We spent New Year’s Eve with my son Jeff and his family. Of course Peggy & I decided that 10 PM was a good time to celebrate the new year.
We flew back to Orlando on Frontier airline and it only cost us $148 for a round trip ticket but of course if you want to bring luggage or choose a seat you could spend another $25 each in both directions. Of course since we have a home at each end we don’t need to bring anything except my computer and a warm coat.
We had taken Uber to the airport from the KOA storage lot and it cost only $14 for the 9 mile ride. I knew the price would be higher for airport to KOA but was surprised when I got the $37 charge. Last year we took a Holiday Inn bus to a nearby hotel and then called Uber. That only cost $12. We had a short drive to Lakeland, FL and did a lot of grocery shopping and ended up at a Walmart where we decided to spend the night. Our reservations for 3 days at Hillsborough River State Park did not start until tomorrow. We made the reservations that way in case a snowstorm cancelled our flight. We just left the Cleveland area just in time since the day we left the temperatures plunged into the teens and snow was forecast every day.
The place we found to stay overnight was out of the way and quiet. See top picture. In actuality it was next to the dumpsters and truck turn around to get into the loading docks. But we tucked our little motor home in there and had a nice nights sleep.
We got to our campsite at Hillsborough river where we planned to canoe and bike. I came down with a bad cold that night and rested all day Friday. I feel a little better now so maybe we can paddle tomorrow.
When we got to our destination for the next 3 days Hillsborough River State Park. We have been here several times because we love the river and the bike trails around the park.
It was cool when we unloaded the bikes and our canoe. A friendly camper neighbor helped lift it down from the RV.
The campsite I picked was right across from the canoe launch.
We rested on Thursday since I was coming down with a cold that I caught while back home.
On Friday I felt even worse so all we did was a short walk along the river. Then the cold front came in bringing rain and thunderstorms. Then most of the day Saturday the temperature started to drop and the rain continued off and on. At 1 PM the rain stopped and I wanted to paddle the river since we were leaving on Sunday. It was cool and there were no turtles or alligators and of course no other paddlers but we did see a few birds. Anhingas Egrets and a big Red tail hawks. We paddled down to Dead River Park and back in less than 2 hours including our rest stop at the park.
We got our bikes and canoe back up on the RV, again with a little help from a camper. We heard from Bob Nicholson our long tome paddling friend who now lives in CO. He left on Tuesday and is driving to Florida and is going to meet up with us at Fort Desoto Park in St Petersburg. Can’t wait to hear the story of his drive since he left right when this storm was sweeping across the country.
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I found out that Bob Nicholson has been reading our blog and decided to see what FL was like.
My old kayaking friend lives in CO and Bikes, Kayaks and now SUP’s. He left home on 1/3 and fought through all of the snow storms with his newly outfitted 4-wheel drive camping van.
We texted back and forth and he finally caught up to us when we stopped to shop in Tampa on our way to Fort Desoto Park.
Bob was excited to see the beautiful tropical island on the south side of St Petersburg.
The campsites in this park are expensive $45/nite so we don’t stop here very often but Peggy wanted to come back and bike by the beautiful beaches.
However we could have picked a warmer week. As you see it got down to 39o on Monday morning but is warming up. It looks like we will have some warm temperatures when we leave here on Wed. morning to head to Lithia Springs and try to get a nice campsite near the Alafia River.
It was a cool three days here but at least we were not at home with the new snowstorm. The same front came down into FL causing freeze warnings north of us. However with the warm ocean all around us the temperatures were closer to 60o. We biked around the Island for two days after it warmed up. It was only about 11 miles to peddle to the fort and north beach and back.
This is a really nice place to visit but the camp fees are $45 per night.
Bob Nicholson will be travelling with us for the next week. He brought his inflatable paddle board. The water was too cool for me to give it a try but he never fell in and paddled around the Mullet Key Bayou.
On Wednesday morning we headed over to one of my favorite places Lithia Springs Park. It is on the Alafia River and has a large spring which is a swimming area. All the riverside sites were occupied but we got a nice site across from those sites.
We found the river level was very low, 90 cfs, because there really has not been much rain here since October. Last year we paddled it at 120 cfs(Low) and 300 cfs(Good).
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On Wednesday night Bob took us out for an outstanding dinner at a Mexican Restaurant only 1 mile from our camp. Lavilla Mexican Grill is a small family type restaurant run by a couple from Mexico City. It is not Tex-Mex, these are well prepared dinners at prices you can afford. We highly recommend it.
Fish Hawk Ranch Trails
Right next to our campground is a housing development that has miles of beautiful concrete trails that wind through natural areas with lots of wildlife. These are shown in Orange on the map above. Another benefit for us is there are two large grocery stores both Publix and Winn Dixie that we can ride our bikes to. I use panniers on my bike to carry groceries.
Today all of the sudden we finally got warm weather, the temps got into the high 70’s.
The river was a low 90 cfs but it looked high enough for us to paddle both upstream and downstream.
So Peggy & I launched our canoe near our campsite and Bob did a seal launch into the river.
We only paddled 4-1/2 miles altogether. It took us an hour to paddle upstream to the Lithia-Pinecrest bridge. We saw lots of big turtles but no gators. We paddled back downstream past the camp to the outlet of the Spring and then back to camp in another hour. Bob said it looked good and with no gators he may try his SUP.
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On Sunday we checked into our reserved campsite at a Corp of Engineers campsite on a little island in the Caloosahatchee River just east of Fort Myers. We plan to stay for 2 weeks.
Since the price is only $15/day including full hookups and each site has a covered picnic table. It is very popular and very hard to get a campsite. You must call exactly 6 months before your first night to get a site and you can only stay for 14 days.
Bob Nicholson is still camping with us and has been having fun on his SUP.
Our site is right on the end of the island and sometimes some yachts may use the docks near our site. Last night no one was docked there.
The weather for the past week has been warm and dry but clouds move in everyday about noon. It looks like next week may cool off, looking at the long term forecast which is seldom correct.
Yesterday Bob discovered some nice single track bike trails about a mile away at the Caloosahatchee Regional Park.
We paddled upstream to the little scenic Hickey Creek today. It was 3-1/2 miles each way, half the paddling was in the big Caloosahatchee River where you had to watch out for big power boats setting up a big wake because I guess they don’t slow down for small boats. Novices could easily be knocked over.
There is a little park with hiking trails half way up the creek. The creek got a sheen on it that was some kind of pollution as we went further upstream, so we turned around and went back. Didn’t see any alligators but we did see a bunch of turtles, Also saw a few birds, we think they were Limpkins.
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This is the view out our window near sunset. We are looking east while sun sets in the west. This was Bob’s last night, he left on Friday to drop his van off for repairs of his transmission’s electronics problems. They said they would drop him off at the airport to fly home for his daughter’s birthday. He flies back on the 24th and hopes they fixed his van. After that he will be staying with a friend at Ft Myers beach for a while. He may catch up with us again at some point.
On Saturday we paddled our canoe 7 miles up and back on Telegraph Creek. The first section of the river passes through an area with homes visible along the river. The houses, though, are surrounded by trees and set back from the water so they don’t detract from the beauty of the surroundings. It’s the only place we’ve paddled where we’ve seen zebra, llamas, camels and big horn sheep along with alligators, turtles and a variety of birds!
We tried the same creek last year but the flow was so strong that we only made it up about a mile, to where we saw the llamas. This year we negotiated the narrow creek past some other kayakers and fisherman up into Babcock Ranch Preserve. The fishing must be good as several fisherman said they had caught a dozen big Bass.
We paddled until Peggy got tired, I kept hoping we would find the palm tree that went over the river, where 11 years ago we really saw an extremely rare Florida Panther laying on the palm tree that we were about to pass under. In those days we never saw anyone else on this tiny wild creek.
Click for trip plans and map
On our winter trip so far there has been little rain and the temperatures have been 10 degrees above normal with lots on sunshine. On Sunday, the winds started and blew at 40 mph for 24 hours. A front came in dropping some rain overnight and the temperatures dropped.
It looks like it will be cool this week. Of course that’s all relative I’ll bet all our Ohio friends would wish it was cool like this.
On Monday Greg & Sandy Lewis stopped by to visit on their way from Estero to Sarasota. We have been close paddling friends for years, it was too bad they couldn’t have spent the night and biked with us.
The biking down here is OK for Peggy. When we peddle every possible road in the nearby developments, we barely go over 8 miles. We have done this twice so far. There are single track trails about 2 miles away in Caloosahatchee Regional Park, I have not tried them but Bob liked them.
Today I finally washed the RV, actually the rain washed most of it.
The most amazing thing is, our Phoenix Cruiser comes from a tiny RV manufacturer in Elkhart IN. In our travels we hardly ever see one. Today there are three here in this small 30 site campground and one is camped right next to us.