Turkey Run: Trails and Truths

A visit to my hometown last summer had me doing a lot of reflecting on my childhood.  Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” and nothing seemed more true than my most recent trip to Turkey Run State Park.  Now of course, Turkey Run isn’t my home, but it is one of those vivid and rosy memories I have from my childhood.

I distinctly remember one particular trip when I was in about third grade.  I can see my 9-year-old self in neon pink spandex shorts and a ti dye shirt with a duck on the front.  How did my mom let me leave the house like that?

On that trip everything had a newness about it.  The two hour drive seemed to take about twenty minutes.  The shops were full of trinkets I was dying to buy.  The steep trails were mountains to conquer.

Fast forward twenty five years.  That shining memory has lost a little of its gleam.

As I drove the two hours from Lowell to Turkey Run, my eye picked up on the subtle changes.  Barns that once stood out brilliant red against the corn rows were now peeling and sun bleached.  The waving rows of corn now have giant alien windmills dotted among them.  The canoe outfitters that once were the signal we had arrived now had crumbling signs and rusty gates with Keep Out slapped on the front.

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Maybe it’s just that I’m becoming more cynical, but the decaying barns, decrepit roads, and abandoned stores make me feel like something is broken.  The shininess of my childhood memories were being tarnished by the reality I saw before me.

The one constant in all of this though were the hiking trails.  It’s the one reason I still wish to return.

After paying my seven dollar entrance fee, I pointed the car towards the nature center without even thinking.  Parked,  I grabbed my small backpack filled with water,  a granola bar,  and a few extra band-aids and headed for the suspension bridge,  the apex of all the good trails.

I had decided I wanted to hit all the highlights which had me hiking a little more than five miles.  I started my hike on trail three, a moderate one.  I knew the trails that I wanted to hit would have me hiking through creeks, so I was prepared with my Teva sandals.  A short jaunt took me to Wedge Rock which, as children, my cousins and I called Wedgie Rock.  From there it was into the Punch Bowl. 

At the Punch Bowl I had the horror of seeing a painted turtle tumble over the waterfall and bounce off the ravine floor with a sickening thud.  Thankfully that shell did its job, and the stunned turtle quickly recovered. I watched for awhile making sure that he was okay before moving on with my hike.

Camera 360

Camera 360

From the Punch Bowl it was up through the top half of Rocky Hollow before climbing down  the slippery ladders into the Ice Box  which, living up to its name,  was noticeably cooler than the air at the top of the ladders.

As I descended the ladders, I was reminded of hiking this trail with my family and remembered my mom obsessively worrying about each of our abilities to get down those ladders without mass casualties.  Hiking alone,  I remembered her cautionary tales and firmly planted each foot before moving on.

Next, I wound my way to Boulder Canyon where some rock scrambling was involved.  My approach had me coming down into the canyon. I picked my way over slick boulders with shaky legs.  Reaching the bottom,  I took a break and enjoyed the solitude I was finding on this hike.

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Camera 360

Five miles passed rather quickly, and before I knew it, I was back on the suspension bridge, eyes gazing down at Sugar Creek, as I crossed back to where I had started.

Hiking the trails brought back some of that childhood magic that I have always associated with Turkey Run.  Being among the oak trees and limestone cliffs helped shine up those memories that had tarnished as I drove to the park.  And while there is some truth that one can never go home again,  it’s nice to know that even though things change, nature has a way of remaining the way it was once remembered.

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Gracie’s Maiden Voyage

I’ve always wanted a dog that can go everywhere with me. Zorro turned out to not be that particular dog. Considering he would bite you as soon as look at you, it probably isn’t the best idea to take him in public.  Since Gracie joined us a year ago, it is clear she is so different from Zorro. She, unlike Zorro, is actually friendly. She would rather lick your face off than bite it.  She doesn’t bark at every little noise,  and she listens fairly well for a dachshund.  So after a year of letting her experience the world,  we decided it might be fun to see if she would be good on a kayaking trip.

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On a calm Saturday morning we loaded the truck with the kayaks and headed to a state park nearby. For this trip we opted for Lake Louisa State Park. I knew from exploring the park a couple of weeks earlier that the lake was full of gators,  but it would be relatively smooth. This meant I could focus on Gracie instead of padding around obstacles.

For Gracie’s maiden voyage, we purchased her a life jacket which she took to right away. I spent some time walking her around the area to let her get acclimated to her new contraption. It didn’t seem to bother her in the least. She just continue to hunt for lizards just as she does at home.

Within a few minutes of checking out the lake, we spotted our first alligator. It was a baby only about two and a half feet long and quickly swam away into the reeds along the bank. Gracie paid it no attention,  and thankfully it was the only one we saw all day.

With the gator off and out of sight I settled myself into the kayak, and Gracie followed. She was pretty nervous at first and did a pretty good job of staying seated in the middle. As she found her sea legs, she decided that she should explore the edges of the kayak. I paddled around for a little while near the dock. Geoff took a few pictures and then went to get his kayak.

Since Gracie was behaving so well, we paddled out hugging the edge of the lake. When we made it halfway around the lake, Gracie decided that she was going to stand on the bow of the boat. And she was doing a pretty good job of staying balanced, but I hit a little wave. She lost her balance sending her tumbling into the lake. She furiously paddled those tiny little dachshund legs.  Her eyeballs,  large as saucers,  searched for me to rescue her.  I was thankful for her life jacket which had a handle on the back making it easy for me to grab her like a little suitcase and deposit her back into the kayak. After that she was pretty petrified, and she stayed in the center of the kayak shivering. Eventually she calmed back down and found a nice spot to relax on the stadium cushion I put between my knees.  

We made our way back toward the dock checking out the ospreys that were fishing and taking their catches back to their nests. With Gracie more subdued I was able to actually take in the scenery. We were surrounded by tall cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. We were sitting in the middle of an old Florida postcard.

After about 90 minutes on the lake we decided we wouldn’t test fate any more and ended our trip for the day.  I finally think I have a dog that can pretty much go on any adventure that we send her way. I think for now, I’ll settle with her maiden voyage being a success.

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Weeki Wachee River Adventure

Last January Geoff and I visited Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with our newly gifted Florida State Park Pass.  We went to check out the kitschy Florida attraction which features “mermaids” that perform in the spring for guests to view in an underwater theater.  While the show was adorable, the best part was our discovery of the Weeki Wachee River and the kayaking access it provided.  We promised to get back to do some kayaking.

About 16 months later we fulfilled that promise and brought along Geoff’s parents as well.  It was Mother’s Day weekend, so finding a place to rent kayaks was a little tricky.  We got lucky with The Kayak Shack who had a last minute cancellation, so we were able to rent two single kayaks.  

The Kayak Shack was very reasonable, $35 per single kayak for the day, and they arranged transportation to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park so that we only had to kayak the five and a half miles downstream.  The only downside was that they would not transport our kayaks due to liability reasons, so we followed their van in our truck.  

Arriving at Weeki Wachee State Park, Mel and Sydney followed their group and were quickly in the water where they waited patiently for Geoff and I to unload our own kayaks.  While Geoff found a place to park, I went inside of Paddling Adventures to pay our launch fees and have our coolers checked.  They are very adamant about the no alcohol policy inside of the state park. Park rangers were even on the river this particular day as well. $18 covered the cost of our launch fees and paid for Geoff to ride in their van back to our truck. 

Finally, it was time to head to the launch point.  Geoff left our kayak wheels in the truck (which was now parked very far away) so we started carrying the boats when a good Samaritan offered us a cart.  We quickly took that offer, stacked the kayaks, and rolled with ease down to the river.  

We showed the ranger our paperwork, and noticing that we had own kayaks he asked if we really wanted to go kayaking today.  With a smirk, he warned us that the river was very crowded.  The subtext there was that there were a lot of people who did not know what they were doing.  We were already two hours into this adventure, so there was no turning back now.  

I plopped into the kayak, dipped in my paddle, and pushed off for our trip.  Geoff was quickly behind me.  A few breaths to calm myself and erase the stress of getting the kayaks into the water, and we were off.  

The translucent waters sparkled in the sun and allowed us to see straight to the bottom.  After less than a mile of paddling we found our first sandy shore to pull off and dock.  This place was the remnants of an old spring called Hospital Hole.  We ate a few snacks, tested out the GoPro, and did some swimming in the cool waters.  

Our trip continued this way for most of the afternoon.  We paddled, we snacked, we maneuvered around the hundreds of people doing the same thing we were.  Everything was going great until I looked up in a tree branch as saw a black and white striped snake precariously perched just ahead of me.  With a sharp inhale of breath and increased heart rate, I furiously paddled to the other side of the river yelling about a snake.  Then I heard Geoff laughing.  It turns out I had just paddled furiously away from a rubber snake someone zip tied to the tree branch.  Trauma averted we paddled on.

As we continued down the river, there were numerous ropes and boards tied and nailed to trees respectively.  We approached an area where people were climbing a tree and jumping off.  It had been awhile since we stretched our legs, so we stopped.  Geoff decided to climb the tree like the 18-year-olds before him and jump into the river.  I, not being that brave, jumped off a dock instead.  The river was so deep that when Geoff jumped from 50 feet in the air he said his foot just brushed the bottom of the river.  Even Geoff’s mom got into the action and jumped into the river.

As we approached our return point, we were lucky to run into a few manatees.  Geoff dropped the GoPro into the water as one swam under his kayak, but the best manatee was the one that was trying to climb the river bank to feast on some elephant ears.  

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All too soon, five and half miles had passed, and we were back to The Kayak Shack.  Despite all the people on the river, I loved this trip.  The weather was perfect and the company was even better.  This will be a river we explore again, but hopefully on a day when there aren’t as many people.    

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Just a Cuppa Ladies Having Tea

Mother’s day is not my favorite day.  It is always laced with a tinge of sadness which comes from living 1600 miles away from my mom and the understanding that I will probably never be a mom myself, but this year was different.  My mom was actually going to be visiting close enough to Mother’s Day that I would actually be able to do something more than an obligatory phone call and flower bouquet.  I was going to do it up right for the most important lady in my life.  We were going to do afternoon tea at the Garden View Tea Room at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.

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The tea room hours vary, but 2-5 PM is the standard.  We arrived shortly before our 2:05 reservations and were seated immediately at a very quiet table for two overlooking the gardens.  It was perfect.  We were off by ourselves which allowed us the ability to talk and giggle without interrupting anyone around us.     

We selected the four course Cheshire Tea package.  For tea, we each selected a pot of herbal infusion.  I picked the Superfruity while Mom ordered the Golden Caramel Rooibos. Both teas tasted fantastic after a couple lumps of sugar were added.

Our first course arrived shortly after our tea and consisted of a selection of pineapple, mango, papaya, and kiwi. A selection of cheeses were included along with  a small bowl of honeycomb.  Everything on the plate was edible, including the orchid.

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Course two delivered four finger sandwiches:  egg salad, chicken salad, cucumber, and an open faced goat cheese with golden beets.  My favorite was the chicken salad, and while I did not love the beets, they were paired well with the goat cheese. Two slices of cheddar, a delicious onion tartlette, grapes, and berries finished off the plate.

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Next up was a golden raisin scone, with apricot jam, lemon curd, and cream.  A strawberry tart which stood no chance finished off this course.

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Finally it was onto the dessert course.  We had the choice from a trifle, strawberries and cream, or a selection of pastries.  Mom chose the strawberries and cream which were dusted with the Grand Floridian logo in red sugar.  I went with the pastries which included a white chocolate covered strawberry, a swan shaped strawberry lemonade cream puff, and a mini eclair.  At this point we were both stuffed, and sadly I have to say that half an eclair was left on the plate.  

For the first time in a long time I went into a Mother’s Day weekend without the anticipated gloom.  That alone would have made the day special, but each bite and sip of this experience was divine, and the server was very attentive.  The attention to detail in every element made the $50 a person price tag bearable, and the fact that I got to have this experience with my mom made it priceless.

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Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple-Day 3

Day three started more leisurely.  We slept in then stored our luggage and headed to Brooklyn.  After a couple of subway stops, we emerged and made our way back towards Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge which is a beautiful modern marvel.  The amount of pedestrians and cyclists made it a little hard to snap unobstructed pictures, but somehow we managed to get a few good shots.  The view coming back across the river was beautiful, and it was the first day that we had actually seen the sun.  The mile plus trek across the bridge worked up our appetites, so we decided to walk into Little Italy to share an authentic New York Pizza.

Pizza devoured, it was time to say goodbye to the Big Apple and head by train to Connecticut.  Despite the whirlwind tour of New York, I feel like I got a nice juicy bite out of what the city has to offer.  On my next trip I most definitely want to take in a baseball game, and maybe see some things off the beaten path.  

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Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple–Day 2

Day two began early as we headed by subway to Battery Park where we hit a Starbucks and waited for our ferry to take us to the Statue of Liberty.  When we decided that we were going to go to New York, I knew that seeing the Statue of Liberty up close was the number one thing on my list.  Within days of booking our flights, I also reserved passes for us to climb to the crown.  We couldn’t have had a more perfect day for the 377 stair climb.  While the weather was overcast and dreary,  which did not make for a nice view of the New York skyline, it did make for a very pleasant climb up to the top of the crown.  We were in the first group of the day which was the second benefit.  There were very few people in front of us which allowed us to climb rather fast.  As we ascended to the top we paused to look out the windows.  I felt so patriotic being inside of this American icon.  I could not stop snapping pictures and between my phone and DSLR, I had several hundred by the time we left the island.  

On the return trip, we detoured at Ellis Island which was not fully opened.  I used the website to try to find my family’s’ name, but after a quick call to my dad, he said our ancestors did not come through Ellis Island.  Knowing that, we boarded the ferry for our return to Battery Park.

From Battery Park we walked up to Federal Hall, Wall Street, and the 9/11 Memorial.  Even though we only spent a few moments at the 9/11 Memorial, the somber feeling that permeated the area is something I will never forget.  The roaring fountains completely juxtaposed the quiet sightseers surrounding the memorial.  The Freedom Tower rose up into the overcast sky so we could not see the top, but felt like it was watching over us, a symbol of what America stands for.

Cori, never at a loss for awesome places to eat, took us to Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side.  Cori tried to explain the ordering system to me, but I was so overwhelmed by the number of people and choices, that I begged her not to leave me.  I kept imagining that episode of Seinfeld with the Soup Nazi, and I was so hungry I couldn’t afford to get the ordering process wrong.  I went with the original salami sandwich while I think Cori ordered pastrami.  We were presented with heaping sandwiches and a pile of french fries with the most delicious sour pickles I’ve ever had.  I don’t know how we did it, but we both polished off our sandwiches at the expense of our french fry platter.

After another nine miles of walking and very full bellies, we went to our hotel to rest up before heading out for the night.  We had tickets to see Aladdin at the Amsterdam Theater right in Times Square.   Aladdin was amazing, the Genie, played by James Monroe Inglehart gave a performance that still leaves me awestruck months later.  While I wasn’t in love with all the songs, I was in love with all the sets, costumes, and singing.  It was so much fun to cross a Broadway show off my bucket list.

We had worked off our huge lunch by this point, so after the show we walked over to Junior’s Cheesecake for ice cream sodas which we destroyed.  To cap off the night, we walked across the street to the Marriott Marquis and headed to The View, the hotel’s revolving restaurant.  Cocktails and an amazing night view was a perfect way to end another busy day in the city that never sleeps. 

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple–Day 1

Our annual girl’s beach trip took a little turn in 2015; we traded in the white sands of the Gulf coast for the beaches of New England.  I had never been to NYC, so Cori did her best to give me a taste of the city she is most familiar with in just two and a half days.

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We took the first flight out from Orlando which put us at JFK around 8:30.  A town car dropped us off at the Hilton in Times Square.  After dropping off the luggage, we hit the streets.  Our first stop was Rockefeller Center followed by the NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall before heading towards Central Park.  In the park we saw the highlights: Strawberry Fields, the zoo, the Boathouse, and everything in between.

The next New York must do was a subway ride from Central Park to Soho where we had tea at the Crosby Street Hotel.  

After all the walking (the fitbit said we did over 12 miles that day) we had worked up quite an appetite.  From the tea sandwiches to the macaroons we did not leave a morsel untouched.  Topping it off with glasses of champagne and cups of tea left us full and ready to continue our adventures.  

That night, with bellies so full and feet so tired, we crashed hard.  The next morning would be an early subway ride to Battery Park for our tour of the Statue of Liberty.