Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Goodbye Florida

Traveling now for 9 weeks is a little bittersweet. We are still enjoying see the sights, our friends and family, but we are also missing our home. When we get a little homesick, we will pull up the cameras and see what is going back in South Dakota. We had this visitor the other day.

How’s my cough you ask? Horrible. Week 3, some days I feel like I am getting better and only have an attack a couple times throughout the day. But then at night when I try to lay down it really hits. Hacking so much I get dizzy. My lovely wife bought some Vicks Vapor rub that she lovingly applies to my chest each night while quietly singing Soft Kitty ala Big Bang Theory. If you are unfamiliar with this scene, you can watch it here. The only difference between Barb doing it and Penny is near the end of the song, although Barb was still singing, she had stopped rubbing. When I opened my eyes, she was holding a pillow at both ends hovering inches from my face with a rather scary look in her eyes. 

Thank God, we have tolerant friends in Dan, Jeannie, Liz and Mike who still wanted to hang out with us despite my coughing.

Dan and I got out fishing two more times. This time on a large lake up near Gainesville. We left early each morning trying to get the morning bite on crappies.

Our plan was to fish the flooded timber around the lake, and I do not mean going along the edge and casting into the timber, I mean going into the timber and fishing amongst the trees. This was a first for both of us. When I saw the impenetrable wall of Spanish moss and trees the first thing, I thought of were spiders and snakes that were no doubt lying in wait for some unsuspecting fisherman to get too close. 

As we approached the trees and started pushing through the moss, I was constantly on the lookout for both. We would push through, fish an area for 20-30 minutes, go back out to the open water, go down the shore and find another area to push through. Sure enough, I soon saw a snake lay on a branch as we approached. No way, not going through that hole! 

The waters were only 1-2' deep in there, but that did not matter to the fish, as we’d pick up one in this spot, 3 or more in the next. By noon both days we had about 20 nice fatties to take home with us!

Day 1
Day 2
These two outings would serve as the last of our fishing adventures on this trip, but we sure had a lot of fun between the surf fishing on the east coast, ocean fishing in the keys and this lake fishing on the gulf side. 

While we were doing this, Barb and Jeanie were on their own adventures doing whatever girls do while their men are fishing. One day they went on a farm tour on the outskirts of Ocala. They said that although the farms themselves were interesting, the guide was not very good.

Another day they went swimming in the Rainbow River. Now that looks like fun!

One evening we bought a 1/2 bushel of fresh oysters. The only way we like them is grilled on the 1/2 shell. Our first challenge was shucking a couple hundred oysters without cutting our hands up with these oyster knives. 

Once they were shucked and laid out on cookie sheets, we applied toppings to them. Garlic/parm, various hot sauces, bacon. We ate about 20 each and had oyster belly by the end of the meal. 

Dan and Jeanie have two labs: Star and Sally. All the dogs got along well, with no incidents. 

We spent our last night in the area back over at Mike and Liz’s giving Zoey and Dakota one last playdate with Tux.  

The next morning, we loaded a hood and grill from Mike’s jeep that he asked us to deliver to a friend in Apalachicola. Since that was our next destination and the parts were to be delivered to a bar his friend owned, we were more than happy to! We arrived at Belle's Winery and Saloon midafternoon and met the owner, Mel. Super nice person, if you are ever in the area, stop by Belle's.

Barb and I with Mel

This destination also included the first campground we had stayed at in quite a while. And believe me, we needed it. We had not dumped our tanks since we were in Everglades NP many, many days ago. The Tate's Hell State Forest Cash Creek campground is a quiet little park within the Apalachicola National Forest. At $23 a night W/E, it offers a nice, quiet place to hang your head for the night. 

The next day we drove across the bridge to check out St. George Island and the state park. The beaches on the park are beautiful, but not dog friendly. Barb and I walked one beach and it was just loaded with sea shells.

We did find a beach outside the park that was dog-friendly, so we were able to get the girls out for a walk on the beach before we went to lunch at the Blue Parrot right along the waterfront. 

We knew our friends Dino and Lisa had spent some time here a few weeks ago and when I saw this gentleman metal detecting on the beach, we thought perhaps Dino was back to try to find more treasures.


It was then that I noticed this guy did not have a Busch Light in his other hand, so it definitely was not Dino. 

Our favorite stop in the area was the Chestnut Street Cemetery. This was by far, the most rundown cemetery we have visited with many headstones turned over. Maintenance had fallen way, way behind. 

The cool thing about this cemetery was the pamphlet at the entrance highlighting many of the gravesites within the cemetery. This is the first time we have run into this and found it very interesting. 

Following this pamphlet really added an interesting element to our visit, bringing history and context to many of the sites. Like these two; Louisa Bruni and Frank Messina whose story goes like this:
Although Louisa (7) was a year older, Frank Messina (8) was her uncle, the youngest brother of Louisa's mother. The two were playing on the dock (in 1882) when Louisa fell into the river. Frank jumped in to save her, but her struggles caused him to drown also. When their bodies were found her arms were wrapped around his neck.
The Messina family experienced another tragedy a few years later when 11-year-old Clarence Joseph Messina was playing on a dock and fell in and drown in 1901.
Then there is Charles Marks, a seaman and ship's captain. His house was burnt down by the Union Navy during the war and was accused of murder for the killing of two Union sympathizers.
There were dozens of child and infant sites where children succumbed to Yellow Fever.

There were dozens of stories listed in the pamphlet, but I will leave you with Marie Hickey who was married to Patrick. Both of their lives came to an end in October 1907 when Marie slashed Patrick's throat above a store on Market Street. Marie then cut her own throat. 
It is unknown what caused Marie to do this, but I would not be surprised if Patrick had a hacking cough and she just had had enough!

This stop brought our Florida adventures to an end, now we are off to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky where more adventures await!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Headed up the West Coast of Florida

 Why is it, in a world full of jerks, the good ones always seem to go early? The world lost a good one this week when my friend Greg passed away at the age of 72 from cancer. We worked together at Cub back in the day. He a Store Director, me in various positions where I visited his store. A dedicated, easy-going man, Greg was always easy to get along with and receptive to suggestions and change. 

Although I had not seen him in a number of years, we communicated every month or so and was one of those guys who you knew were always going to be a good friend no matter the years that have passed. I am not ashamed to say I shed some tears upon hearing his diagnosis and again at his eventual passing. This picture will be how I will always remember him, a strong, fun-living man fill of life. He may be gone but will never be forgotten. 

We arrived at my sister's place in Fort Myer's on Friday afternoon after a 6-hour drive from Big Pine Key. Judy and Mike have had a place in Fort Myer's for several years, spending most of their winters down here. That was until Ian hit in September of '22 making their house inhabitable. Over the past 18 months they have been busy fixing and renovating it making it better than it ever was.

Judy had something planned for each of our days here. The first day was involved to trip down to Fort Myer's Beach, just 4 miles from their house, it is about a 20-minute drive. The beach area is about halfway rebuilt from the hurricane. Our first stop, The Blue Whale is just a tent at the moment. The building was completely destroyed. They do have a full bar though as well as food trucks and live music. Our next stop, the Lani Kai Island Resort. The resort itself was still under reconstruction but the bar was open. We had one, okay two, of their famous Rum Runners before heading to Snug Harbor Restaurant for supper. Very good food!

The next day, Judy had reserved us a tour at the Wicked Dolphin Distillery. They mainly distill rum, which I have a particular interest in. I asked the distiller several questions that would help me should distilling rum ever become legal in South Dakota. 
We were off to Doc Ford's for supper. This was even better than the night before! Then it was off to Bonita Bill's for one more before heading home. 
The evidence of the hurricane is still pretty much everywhere you go. 
Of course, we asked if there were any projects we could do to keep us busy while we were here. Although most of the reconstruction had already been done, there was one project Mike said we could do. That is replace the sliding door leading to the back yard. 

Since the house is stucco, we had to grind out the area around the old door so we could get to the flange to remove the old door. 
Mike solicited help from his friend Bill to help us put the new one in. 
Before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head on down the road. North, we went out of Fort Myers. We arrived in Sarasota about 10:30am and took the girls for a walk around the waterfront.
I am told this is a Banyan tree
There were a few dollars in yachts there as well. 
The reason for stopping here was not to take the girls for a walk, but to meet a former co-worker of Barb's. Shirley and Barb had worked together for almost 20 years before Shirley had retired shortly before Barb did. She and her husband Al winter down here in Florida and they were on our travel route so we made arrangements to stop and have lunch with them at Marina Jack's. 
We spent about 90 minutes chatting and catching up before we said our goodbyes and headed on our way. 

Then it was off to our friends Mike and Liz up in Citrus Springs for what was supposed to be a 2 night stay. We had met Mike and Liz up in Alaska in 2016. Where did we meet them? A brewery in Fairbanks of course! We hit it off right away and have been in contact ever since. They have the perfect little spot for visiting friends with a concrete pad, electric and water, right next to their house.
After getting settled in we headed to their shed where they have an awesome happy hour area set up. 
Mike and Liz have a little dog named Tux. And when I say little, I mean ginormous! This dog makes Dakota look like a teacup poodle. 
The cool thing about Tux is that he loves to play with Zoey and is as gentle as can be. They have a fenced in backyard so Zoey can be off leash and run. And run, and run. She was in heaven. Tux was lumbering behind her while Zoey zipped through the yard. Dakota just sat back and watched the antics. Tux just knocks Zoey around with his head and paws and Zoey just keeps coming back for more. That was until Zoey picked up Tux's favorite toy. Then all hell broke loose and Tux went all Cujo on Zoey. No biting, but Tux lunged at Zoey with a vicious bark and then hovered over her growling. This was the first time we have ever heard Zoey squeal like she is scared. Usually, she goes on the offensive and attacks, but not this time! Zoey has not gone near that toy since. 

Although I did not get a video of that incident, we did get a couple others. Mike took one while we were in the shed and Barb got one of them playing out in the yard. A few things to notice in the videos; one is how big Tux is compared to even Dakota, how Tux uses his head to bounce Zoey around and how Mike has the heater on in the shed because it was sooooo... cold. 60 something, I think. On more than one occasion Tux would be playing near that heater and left the scent of burning hair in the air when his tail got too close.

 The next day was our 38th anniversary! We were up and on the road at 6:30 because Mike had scheduled us a fishing charter as an anniversary present! We went with Windy Day 2 Fishing Charters, with the owner and guide Misty, on the Withlacoochee River. Our main target fish was crappies, but we caught brim, gar, and catfish in addition to the crappie. It was a great morning and if you are looking for a guide down in this area, you could not go wrong with Misty!

After getting back home and cleaned up, we were off to Mike and Liz's favorite brewery; Copp Brewery and Winery where we got our next surprise. 
Halfway through our visit, Mike whispered something to the bartender who went into the backroom and came out with two bottles of wine. Mike had ordered us two bottles of wine with a picture of Barb, me and Daisy!
We left Mike and Liz's the next morning and were going to head to our friend's Dan and Jeannie's for a  several day visit but we changed plans and laid low the next day hoping to get rid of a nasty cough I had been fighting for about a week. Seriously, this thing has been keeping me up all night with my hacking.

Do you know what is worse than having hacking cough that keeps you up all night in a 100 square foot camper with your wife and two dogs? I'll tell you the answer; being the wife of the guy who has a hacking cough that keeps EVERYONE up all night in a 100 square foot camper! We have been so tired and busy the last few days, we needed a down day. It did not do any good, but at least I was hacking in the comfort our camper.

We hung out at Blue Run Park in Dunnellon where Barb walked the dogs and left me in the camper. I did get out for a couple walks but mostly hung out. The next day Barb and Jeanie went kayaking on the Rainbow River while the girls and I hung out at Blue Run again. Their takeout point was right there at Blue Run so it worked out really well. 

That night we went over to their house for an outdoor supper. After supper I was ready for bed, but Barb and Jeanie wanted to go to listen to the live music at the community clubhouse. So off we went. Me, to the camper, them to the dance. I heard cackling outside the camper at 10:30 when they came back. I also heard a man's voice say "I hope you gals can make it out tomorrow night as well." Then I heard a golf cart putter off into the darkness. This was the only photo shared with me from the night....
Barb said they had a great time listening to the music and fending off 80-year-old men who wanted to dance. She "said" she turned down their requests but did dance with Jeanie and a few of her friends. It was so late, that we decided to stealth camp in their driveway for the night. 

The next morning, I headed back over to Mike and Liz's to continue to recuperate while Barb and Jeanie went to the World Equestrian Center in Ocala to watch jumping. This is the grand area with the hotel in the back. You too can stay there for a mere $600 a night. 

Still not feeling well, we decided to go back to Mike and Liz's for a quiet weekend, which bring us to today. Where we just hung out all day waiting for the Big Game. It is about to start; I have $20 on the Chief's to win against my nephew-in-law Ryan up in Spearfish. Go Chief's!