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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Two nights at Aiken State Park & a two day drive home

John-CypressGlen_site47I kept an eye on the weather for our long drive home. We decided to try to break the drive up and take 3 days from Northern FL. We had not visited this state park in SC near Augusta, GA and thought maybe we could get in another canoe paddle and a bike ride. The Edisto River in the campground looked nice, but there were two problems. They only clear trees from the river for 1-3/4 miles and it was cold, temps around 50oF. So it was not worth all the effort to drive to the put-in and take-out for such a short cold paddle trip. The bike ride was not much better, there were no trails and the campground loop was only about 3 miles. On our second day we checked the weather and saw that the next two days would be sunny and windy but if we missed that opportunity to leave, we may have to stay for a few more days.

Lithia Springs-Site 45Our first day we made it to Ripley, WV on I-77, and we made it home by noon on Friday 3/16.

Our 2017-18 Trip by the Numbers

The total trip duration was 125 days but we flew home for the holidays with our big family for 12 days.

We drove 3300 miles, averaging about 8.7 mpg, I guess carrying our canoe cuts the MPG average.

Our average camp cost was only about $18.50/night since we mostly stay in State & National Forests along with County parks. Many now require reservations which are not hard to do at the last minute, especially if you time your arrivals for Sunday.

The weather in FL was very dry this year and Tampa set a record for the warmest February ever with the highs running an average of 12oF above normal for the entire month. January & March were cooler than normal.


Withlacoochee CanoeingWe canoed on 8 different rivers, several times, for a total of about 120 miles. Because of the back troubles I had the past two years, we bought a Mad River Canoe from Jeff Prycel that was only 52 pounds. I had no trouble getting it off and on our RV.

DoodleTrailWe biked a total of almost 500 miles, mostly on bike trails. Our new tandem bike doubles our road miles for the same time on our rides. It also allows us to talk and Peggy can see more scenery.

Most of all we stayed healthy except we both came down with a mild case of the flu, even though in October we both got our flu shots.

I posted 27 blogs this season. This is our last Blog until next fall.

If this is the first time that you are visiting our 2017-18 Florida Blog you may want to click this link to read about our Trip in Chronological Order rather than going backwards (As all Blogs do) from today to the start of the trip.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Ready to head North to Aiken, SC

Cardinal MirrorWe are camped next to a few cardinal families. The female must not like competition from her reflection in our darkened windows and side view mirror. They visit us a few times a day and peck at their competition. Some of the campers put bags on their mirrors to stop the pecking.

Temperatures have been going down in the 30’s in the morning but warm up to near 70oF in the afternoon. On Saturday we took another 12 mile bike ride over to Olustee Battlefield Historic Park and around the battlefield trail.

The weather this March has been much cooler than last year. We keep putting off when we plan to head North. Our plans now are to leave Ocean Pond on Tuesday morning.

Ocean Pond to Aiken State Park mapWe are about 1000 miles from home, so we plan to take 3 days,  driving about 6 hours/day. Last year we went North on US-301 and found that it was shorter and just as fast as I-10, I-95 and I-26 to get to where I-77 starts in Columbia, SC, but it was much more scenic and less stressful than dealing with all the speeding trucks on the interstate highways.

This year I was looking for a park where we could stop at rather than a Walmart and then stay for a few more days, while I checked what the weather in Cleveland was doing. Looking at my maps I discovered Aiken State Park. on the Edisto River in SC,  which has both canoeing and biking possibilities.It has power and water hookups and is open off-season, and since it will be mid-week it shouldn’t be a problem getting a nice campsite. It’s just south of Columbia, SC.

The map on the left shows my proposed route from Ocean Pond to Aiken State Park.

From Aiken State Park we plan to do a 6 hour drive to Beckley, WV on Friday 3/16 and then on Saturday another 6 hour drive to our home. The forecast shows that we should have a few days of dry sunny weather and the temperature is warming up a little back home.

A change in the forecast could change these plans but our long trip is nearing completion.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Big Shoals of the Suwanee River

Flowers near Big ShoalsWe needed to do some grocery shopping and the nearest town is Lake City, FL about 20 miles away, so we thought we would make a day of it by driving a little further near White Springs to Big Shoals State Park. They have a nice paved 4 mile long bike trail called the  “Woodpecker Trail” and other mountain bike and hiking trails.

There is a one mile trail that follows the Suwanee River to the Big Shoals. This supposedly is the largest rapid in FL. We hiked here at High water once and at low water once. Neither of those times would I have attempted to run in our open canoe. They say it’s a fun run when the river level is between 55-65’ on the USGS gauge. Today the level was 52.8’ on the White Springs gauge and I’m sure Peggy & I could have run it OK..

It has 3, 2-3 foot. drops over very rocky limestone outcroppings but with plenty of room to eddy up between the drops at this water level.

Big Shoals 1

Big Shoals 2

It was a beautiful sunny, cool but a fun day. We plan to stay here at Ocean Pond to at least through Sunday or Monday before heading north into South Carolina.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Back Again at Ocean Pond

We only stayed 2 nights at Juniper Springs in the Ocala Nat’l Forest since Peggy does not like that they have no electric power. We can watch TV at night and run our microwave to cook and our battery power never dropped more than 15% from fully charged. As long as your campsite is in the sun the batteries recharge during the day with my solar panels. It’s only a 2 hour drive north to I-10 to Osceola National Forest. We got here on March 1st the same as last year but last year we never were able to get a campsite with power. There are only 19 power sites and 30 without power but have water hookups and 18 rustic sites.. At this time of year there are lots of northern campers starting to get ready to head back home. There were about 5 campers leaving the power sites but even though we were here at 10:30 AM we thought we missed out at getting a power site again. But there were two guys that just decided to leave one of the nicest sites right on the water of the two mile wide circular lake called Ocean Pond.

Ocean Pond Site12

Piliated Woodpecker

When I put up my hammock I heard a lot of wood chopping right behind me, it was a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker.

Last year we only stayed here for 5 days and then headed for home. Last year early March was much warmer in Cleveland. This year the forecast does not look so good, so since we had this beautiful campsite we decided to stay here at least 10 days before driving up near Augusta. GA to Aiken, SC State Park. We have never been there but it looks like we won’t need to make reservations at this time of year. It is 5 hours closer to home. It’s a an easy two day, 5 hour per day, drive home from Aiken. It is on the scenic Edisto River so we could do some canoeing as well as biking before we leave for home.

Like the other times we have been at Ocean Pond we intend to do a lot of bike riding on our tandem. We have peddled almost 500 miles on our tandem already this winter.

Here is a map of two rides we took already. I added our last two rides here as well.


We will need to do some shopping in a few days so when we drive over to Lake City we may take the paved Woodpecker Bike Trail in Big Shoals State Park. You can also hike and view the largest rapid in FL on the Suwannee River.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Slowly Heading North, now back in Juniper Springs

Nori-JohnI was browsing through Facebook and noticed that a friend from Morgantown, WV was flying to Orlando for two days and one night and was wanting to do something different. I answered back, we are only 50 miles west of Orlando and if you rent a car we could paddle Friday afternoon on a beautiful natural river, the Withlacoochee South.

Nori jumped at the offer and got to our camp just before noon. After little light lunch we hopped in my canoe and paddled about 9 miles of flatwater and saw lots of birds and turtles and a few small alligators.



Nori took up my offer to try out our small dinette bed and sleep overnight instead of booking a hotel room. He gave Peggy & I a nice treat by taking us out to a good Mexican restaurant in Brooksville. He drove back early Saturday morning to make his medical conference.

On Sunday Peggy & I did a 8 AM 21 mile bike ride from camp to the start of the bike trail, the weather is getting into the high 80’s everyday. In fact Tampa set a record for the hottest February ever, the high each day averaged 10o F above normal.

On Monday we needed to  leave our campsite since there was another camper with reservations arriving that day. We had hoped to stop at Paul & Helen’s after we took a 14 mile ride on the trail from Floral City to Inverness and return, but they were tied up so we did a lot of grocery shopping and spent the night in a Walmart in Silver Springs.

We got an early start on Tuesday and decided to paddle the Silver River which starts at the big spring where the glass bottom boats can tour around the Spring. Two years ago we did this and Peggy was sad that it did not seem like the river we always paddled before it became a State Park. I thought it might have been that we were there right after a heavy storm and the water was cloudy.

ManateeSilver RiversThis year it was great. More birds then we saw anywhere on our trip this year. The water was very clear and you could see big fish near the bottom of the 25’ deep river. Peggy thought there was more grass on the bottom but maybe that’s what attracted the Manatees. How in the world did they get here, it has to be over 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean? I believe this young Manatee was born and will spend his whole here in the nice 72oF water of the Silver River. Over the years we always started the trip in a roadside park near the confluence of the river. This makes a 2 hour relatively hard upstream paddle in the swift current using the eddies to move upstream. It only takes and hour to get back. We didn’t see any monkeys this year, maybe the park has finally removed this evasive species from the river corridor.

There is a State Park here but the river access requires a one mile walk to get to a dock, a long carry or pull cart, but I found out they now rent kayaks right at the head of the Spring and also allow you to put in a private boat for a fee. I believe it’s $2/person to enter the park and $4 a boat to put-in there. This would allow you to paddle the 5 miles entirely downstream if you had a shuttle back or paddle down and back a few miles since the prettiest part of the river is closer to the source. So I still recommend this river as a great FL paddling experience.Silver Springs-FL

Juniper Springs River TrailWe got to Juniper Springs about 1 PM and had no trouble getting a nice campsite. We paddled the river twice in December but really like the challenging winding 7 mile long paddle. The park runs a reverse shuttle where you take your vehicle to the end and they provide the driver a ride back for only $10. I took the RV down about 8:30 AM and we were the only one on the river with our early start. We had lunch in our RV at the take-out. This is not a river to paddle on weekends. Hundreds of boats with lots of swimmers due to the narrow winding river.

We are now slowly moving North, we decided to head up to Northern FL to Ocean Pond Campground in Osceola National Forest. Peggy likes it because they have electric power & water along with good cell service & TV reception, Ocala NF is more wild but has great private campsites and shower faculties.