Archive for the ‘Kayaking/canoeing’ Category

Florida mangroves create tunnel vision

January 4, 2010

Diane on the well-marked paddling trail

When Wessel suggested we take our kayaks and paddle among the mangrove islands at Weedon Island Preserve in Florida, my first thought was: we’ll get hopelessly lost for days and have to drink saltwater and eat alligator meat (after hunting them with our pocket knives).

I’d read that the state preserve (north of St. Petersburg on Tampa Bay) has two marked paddle trails. But I also know how easy it is to get turned around on the water, especially when all you see are water, sky, and outcroppings of mangrove trees.

A great blue heron waits for us to pass

As usual, Wessel convinced me to put my life in his hands, and off we went, our two Florida-based kayaks crammed into the Honda Civic (one on top, one out the rear), while I had to smoosh myself into a corner of the back seat. You can also rent kayaks right at the preserve through Sweetwater Kayaks.

Ibis colony along Papy’s Bayou

We chose the four-mile loop trail (the South Paddling Trail) over the two-mile up-and-back one. And, surprise, surprise, the trail wasn’t just marked, it was WELL marked. Even I, who can get turned around in my own neighborhood, was able to follow the sign posts, close to 40 of them. What a thrill! Thank you, Weedon Island!

After putting in next to the fishing pier, we crossed a little bit of the bay, then headed into the islands, paddling through several saltwater ponds and over seagrass beds and mudflats. As soon as we saw one marker, we’d look for the next. Sometimes they were a bit tucked away, but we never missed one.

Diane finds her way through the mangrove tunnel with half a kayak paddle

We saw a few jumping fish, great blue herons, egrets, and ibises. The real excitement was the mangrove tunnels, created by the trees and their exposed roots growing so close together that they form a canopy over tidal creeks. At times the passageway was so narrow we had to pull our detachable paddles apart and use only half. This is not the place to be when the bugs were out. In late December, no problem.

Wessel makes his way through mangroves

About a third of the way we pulled ashore at a little park for a picnic, the only stopping place along the trail. That little diversion would have been thoroughly pleasant had I not dumped a digital camera into the water while docking my boat. (Argh……..) The photos were saved, but not the camera.

The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip was along Papy’s Bayou, an area of deeper and open water, where we were greeted by cavorting dolphins. Thrilling! We can’t wait to return — next time with the waterproof camera.

Salida’s secret is out by now

August 13, 2009

I wrote this story for the Boston Globe in 2006. While I wouldn’t say that Salida is a household word, its secret is out.  So, now, I can tell the world!

SALIDA, Colo. The threats came in before I even arrived in Denver.

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

“Tell her to bury that story,” advised a colleague of the friend I was planning to visit in the Mile High City and take along on a weekend getaway 145 miles to the southwest. When I met said colleague, the first words out of his mouth, only half-jokingly, were, “I’m part of that group asking you not to write about Salida.” Wow, I hadn’t known there was an entire posse trying to keep a lid on things. Perhaps they’d missed Outside magazine’s declaration two years ago that Salida is an “American Dream Town.” So let it be known that I am not the spoiler, or at least not the only one.

It is true, though, that there are still a good number of people who have never heard of Salida (pronounced suh-LIE-duh). Even many Coloradans pass by without stopping, though the town is only a short detour from the highway. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Kayaker in white water of Arkansas River

Whitewater aficionado tests the Arkansas River right in downtown Salida

The whitewater folks, however, are in the know. In the summer, when the Arkansas River is racing, more than a dozen rafting and kayaking operators spring to life in Chaffee County. And every June, about 10,000 visitors triple Salida’s population for the Blue Paddle FIBArk Whitewater Festival (“FIBArk” stands for First in Boating on the Arkansas River). Arguably the country’s top whitewater event, the fest draws the sport’s stars, who come to race and trick out on the rushing waters. Depending on when you visit, you can experience rapids from a nothing Class I to a menacing Class V. Salida is but one of the stops along the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a 148-mile linear park of riverbanks and river.

Whitewater is center stage in the city-run kayakers’ “play park,” officially the Arkansas River Whitewater Park and Greenway, where from bleachers set up for spectators you can watch those maniacs play in the rapids, roll upside-down over and over, and get water up their noses. (You can’t tell me those plugs really work.)

Friend Kelley reaches the top during a ride outside Salida

Friend Kelley rejoices at the end of her mountain climb during a ride near Salida

Luckily one doesn’t have to be a paddler to enjoy Salida’s riches. My friend and I, who get white-knuckled even thinking about whitewater, merrily eliminated going down the stream. Instead, we cycled, strolled, shopped, dined, and generally made ourselves at home in this incredibly congenial town. We discovered that the abundance of friendly folks wasn’t a show for the sake of commerce. Even the locals talk about how friendly the locals are, and many compare unpretentious Salida with snootier Colorado towns.

“In Aspen and Vail people want you to know they know everyone and have been everywhere. Here, you just know they have, but they don’t need to tell you,” said Jeff Schweitzer, who with his chef wife, Margie Sohl, owns Laughing Ladies Restaurant, arguably the best dining in town. The night we ate in the small, cheery establishment, Schweitzer toured the room several times, chatting with diners he knew, which seemed to be half the room, while passersby would wave from the sidewalk to friends inside.

Buildings in dowtown dating from the heyday in the late 19th century

Most of downtown dates to the late 1800s

Modern-day Salida plays up its appeal to tourists and relocating retirees, but back in the 1880s, the city boomed for being top post on the main line of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The railroad left in 1950, but mining kept things going until the bust in the 1980s. Despite the recent influx of tourists and new residents, ranching and agriculture remain a mainstay. Signs of both worlds are charmingly evident on downtown streets, as old pickup trucks with ranch mutts barking from the back pass by SUVs sporting shiny bicycles and brightly colored kayaks on their roof racks.

The compact downtown is wonderfully down to earth, not yet having fallen victim to chain stores and developers. Virtually every building in the historic section is more than 100 years old and made of red brick, thanks to a town code that was enacted after fires in the late 1880s destroyed much of the city. We looked out for Victorian homes along side streets, and looked up inside every building we entered. Yep, we’d nod, another gorgeous tin ceiling.

Pauline Brodeur in her art gallery on 151 West 1st Street

Paulette Brodeur in her eclectic art gallery

Salida is building a reputation for its artwork as much as for its outdoor play. Monthly receptions (second Saturdays) have brought the dozen galleries together, and a large three-day art festival among the shops has been held in June for the past 14 years. We were particularly fond of Culture Clash for its mix of works from regional artisans, The Bungled Jungle for its menagerie of crazy creatures, and Brodeur Art Gallery for its amazing mix of media all from one font of creativity, Paulette Brodeur. She had a great show up called “Adventures in Salida,” or, as she put it, “what makes Salida Salida,” with contemporary impressionist paintings of cyclists, kayakers, mountains, and more. Brodeur also decorates lampshades, makes jewelry, and paints funky pet portraits. She even turned her father’s old bomber jacket and her mother’s dilapidated fringe coat into sculptures.

“When I moved here 12 years ago Salida was a ghost town,” said Brodeur, who lives a ways east in rural Cotopaxi. “There wasn’t even a coffee shop. The growth has been gradual. I think this is going to be the year. I love being here and meeting all the people. But when it tips to what I don’t like, I’m outta here.”

If this isn’t “the year” for Salida, it could be 2009, the projected time for environmental artists Christo and Jeanne Claude’s next installation. The pair have a project in the works to hang dancing fabric over eight segments of the Arkansas River, for a total of 7 miles between Canon City and Salida. It’s still in the approval process, but, if it happens, the two-week exhibit is estimated to attract some 250,000 visitors.

But, as that posse from Denver would say, don’t tell anyone.

One wiener dog is never enough

February 26, 2009
Sabrina feels totally comfy in almost any situation

Sabrina wastes no time getting comfy in her new home

Following the wiener-dog lover’s credo of “you can’t have just one,” Wessel and I adopted 8-year-old Sabrina from Dachshund Rescue a few months after my late, great Lucy met her maker. Roxy, my 14-year-old angel, took it all in stride. That was a year ago this weekend. We loved Sabrina immediately, but we had a problem. She weighed in at 18 pounds, when she should have been much less. At the time I wrote: “She’s a porker. An overstuffed sausage. A block o’ dach.”

Pet portret Q-kitty (left), Sabrina the Briener, Roxy the Doxy

Pet portrait: Q-kitty, 'Briner the Wiener, and Roxy (the foxy doxy with moxy)

Being overweight is good for no one, but for the wiener dog it can be fatal, as their short legs and loooong backs aren’t made to carry a big load. So, as I recounted in “The Biggest Loser: Wiener Dog Style” entries (part 1, part 2, part 3), we put ‘Briner the Wiener (hat’s off to Krispy for our favorite moniker) on a breakthrough diet. You know the one: eat less, exercise more. For months now, Sabrina has been holding steady at a svelte 12 pounds. She looks mahvelous.

Roxy and Sabrina are completely relaxed during a kayak trip in Virginia

Roxy and Sabrina take a break from their naps during a kayak trip in Virginia

Sabrina has fit right in with the family, too. One minute she’s playfully barking at and chasing Q-Kitty, while the next they’re side by side on a pillow. She even allows Q to give her a Q Signature Tongue Bath on the top of her head. As for Roxy, unless she and Sabrina are arguing over who gets what treat first, they get along swimmingly. Not that they like to swim, but they do love to go kayaking.

Sabrina shows off her new obedience skills during the graduation ceremony

"Sit... stay.... good girl!" Sabrina earns her graduation cap at PetSmart ceremony

During our first glorious year together, I had one more challenge for Sabrina: learning a few manners. Sabrina wasn’t out of control, but she wasn’t controllable either. Taking a dog to obedience class is one of the best ways to bond with your pet, plus dogs like to know the rules. Thanks to Rhonda at the Durham PetSmart and us doing our homework, Sabrina became a model student. Her “sit-and-stay” is smashing, though her “come” can admittedly use a little work. Still, Sabrina was a star pupil and absolutely earned her diploma in “beginner education.” Not only can you teach an old dog new tricks, they can teach you stuff, too. Like, you’re never too old to fall in love. Happy anniversary, Sabrina!

She lights up my life with best-ever baseball cap

February 16, 2009

I used to think the headlamp was the world’s greatest  invention. No more holding a flashlight while trying to do things with your hands. Now there’s something equally exciting, less expensive, and more comfortable — a baseball cap with LED lights in it.

Nancy Jordan with headlamp during Girls getaway in the 1990s

Nancy Jordan (foreground) dons headlamp during "Girls 24," circa 1997

My friend Nancy Jordan, purveyor of all things camping, was the first to impart her wisdom about the L.L. Bean Pathfinder LED Cap. Sure, it helps that she lives “on “in Cape” — that’s Cape Elizabeth, Maine, to you non-locals, which is only a hop, ski, and a jump to L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport. But, also, Nance just has the knack for these things. First it was the headlamp. Then, during one of our “Girls 24” getaways with pal Kristin Thalheimer, Nance set up her folding canvas camping chair, another amazing invention we’d never seen before which is now ubiquitous. Kristin and I were so envious that Nance got us each one for the next getaway.

Reading books in the dark. One of teh many uses of the baseball cap with LED lights

Reading in the dark is one of the many uses of this baseball cap with LED lights

This year, Nance was at it again, giving Kristin and me baseball caps that light up. I’ve had mine less than a month and already have used it for grilling, reading in bed when Wessel wanted lights off, bicycling at night (under my helmet) and participating in a search for a lost wiener dog. (The dang dachshund was hanging out under a bed all along.)  I don’t even usually wear baseball caps. Nance, you get another feather in yours.

Wessel got an orange Pathfinder LED Cap

Wessel rakes leaves in his fashionable cap

Of course Wessel had to have a Pathfinder, too, so we got him an orange one, to honor the Dutch national color. Mine is a subdued tan color.

While a headlamp has more features, the caps don’t slide off your head and bonk your nose, and the elastic band doesn’t wear off. And, let’s face it, they’re a whole lot more fashionable. And warmer, too. Oh, and I did I mention the price? A mere $20. There’s a little replaceable battery inside the band, which you can’t feel on your head at all. I don’t think you should give up on headlamps, but the caps offer the perfect camping (and more!) complement.

Because it was Nancy who introduced us to these, I predict they will sweep the nation. No, the world!

On *not* swimming with manatees

February 1, 2009
Manatee and her calf swim near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee and her calf swim near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

My piece on *not* swimming with manatees, but instead going on a kayak trip near their sanctuaries, ran on the front of the Boston Globe’s travel section today. Coincidentally, it came out a week after a New York Times’ Escapes-section story on swimming with manatees that did not even mention the controversy around intruding into the natural life of a wild creature, much less an endangered one. That breaks my heart.

With the Times’ reach, it would have been so meaningful to impart even a little bit of that information. Also, to my eye, the photo the Times ran makes it look like the guide is holding the manatee in place (strictly forbidden) so the snorkelers have time to photograph and pet it. Very sad, if not illegal. 

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

As I wrote here last month, the highlight of our Crystal River, Fla., manatee-themed trip was the “Do Not Disturb” kayak tour sponsored by Save the Manatee Club and led by guide Matt Clemons, owner of Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co.

It just so happened that Steve Sapienza, the Florida sales rep for Washington-state kayak maker Eddyline, landed in town that week for the winter. He came on the kayak tour to help out his pal Matt. Steve has a water-resistant camera, and whenever manatees would come near us, he’d simply place his hand underwater and shoot. I was amazed to see the outcome! Steve was thrilled that the Globe ended up putting his mother/calf photo on the Travel section front, and he’s letting us use his photos here as well.

Manatee almost touches Wessel`s kayak

Manatee almost touches Wessel`s kayak

This made us think that we must get Wessel a water resistant camera! Nonetheless, Wessel did an outstanding job of photographing the gentle giants from above.

I heard from Globe reader Jason Viola, who said he was happy to see a story that focused on not swimming with the manatees. Jason draws “Herman the Manatee,” a manatee comic strip, of all things, and sent me this one that reflects his similarly conflicted feelings about getting in the water with the creatures he so loves.

A bird’s guide to drip-drying

January 26, 2009

Double-crested cormorant (adult non-breeding plumage) is drying its wings

Wessel gives us this dispatch from Florida:

Kayaking has become one of our favorite pastimes over the past two years. It’s pleasant because it allows a look at the world from a different much lower angle at a pace that’s much slower than usual. Probably because of this much humbler behavior wildlife seems to tolerate kayaking humans better than humans in walking or cycling mode. During our last visit to Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., in December we ventured out on the Intracoastal Waterway. That is to say we stayed on the sidelines, to keep a safe distance from the actual Intracoastal Highway where boats speed by and create impressive wakes.


The full drying stretch

There’s a surprising amount of wildlife. On our trip we saw great blue herons, egrets, and even a dolphin. I tried to take a photo of the dolphin but it tricked me swimming in random directions during 20-25 second dives before re-emerging. I was much more successful with a cormorant perched on a pole with its wings stretched and exposed to the sun. Apparently cormorants need to dry their plumage because they do not have oil in their skin to protect their feathers from getting wet like ducks and other water birds do.

Cormorant's green eyes

Cormorants have intense green eyes

I am a casual bird watcher and didn’t know  much about cormorants. Someone had recently mentioned that cormorants have intense green eyes. This can be seen when the photo is enlarged. When reading about cormorants I learned that the green part is the iris. The extremely constricted pupil is as small as the head of a pin and is hardly visible in my photo. Many other diving birds (e.g. penguins, loons, grebes) also have intensely colored eyes, in all cases due to a combined effect of iris color and constricted pupil. The pupil dilates to a large aperture in the low-light conditions underwater. Unfortunately I don’t have photos to prove that statement.

Manatee mania in Florida

January 6, 2009
Mother and baby manatee as seen from bridge

Mother and calf manatee as seen from a bridge in Crystal River, FL

“Oh how beautiful, oh baby. Hey baby.”

I cracked up when I heard a fellow kayaker say that to a manatee. These sea creatures are huge, with wrinkly noses that look like a elephant’s snout without a trunk. From above, their bodies look like, well, giant floating turds. But they do have that “hey, baby” effect on people. On Wessel and me, too.

We couldn’t get enough of the mammals last month in Florida, when we went to Citrus County, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico, which could be renamed Manateeland, USA. Crystal River/Kings Bay is the winter home to hundreds of manatees. When the weather cools down, manatees, which need warm water to survive gather at the natural springs in the Crystal River area, which maintain a water temperature of 72 degrees (22°C) year round.

Manatee as Christmas tree ornament

Manatee as Christmas tree decoration

We saw manatee signs, trinkets, mailboxes, license plates, statues, Christmas decorations, and, of course, the celebrities themselves. We watched rehabilitated captive manatees being fed (they’re herbivores) at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, viewed groups of them, often a mother and calf, from a bridge in Crystal River, and were surrounded by them during our “Do Not Disturb” kayak trip through Save the Manatee Club. Having a manatee glide right under your kayak just below the water is quite the experience!! The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.

Matt Clemons (standing) during kayak trip convinced Diane to not swim with manatees

Matt Clemons (standing) during kayak trip convinced Diane to not swim with manatees

Our trip was led by one of the state’s top manatee advocates, Matt Clemons of Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company, which donates 50 percent of the cost of the trip to Save the Manatee Club. In some ways, the manatees are being loved to death. There are now a slew of outfitters that take people out to snorkel around them, which means a couple dozen humans are descending on a pod of manatees. Some people say that the playful creatures initiate touching and appreciate human contact. Others say that touching manatees, even when the manatee goes first, upsets their natural balance in many ways unnoticed by the average person. Worse, they say, some snorkelers all out harass the endangered species, chasing them, blocking them, and even trying to ride them. I’ll be writing about this more in my upcoming story about them for the Boston Globe.

As I told Matt, I was annoyed with him because before I started reading up on the issue on his and the Save the Manatee website, I was very excited to “swim with the manatees.” Though I’d wanted to do it for years, I did have a nagging feeling all the while that it seem quite right. Matt and others confirmed that hunch, damn them!

Diane `swims` with manatee

Diane `swims` with the manatees after all

Actually, Wessel and I did end up swimming with the manatees, but not really in the conventional way, as you can see here. We also “adopted” Lily, a lovely lady who lives in Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. We didn’t make it to visit her this trip, because I needed to spend time with human relatives, but it’s on the list. If you’re interested in seeing manatees, here are some great spots to go in Florida. Just view from afar, please! And click here to see more of Wessel’s amazing manatee photos.

Tampa’s Super Bowl antidote

December 9, 2008
The Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa

The Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa

While Clearwater and St. Petersburg beaches grab most of tourists’ attention in Pinellas County, one of the area’s environmental and cultural jewels sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa. So if you’re Super-Bowl bound next month, make sure to add Weedon Island Preserve to your agenda. Because you have to do something other than watch football and drink beer, right? (Don’t answer that.)

The Weedon Island Preserve offers two paddling trails

The kayak and canoe launch from where two paddling trails start

Situated along the shore of Tampa Bay, the park covers 3,700 acres of protected land set among mangrove stands and sabal palm. Wheelchair-accessible boardwalks and 3 miles of hiking trails with picnic areas lead walkers throughout the preserve while two water trails take paddlers around mangroves and over open shallow waters and seagrass and oyster beds. Kayak and canoe rentals are available, so you have no excuse.

The fishing pier is popular with locals, while visitors won’t want to miss the 45-foot observation tower. The last time we were there, with Wessel’s parents, they spotted an armadillo. Big excitement for them! The preserve also is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, and you’ll see birders wandering about with their life lists or whatever they call those things.

The Cultural and Natural History Center opened in the fall of 2002 and has an observation deck

The Cultural and Natural History Center opened in the fall of 2002 and has an observation deck

History and culture get their due here as well, at the beautifully designed information and exhibition center. Try to go when the center is open (hours below) because the exhibits are great. So are the restrooms and water fountains, though maybe those are outside of the center. Oops. I can’t remember. A permanent exhibit installed last year explores the watershed ecology and the island’s history, which included ancient Indian cultures and even Prohibition speakeasies, of all things. In May 2008, a 45-foot canoe buried for about 10 centuries was found buried in mud on the preserve. Archeologists are still trying to determine how best to excavate it. Of course they’re not telling us where it is.

The Preserve has mangrove swamps with tidal creeks

The Preserve has mangrove swamps with tidal creeks

Weedon Island rangers and volunteers run a lot of programs — hiking, bird watching, photography, canoeing, and more, and you don’t have to be a resident to partake. So get out from the behind the big-screen TV and stretch your legs in natural Florida.

Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, 1800 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-453-6500, The preserve is open dawn to dusk daily, while the center is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except holidays.

New River’s old-timey pleasures in Appalachia

August 27, 2008
New River Trail State Park (Click to ENLARGE)

New River Trail State Park (Click to ENLARGE)

For years I’d been hearing about the New River Trail State Park, the highlight of which is a 57-mile-long crushed-gravel rail trail that for 39 miles parallels the New River in southern Virginia. Wessel and I had a chance to finally check it out last weekend when we were in the mountains of northwest North Carolina doing research for my book “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” (Despite its name, the New River is considered by some geologists to be one of the oldest in the world, between 10 million and 360 millions years old.)

Morning fog shrouds the New River

Morning fog shrouds the New River

We camped Friday and Saturday nights in Sparta, NC, right along the water at the lovely New River Campground, a small, private campground that accommodates tents and campers, with tents being well separated from the RVs. Hooray!! They also rent canoes and kayaks. I made one of my dumbest mistakes ever by mapping a “nearby” New River outfitter with an almost identical web address. Driving there, we went a good 20 mountain miles out of way, and our cell phones (ATT) didn’t have signals. Lo and behold, the one driver I could flag down for help was returning from dinner to his campsite — at New River Campground. How lucky was that?! So back we went, happy to finally pitch our tent just before dark.

Sunday we drove the 20 or so miles to Galax, Va., the southern end of the trail, which officially starts northeast of there in Pulaski. Galax, pronounced GAY-lax, is a former manufacturing town of 7,000 that still seems pretty depressed beyond its very spruced up historic Main Street area. That strip was deadsville on a Sunday morning, so we didn’t get to see it in action nor eat at the famed Galax Smokehouse.

Barn along the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Barn nearby Galax, VA along the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Galax is one of the best known stops along The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It’s home to the Old Fiddler’s Convention, a famed traditional music convention since 1935, and the Blue Ridge Music Center, a few miles away on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had breakfast at the best choice, Aunt Bea’s, a fast-food crossover that cooks the eggs and meat, but serves it up on Styrofoam. The clientele was very, very country.

Diane cycles on New River Trail

Diane cycles on the New River Trail (Click to ENLARGE)

Fully carbo-loaded, we hit the trail at 10 a.m. for six hours of cycling. We took our time and stopped often, so made it only 22 miles out and back, for 44 total. We were on touring road bikes. Hybrids or mountain bikes, with fatter tires, would be better on this trail, but we were fine. Confession: we didn’t wear helmets! But we did carry them, just in case we ended up needing to be on the road.

Horse camping along the New River Trail

Horse camping on the Cliffview Campground along the New River Trail

We passed several runners, walkers, and cyclists, including families and a Boy Scout troop. Horses are allowed on most of the trail, and though we saw signs of them, we didn’t meet up with any. We passed gorgeous meadows with barns glistening in the sun, shady wooded areas, rushing water, and picnic and waterfront camping areas, one with campsites for horses.

Wessel cycles on bridge across the New river

Wessel cycles on bridge across the New River

We loved cycling over the old railway trestles and many smaller bridges. We first started along Chestnut Creek and then the New River. We saw people and great blue herons fishing, while flocks of Canada geese hung around to watch. We took a side trail to the tiny riverfront town of Fries (“freeze”), which is slowly being discovered by retirees and second-home buyers. With its former textile manufacturing base decimated, I hope new arrivals and tourism save this lovely place. At mile 49.5, we stopped at Cliffview Ranger Station, which has a great little gift shop, indoor restrooms, and ice-cold water in its fountain.

It was a perfect day. Thanks to all the rail-trail advocates and the state of Virginia for providing such a beautiful trail and park.

That was a splashy book tour

February 20, 2008

Diane with dachshund Roxy in kayak on creek in southern Virginia; CLICK TO ENLARGEWessel and I like to do a little paddling, especially in Florida and at “Chiggerville,” our little patch of woods on the water in southern Virginia near Lake Gaston. But the most we’re usually in the boats is a couple hours.

My travel-writing colleagues Mary and Bill Burnham, on the other hand, are a bit nutso about kayaking. It’s one thing to live with your spouse or work with your spouse, but spending days on end in a tandem kayak with your spouse? That’s gotta be love. (They do seem pretty darn happy together.)

authors Bill & Mary BurnhamAnd now, after about a year of research, Bill and Mary came out with their nifty and very comprehensive “Florida Keys Paddling Atlas” (Falcon Guide, $34.95). To promote it, they went a little nutso again. This month they paddled 100 miles along the Keys, from Key Largo to Key West. They stopped at many bookstores during their two-week tour, as well as led “paddle-with-the-authors” tours.

Bill and Mary make their final stop (by car) at Cover to Cover Books in Key Largo, or Tavernier to be precise. If you’re in the area, stop by! It’s Friday February 22nd from 5:30 to 7:30, at 91272 Overseas Hwy, 305-853-2464. If you’re not free for that bit of merriment, you can share in their adventure by checking out the blog they kept along the way. It’s got great stories and beautiful Florida photos!