to our amusement, we had found a lady’s discarded top nearby on the ground. Wasting no time for a photo-op, I had stretched the garment across my chest for minutes of grins.

During the second portion of the hike, we had walked through crisp foliage underneath a green canopy of pine needles. The gray dry sandy trail had eventually transformed into a dark brown. With each advancing step, our feet had slipped further into the watery mud. Despite the diminishing quality of the surroundings, our spirits had coasted along on the power of puns and innuendo. This had continued until encountering a small black constrictor. Collecting snapshots of the peaceful reptile, we had completed two-thirds of the white trail loop.

The final leg of our morning journey was characterized by curiosity regarding walking sticks and bees. The walking sticks insects had seemed eerily out of place. They were easy bait for any predator hungry for a meal; however, pairings of these insects had slowly crawled unabated from any lizard or bird. Next, just past a worn wooden hold for horses, a hoard of bees had hovered in the air. Almost out of sight, the droning sound of the bees had recalled a recent news story. A story in which a father and son were stung by a hoard ending up in the local hospital. With this thought echoing a similar childhood experience for my friend, we had expeditiously cleared the last portion of the hike.

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That small adventure navigating through nature had epitomized a moment of personal freedom and liberty. An adventure that had deferred adult responsibility. With fall coming around again, I had looked forward to not only cooling weather but, the smile of an earnest friend.

Read more:
Wekiva Springs State Park

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SunRail Eastbound Joy @ Maitland, Florida

In downtown London, I had experienced my first childhood memories of trains and candy. All these years later, in a small, quiet adventure on Central Florida’s SunRail, I had indulged myself again but, with a moment of reflection. Gazing outside the box car’s windows on Interstate 4, the ride had recalled some of my other journeys’ across the ends of the United States.

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Listening to the rhythmic clanking of the wheels over the tracks, I had remembered trips to Washington D.C., San Francisco, California, Boston, Massachusetts and Miami, Florida. Each commute had the unique appeal of the respective metropolitan area. Yet, all had encompassed a degree of random unexpected chance. With the certitude of departing and arrival times, my job was day dreaming of exploits for every endeavor with sights, sounds, tastes, and other sensations.

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During a stop in Debary, Florida, a few elderly folks had exited out of the SunRail cabins into charter buses. I had pondered, “Where these people reminiscing too? Perhaps, they were thinking of the freedom of being on the railroad or, maybe just days gone by?”

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Enroute back to Maitland, a grouping of friends across the cabin were joking about the news of the day. It was charming compliment to another family with their small children pointing outside to the passing trees and houses. All of these travelers had invoked a similar sentiment, the joy of moving somewhere between one’s future and past.



Read More:
SunRail (SunRail)
SunRail extends late-night service (WFTV)

The Life of Lake Lily Park @ Maitland, Florida

For years now, I had pulled into the parking lot at Lake Lily for a range of different experiences. Sometimes, it was checking out the Sunday morning farmer’s market. Other times, it was hanging out with a good friend or date for conversation. Yet others, it was repeatedly lapping the half mile loop for exercise.

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Despite being off I-4 and state road 1792, I was still able to find quiet moments in thought. Stringing all these moments together was nature. Somehow, the park’s charm was the ability in subverting urban civilization.

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Perhaps, it was the gratifying connection of feeding the ducks, squirrels or turtles. This action had always brought adults and children degrees of satisfaction.

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In passing, a fellow co-worker had mentioned this being one of his favorite spots in Orlando. With sun shimmering on the lake and the animals congregating about, I had continued to understand why.

 

Lake Lily Park is located at 701 Lake Lily Drive, Maitland, Florida 32751.

Hours: 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM (daily)

Admission: Open to the public

Read More:

Maitland’s Farmer’s Market (itsmymaitland.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock Springs in Kelly Park on a Sunday Afternoon @ Apopka, Florida

My first fall living in the Greater Orlando area, a friend had drove me out to Kelly Park in Apopka, Florida. Unsure of the distance, the commute had seemed to take an eternity in the passenger seat from downtown. This weekend, I had decided to “Pay it forward” by inviting out another friend for a drift down the clear waters of Rock Springs.

Before hitting the road on this Sunday afternoon, I had called the front gate verifying park capacity. Luckily, even with a late start around noontime, foot traffic was light because of morning temperatures starting in the 60s. During the last two miles of the drive, we had pulled into a road side vendor renting inter-tubes. After picking up two for $3 cash a piece, we had headed for the park entrance.

After parking, my friend and I had walked about the perimeter of the springs and accompanying run. Entering at the spring head, I had started swimming against the current, raising my body temperature preparing for our trek. After a few minutes of swimming in place, I had hoisted myself above a split in the limestone overhang.

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On re-entry, I had sat atop the inter-tube quickly passing under the first wooden boardwalk. Turning right into the first bend, the current was moving at a brisk pace. During this moment, the shade had gave way to the warming sunshine. An inch long, metallic looking, blue dragon fly had landed on my knee. Then, it had hovered, landed and flown away.

Passing the bulk of human activity on the second bend, we had reached the final stretch of water. At the third and final bend, the sounds of  lapping water and crickets had communicated a calm serenity. Another dispersion of dragon flies had passed above the water.  Now, that long drive years ago was small penance on this picturesque Florida day.

 

Kelly Park is located at:
400 E Kelly Park Road, Apopka, Florida 32712

Hours:
Summer: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.;
Winter: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.;
Monday – Sunday

Phone:
(407) 254-1902
Admission:
$3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people

Read More:

Kelly Park/Rock Springs (Orange County)

Prelude to the Fall in Gemini Springs Park @ DeBary, Florida

Today had marked my second visit to Gemini Springs in the past few years. The last time out, I was visiting some friends playing flag football in the open green spaces of this park. On this October afternoon, I had searched for solitary moments for recording video and stills; however, human activity had reached a fever pitch filling the air with sounds of conversation and horse play.

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Making my way to the lake and spring boil, I had run into stray squirrels going up and down the various bridges. Despite all the surrounding water and soft mud on the water’s edge, noticeably absent were mosquitoes from my previous week’s journey to Green Springs, just a few miles away.

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Circling the lake, I had looked about for a slithering reptile or two. No such activity had existed to satisfy my curiosity. The only water borne creatures that had swam about, mullet and a turtle. With soft yet firm cool breezes pushing through trees and across the water’s surface, I had focused on some red and purple flowers. These blooms I had concluded wouldn’t be around much longer.

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Last time leaving this park, a thunderstorm was rolling in a with palpable change of weather. With an overcast morning giving way to sunshine and blue skies, a transformation had begun.This tangible sense of nature had resurfaced with a prelude to the fall.

Gemini Springs Park is located at: 37 Dirksen Drive, DeBary

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Admission: Free

Read More:

Gemini Springs Park (volusia.org)

Lot 1, Canaveral National Seashore @ Titusville, Florida

Driving a new route into National Canaveral Seashore park, I was reminded of the expansive acreage encompassing the area. On the left, I had viewed many charred trunks of palms from controlled burns. On the right shoulder, I had seen the most butterflies since being in elementary school. Before my final turn into the park gate, a solitary turtle had struggled to cross the center of the road. Fortunately, the lack of traffic had allowed me to swerve slightly into the median avoiding a possible road kill, buzz-kill moment.

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Arriving at the gate, I had thought out loud,”How many times have I been here over the past year? Maybe I should just get a pass?” At that moment, the ranger had waved us past the guard house. The reason was National Public Lands Day, meaning free admission to any national park. I was ecstatic at the surprise of saving $5. Perhaps, it was good karma for showing mercy upon the tiny turtle earlier on?

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Eventually parking at Lot 1, a few ladies were headed to their vehicle. They had commented out-loud on the rough surf. With that thought in mind, I had carefully waded into the seas wondering,”How rough?” After few moments of swimming and trending water, the undertow seductively had pulled me out beyond my comfort level. After this realization, I had swam back to shallows enjoying the forceful nature of the waves while swimming in place. It had served as an extra round of exercise over the heated gym pool earlier in the morning.

After wrapping up for the afternoon, I had headed toward the boardwalk. Right next to the wooden steps, a fish head had captured my attention. Not too far away was a small cluster of pink flowers blooming. The Canaveral National Seashore had always served as reminder of the duality of nature. Sometimes showcasing life, other moments, it had offered testament to death with an empty shells or carcasses. The reason for my affinity for the park was this dichotomy.

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If you hadn’t visited this park, the next day for free admission was November 11, Veterans Day. The vast acreage had offered opportunities for fishing, swimming, hiking and primitive camping. For more information visit,  Canaveral National Seashore (National Park Service)

Read More:

Free Entrance Days in the National Parks (National Park Service)

Detour into Green Springs Park @ Deltona, Florida

“viridescent adjective \ˌvir-ə-ˈde-sənt\ meaning: greenish or becoming green. Origin: Latin viridis green” –merriam-webster.com

A friend had suggested visiting Green Springs Park in Volusia County at the beginning of September. He had mentioned an affinity for walking the premises with his wife at dusk. Now, for some reason, perhaps this aforementioned quaint notion had reduced my mental image of the park into just a pond, an oak tree and a park bench for a loving couple. The reality though, this park was more lush with plant life and extensive with acreage than this assumption.

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Heading to the beaches of Titusville this past weekend, I had detoured off course into Deltona, Florida. Coming off the I4 exit, after a quick left on Debary, a right on Providence, then another quick left on Lake Shore Drive, my vehicle had pulled parallel to the St. John’s River. Across the road from the St. John’s was Green Springs Park’s entrance.

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On this mid-morning, the gravel parking lot was fairly empty in difference to perhaps Wekiva Springs State Park. Approaching the main paved trail, a slow trickle of bikers had flowed in and out of the picnic tables and restroom area. Walking left down the main paved trail, Green Springs was immediately available on your right. This body of water had certain mysterious quality on viewing. The differing shades of greens emanating on, around, and below the surface had further underscored the forthcoming fall season. A friend of mine, had described the elongated branches of a tree stretching over the spring as finger-like and evil. Maybe, it was just symbolic of the history of the area being part of an old winery?

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Aside from the multitude of overhanging tree limbs, a number of white square signs had lined the spring perimeter noting “No Swimming.”  If entering the water, the signs had spoke of being trespassed from the property by a park ranger. This was only the second park with fresh water springs in my travels prohibiting swimming by the generic public. The other was Silver Springs in Ocala; however, another passerby had mentioned the “locals” wait until after dark for venturing into the spring head.

Moving to the opposite end of the spring overlook, I had climbed down to the water’s edge. In my movements to get a better picture, small fish had splashed beneath the surface trying to escape perhaps some other natural predator. After collecting few more images and video, my friend and I had moved back onto one of the side trails. We had come across several small rusty colored streams. While charming in sound, the abundant thunderstorm season had provided ample breeding grounds for mosquitoes. With the swarming insects, we had quickly opted to head out of the side trails. On the way out, we had seen a pair of red cardinals. Before we could grab a few stills, they had flown away. Following that lead, we had left the park pondering the dynamic fall temperatures might bring to the miles of trails in this park.

Green Springs State Park is located at:
994 Enterprise Osteen Rd, Deltona, FL 32725

Open daily: Sunrise to sunset
Admission: Free

Read More:
Green Springs (volusia.org)
Volusia County Florida Ecological nature parks (Volusia.org)

A Sunday Morning at Wekiva Springs @ Apopka, Florida

For my many journeys into the Wekiva Basin, I hadn’t the opportunity to take underwater footage around the spring head until now. This quick video had embodied the sanctity of the spring head on a Sunday morning on July 18th, 2014. The story behind this visit was being turned away the previous day. The important secret for Wekiva Springs State Park most of the year, especially during weekdays, more so in the winter months, visitor traffic was light; however, on hot summer weekends, I had recommended getting there early, between 7 AM – 8 AM.


If you hadn’t known, Wekiva Springs was a 1st magnitude spring. Meaning the spring head had pushed out a tremendous amount of water, roughly 100 cubic feet per second. Another fact regarding the State of Florida, it was home to the most fresh water springs in the world. If you were interested learning more about other similarly classified state springs hop over to Apalacheehills.com’s List of First-Magnitude Springs in Florida. If already a visitor to Wekiva, I had recommended hitting these other 1st magnitude springs in Florida like Silver, Rainbow, Wakulla, Ichetucknee, Blue, Troy, Silver Glen, Weeki Wachee and Alexander. With summer 2014 drawing to close, I had simply thought to say “Jump in the water!”

Read More:
Basins: Middle St. John’s River: Wekiva River (sjrwmd.com)
Hydrology (Wikipedia)

 

8 Miles on the Wekiva River from King’s Landing @ Apopka, Florida

A number of weekends starting back in February 2013, I had traveled down the Wekiva River from King’s Landing in Apopka, Florida. The great thing about canoeing down the Wekiva for 8.5 miles, you were almost completely surrounded in nature. The catch to having a good adventure was always figuring out what time and with who to get on the water with.

For a starting time, I had targeted between 7 AM – 8 AM in the morning. This last trip, I had arrived late around 9 AM. For a summer day, this had seemed like a severe misstep; however, the waterway had lacked any real traffic. Because of the lack of human activity and raised water level, the normally 5 hour plus interlude had seemed fairly effortless. Like a scuba trip, canoeing had always presented something unique each time out. This go around, the noise of cicadas had filled the air on a mostly sunny, slightly breezy day. Along the way, I had caught glimpses of numerous turtles, white herons and even a four-foot gator. With respect to insects, there were a few mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies. Though, this was nothing a quick slap of the hand couldn’t handle. The surprise of the day was the ability of the sublime taking center stage, specifically the sounds and sights of slow churning water and trees.

As far as planning for half day canoe ride, I had packed orange juice, Gatorade and a banana. Keep in mind, Styrofoam cups or glass bottles were not permitted when launching from King’s Landing. On this trip, staff had requested removal of bottled beer from my cooler. This notwithstanding, the staff at King’s Landing had provided friendly feedback regarding river water level and state of the waterway. The cost for renting a 2 or 3 person canoe for the day was $40. One last benefit of renting from King’s Landing, they had still provided a shuttle ride back to your car at 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM.

Travelling down the Wekiva River from King’s Landing again,the experience had reaffirmed my opinion the canoe ride being one of Central Florida’s best entertainment offerings. I had recommended going down the river for any naturist or just simply a good time.

King’s Landing is located at 5722 Baptist Camp Rd, Apopka, FL 32712
Hours: 7 AM – 6PM Wednesday – Sunday, less Thanksgiving and Christmas

Read More:
King’s Landing (kingslandingfl.com)
Wekiva River (wikipedia)

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18,000 Foot Tandem Skydive from Skydive Space Center @ Titusville, Florida

This Saturday morning, a good buddy had drove us out to Titusville, Florida to go on 18,000 Foot Tandem Skydive at Dunn Airpark. Now, this idea had floated around in my head for few months; however, I had remained non-committal to the adventure until another set of travel plan fell through last minute. Buying the skydive Groupon on a Thursday, my focus initially was just on making the roaster for Saturday jumps.

Upon arriving at Skydive Space Center at 7:15 AM on this Saturday morning, I hadn’t realized the gravity of jumping out of a “perfectly good working plane.” Yet, my buddy was extremely anxious. His anxiety had culminated in sweating profusely while filling out waiver paperwork. Amazingly, this plane ride was his third flight lifetime. After getting checked-in, some of the instructors had sized us up with  harnesses. They then had pulled us aside in groups providing instructions for body positioning for the actual jump. The tipping point for my fear of heights had precipitated with the first propeller engine roaring on. This was eclipsed by learning I was going to be the the first customer out the cabin door. After final strap check and round of instructions, the videographer, Derek, had positioned himself first out the door. Then quick moment after, my skydiving guide, Mark, had propelled us across the threshold into the open air.

In freefall, I was treated to an awesome view of the Titusville, Florida coastline. It had looked lush and pristine from above.  After about a minute, the free fall had shifted to controlled decent with the parachute deployment. I was provided an opportunity to steer the parachute. In difference to steering a hang glider, the parachute was intuitive and mirrored your arm movements naturally. After this exercise, my skydiving guide had provided final guidance on landing. The landing itself was remarkable for the small amount of real estate being targeted. The landing though quick, was firm and controlled. After standing up, I had looked back to see my buddy cruise down out of the air with huge smile. It was remarkable  turnabout. Despite the nerves earlier, it was definitely half the fun of selecting this travel outing.

Some things to consider, if you had wanted to go try out this experience. One, consider wearing glasses instead of contacts was a thought. My left contact was dislodged by the air pressure into my goggles. Two, expect a nasal drain after landing, think my sinuses had drained for good 30 minutes afterwards. This was also true for my friend. Three, as far as Skydive Space Center, private GoPro usage was prohibited leaving you with minimum $100 purchase for event media (i.e. video and pictures). Lastily, I had suggested gym shorts for comfort in the harness. All in all, the experience was one of a kind, simply phenomenal. I had recommended this to anyone with a sense of adventure.

Read More:
Skydive Space Center (www.skydivespacecenter.com)

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Superhero Scramble Noon, Saturday May 10th, 2014 @ Winter Garden, Florida

After a couple of scheduling conflicts, I had the opportunity to finally hit a regional mud run and obstacle course, specifically the Superhero Scramble @ Winter Garden, Florida. About a week out, I had signed up for the 8 mile excursion with really no idea or expectation of the event. The only thing I was able to say before hand, “I would be participating in the singles wave at noon at Rock On Adventures.” What I had experienced in return, a fun filled active day through 40 or so mini events.

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The summary of my participation had boiled down to a couple hours out in cool summer breeze under the Florida sun. Final stats:

Bib
2533

Pace
23:56

Final
3:11:29

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The worst part of the adventure was sporting a couple of cramps in my foot arches and losing my $30 sunglasses from Bass Pro Shop. Other than that, the environment was extremely family friendly for such a diverse mix of people. I had thought this kinda of event perfect for a team building exercise; however, that was just my humble opinion. The most novel aspect of the trip, aside from the persistent grit of dirt in teeth, was acquiring a portion of a cow patty in my right pocket for my Nike dry run shorts. Somehow, I had mistakenly took it for a rolled up piece of tissue or paper-towel. At the end of the trek, you were greeted to a freebie Muscle Milk shake, free T-shirt and a faux medal. The real reward was just being around active good spirited people and nature. If you love the prospect of being outdoors and getting your blood flowing, strongly recommend checking their next event out. A couple parting suggestions if you had decided to go, bring a trash bag for your soiled laundry, a few gallons of water and a Camel-back for hydration.

Read More:

Super Hero Scramble (superheroscramble.com)
Rock On Adventures (rockonadventures.com)

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31 days to scuba dive in Blue Springs State Park @ Orange City, Florida

On Sunday, March 16th, at 10:30 am, I had returned to my vehicle after 23 minutes of diving in Blue Springs State Park @ Orange City, Florida. On recollection, my buddy had noted an anti-climactic nature of this escapade after taking a month and half off from diving. Our last outing was two days in the salty brine of the Atlantic Ocean off Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for Padi Advanced Open Water class. On the surface, I had wanted to agree with my friend’s assessment; however, being my first post-surgery dive from two hernias, I had felt an emotional contrast to the facts of the day.

For those unfamiliar with Blue Springs, park services had closed off the spring head access during the winter months for manatee activity. This being the first weekend of open water access, many divers had converged upon Blue Springs. According to the park rangers, we were the 8th grouping to check-in at the front desk. During that process, one of the female rangers had scolded us for skipping park entry. Though, we had flashed our park pass moments earlier. I had thought, “What a saucy lady!”  Despite the unfriendly welcome, we had both shrugged off the experience with joking about one of us not returning from this simple excursion.

After clearing the main gate, we had parked our vehicle in the secondary parking lot for assembling our equipment. Before heading down to the wooden boardwalk near the springs, I had attached my buoyancy control device (BCD), tank, and regulator to a small hand truck on loan from Paul Shepherd from Seminole Scuba. The goal for the day was overcoming an underlying fear of undoing my surgical repairs. On one hand, my surgeon, Lou Harold, had cleared me for this activity. On the other hand, while loading my vehicle with a scuba bag the previous day, I had felt some heat from my lower pelvic incision. I was hoping the feeling just to be mild stretching of scar tissue. Maneuvering the hand truck awkwardly, I was exerting a bit more energy and motion than expected. I had speculated, “What if the cylinder pops off the truck? What if I go rushing to catch it from crushing a passing child? What if that rushing action rips my flesh apart?” With those thoughts spinning in my mind, I had opted for a gut check by helping my buddy get his gear on. I had imagined this a good physical barometer for myself to gauge skipping on using the hand truck. Despite all the rehabbing exercises of the past 29 days, I was unsure of the forthcoming result. Carefully lifting and holding his equipment in place, my friend had secured himself. Then it was my turn. Quickly attaching my upper chest and waist level clips, my scuba buddy then had released the full weight upon my body. We then both had commented on, “How light the tanks were?”  Despite adjusting my cylinder once more on the walk down the boardwalk, I was amazed at the relative ease of handling the assembled scuba equipment. I had thought,“Score one for picking up lunges for stretching and strength training.”

Reaching the water’s edge, we had discussed our plan for navigating the boil. We had headed toward the spring head on our right in the shallows. The strategy was avoiding the bulk of the current’s strength and overexerting ourselves physically. Upon reaching the spring head, the water’s visibility was greatly decreased by the overcrowded activity of all the other diving groups. For about fifteen minutes, we had waited for the activity to die down. With eight divers returning to the perimeter of the water, we had moved forward with our descent.

Recalling swimming this spring last year, we had passed by the downed tree across the boil opening.  Clearing this landmark, I had struggled with current pushing back. I was wondering if cutting my weights down to four pounds might be too light?  However, switching my profile to feet first had helped with my descent along with long release of air from my lungs. Additionally, I had pulled myself forward on the white limestone formations. These limestone ridges had appeared like huge underwater shelving at eye level. The descending view was more reminiscent of an alien orifice perhaps from H.R. Giger. After reaching approximately 60 feet, we had basked in the current like a pair of fish. With time to spare, we had spent a few moments for photo-ops. We had joshed around with posing in power flexing stances to Vulcan greeting to other sexually suggestive sign language.

Before our ascent to our safety stop, the sun had cleared the clouds. Looking up at the cascading light shimmering on the limestone cavern and floating debris, I had felt calming sense of accomplishment. The importance of this moment was therapeutic. There were lots of facts to complain from this dive; no manatees, dearth of big fish, an unruly free diver, overcrowding, limited visibility, a cranky park ranger and blurry underwater Go Pro photographs. All of these facts were inconsequential for myself being 31 days out from hernia surgery. This outing was a driving force for my recovery. All I had fixated on most of the month was bridging the gap from surgery to submersion beneath the water’s surface. Twice during that time, I had dreamed vividly of being underwater. Dreams I had believed speak to us about ourselves. People had often talked about the love for water as a form of rebirth or renewal. I had believed that before, more so now. To the question of “What’s inside me?”, for myself, on this day I had lived a dream.

Read More:
Blue Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)

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Delta 4 Launch, January 20th 8:59 PM Eastern @ Titusville, Florida

After watching a television newscast, a friend had suggested going out to the coast to watch a night time launch from Titusville. Reluctantly, I had agreed for an evening excursion for the Delta 4 Launch set for 8:40 PM. Arriving early, we had parked on the soft shoulder next to the bay. People had started to populate the surrounding area with launch time approaching. With 8:40 PM arriving, mission control had temporarily stalled the launch due to solar activity.

For a few moments, the crowd had become restless with the notion of a scrubbed launch; however, one of the nearby bystanders had returned from his vehicle AM radio reporting an update launch of 8:59 PM. There was some trepidation from onlookers whether the vehicle would go up or not.

On the last minute of their launch window, NASA had launched their Delta 4 rocket. The light had illuminated the darkened sky. Moments after, the rumble of the rockets had filled the humid breezy cool air. Eventually, the booster rockets had detached into the atmosphere. Falling into the darkness, they had appeared as red specks in the horizon. One child had remarked the distant man made flames appearing like an evening star.

It was a star beyond a physical definition. It had represented the very best in man’s aspiration in enlightening self through education.
Some had wondered why we need a space program in a downed economy. I had fostered a simple reason, a feeling of hopefulness for what tomorrow brings.

To get details on the next launch from KSC and best location for viewing checkout: http://www.launchphotography.com/

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A return to Lake Lily Park @ Maitland, Florida

On the mend from surgery, I had opted for a returning drive up to Lake Lily Park @ Maitland, Florida. Over the past year, I had ventured across most of the state of Florida. Most destinations had offered a greater degree of seclusion and natural brilliance than this city park; however, on this Monday, I had only wanted to escape the confines of my bed. The goal for the day was asserting my mental independence over physical disrepair.

Heading out at noon, my vehicle had voyaged into Lake Lily’s parking lot. Exiting my Explorer, I had gingerly moved toward the perimeter of sidewalk wrapping around the lake. After making one lap around Lake Lily, I had stopped because of lack of hydration in the noon time sun. That notwithstanding, I had achieved a very rudimentary goal with pretense of another return.

On the following Tuesday, I had committed to hitting an hour walk. With some discomfort but, an increasing tempo of footsteps, I had achieved my target time. Putting aside the rehabilitation of my body, I had also encountered a multitude of underappreciated views. Perhaps being less mobile than normal, I had enjoyed the passing sights of squirrels, turtles, fish and ducks. I was also reminded in even such limited liberation, the solace of the mind nature brings.

I hadn’t decided where my next walk will be but, glad to reacquaint myself with local favorite in Central Florida. It was more than a return to a physical location but, one of solace.

More Information:

Lake Lily Park is located @ 701 Lake Lily Drive, Maitland, FL 32751.
Hours: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Farmers Market is held on Sunday mornings.

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Down the West Orange Trail Apopka-Vineland Outpost @ Orlando, Florida

“There is nothing more beautiful than a tree.” – Joyce Kilmer

Moving onto the paved trail known as the West Orange Trail from the Apopka-Vineland Outpost, I had pondered the similarities between people and trees. Each respective organism had embodied the potential to bloom into a beautiful dynamic sight. With both organisms, each had matured under the seasons and the sun. Each were also equally vulnerable to any neglect or harsh environmental conditions.

With my second trip out to the West Orlando Trail at the Apopka-Vineland Outpost in as many years, I had picked up a friend for an afternoon walk. Approaching the parking for the trail, I had taken a wrong turn going up a gravel side road. For a few moments, I had thought a perched O.P.D. vehicle would peel me off for a moving violation. Luckily, just a quick U-turn had redirected my vehicle into the proper parking area without earning a ticket.

With a few years passing by since our last conversation, my friend was ecstatic about voyaging out into the green overhang up this 22 mile trail. Walking through the cool breeze of Monday afternoon, he had talked with jubilation about getting a fresh start after losing his job and a long term relationship. By his own admission, some of his recent “bad luck” were just bad choices.

Making our way up the paved walkway, we had seen open fields of golden bushes and palmettos. Behind those fields had laid the pale blue sky with the fading sun and a scattering of cirrus clouds. This backdrop was a calming contrast to my friend’s recent troubles. Continuing our conversation, we had whimsically shifted to nature of personal etiquette, growing older, and relationships. With all those subjects, we had both evolved from personal experience.

In our different journeys, we had struggled to find the answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” To that question, I had responded recently to a friend “Yes!” In my mind, I had thought, “What’s inside me? A part of the American mythology, freewill.” For each person, we had the opportunity to manifest our own destiny and leave the world in our wake. For each of us, we had roots, limbs and leaves for baring our soul.

Read More:
West Orange Trail (Trailink)

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Afternoon hike in Wekiva Springs State Park @ Apopka, Florida

Wekiva Springs State Park was a bit of an ongoing natural exploration for myself. I had viewed different passing phases of weather elements ranging from hot, warm, humid, rain to cool, cold, dry, and windy. All these elements had enshrouded different perspectives in and out of the water for swimming, camping and canoeing. One thing I hadn’t done yet, hiking on the many trails emanating around the spring boil. Taking a half day of time off work yesterday, I had met up with a friend for taking a leisurely advance into these nearby woods.

Our walk had started on the boardwalk close to the trail-head. On this weekday, the first thing I had realized the lack of people occupying the grounds. This expectation was bit of an adjustment, on weekends in warmer weather, people flock to this watery arena. Another adjustment was the lack of insects in the air whether wasps, flies or mosquitoes. The offset was the cool breeze washing in and out of the pine and palmetto trees. My logic had concluded this being the reason for lack of ever present indigenous locals either human or not.

Courtesy of www.mappery.com
Courtesy of www.mappery.com

Finishing the short boardwalk, we had moved onto the main trail heading toward Sandlake. The shimmering light of the sun had revealed harvest like colors of auburn, browns, grays, yellows and green. With a recent trip out to mountains of Georgia, the slow arcing topography of the Wekiva basin was a welcome contrast. Both environments had their unique elements of appreciation yet, Florida’s emitting a more familiar comforting emotional refrain.

With an eventual split in the trail, we had steered to the left eventually moving across a road. Coming to the connecting side of the trail, we had seen a metallic hiking icon hanging on a wooden marker. It was a bit of flashy icon with another patch below for “no biking.” Proceeding down the way, we had come to some yellow caution tape on both sides of another road. On the ground had fallen a paper white posting listing the area for a controlled fire burn for January 15 – January 17th. With lack of sight or smell of fire, I hadn’t worried much about such postings; however, with the dashing winds, I had thought prudent in a turnabout. A few moments further down the trail, I had heard the chopping of wood in the distance. I had recalled a presentation from Wekiva burn manager about their preparation for controlled burns. I had theorized these noises from an advancing group of “preppers.” With that thought, such burn notices were better suited for the front gate or a website. With this turnabout, I had accumulated unfinished business for another Florida afternoon.

Read More:
Wekiva Springs (Florida State Parks)

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Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida

On the last Sunday of 2013, around 4:30 am, I had received a text from a good friend while asleep. The text was the start of a conversation for selecting a pick-up time for heading out to Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida. By chance, I had awoke around 5:30 am responding to his text with “Ready to go in 30 minutes.” The irony, my friend and I had reversed sleeping schedules by chance. Usually, I had perked up earlier in the day; though, this morning was different. Our travel plan had evolved as early as Thursday. Since then, I had checked the weather report, water clarity, and any manatees blocking spring access; however, accommodating out of town friends and family, we had pushed back our initial target date from Saturday to Sunday. With my buddy’s arrival at 6 am, we had embarked to our water borne destination tossing my gear into his back seat.

A big concern for this fresh water adventure was air management and site selection. Neither of us had known a great deal about this locale in advance. Our tentative objective was scout the two bodies of water at the park; Manatee Springs and Catfish Hotel. Less any onsite objections, we had wanted to expend 1000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch) out of 3000 from our scuba tanks per body of water. Another unexpected variable was weather. During in car conversations, we had both noticed the unusually warm temperatures in Orlando, Florida. Beginning the drive, the skies were slightly overcast with little to no rain. Entering the last hour of the drive, a heavy deluge had begun falling. For the most part, passing storms in Florida had provided a shelf life of about 15 minutes. Intensifying with the sound of thunder and flashes of lighting, this front had matured beyond that characterization. For a scuba trip, we had wondered what kind of omen this might mean at Manatee Springs State Park.

After commuting just under three hours, we had pulled into the park’s main gate courtesy of my friend’s snappy driving. Flashing our Florida State Park Annual Family Pass for admission, we had cleared the gate. Though, we were immediately re-directed to diver check-in. During that process, one of the rangers had entered exclaiming, ”You are going to get your hair wet out there today.” My response was, “Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem scuba diving.” Despite the dreary overcast skies, this happy banter had reinforced our cheerful road demeanor. That good karma, I had believed in manifestation of slowing the rains and an end to the thunder and lightning.

Afterwards, we had followed the road down a bit until parking. From here, we had engaged in walk-through of Catfish Hotel and Manatee Springs. Two things had immediately caught my eye. One, a sign for snakes, which in all of my Florida travels, I had seen only once before at remote beach on Honey Moon Island. The second, a layer of bright puke green algae had obscured about half of the water’s surface at Catfish Hotel. Now, I hadn’t really worried much about any snakes with the air temperatures dipping to 68 F degrees with no sun; however, the green algae had just reminded me of an out of control toilet or sewer. The notion of submerging myself into this water hole had just invoked the idea of filth. The phrase,”Ewwwh!” had epitomized my feeling exactly.

Post our walk-through, we had suited up selecting the deepest body of water, my favorite of course, Catfish Hotel. Moving down the steps for entry, much to my relief, my buddy had entered first. He had inadvertently caused a wake clearing a path in the algae. In this wake, I was now able to see clear water below. With this opening, I had mitigated my earlier disgust. Putting off use of my regulator, I had swam out to the center of the water. Agreeing once more to general subsurface plan, we had descended into Catfish Hotel. We had maneuvered into the base of the depression moving to threshold of the cavern going to Manatee Springs. Throughout our 12 minute dive, we had seen various fish including, yes, hand sized catfish. Coming about to 40 feet in depth, we had pulled parallel to the cavern opening. After pivoting off some submerged tree logs, I had come within view of a corner pocket off this cavern threshold. In this pocket, I had seen a medium school of small fish. Because of the lack of surface light penetrating the darkness, I wasn’t able to get a make on a specific type of fish. With a maddening curiosity, I had wanted to investigate them further. Though, due to my lack of cavern diving credentials, I had redirected to ascending into the middle of water column. During that moment, I had recalled recent discussions of mishaps by unqualified divers and swimmers dying this year at Wekiva Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Eagle’s Nest. Later in the day, my dive buddy had forwarded a great YouTube video summarizing the dangers of cavern diving by the untrained called, ”A deceptively easy way to die.” The point of the video was the mental seduction of what appears safe to the inexperienced precipitating in a life ending event.

After an allotment of time for a safety stop, we both had resurfaced switching out our regulators for snorkels. Out of the water, I had turned down to see my friend pulling himself up an exit ladder. A layer of green algae had covered the top of his body. Luckily, I was spared a similar fate by following in his wake to the water’s edge. Walking to Manatee Springs, he had told me of his misfortune of sucking algae into his mouth from his snorkel. He had described the sensation as extremely unpalatable. To freshen up, we had quickly immersed ourselves into the pristine clear blue waters of the Manatee Spring boil. From the spring head, we had used our snorkels to acclimate to the physical layout of submerged area. After going back up against the current, we had took a moment to rest to our heart rate before switching back to our tanks. Soon after, we had descended into the spring.

The main attraction for this 25 foot deep area, the strong underwater current. To close out the day, I had decided to place myself directly in path of this raw power. After equalizing a few times, I had grabbed firmly upon a rock at the threshold of the spring opening. The pressure forcing me back was substantial. My right hand had flexed to maintain a firm grip. After a moment, I had shifted to two hands onto a larger rock. Wanting to share in the experience, I had signaled my friend down. I had encouraged him to hold onto the adjacent rock. After settling on the bottom, we had felt the current’s force breach our masks with noticeable amount of water. Periodically, we had exercised pushing the water out with air from our noses. Despite the display of nature’s unbridled will, the current was extremely relaxing, almost enthralling.

With air starting to run low, I had perched myself  atop another submerged log. After catching my friend’s attention, I had made a few hand signals mimicking sexual gestures for humor sake. In response, my friend had motioned to the surface. He wanted to share in the beauty of the light rain breaking the surface tension. The cascading effect from below had appeared almost like drops of silver.  After this observation, we had concluded with another scuba safety stop. Leaving the water this time, we had packed our equipment for departure.

This day was marked by grey clouds and spattering of rain. Raining days were defined by most people as depressing in general. This one was different. Reflecting on the whole experience now, it had took the mundane into the realm of magnificent. This experience was rooted above and below the water in appreciation of physical exploration, mental renewal, and joyful friendship.”If everyday had ended that way,” I had thought,”Text me whenever! I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Manatee Springs State Park
Address: 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, Florida 32626
Phone: (352) 493-6072

Read More:
Manatee Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
A deceptively easy way to die (YouTube)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Eggs Benedict over White Wolf Cafe @ Orlando, Florida

Before heading out to Anaheim, California, I had wanted to eat up breakfast at White Wolf Cafe in downtown Orlando. With the stress of an upcoming business trip, I had figured,” Why not get a special treat?” A treat for myself had meant a meal requiring special skills and/or ingredients. In this case, my order had included poached eggs, avocado, crab cakes, and Hollandaise sauce of course. Upon arriving at my table, I had placed a rush order on White Wolf’s eclectic home fries. Impatiently waiting, my starving mind had already drifted to the monster, Audrey 2, from Little Shop of Horrors declaring, “Feed me Seymour!”

With that howl still echoing in my brain, the waiter had expeditiously brought out the side dish. I had wasted no time before savoring the first forkful of breakfast. Across my taste buds, I had felt the textures and flavors of white onions, Idaho and sweet potatoes, with a touch of oil, salt and pepper. It was enough to hold me over until getting my full order of eggs Benedict.

Waiting for the order, I had recalled four years passing by since my last visit to White Wolf. A lot had changed in that time; a few surgeries, a friend’s passing at age 33, and of course the global recession of 2008. Despite some of the past few years’ challenges, plus some on the horizon, I had a lot to be grateful for in life. At 10,000 feet in air, missing a flight today was grounded in reminiscing about the avocado, crab cake, and poached eggs of the early morning.

Read More:
White Wolf Cafe (website)
Little Shop of Horrors (IMDB)
Eggs Benedict (Wikipedia)

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Revisiting Tandem Hang-Gliding Flight @ Groveland, Florida

November 2013 had ended with revisiting Groveland, Florida for Tandem Hang-Gliding at Quest Air field. Earlier this summer, during my first visit, spotting weather had given rise to a concern about wind shear. Signing on for a third aerial excursion, I had worked out any nervousness about falling from the sky, like Icarus from Greek mythology; however, my pilot, Donny, had acknowledged my previous suspicions relating to wind anomalies. His response regarding the flight, he had stated pragmatically, “I want to live too!” After deciding on different flight agendas for my friend and me, a company jeep had hauled us out to the grass airfield.

Arriving at a blue glider, I had started to get into the top portion of the tandem harness. Donny had wasted no time joking, saying, ”I am I getting raped here?” With my left eye brow rising, I had thought to myself, “That’s not ever happening!” He quickly had followed up the quip with, “Just busting your chops man! Par for the course the third time out.” Passing the time with idle chatter before the flight, I had mentioned scuba diving at Devil’s Den the previous day. Donny had expressed some concern to Spinner, the other glider pilot. He was concerned about the possibilities of “the bends.” After responding to the concern with passage of time (i.e. 24 hours) and a limited depth of 30 feet, everyone was ready to go.

Getting into the air first, Donny had waited until the tow cable release from the skiff, before proceeding with four acrobatic rolls. These aerial maneuvers were more thrilling than any roller-coaster ride, absolutely stunning. After those moves, Donny had passed control of the glider to me. Being my third outing, he had suggested focusing on a silver roof of a house below. Taking well to direction this go around, I hadn’t spiraled down like a diving kite like before. Between both pilots, Spinner and Donny, I had finally eased mentally into guiding the glider. Before heading out to this trip, I had wondered, ”How different will this flight be? Worth 105 bucks?” Those doubts were silenced thanks to the cumulative efforts of the folks at Quest Air. Now, I had felt comfortable with the notion of maybe pursing glider training in 2014.

Read More:
Tandem Hang-Gliding Flight, Groveland, FL at Quest Air Soaring Center (GarzaFX)
Wind shear (Wikipedia)
“the bends” (howstuffworks.com)
Icarus (Wikipedia)

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