Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Gear up with decent equipment

February 25, 2018

Good gear is always a challenge to find, particularly on a budget. Here are a couple items I’ve been able to count on recently and would endorse:

Something fun: Akaso video camera. People have been telling me for a few years that I should get a GoPro camera. Sure, that could be fun, but for the longest time these gadgets were financially out of reach for me (falling well below bike maintenance costs on my ledger!). As much as I dislike the big online retailer that starts with “A” (oops, I used to work for them) — I found this Akaso mini video camera for under $100. It came with rechargeable batteries, has been reliable and is so much fun to fool around with!

Underwater videos have been my favorite part, because the camera came with a zillion mounts and accessories, including a waterproof housing. I can’t really get good mountain biking videos on it yet because I haven’t tried the helmet mount (I tried a handlebar mount and thought it was too shaky and tried clipping it to the chest strap of my backpack but got too much footage of my knees rather than the trail ahead of me). My issue is that it’s really hard to tell if it’s recording when you’re looking at it through a snorkel mask and the waterproof housing. They could make a bigger flashing red light on the screen or something. As a result I’ve taken lots of footage that looks like I’m in a washing machine and missed lots of footage of cool underwater things because it’s off when I think it’s on and vice-versa.

I’d love to upload the actual video (especially of Mike swimming with the fish in our favorite Florida spring, above right) but I’m not on the premium plan here so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Good shoes. Seriously, don’t skimp by buying cheap sneakers when you have a lot of hiking or even city shopping to do on a vacation. I like Salomon as a brand because they are rugged and last a long time. I tried out these new “Sense Pulse” style shoes (on left) just before we went to California and Hawaii last fall and I haven’t regretted it.IMG_20180224_181126_971[1]          IMG_20171019_145929_308

My partner, on the other hand, bought cheap sneakers before the trip. I think they’re Avias (on the right in photo above). Don’t make this mistake (I need to underline that and put it in bold too!). The Avias were worn out and lost all structural integrity by the end of the trip. We’d done some hiking, perhaps 15-20 miles, plus plenty of just around town walking, but that’s nowhere enough use to destroy a pair of decent sneakers — it’s the brand, the cheap construction, that is at fault.

You think I’m exaggerating? Look at the above photo of the soles, taken roughly a week after the trip. Our shoes were both brand new before the trip. I hiked a bit more than he did during the trip — and mine still look like new while his are destroyed. It was a bad decision to buy cheap shoes, and he’s paying the price (ask his podiatrist). Now that I’ve walked and run about 100 more miles in mine they’re starting to show some wear, but the upper is still intact and strong. I would buy this model of Salomon again in a minute.

Of course you still have to find the shoes that fit your feet correctly in order to get the best use of them. Not every Salomon sneaker is right for my bony feet. I decided to start running again this winter and again, just like last year, had to try on a million pairs of shoes that didn’t fit perfectly before I found some that do (I refuse to relive the toenail incident I caused by wearing too-narrow Hoka Cliftons last winter). The aqua pair of Salomons in this photo (next to my worn-out Missions and newer Sense Pulse) just didn’t work for me. It’s like dating — I knew they weren’t for me as soon as I laid eyes on them. Too narrow, not made of the same rugged materials as the others. Oh well, they’ll work for someone else.


A solid pack. When I was working for Eastern Mountain Sports I stocked up on backpacks using the employee discount, and it was a good investment. I can’t even estimate how many miles are on the tough Fen model pack I have. It goes everywhere I go, from biking trails to skiing to travel. At times it feels a bit heavy but the construction has been solid and it’s not practical to bring more than one for slight variations in use or conditions. It has a waterproof pocket built in to protect things like my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I’m hiking in the rain (hello, Kauai).

My only significant quibble with this pack is that the mesh side pockets aren’t deep enough to keep a good size (20oz) water bottle from falling out. It has gear straps that enable me to lock my packable rain jacket or sandals in those mesh pockets but they don’t work for the water bottles unless the bottles have a loop to thread the strap through. (Yes, I’m available to work as a gear tester, just say the word!)

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And although I don’t think it’s x-ray proof, the TSA hasn’t confiscated stuff out of the bottom of it like my spare fishing knife — maybe they just know it will take all day to empty the pile of snack bars, Nuun tablets, pens, foreign coins, notes, etc. etc. to get to the contraband?? Every now and then I actually empty it to wash it. It’s like Christmas, finding my iPod shuffle and the odd seashells in the nooks and crannies.


My Walmart century ride

March 6, 2017

Sitting home was not an option, but neither was running another mile in the shoes that had just claimed a toenail. (Sitting at home hadn’t been an option yesterday when I ran 7 miles in them and regretted it all evening as I hobbled around on a swollen toe.)

So today I set out on the uber craptastic Walmart bike of my nightmares. My approximate destination was a state park about 10 miles away that has mountain bike trails. As I got closer I realized it wouldn’t be fun on a busy Saturday afternoon when lots of other people would be on the small circuit I rode a few years ago. Despite its full suspension and knobby tires this bike is just a look-alike, it was never meant for actual mountain biking. I do it because I would lose my mind if I didn’t get a dose of trails once in a while — even if I worry about snakes and gators the whole time.

I rode at that state park back then the Walmart bike was brand new and I was pretty cocky about how easy the trails were (swoopy but flat, with a few obstacles thrown in). But now the bike isn’t new. In fact, I think I it’s neutered itself into a fixie with just one gear thanks to a combination of the corrosive elements in Florida and the stress of throwing it on the bike rack again and again (sometimes for 2,500 miles). Oh, and then there’s the issue of genetics: it was born bad, made of cheap components designed to appeal to 12-year-old boys who dream of pump tracks but really just sit on their bikes in the 7-11 parking lot eating Cheetos. Last summer I took it to the Vietnam trails out of desperation and was mortified that someone might see me on it. Mike bought its craptastic twin at Walmart and his is so bad that he has a screwdriver taped to the crossbar for those (frequent) occasions when the chain pops off and gets stuck between the sprocket and the frame. And he never even shifts gears. It’s pitiful.

So when I got to the state park entrance I just kept going. How far could it possibly be to do a big loop around the next town and back through some nice scenery? Not an awful way to kill a Saturday afternoon, right?

Except I became obsessed with how awful the bike is. I decided that riding 25 miles on it counts as 100 on any other bike, therefore I did a Walmart century. Pushing the pedals became a cathartic exercise in forcing the bike away from me. The miles melted away as I longed to end the agony of its existence.

There’s squeaking from the suspension that reminds me with every revolution of the pedals that I’m on a lousy bike. So I turned up my futuristic MP3 player and sang along with Shakira.. it was especially fun when a serious biker came up next to me, hunched over his aero bars and I was wailing away, a capella:

“Whenever, wherever
We’re meant to be together
I’ll be there and you’ll be near
And that’s the deal, my dear..”

As if that didn’t compound the shame…

Its one redeeming quality is the loud shuddering scream of the brake pads on the rims that generally gets attention from any driver pulling out of a street or driveway. So I guess I have the Walmart bike to thank for not being road kill yet (note to self, rear brake is almost nonexistent). So maybe if I had a nice, squeak-free bike with gears and disc brakes I’d be dead by now.


Flip Flop Vol. 2: Cheating winter

March 13, 2015

“This is better than being drunk,” I said to Mike at the pool one day. The weather was perfect, from our perspective: a little under 80 degrees, blue skies and delicate wispy clouds passing the spiked leaves of a nearby palm tree.

“No, actually this is better than being drunk!” I decided. “I feel great every morning.”

But then we would eventually have to return north… what a hangover that could be.

We’d skipped one of the snowiest months on record back home, instead we were playing in the ocean and outdoors in the sunshine while exploring Florida. The best part of our trip was seeing the Florida we want to see – minus most of the same-as-home pavement and strip malls – who goes on vacation to spend time in stores?

Here are three ways to see Florida and really feel like you’ve been on vacation:

  • State parks and springs

If you’re intent on baking on a busy beach, go ahead. If that bores you and you get tired of paying $4 for a bottle of water from the tiki hut or are turned off by the water quality, try a state park with a spring instead. Florida has plenty of beautiful – INLAND – parks to visit.

This year we went to Mayakka State Forest, near St. Petersburg, which felt like a stroll in Jurassic Park for the palms intertwined with gnarled live oaks. In the midst of this 56 square mile preserve is a big lake (yes, get your alligator sightings here!). It looked like a great place for a short bike ride (20 mi round trip) too.

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And we found another great park with a crystal clear spring where we swam with a manatee. We’d done the more touristy springs in the past, including a dive boat that sells you photos of yourself swimming with manatees.. I prefer going solo, it’s a more authentic experience. We’ve had fabulous experiences at the 72 degree springs, including mingling underwater with schools of tilapia or carp, and getting up close and personal with manatees far from the crowded dive boats in the Crystal River. My favorite was Salt Spring near Ocala (no manatees but it’s large enough to explore for a couple hours).

me and manateemanatee swimmers

Of course there also was our heart-thumping adventure down the Ichitucknee River last winter, which flows from springs through a cypress swamp at a good clip. Only after we jumped in with nobody else in sight (wearing snorkels and wet suits) did we realize the river was full of waving grass, which spooked the hell out of us as it allowed us to float right past huge pointy-nosed gar fish, lots of turtles.. and (gulp!) whatever else was in there.. when we got out we looked at each other and said “can you believe we just did that??”

  • Go to the wild side

Right up front I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna tell you: the exact name of the fabulous “forgotten” little town we found on the east coast. Of course you can probably figure it out but that’s only if you’re paying attention. For starters, this little slice of heaven is on the Atlantic and has a sizeable National Wildlife Sanctuary on a barrier island. We never need to get in the car once we arrive with bikes, partly because there’s nothing worthwhile you can’t walk or bike to, and partly because the beach is so spectacular we don’t want to be distracted by anything as mundane as restaurants. Here you can surf cast, find eggs laid by sea turtles, body surf and wander up and down a gorgeous untouched strand of beach completely alone.We’ve only spent a couple weeks here but we talk about it year-round, it’s that good.


Oh, there’s a state park here but it doesn’t hold a candle to the beach. I enjoyed the small section of mountain biking trails, which was surprisingly fun curvy singletrack with some roots (really!) and manmade obstacles thrown in. I was kind of cocky about it because I went in thinking I could kick ass on their wimpy flat singletrack … and I did because the cockiness gave me more confidence than usual, so I blew right over the ramps and logs – then turned around and said geez, I never do those at home but here I’m such a badass on my $100 Walmart Mongoose!

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If you don’t want to or can’t figure out where I’m talking about, go find your own little town on the coast. There has to be more than one!

  • Go by bike

It’s sunny, it’s warm, and Florida is as flat as a table, so why not bike? Even better, everything is frigging square and straight so it’s impossible to get lost. Here the wind is your only obstacle.. once you get through the 8-lane intersections full of 90-year-old drivers in their Mercedes SLKs and Mazaratis.


Our one concession to tourism was a stop in Venice this year because my brother’s family had been there and found a beach where you can sift through the sand to uncover fossilized shark teeth. It was fun for a couple hours, but some people take it very seriously, buying specialized equipment and spending hours in the water.. we were there about 2 hours and found a half-dozen cool specimens using a basket from inside an old salad spinner! That was enough for me.

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While I really do love winter, the ability and freedom to go outside every day is so enticing.. but I could never live in Florida. It’s mostly made for vehicles, and so much of what we’ve seen (we spend time in Naples) is so prettily packaged and gated that it seems fake and unnatural.

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But I don’t regret skipping a chunk of winter and exercising my freedom to roam. I’m getting enough of the snow now — we’ll probably be snowshoeing and skiing until June.

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