Travels with Tucker

Travels with Tucker

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cedar Key (March 11)

View Larger Map
We knew we were going to be working our way north out of Ft. Myers toward the Florida panhandle and the Gulf shore, and while researching places to stay I came upon Cedar Key. We took a chance and booked a week at Cedar Key hoping it would live up to some of the good reports we'd read--boy, did it!

Cedar Key is literally in the middle of nowhere. Most Floridians I'd mentioned it to had never heard of it. It is about 2 hours north of Tampa on the Gulf coast, about an hour out of Gainesville at the end of Route 24. Surrounded by wildlife refuges and state parks, Cedar Key is at the heart of what they call Florida's "nature coast". It was the terminus of a railroad that ran from St. Augustine in the late 1800's and became the cedar pencil and whisk broom capital of the country for a while. What it is today is a charming small town of about 1000 people that is home to thousands of birds, millions of shellfish, hundreds of tiny islands and a slow "old Florida" way of life that is just plain wonderful.

We stayed in a small RV park about a mile up the road from "downtown" Cedar Key. This was the most friendly, laid back RV park we've found. The people were wonderful and they had low-key events almost every night--karaoke on Sunday, bluegrass picking on Friday and Saturday, bingo on Thursday. We watched beautiful sunsets from the docks and met some really terrific people. We rode out bikes to the docks at Cedar Key and watched people fish among the pelicans, gulls and other shorebirds. We ate melt-in-your-mouth gulf shrimp, clams, grouper and bruschetta. We visited a 5000-year-old native American shell mound that was 25 feet high and several acres across. Cedar Key is described as being like Key West 50 years ago and there is something to that. Quirky homes, restaurants and shops, working fishermen, stunning natural surroundings and little commercialization make Cedar Key a real treasure. We're planning to come back and stay a month next year instead of the week we spent this year.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ft. Myers (March 4)

As I write this, we are driving north out of Ft. Myers after spending two great weeks at the Calusa Cove RV Resort in Estero. It didn’t start out very well, though. After our questionable camping experience in Key Largo, I was a bit nervous about this one. Trying to make reservations months in advance during the high season in Florida is challenging at best. The web sites for some of these places are primitive and there is a certain amount of “puffery” in the descriptions and pictures.

Calusa Cove’s site was worse than most, with the pictures mostly being stock photos of people kayaking and enjoying the beach. We arrived late afternoon and our hearts sank a bit as we drove to our site, which was at the end of a row of trailers and semi-permanent single-wides. It was a sandy and weedy clearing at the edge of a scrub Florida palmetto forest. Our neighbor, Jim, came over to introduce himself. He helpfully warned us about the fire ants that invaded their trailer one night while they slept and gave me some fire ant poison to spread around our wheels and jacks to keep the critters out. As I crawled under the trailer in the dark to make sure I surrounded the tires with the deadly stuff and felt the new bites I was collecting from the no-see-ums, I really wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

But, you know, Calusa Cove turned out to be pretty nice overall. It didn't have nice grass or a pool or a laundry or, really much of anything. But it was right on the edge of a large wildlife preserve that extended a few miles to the Gulf of Mexico. From our trailer, we could watch the sun set knowing that no one was living between us and Mexico hundreds of miles away. We occasionally saw a local tortoise ambling about and eating weeds and never did get invaded by fire ants. It was quite beautiful and far better than being sandwiched in with a ton of other RVs.

We saw a lot of Lucas during our stay, having him over to the trailer for Mojitos and dinner several times, sampling the local restaurants, visiting his office at Gartner and going to see the Red Sox opening day of spring training in their new stadium—Jet Blue Park in Ft. Myers.
The beaches near Ft. Myers are beautiful. One day we went to the “dog beach”, which is a county facility all set up to a literal dog heaven. A short walk from the parking lot off the coast road is a series of beach and sand bars that are enclosed by water on both sides, so you have to wade through a couple feet of water (at least when we were there at high tide) to get out there. And what a place for dogs and dog people. The water was shallow, clear and warm like bath water. There were a couple dozen dogs there on this Saturday morning (Lynnae and Tucker were there Friday, too) and they were chasing each other, running in the water and generally having a great time. Tucker chased his rubber Frisbee into the water over and over. Other dogs came over to play and everyone got along great. At one point he was chasing a greyhound all around the sandbar howling like the beagle half of him loves to do sometimes.

We had heard that Lovers Key was beautiful so we went there for a sunset. Access is just north of the dog beach.

We loved seeing Lucas at work and home. Although there's no pics, he prepared and served a dinner to us and three of his friends...a delightful evening.

A few weeks back we had purchased a Groupon for the Ft. Myers Fred Astaire studio, so while we were here, we got to get a couple private lessons and attend two practice parties. It was great to dance and scrape a little rust off the swing and cha cha skills. On our last night in Ft. Myers, after spending the afternoon watching the Red Sox demolish the Northeastern kids at Jet Blue park, we had dinner with Lucas at the Sandy Parrot Tiki Bar, where we discovered they have a dance floor and live music. So we got to dance a bit more before spending our last night in Ft. Myers and packing up Sunday morning to make the 5-hour drive up to Cedar Key on “the Nature Coast” of Florida (in other words, the middle of nowhere).

Diving with Jeff and Lucas (February 20)

Friday night Lucas drove down from Ft. Myers and arrived around 7. We grilled up some shrimp (the Gulf shrimp are amazingly tasty and fresh) for dinner then took off to pick up Jeff at the airport. Our trailer is roomy for Lynnae and I but living in the trailer with the four of us was going to be “interesting”.

I had booked two days of dive trips for the three of us guys and Lynnae was going to go out in the dive boat with us on the first day to snorkle while we dove. Jeff had done the first half of his dive training in New York and just needed his 4 open water dives to complete his PADI ceritification. We could all go out on the same boat and Lucas and I could dive on our own while Jeff got certified. We left the dock in Key Largo on a beautiful 80-degree afternoon. It was about a 30 minute ride out to M olasses Reef, which is located in John Pennekamp State Park. The reef here ranges from just 10 feet to about 30 feet deep. We did two dives that first day and it was a little choppy at the surface, but we had really nice visibility underwater. There was a bit of a current, which proved to be a problem at the end of the first dive.

It had been about two years for me and more than three for Lucas since our last dives, so we were pretty rusty. It didn’t take long to get more comfortable and we tried to hang around the dive instructor who was putting Jeff and a few others through their paces. We lost them about halfway through our dive and just explored the reef. We didn’t realize how much the current was pushing us until we went up to the surface and saw that our boat was about 100 yards away and against the current. I was getting pretty low on air by this time and started to back stroke on the surface toward the boat. It was a bit dicey for me but Lucas and I did make it back near the boat and one of the dive masters came out and helped me get back to the boat, which was great since I was pretty tired by that time. The next dive, one of the instructors had us stay with her and she gave us a guided tour of the reef and that dive was much more relaxing and fun, since we just had to follow her and look at the fish, coral sponges and eels. We did two more dives the next day and Jeff and Lucas went out the third morning too. We all had a great time diving and saw a couple large (4 ft.) grouper, crabs, a massive manta ray, and thousands of fish. This reef is much nicer than I expected, with 50-foot visibility and beautiful coral and fish.

While we were diving the second day, Lynnae went to a nearby bird refuge and had pelicans walking betweeen her legs and stepping on her feet . Both diving days we weent out to local fish restaurants with that Keys “feel” and great seafood. It was sad to say bye to Jeff, but we were headed back with Lucas to Ft. Myers to spend a few weeks near his home.

Key Largo (February 15)

So making reservations at campgrounds sight-unseen during the high season in Florida is dicey at best. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We had stayed at several beautiful state parks in Georgia and Florida, some Spartan private RV parks and one ultra-planned community. But we had never pulled into our destination to find what looked like one of those trailer parks in Oklahoma you see on the news when a tornado hits. This place had rusted junky trailers, boats, a front-loader, two or three huge engines on blocks, four or five rusted and moldy-looking “houseboats” and a half dozen or so actual RV’s. And the owner/manager was a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed woman with half her teeth who would get into shouting matches with the tenants.

Speaking of the tenants, I have to admit they were generally very nice but had WAY more than their share of little yapping dogs and looked like this was the last stop on their way to….nowhere. This would have been the trailer park the Joads stopped at on their way to California during the 30s with a big sign that said “Migrant workers welcome—cold beer!”.

On the plus side, the Pelican Cay RV Resort and Marina was situated right on the water with a long dock and surrounded by very picturesque boats. We saw lots of white herons, pelicans and even a couple manatee swam right by us. We actually had a pretty good time there in spite of some of the surroundings and some questionable neighbors. The good thing about RVing is no matter where you are, you can just go into your trailer and you are HOME! And home in the Pelican Cay RV Resort and Marine had pretty nice views of the water and boats from our picture window. And our boys were coming to visit soon!