Pardon the absence but the month of February in Florida has treated us well. Quality time with our Florida family and lots of exploring have kept me away from the blogging world. No complaints here, it’s been quite a lot of fun this past month. Where to begin, so many new adventures and enjoying warm temps. I can honestly say, I’m not missing the cold winter of Indiana. Shorts and sandals are where I feel most at home.
Originally, we were going to spend about a week near Tampa to see family. It’s been five years since our last visit down here for a wedding. That week turned into five weeks of staying nearby to have more time with them. I’m glad we stayed around. It’s been one of the best months on the road. And we managed to find free places to camp within an hour or so of Tampa.
Kayaking with manatees and dolphins. Seeing alligators, wild monkeys, countless turtles, and a variety of birds. Exploring caves with family. A beautiful day spent out on the boat. Quality time with family for delicious meals and having a couple of house guests. All of this and warmer weather as icing on the cake. In fact we were commenting on it being too warm at times. It’s been quite the month. I have so much to share this will be a two part post.
Let’s start with camping. As you may know, Florida is a popular snowbird destination. Some of those snowbirds visit in their RV’s, therefore finding a campground can be difficult without advanced reservations (sometimes 6 months or more in advance). If you’ve been following the blog, you know Shamy does not roll that way. We did not want to find ourselves packed into one of the many RV parks that are scattered throughout the state of Florida. Lucky for us we found the Southwest Florida Water Management District. They manage several natural areas which includes primitive campground areas. All are free to camp however they must be reserved through their online reservation system. You receive a gate code via email and from there you arrive and select a spot to camp within the designated camping area. I will admit at first I didn’t like having to reserve spots but in this case it worked out well with visiting our family. During our five weeks we stayed at 4 of their primitive campgrounds and spent one week parked in our family’s driveway.
Serenova Tract was our closest campsite to our Tampa family. It was the most scenic of the campgrounds with plenty of large trees but not much in the way of solar (at least at our spot). It was also the closest to a main road so there was some road noise but otherwise very quiet. We enjoyed catching up with family over delicious dinners and bottles of wine.
Ashley Campground – Green Swamp West Tract
Ashley Campground followed our stay at Serenova. This was more remote and very peaceful. With our spot opening up beyond the trees we were able to collect solar. However, our inverter was not working at this site due to a costly error on our part (more on the error in a minute). Without the use of the inverter our outlets do not work. This forced us to charge things using a small inverter we have and the truck cab area. During our stay, my cousin came up for an overnight. We enjoyed having a RV guest and catching up with her.
On our way to Ashley Campground, Ralphie finally got his first bath since we took ownership. We were in line for 2 hours for the wash, which is no problem when you have your house with you. I watched a webinar. Shane did some computer work. We had lunch while waiting and watched a show. This turned out to be part 1 of our mistake with the inverter. Part 2 came when we ran our generator while in line. We haven’t run it in several months and it’s a good idea to run it from time to time. However, we forgot one important point, always turn off the inverter before running the generator. This turned out to be a costly mistake as it fried our inverter. We had to order another one. Ouch! We both took the blame on that one. Me for turning it on to watch a show and Shane forgetting to turn it off.
Mark & Olga’s Home
We spent one week parked in our family’s driveway as we were helping out while their daughter was in the hospital. This was our re-introduction into suburban living and I must say we missed being in nature. Although we appreciated having the free spot to park it. While staying here Shane had the chance to jam out with my cousin and his talented thirteen old son. It was so much fun sitting back and watching/listening to these three play a variety of music. Somehow we managed to stay up until 3 am having a memorable evening with a lot of great music.
Just down from our site at Ashley Campground there was an access ramp to the Withlacoochee River. We kayaked 2 hours down the slow flowing river and here we had our first alligator sighting. I will admit to having some fear kayaking in a river with alligators. Turns out they really don’t want anything to do with you and they stay away. It was on our return back we spotted a small one swimming up ahead and by the time we returned I spotted two more small ones.
When we first started out we noticed the remains of a boat and a jet ski. I joked “is this an indication of what’s to come?”. It was a nice paddle with some areas of shallow and very clear water. Plenty of turtles and birds along the way. I love being in a kayak and witnessing nature all around. While paddling back I watched a hawk catch a fish in the river near my kayak.
Upper Tampa Bay
We spent one day kayaking with Anita, my second mom. She is actually my mom’s cousin but I’ve always referred to her as mom #2. With our kayaks in the back of the Jeep and her kayak strapped to the top we were ready for a day of fun. Although things did not start so great, this day turned out to be a big highlight. After going the wrong way at first and needing to walk it through a very shallow area to get turned around, things started looking up.
We kayaked down a channel that ended up in Old Tampa Bay. With the tide out there was a large sandbar to park it and explore for awhile. Josie had a blast, running around and checking all of the crab traps. The tide started to come in and luckily we noticed before our kayaks drifted away.
Before heading back we noticed a line of boats coming in. Then they all stopped and parked it. Shortly after we noticed fire works, which was odd during the day. Puzzled by what was going on, we soon figured it out when we heard someone singing. It was a funeral/memorial. We waited until they were done before paddling back.
Then the magic happened. The right time and right place. Several dolphins surfaced near our kayaks as it was feeding time. Not wanting to miss any of the action we stayed for a bit and took it all in. I’ve always wanted to see dolphins from a kayak. Sorry no photos as I was too busy enjoying the moment. But I can tell you this, they were close enough you could hear them taking a breath as they surfaced. It was an amazing day!
Caving at Dames Cave
Of all the things we did, this one stands out as a unique opportunity that we almost passed on. Let me explain. Turns out I’m a bit claustrophobic in tight spaces. I love big open caves you can walk through. When a family member suggested we go and explore some caves I was a bit trepidatious. After some discussion we decided to go for it. In total there were 11 of us with some experienced cavers in the group. The first spot was a brand new cave they just found which required climbing down a rope into a hole in the ground. Right away I found myself thinking “I may just be a spectator today”. However, we both climbed down using the rope without crawling through the small opening and further back into the cave. We had to warm up to this new activity.
The next cave appeared to be more my style. With a large opening and a bigger room you could walk into. “Alright this is my kind of cave!” Until someone in the group pointed out a small opening we would be going through next. Pretty sure in that moment my brain said “uh, no that will be a hard pass for me”.
However, with the guidance of my experienced cousin, we both found ourselves crawling through openings into larger chambers in no time. I must admit she was very good about explaining exactly what we would encounter and what was coming next. That particular small opening was rather short and opened up into a small chamber. From there two more spaces to be navigated on our stomachs leading to 2 more larger chambers. I will admit to feeling a little fear rising in my chest in the second chamber of this cave. But thanks to my meditation practice I was able to calm myself down easily. And the flexibility from my yoga practice came in handy as I slide through the smaller spaces like a snake.
By the time we arrived at the next cave I was feeling much more confident and less fear. At the last one, all eleven of us sat inside a fairly large chamber, turning all of our headlamps out to really get a feel for the level of darkness. It was pretty cool I must say. Then four of the group tackled “the crawlspace”, a 30-40 foot tight section that required you to be completely on your belly, sliding your way through. This was my limit and I knew it, as it was for many in the group. The four that went in were gone for awhile and all came out with a lightheaded feeling from the lack of oxygen. Plus they lost 2 of their four lights due to batteries. I cannot even imagine. I did climb down to the entrance and my cousin showed me the opening. I said “oh hell no, that is not for me.” As we were walking back to the car she said it is as much of a mental thing as it is physical.
I must say we are both happy we decided to go and tackle something completely outside of our comfort zone. I knew my limits but I went places in those caves I never thought I would. Shane admitted he felt trepidation in some spots too. Now I will be on the lookout for more caving opportunities, within my limits of course.