Sunday, April 07, 2013

Naples, Port Charlotte and Sarasota: Days 8-10

April 1st

My new friend Devashis had suggested a couple of chill spots to grab a drink, but I felt like I needed to get some exercise so I headed to Venice, Florida to pick up The Legacy Trail and bike it into Sarasota. It was originally a railroad line first built in 1911. The Army used it extensively during WWII and The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus were frequent users from 1960 to 1992. Now it's been paved over and except for the one overpass of Rt. 41, it is a nice flat, straight 22 mile round trip excursion through wetlands ,farmlands of grazing cattle and crossovers of the Florida waterways. 

The most noteworthy inhabitant that I came across was a large turtle, but it is possible to spot Otters, Coral Snakes (venomous), Banana Spiders, Florida Fox, Florida Panther and even Bald Eagles. It was a beautiful day for a ride and nice to be in the saddle again. I burned about 750 calories on the ride and maybe another 200 wrestling my bike back into the van! I need to take a picture of that storage puzzle for future reference!
For some photos and more info on the trail: Legacy Trail History

I realized that evening that I hadn't done my due diligence in researching legitimate spots to overnight park in urban areas. My cursory search led me to believe that Walmarts are the perfect answer and I had been using them with success. However, this particular night as it got late I pulled into one that had the dreaded "No Overnight Parking" signs. So I plotted a course to the next one down the road only to see the same unwelcoming signage! At this point I was grumbling at Walmart, the information I got from the web and most of all myself. Upon further research I learned that although some 4000 locations do allow "over-nighting", but another 350 don't! Researching further I found according to one source that Kmarts, although not as prevalent, are actually the first big retail chain to set a corporate policy allowing "overnighting". Some additional alternatives among others are: Camping World, Lowes?, Cracker Barrel? (always confirm)  and Pilot/Flying J truck stops. The latter being a sure bet since on their website they explicitly state in their RV section that all are welcome to find a parking spot and get overnight rest. As bonuses they also usually have the best fuel prices (2 cent discount if you get the "Rewards Card"), a lounge area with TV and massage chairs, laundry machines, and showers available ($12). I played a hunch and waited to fill up in the morning and was stoked that my hunched played out. Overnight the fuel price dropped 4 cents (another 2 cents with the Rewards Card) and I got the cheapest fill up so far at $3.43/gal. nearly 40 cents cheaper than when I left Fort Lauderdale!

April 2nd

When on the coast what is more natural to do than to coast down to the local beaches? So that's what I did taking a pretty drive down Longboat Key and having a stroll along the white powder sands and inviting emerald Gulf waters of Lido Beach. I had been given the tip to also check out Siesta Key which has signs boasting they are the #1 Beach in the U.S. of A. Based on the massive congestion and traffic I guess you can't deny its popularity, but for that very reason I would knock it down quite a few spots. Sorry Siesta Key, but I have my own criteria and I'm sticking to it!

For the evening I was glad to exit the urban jungle and stay at Myakka State Park. I was hoping to sleep in the van and hold off on buying a tent since I already have two perfectly good tents in storage, but the Park Rangers weren't too keen on "encouraging" that practice. But that's O.K., I'm sure the tent will get some good usage through the mid-Atlantic states and may eventually make a good fort for a certain Nephew. 

A heavily armored invader.
After packing up my gear I began the 2+ mile hike into the primitive campground known as "Mossy Hammock". I was immediately greeted by an Armadillo and I didn't realized how prevalent they are in Florida. They aren't indigenous though. All it took for them to get a strangle hold on a new home was an overturned circus truck. They are not very skittish of humans, possibly since they carry a suit of armor, and they are considered an invasive pest capable of devastating entire of populations of leaf eaters. 

Not playing dead, just curious.
I arrived at the site shortly before sunset, set up the tent and went to collect some firewood for the evening. At dusk shortly after settling in for nature's laser show of lightening bugs I was given the once over by a curious Raccoon and later after my fire had died I heard the sounds of another "Curious George". It's always fun to watch the imagination run wild trying to figure out who the owner of those footsteps are as you here the crunch, crunch, crunch not far from your campsite. Is it another rocky raccoon, a panther, or maybe even a bear?! Fortunately my headlamp is equipped with a red light which I was hoping might go unheeded by this latest visitor. In this case I was correct and it did not scare off the curious Possum checking out my tent. The Flash and click of my camera, however, did startle him a bit. I got the pic though!

April 3rd 

One of the great things about proper camping is you can sleep with the peace of mind  knowing that no one is going to wake you up and tell you that you have to move on because some government entity has the audacity to tell you where and where not you can sleep. However, this morning there was the overpowering smell of heavy smoke and I could hear the crackling of flames. With some anxiety I opened up my tent to see that I was surrounded by fire! Doing my best not to panic I grabbed a t-shirt poured some water into it and wrapped it around my nose and mouth as quickly as I could. I headed in the best direction that I could make out heading downwind, looking for a path least beset with the singeing heat of fire. Eyes stinging, choking on the smoke making its way through the moist t-shirt I was desperately searching for an exit from through the labyrinth of flames engulfing the dry timber of the park. My limbs felt heavy. My vision narrow as if moving down a dark tunnel. It felt like time stood still while simultaneously it mercilessly marched on not allowing me to make any headway. Losing hope I heard a voice over the roar of the fire, "HELLO......., PARK RANGER!".  This, of course, woke me up from my dream and I answered back, "YEAH!"

Apparently, they forgot to mention at check-in that they would be doing a controlled burn in the area the following morning. So the Hippy-ish Park Ranger had to politely inform me that I needed to pack up and "move on".  In one sense it was a bit of unfortunate timing with regard to my stay, but on the other hand, excellent timing that I was warned before my dream sequence could become a reality. 

Anyway, there was still the Park's Nature Trail to see. The sites along the Nature Trail were comparatively sparse compared to recent experiences, but the one jewel this park offers is a 100 ft. Canopy Top Bridge walk giving an above the trees view of the surrounding area. But the bridge is only about 30 ft. in the air so for those who aren't afraid of heights I definitely suggest continuing up the tower at the end which put's you 76 ft. into the sky affording a very expansive view of the Park and surrounding lands. 

Don't quote me on this, but I think that well may be the highest you can get in Southern Florida!
 (notwithstanding buildings and mind altering substances!)