Monday, December 13, 2010


After getting our power converter replaced we turned north once more, and drove out of Florida and back into Georgia, stopping to camp at Crooked River State Park, near St. Marys and Cumberland Island. We had intended to spend more time here, but the electrical problem ate into that particular chunk of time. We also planned on warm, sunny weather, but what we got was more like New England. Stoopid cold front! The wind and cold discouraged us from visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore, so we'll have to see that another time. In order to get home for the holidays we had to keep moving, so we drove north again, to Hardeeville, SC, just 15 minutes out of Savannah, Georgia.

It's been a while since we camped at a private park. This one's just fine, though, and with our Passport America discount, quite inexpensive. Our site is on the outside of a loop, so more private than most. Mostly, though, we wanted to be within easy striking distance of Savannah.

After the rain stopped, we went into town to have a look around. Loved the private homes and park squares in the downtown area. Live oaks draped with spanish moss, palms, flowering shrubs, vine-covered walls around private gardens, stately homes decorated with pine garlands, red ribbons and white twinkle lights...magical. We weaved our way through the grid of roads, taking it all in, then found a parking place big enough for Gigantor's ample hips, squeezed her in there, bribed the dogs with their favorite treats, and set off again on foot.

We walked down to River Street with its uneven cobbled surface and sooty old storefronts, watched tugs escort monsterous tankers upriver to the freight depot, and ducked into tourist shops if the wares looked interesting. They're big on hand-made chocolates and taffy in Savannah, and several stores beckoned passers-by with sweet aromas and free samples. Chocolate wheels kept the brown goodness at just the right consistency; workers made thick, nutty turles (they call them gophers) by the 100's; wooden rollers worked huge blobs of taffy into shape, to be carried across the store to baggers by eleborate Rube Goldberg machines - bucket conveyors, belts, slides...

We wandered City Market and the commercial streets with their antique stores, fashion boutiques & restaurants and settled on the Moon River Brewing Company for a nice meal.

These were taken in Forsyth Park:

Savannah is a great city - not too big, not too small, with plenty of attractions for tourists, but everything a full-time resident requires to make city living fulfilling. Must be even nicer when the sun is out and the air is warm!

We're now at a campground in Dillon, SC near the North Carolina border, weathering a riduculous cold front, and packing for the drive home for Christmas. The water hose was frozen this morning, despite keeping a line cracked open to let it dribble. The dribble turned into a pillar of ice overnight!

We look forward to 2011 when we'll finally see the American West. We'll head to the gulf coast, visit New Orleans, work our way through Texas and into New Mexico and Arizona. We'll hit the west coast down near San Diego, run up towards L.A. to go to our favorite sushi restaurant, then cut back inland to see the Grand Canyon, the arches of Utah, and the Rockies in Colorado. It feels just like it did when the trip first began back in March - just as new, just as exciting!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Santos Trails Mountain Biking

READER ALERT!: The following travel-log entry is nearly 100% concerned with mountain biking. If, for some reason that I cannot possibly understand, you are not interested in this wholesome, healthy, exciting activity, then perhaps you'd prefer to spend your time another way, watching television or sorting your stamp collection, whatever it is that you do do. Thank you.


Santos Trails, located on the south side of Ocala, Florida, are listed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) as "epic", recognizing this trail system as "...having the biggest influence on riders, as well as land managers and decision makers. These rides are the models that shape our conception of what is possible for trail recreation on public lands." I read that Santos has not only a wide range of trails for all abilities, but also two pump-tracks, a skills area, and a free-ride area with stunts and jumps ranging from just-learning to expert. (The biggest drop is 20 feet!) Furthermore, they have a state-run campground at the trail-head! This made it a mandatory stop for our trip.

The campground had a site available so we booked it, arriving to find all sites taken, and all sites littered with mountain bikes. Clearly we were in good company.

I took to the trails as soon as the unseasonably cold Florida temperatures made it into the 50's. At first I was unimpressed, for while the curvy trails were fun, they had the technical requirements of black-top. But I came at last to the expert level trails, "Magic Mountain" in particlar, at which point the trail took advantage of some rare Florida landscape features, kind of like hills, and made of something kind of like rock. This is what the Magic Mountain trail looks like from its starting point:

The expert trails proved to be a load of fun, requiring much in the way of technical ability and picking a good line, but not to the point that they were not rideable on the first try. I particularly enjoyed a trail called "John Brown". Here I am descending a rocky outcropping:

I made my way through the park and over to a section called Vortex. Here there is an area of expert trails and the free-ride section. They have cleverly installed a "gate" to the area: a ramp feature which, if you can ride over it, provides a good indication that the expert trails beyond are within your ability. It was well within mine, so I proceeded.

The first thing I saw was the free-ride jumps, a three wide and about 100 yards long series of jumps and table-tops that ranged from beginner to insane. Here's a guy taking flight on a table-top jump:

I then rolled down to the quarry floor, where the big drops are. I found some little ones to play on and then watched a guy drop off one of the "medium" drops, perhaps a 6 footer with a good gap between the launch ramp and the landing area such that the drop had to be done at speed. Here's the guy mid-flight:

I went off to ride the expert loop, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which included some ramp opportunities which I was able to do. Here's the longest one, about 50 feet long, maybe 14" wide, and around 3 feet above ground at its apex. Nice!

Having scoped things out, the next day Nancy saddled up her comfort bike and we both did a loop on the easy trails. We did a short loop one day and a longer one the next. She did great, and really enjoyed it!

We even both played around on the pump track and skills area. Here's some shots of our two wheeled fun:

A really great trail system with something for everyone, well worth a visit if you're in the area and are interested enough in the sport to have read this far. There are two bike shops near the trail head which rent good bikes.

The Power Converter: I was cooking dinner at dusk the evening before we were to depart when Nancy called to me "Power's out!" I looked around and saw lights elsewhere in the campground, and went inside to investigate. A noxious odor assailed my nostrils upon entering the Whale, so I bolted to the electric hookup box and threw the breaker. Upon investigation, the source turned out to be our power converter, which takes the 120V AC "shore power" and converts it the 12V DC power that most of our electric lights and pumps run on, and also charges our battery. Without it we would run our battery down in short order, so a replacement would have to be found right away. I saw that an RV dealer was just 1/2 mile away and arranged for a new converter, under warranty, to be available the next day. Unfortunately they received the wrong one, so we ended up staying two extra days, but ultimately the correct one was received. I installed it and we are back up and running.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wesley Chapel; Hillsborough River State Park

Firstly, here is a street sign we passed which seemed so apropos:

We tore ourselves away from the manatees and drove a few hours south to Hillsborough River State Park, and found it to be another really excellent park. We had reserved a perfect site on the outside of a corner, so our yard was nothing but jungle:

The Hillsborough River winds through the park and a quick peek over at the kayak launch area revealed some of the river's denizens basking in the sun:

We came here primarily to visit my uncle Jake and aunt Bernice. They came over to camp to see the Whale and then we went out to eat. It was to be the first of three dinners out!

The next day we went over to Wesley Chapel to their house. Like their house in Virginia, this one is also home to many of the furnishings and decorations from the Albrecht family lake house on Otisco Lake, NY. It was fun to tour the house and see these familiar items. Here is the happy couple in front of their florida home:

Also at home was Lewis "The Mooch", Bernie's son, and the two Boston Terriers: Fancy and Buster Brown. Here I am with Fancy, who is looking somewhat demonic, but was probably just about to give me kisses:

We went for a driving tour of the area, stopping at a pottery shop, and antique store, and a county park where we took this group photo:

We had dinner that night in Dade City, at Kafe Kokopelli. It is a fascinating place inside and out. The exterior is completely covered in vines and the interior, which used to be a Ford model T shop, is decorated with, among hundreds of interesting items, many stuffed wild animals. We enjoyed an excellent meal, and hot fudge sundaes were savored at its close:

The next day we checked for gators and, finding none on the launch, we put in the kayaks. It was an enchanting paddle down the serpentine glassy river, overhung with live oak, cypress and palms. The clear waters revealed hundreds of fish, mostly foot-long bottom feeders, but also several trophy-sized largemouth bass, and at least one gar.

Also spotted were many turtles and this white ibis:

I took my bike out on the trails that followed along this same river and found them to be loads of fun - narrow winding trails with a few roots to give the suspension something to do:

Another dinner out with Jake and Bernie, this time in North Tampa at Bonefish Grill. Although the evening almost went sour when a skateboarder cut in front of our vehicle, we smoothed our nerves over cocktails and enjoyed a fantastic meal of shrimp, salmon, wolf-fish and mahi-mahi.

It was a really fun visit, but we must keep moving on. Next stop, just two hours north, I'll ride at one of the IMBA designated epic trail systems, the Santos Trails in Ocala. (