Exploring the Mangrove Islands

Fred Howard Park is a favorite of mine to paddleboard from.  There are a lot of different areas to explore depending on which direction you decide to go in.  Last weekend we decided to take off straight out and up towards a bunch of mangrove islands that we couldn’t see from where we were but knew where there thanks to Google maps.

We basically paddled from the dinosaur’s hand to right over his head.

Mangrove islands are a lot of fun to paddle around because they are full of birds, schools of fish, and usually quite a few rays as well.

The one thing they don’t often have is a place to stop and walk around.  Mangroves tend to make a place a bit unfriendly to walk.  Those are basically sharp sticks growing up all over the open ground.  Even if it wasn’t horrible karma to go through there breaking everything, ouch.  Beautiful though.

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As a result I was kind of excited (like a 5 year old is kind of excited to see a bunny) when I saw this:

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Those are real, actual not mangrove trees towering over the mangroves.  Definitely worth investigating. We paddled almost all the way around the island before finding a small beach. And some fellow paddlers.

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There was a nice sized clearing of sand and even a patio table and old grill someone had brought in.  Of course there was also the mandatory ‘people have partied here and left their shit behind’ trash but it seems that is everywhere, regardless of how remote a place may seem.  There was even a used-to-be-nice huge tent tangled in the trees.  I get the feeling that wasn’t put there on purpose.

The people we ran into were pretty cool and said there’s another island close by that someone had actually built a bar on.  Sounds like a place we’ll have to find!

 

 

Happy World Oceans Day!

World Oceans Day has been recognized by the United Nations since 2009. Before that it had been coordinated by The Ocean Project since 2002 and celebrated on a smaller scale even before that.

A different theme is chose each year, this year it is Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.

The oceans make up enough of this planet that I think it goes without saying that we can’t have one without the other.

The push this year is to use less disposable plastic.  They aren’t talking about not using any plastic at all – that’s pretty much impossible at this time.  Think about the one use plastic items that you use on a daily basis.  At first I thought it was a fairly easy challenge, but then I looked at the Marine Conservation Society’s Plastic Challenge Tip Swap and holy crap. It’s not just grocery bags that we throw away on a daily basis.  Its trash bags, toothpaste containers, milk/tea/gallon water containers, liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles, the plastic that heads of lettuce and grape tomatoes come in, the list goes on forever.  It’s actually pretty intimidating. But what isn’t intimidating is choosing just one thing for now.  Maybe stop using straws, start using loose tea instead of tea bags, or bring your own bags to the grocer (not the most fun BYOB but still).

Personally I am going to try very hard to actually remember to bring in the stash of cloth bags I have had in my trunk for ages and to bring a net bag on my paddleboard for picking up trash I come across.  On Memorial Day I actually ran across an empty Cheetos bag floating in the water.  Really?

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If you are bummed you didn’t find out about World Ocean’s Day sooner no worries, President Obama just proclaimed June as National Oceans Month.  So pick a one use plastic item and see how long you can go without using it.  And when you get used to going without that item pick another.  Because the oceans don’t just need us to keep them clean and healthy just one day or even just one month a year.

What one use plastic item can you do without?

 

 

Weeki Wachee

My daughter has been bugging me like crazy to take her paddleboarding.  That sounds like a no brainer, but I usually go super early in the morning, way before the rental places open and I usually don’t have to pay anything since I have a board.  Free is good for a favorite pastime, right?

But I love the fact that she’s interested in it so we decided to find place to rent boards and go a little later than usual.  My partner in crime and my daughter immediately conspired (this is a common thing, I can’t win) and after much Googling and mapping told me that Weeki Wachee is closer than my usual paddling site (Fred Howard Park) and they found a place that rents boards as early as 8 am.

What?

Weeki Wachee is the faraway land of mermaids, manatees and clear blue waters.  I always think of it as being in the same area as Crystal River, about an hour + drive from home, and a place where no one rents anything earlier than about 10.

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I couldn’t argue with that, so we reserved our boards and off we went to The Kayak Shack.  I gotta say, if you’re going to spend the money to rent boards this is the way to go.  They have plenty of stress free parking and really nice people working there (plus a couple of huge, gentle dogs that may or may not be part of the staff).  They load you up in a van and drop you and the boards off about 5.5 miles up the river.  You get on and can just drift/paddle down the river as you choose until you get back to the shack.  In the few places you have a choice of paddling left or right there are very clear signs letting you know which way to go.  If you are feeling lazy you can literally just drift the entire way.  If you don’t stop to get in the perfectly clear water (don’t be foolish, jump in!) you will get back in three to four hours with zero effort.  Don’t want be on the water that long?  Paddle and you’ll get there sooner.

If you prefer to bring your own board I was told there is a place nearby open to the public to put in, I’ll let you know where after we bring our boards up and find it.  Paddling upstream is quite a challenge in some places, so be certain to start off going upstream so that you can relax a bit on the way back.

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One thing to make note of – a few sections of the river are INFESTED with yellow biting flys.  These things are no joke.  We brought cream bug repellent and all of us look like we have chicken pocks on our legs and are occasionally still crazy itchy, especially after being in the heat.  Bring bug repellent SPRAY, not cream so that after playing in the water you can immediately spray more on.  I usually don’t use bug repellent but I was ready to drink the stuff it it would have helped.  After I got home I bought a bottle of extra DEET camping bug spray and a bottle of all natural stuff, next time I go I’m testing both and will let yo know if the natural stuff works.  Cross your fingers for the natural stuff working. Either way, this stuff is right up there with sun screen for must haves if you go paddling at Weeki Wachee.

Paddling this river is like paddling in paradise – clear blue water, huge fish swimming under you, the occasional manatee and scenery right out of a movie.  We even had a raccoon following us along for a few minutes!

If you get the opportunity you should definitely visit Weeki Wachi.  If paddleboarding isn’t your thing you can also rent canoes and kayaks, or go see the mermaids!  I have yet to see a mermaid…

 

 

100/100/3

I was exploring other blogs out there and stumbled across a girl who started a New Year’s challenge for herself to paddleboard 100 miles in 100 days.  A mile a day doesn’t sounds like much, but when you take into account the fact that it’s an activity that you can’t do on a daily basis, it’s weather reliant, and not actually all that close to the house it puts it into perspective a bit.

I liked the idea so much I decided to challenge myself to do the same.

I just started bicycling a couple of weeks ago, so I thought it would be fun to bike 100 miles in that time too.  That’s something I can just go outside and do, as long as it isn’t lightening.  Fun!

Then I decided to sign up for the Dare Greatly Trail half marathons.   It’s 3 halves starting in December.  I mean, ya I’ve never run more than 4 miles and I haven’t run at all in a year, but what the heck, right?

I even made this great banner photo thing for my post.

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Then I announced my super great plans to the boyfriend, aka partner in crime.  (AKA person I’m volunteering to do this with me.) And he used his stupid logic on me.  How many weeks in 100 days? About 14. So that’s less than 7.5 miles a trip.  Easy, right?  We usually paddle about 3 miles, what’s the difference?  Unless, of course, we skip a weekend which is a given considering 5 kids between us. Plus jobs that easily take 50 hours a week. Plus his other job and out frequent non-paddling adventures.  Hmmm, maybe not quite as easy as I thought.

The bike part really should be easy though, we tend to ride the trails near the house about twice a week so that part should be easy peasy. Heck I’ll ride around the block until I hit 100 miles if I have to.

The running, well that’s not a given and not something I’m great at being consistent about. But we have 7 months until the first half, so it’s probably doable. Right? Sure.

So the question is whether or not I should give it a go.  No point trying something you know for a fact you can’t do, but then how do you know if you don’t give it a try?

Any opinions? Are there 3 things that you enjoy doing so much that it would be fun to challenge yourself to do them a lot more than you currently are?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddling the Mangrove Trails

There is a kayak trail through the mangroves near the area I usually go paddleboarding, but the water is generally very low, resulting in a muddy stinky mess more than a path.  This weekend, however, the tide was really high and the path looked navigable so we tried it out.

I’ve been around Florida water enough to know that mangroves can have some fairly nasty creatures in them.  Crabs and spiders come to mind – always try and duck under branches, don’t let them touch your hair!  Not to sound too crazy girly, but seriously. Don’t.

Anyways, I kept an eye out and saw nothing.  We went down the path and though it got narrow enough that there was no turning around on a paddleboard it was really cool. For those of you who haven’t tried paddleboarding yet take my word for it when I say that trying to paddle when the board’s fin is in front is not an easy task, you really want to turn the board around to go back the way you came.  The board knows you are doing it wrong and constantly tries to turn itself around.

Anyways, the mangrove trail was beautiful and kind of mysterious and very cool.

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It is just as cool as you might think to paddle down a trail covered over by the trees, nice and shady and peaceful.  Paddle may be a strong word actually, because the trail got so narrow I kind if had to just push off branches to keep moving forward.  Fun, right? Oh hell ya, till I saw this.

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You know what’s a funny thing (not haha funny though)? Once you see one you see they are everywhere.  Kind of like when you buy a yellow car because no one else has one and then you see them at every red light.  But you can’t really connect with a crab like you can with a fellow driver.  Trust me. Or not, whatever.

So then I decided that I had paddled far enough down this path, and should go back to a bit more open water.  You know, the kind with sharks but no crabs.

Which is when I realized just how narrow the path actually was. Even when we found a place wide enough to turn around that meant going forward and back until you bumped the roots and made all the little creatures run about 8 times.  Good times.

I took the picture below of 1 crab. Got home and there where how many?

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Anyways, soon after we got back out on the bay we saw another tunnel to add to the list of things to check out, but breakfast was calling so that’ll be another trip.

Am I the only one totally creeped out by things that I know damn well can’t do a thing to me even if it did fall right on me?  Heaven forbid I ever look up and see a snake in the trees…

 

 

 

Manatee Season!

You’ve probably seen news articles on all of the manatees at 3 Sister’s Springs, it seems that people everywhere I talk to have.  I’ve been up there a few times. Once I did the ‘swimming with manatees’ thing and the second time I rented a board from Manatee Paddleboard and wrote about what a great time we had on their tour.   But I never went when it was actually manatee season.  I think that is about October through the beginning of April.  In other words, when it’s cold enough you aren’t sure you want to be in the water.  Trust me, it’s totally worth it.

This time we brought our paddleboards instead of renting.  This way we could be on the water at sunrise, before the crowds.  We didn’t actually get there quite that early, but good enough. We were the first ones at the little park where you can put in your boards or kayaks. We had barely even started out before we saw our first bunch of manatees.

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Because manatees are gentle, trusting creatures and humans are human rules have been put in place to ensure that the manatees are kept safe and unstressed.  The springs themselves are closed at certain times because there are so many manatees in there it’s not really a good idea to add us humans to the mix as well.  We got there at low tide though, before the manatees were able to get in the 3 Sister’s part of the springs.  So we could go in, we just had to leave the boards outside of the area.  No one else had walked in yet when we got there so I got to take a couple of pictures of the springs completely unpopulated. What a beautiful place!

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The main rule is that you are not allowed to chase or hassle the manatees.  However, if you stay in one place long enough they will very likely come up to you to check you out.  There are always rangers and tour guides there, they will ensure you know and follow the rules.  The great thing about this is they are a wealth of knowledge. Be sure to take the time to talk to the rangers because they seem to know just about everything about manatees and lots about some of the individual manatees that are there.  Pretty awesome. One thing I learned is manatees like bright nail polish.  Good to know!

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The only downfall of the bring your own board approach is I don’t have enough boards for the kids, and ever since they saw my pictures they have been wanting to go.  My son prefers kayaking anyways, so next time we’ll most likely be renting. April’s getting here awfully quickly, so I better get a move on to plan the next trip!

 

 

Florida Winter Blues

Here in Florida it’s currently 50 degrees out. It’s windy and my heater is broken. So sad, I know. I’d feel a lot worst for myself (and the other Foridians) if when I am working I wasn’t so often talking to people in negative degree temperatures, ice storms, and weather bad enough that they had to close the office.

But rest assured, I still feel bad for me. I haven’t been paddleboarding in weeks, and as windy as it is that’s not going to happen for a while even with a wet suit. So I decided to live vicariously through other’s Instagram pictures and share a couple of my favorite pictures I came across today.

I lived in Arizona for the vast majority of my life, but never saw the Grand Canyon or anything quite like this. It looks pretty amazing!

I finally went and saw the new Star Wars movie last weekend! But no words necessary for this pic. 🙂


How terrifying and awesome would this be? I would LOVE to have been there.

Paddle boarding into the sunset @joe_kennard #Thailand #sunset #paddleboarding #travel #kohtao #Beach #LivingInTheOcean

A post shared by Tom Rodgers (@tomrodgersstunts) on


This one I love because it is just everyday paddleboarding – it could have been taking here or anywhere on the water. Kind of magical, don’t you think?

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We interrupt or regularly scheduled  North Carolina trip post for a quick reminder that I am in Florida after all…

One of the reasons paddleboarding never gets old is because it can be the most calm, peaceful activity you can imagine or it can be a crazy good workout or adventure.  It just depends on you, your location, and the weather.  Mostly the weather.

Your body acts like a sail, and when the wind is particularly high it can become impossible to paddle against it without kneeling or sitting down to catch less wind. It can be exhausting and dangerous if you don’t know your limits. So, tip of the day is always paddle out against the wind so when you are getting tired the wind can help you back.  There was one time when just as I turned around the wind changed direction and I think by the time I got back home I slept the rest of the day, but it usually works.

Last weekend we headed out to Fred Howard park, and though the wind was moving along pretty good we hadn’t been out on the boards for 2 weeks so decided to give it a go anyways. After all, who could resist heading out into a morning like this?

SunriseNeedless to say getting to the other side of the little bay area we were in took about 3 times longer than usual.  Heaven forbid you decide to stop to rest, you would end up moving backwards.  Which is actually kind of fun because the fin on the board makes it turn around for you. But still. Tiring, remember?

Heading into the sun is beautiful, but you can’t see a thing in the water because of the reflections.  Heading away from the sun the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom.

2015-11-02Here’s the cool part.  Once we decided to head back we just stood on the boards and on occasion made a slight course adjustment to come in where we needed to.  Check out how fast we were going – no paddling needed.  Keep in mind I was standing on the moving board when you judge my mad videoing skills.

I kind of had a squirrel moment with some birds, but the point is the board was going that fast all by itself.


This is what Tampa residents come home from vacation to. Groovy, right?

Paddleboarding Pop Stansell Park

Last weekend we decided to try out a new spot to paddleboard.  You can go to the same place every time and see something new, but it’s still fun to try somewhere different.

Saturday morning was pretty windy, which is not a great thing for SUP. Your body acts a a sail so you can go really fast with the wind which is fun, but you do have to change directions eventually.  It turned out Pop Stansell is perfect for windy days. We set off from the ‘boat dock’ (is it called a dock if it’s just a muddy place to drop off your boat?) Immediately to the right there is a large area to paddle between mangroves and homes.

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It looked like if you headed straight out you’d be on the bay but that I’ll have to explore another day.The downside of this area was it was just sort of dirty.  You have to walk through that icky, sticky,slick mud that is in some places in the bay to get to the water. The water was brownish and because it was the way for boats in the neighborhood to get to the bay it just didn’t have the same clean feel as the water further out.  That seems to be typical of neighborhood waterways though.

The water was only about a foot deep all through the area, which is actually pretty cool unless you fall in (I didn’t, yay!). It’s pretty cool because there are huge fish jumping everywhere and a ton of different birds.

Birds at Pop Stansell

I didn’t actually check out the park itself, but this place is going on my short list of places to paddle when the wind is up too much to paddle on the bay.

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All in all it’s a great place to go to see all kinds of interesting things, as long as you don’t mind a wee bit of muck on the way in and the occasional boat passing.

If you are in Florida have you been to this park before?  Where are some other little out of the way places I should check out?

Paddleboarding… with Sharks (Finally!)

I’ve been paddleboarding for a few years now, and I’ve seen lots of really cool things. Dolphins, sting rays, more kinds of crabs then I care to count, about a billion kinds of fish and all kinds of other interesting creatures.

The one thing I have never seen while paddleboarding was a shark. But it seems I’ve finally found the secret. I was told if I go to  Fred Howard Park in time to be on the water at sunrise the chances of seeing sharks, specifically hammerhead sharks, would be pretty good.  So the last couple of Saturdays that’s exactly where I’ve been. And success!

The last two Saturday mornings the water has been perfect.  Smooth as glass. Between the height you get from standing on the board and the fact that there is no chop to hide any movement it’s the best chance for seeing anything that’s out there.

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Almost as soon as we were on the water I saw a dolphin swimming around who went surprisingly close to shore which was pretty cool.  Of course it may have been better if we had actually been closer to the shore. Only manatees can beat dolphins for the cool factor. And that’s just because manatees will come right up to you on occasion.

Not very long after that we saw what I at first thought was a bunch of dolphins playing.  The water was splashing like crazy and the occasional grey body and fin could be spotted from where we were paddling. I saw one fin separate from the rest in our direction though, and it was very steady, not moving up and down like a dolphin’s tends to do. The shape of the fin also was telling – this was not a dolphin. Which lead me to the conclusion that neither were the other animals splashing around because the single shark kept circling back to them.

I have to admit that as much as I’ve been wanting to see a shark  I had absolutely no desire to paddle closer to them. I don’t know if they were doing the ‘feeding frenzy’ thing,  playing (do sharks play?) or something entirely different but regardless of what they were doing, no.  I stayed were I was and considered myself brave for doing so.  Brave and three year old excited, it was pretty neat in my humble opinion.

The one bad thing to come from this? I realized just how bad my little point and click camera is.  I tried taking video of them, but the few seconds I was actually pointed in the right direction all you could see was that something was really churning up the water.  So I am now on the hunt for a waterproof camera with a lot of zoom and a viewer that I can see even in the sun.  Because next time I want to be ready!

I also saw a couple of big turtles which I would have loved to get a decent picture of. I’m actually pretty OK with the simple fact that I get to see things like that, but it would be fun to share the pictures if I had them. Here’s a few that I did take.

Paddleboarding 8_22_15Any other paddleboarders or kayakers out there?  What sort of things have you seen when out on the water? Do you ever feel like no one is ever going to believe what you saw if you don’t get a picture of it?  I don’t know why but I always kind of think that. Of course I also think if I go out with a really good camera I won’t see as many animals. Superstitious much? Why yes.