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.
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.
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.
Wekiva Springs State Park
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps, it was the gratifying connection of feeding the ducks, squirrels or turtles. This action had always brought adults and children degrees of satisfaction.
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
Maitland’s Farmer’s Market (itsmymaitland.com)
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.
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
Summer: 8 a.m.- 8 p.m.;
Winter: 8 a.m.- 6 p.m.;
Monday – Sunday
$3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people
Kelly Park/Rock Springs (Orange County)
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.
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.
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.
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
Gemini Springs Park (volusia.org)
“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.
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.
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?
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
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.
The summary of my participation had boiled down to a couple hours out in cool summer breeze under the Florida sun. Final stats:
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.
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.
Blue Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
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/
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.
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.
“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.
West Orange Trail (Trailink)
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.
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.
Wekiva Springs (Florida State Parks)
Most of this week in Florida, the weather had gone back in forth between warm to cold and back again, sometimes with variations of 30 degrees or more. Now, normally I hadn’t cared one way or another regarding the elements outside for going to the gym. Though, starting Sunday, I was blessed with a touch of the cold making the rounds with my fellow bipeds. Monday and Tuesday, I had conceded to resting and hydrating. Entering into Wednesday, two of my good friends had wanted to visit La Fitness. One had inquired if any interest? As with most days, I had stuffed my backpack for either a morning or afternoon gym interlude. In my mind, like the weather, I had switched back and forth on deciding on following through on some basic cardio.
With the witching hour upon me, I had chosen to go. Either way, I was going to be congested. The logic for going, I had thought, “I’ll be so exhausted afterward quickly succumbing to sleep!” Plus, I had figured another means of working phlegm and other impurities out of my body. The good news was after this outing and each on Thursday and Friday achieving deeper sleep and feeling better. Then, Saturday had arrived. I was key on alternating to swimming for resting my knees joints and legs muscles. I had decided on hitting Winter Park’s La Fitness for their salt water pool. After completing my mundane chores for the day, I had started driving to the gym. While jamming to tunes on my iPhone, a friend had texted me up about visiting Wekiva Springs. My immediate response was absolutely. I had pondered hitting one of the state parks during the weekend anyway.
With all the weather fluctuations in Florida recently, some people had wondered, “Why bother?” Well, if you were in one of the snow ridden states today, Wekiva Springs constantly maintains a 72 degree temperature. For some folks maybe too cold but, as another park visitor had eloquently responded later in the day, “Warmer than the North Atlantic!” Picking up my pal, we had driven out to the park. The sun had started breaking through the clouds shedding heat and light. It had reminded me of the early days of spring. At the gate, the park ranger had stated “That doesn’t look like you?” while looking at our park pass without a photo ID. I had followed up by turning the card over pointing to a big yellow flower on the opposing face. He then had smiled big waiving us forward.
After parking, we had walked down to Wekiva Springs swimming area. Having affixed swimming goggles to my eyes, I had submerged into the fresh spring waters. Exhausting myself with just a lap, I had exited looking up to sky. I had reflected on what a great reason to skip inhabiting the walls of any place including the gym. In contrast to the rest of the country’s weather fortunes, I had thought, ”What a beautiful day for a swim @ Wekiva Springs!”
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.
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.
Tandem Hang-Gliding Flight, Groveland, FL at Quest Air Soaring Center (GarzaFX)
Wind shear (Wikipedia)
“the bends” (howstuffworks.com)
Heading out to Devil’s Den Springs in Williston, Florida, this morning, the day had started with mildly cooler temperatures and slight humidity. Commuting over two hours from Orlando, Florida, we had arrived at our destination. After signing waivers, the staff had rented out pairs of buoyancy control devices, regulators and cylinders. After a walk through and some pictures, we had begun assembling our scuba gear. Switching to a wetsuit, the air had remained crisp but, manageable. While testing my regulator, my cylinder had accidentally lost 500 psi out of 3000. The staff had happily granted my request for a new cylinder at no charge. My friend had described my visceral response as giddy as a “school girl,” because of the phenomenal customer service. After gearing up and completing our pre-dive check, we had embarked to our descent.
Grappling the railing on the left facing wall, each of us had slowly stepped down the shaft toward the underground cavern. After clearing the first half of descent, the stone steps had transitioned to wood. The air temperature had also grown warmer because of the closed environment of the spring. Reaching the base dive platform, we had dawned our mask and fins at the water edge. Double-checking our bcds once more, we had launched ourselves into a familiar mental refrain of “dive, dive, dive!”
Leading the way into the submerged portion of the chamber, I had started releasing air from my b.c.d. Adjusting for the change in pressure, I had grasped my nose a few times blowing a puff of air into my ears. Acclimating to the warm 72 degree spring waters, we had started a lap around the limestone perimeter. Moving down the water column, our underwater flashlights had scanned the surfaces of the cavern walls. The rock formations had seemed as foreign as an alien world. The underwater silence had provided a calming, peaceful accompaniment to the surroundings. Seeing a signal from my friend, he had motioned to small red devil figurine on the edge of a limestone formation. After a quick view, we had proceeded further down in depth.
A unique portion of this adventure had stemmed from a small passthrough and gazing above to the sky. Coming upon a small illuminated passage, I had carefully maneuvered my body through a pair of rocks. Turning my head back, I had saw my friend clearing the same passage with his GroPro and flashlight. After clearing this corner, my eyes had steered to the surface. From 30 feet down, the cavern opening had made the sky appear like a floating ball of blue with white streaks.
Refocusing on our lap around the perimeter, I had signaled my buddy for current air supply. With matching numbers, 1,500 psi, we had continued by the numerous sub surface dive platforms. Moving to the end of our dive, a few groups of additional divers had entered the water. Checking again our psi, I had reached a reading of 1,000. At this threshold, we had started our ascent. At 15 feet, we had sat on one of the submerged wooden dive platforms. Working in 3 minutes for a safety stop, we had surfaced for a hot shower and change of dry clothes.
Capping off the time, money, and effort toward PADI scuba certification, this experience had satisfied my desire for returning to the water with a radiating confidence. In managing my air consumption today, I had floated like a turtle. In pursuing a suggestion for water activities earlier this year, I had pondered my animal totem. The question was which one, a turtle or a cock?
Devil’s Den Scuba Resort (www.devilsden.com)
Animal in you (animalinyou.com)
Closing out a day on a road trip for Veteran’s Day, I was curious about a sign for Juniper Creek Canoe Run. On the way back from Salt Springs on SR 19, I had looked for an excuse to pull over for the restroom. The brown signage on the left side of the road for the creek was that excuse. What was the connecton to Juniper Springs Recreation area? I had remembered Juniper Run at the recreation area. From that visit, the Run was unimpressive for a possible canoe excursion. That portion of the waterway within Juniper Springs Recreation area had become shallow and unmanageable. This canoe launch area had shown a much wider and deeper view of the creek, worthy of a second look. The view was postcard perfect with glistening water, powder blue skies and the ever present chirping of birds. From reading around the web, Juniper Creek Canoe Run had provided trips of a few hours plus, a possibility of shuttle ride back to the launching area. With the colder weather heading for Central Florida, I had pondered the possibility of canoeing through this portion of the Ocala National Forest again.
Located at Latitude : 29.183745 Longitude : -81.688533, just off Florida State Road 19.
Juniper Run (US Forest Service)
Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest, FL (GarzaFX)
Salt Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest @ Salt Springs, Florida (GarzaFX)
Heading out on State Road 40, I had passed this park a few times going to various destinations (Silver Glen Springs, Alexander Springs and Juniper Springs) in the Ocala National Forest. Heading out to Salt Springs this past Veterans’ Day, I had finally taken a stop to check out Wildcat Lake Park. After parking, I had explored the boat launch area. There, I had an unobstructed view of the wide open body of water of Wildcat Lake from a wooden pier. In the distance, one fisherman, on his boat, had waited patiently for fish to bite. For being around 9 am in the morning, on a holiday, there was very little activity, less the one visitor. Wildcat Lake had embodied the serenity and peace of rural Florida.
After taking some photos and video off the pier, I had walked up past the on-premise restrooms to check out the swimming area. Moving to the waters’ edge, the swimming area had seemed shallow and fit only for small children. Though, I had wondered how wise that might be with an alligator sign up the hill. In these shallow waters, I had seen quite a few tiny fish darting around avoiding the camera’s gaze. With the uncooperative stars, I had decided to get back in my vehicle to complete an impromptu journey to another portion of Ocala National Forest.
If you had looked for a place to picnic or fish with a great open view, take a stop. It was a good pit stop for us before heading out to Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs.
Park fee is $3. Hours: dusk to dawn. Wildcat Lake Park had lacked an address; however, is located up US 40. The physical location is Latitude : 29.1704370217539 Longitude : -81.6276197855908.
For reference, on Veteran’s day, most national parks had offered free admission (i.e. Wildcat, Salt Springs, Silver Glen, etc..)
Wildcat Lake Park (US Forest Service)
Troy Springs State Park had fell second to last stop on a three day road trip. It had offered a self service payment system with a $5 admission fee. The boardwalk, restrooms and grounds had seemed fairly new providing one of the best experiences in my travels. The waters at the deepest point were 70 feet. The spring run had also contained the remains of the Civil War-era steamboat Madison. Though the boat had not appeared in plain sight on entering the area. Troy Springs had earned the rating of first magnitude spring, 1 of 33 in Florida. That rating had meant a discharge water rate of at least 2800 liters or 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3) of water per second. Due to time restrictions and a touch of exhaustion, my swim time there was brief. I had really fancied the secluded nature of park and lack of activity. If you had travelled close to central Florida, try to work this site in!
Troy Springs State Park address is:
674 Troy Springs Road, Branford, Florida 32008
Yesterday, I had driven out to Blue Springs State Park for St. John’s River Cruise. Few things I had reminded myself before booking this ride:
1) Reservation required.
2) Subject to weather.
3) $6 parking fee for entrance into Blue Springs State Park.
4) Tours 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Since purchasing this off Groupon, I had targeted a weekday to avoid crowds. With a 1 PM launch time, the reservation agent had recommended being there 30 minutes in advance.
After boarding, the boat had embarked on the 2-hour tour. Moving onto the river system, the captain had provided historical details regarding commerce history of the surrounding area. He had continued offering insight to indegenous plants, birds, and reptiles on the banks of the river. He had stopped a few times along the trip to ensure good photops. If thirsty or hunger, snacks and water had sold for .50 and $1 respectively. A specialized bathroom was also available for those requiring a potty break. This tour had seemed ideal for the avid naturist or passive water bound activity. I had originally purchased this for my mom, but could work for anyone.
St. John’s River Cruises
Address: 2100 W. French Avenue, Orange City, Florida