I haven’t slept in a tent in nearly 20 years and yet on Friday May 14th I find myself at the KOA St. Petersburg preparing to spend the next two nights roughing it. By preparing, I mean helping set up a very nice, large tent that even has a screen porch. This appears to be much better accommodations than the old, used canvas tent I used in my early camping days.
After setting up camp, we decided to go to the Green Iguana for dinner, we knew we wouldn’t have the time or energy to cook our own food over an open flame the first night. Dinner was good and we took advantage of sitting in air conditioning since we would be spending the next couple of days in the great outdoor heat of Florida.
Saturday morning we awaken to a beautiful sunrise and chirping birds and are ready to embark on our first day of riding…but not before our morning coffee. My first time trying to light the camp stove failed, but I redeemed myself the next day. Mike quickly got the flame going and the coffee percolating on the propane powered stove. Now, consider this, I have all but kicked the caffeine habit this year and haven’t had a single cup of regular coffee in 5 months. I figured one cup wouldn’t kill me, so I helped myself to the freshly brewed java. I don’t recall if I ever drank percolated coffee so you can imagine my surprise when I took the last drink and the cup and found myself chewing on coffee grounds. Probably not the best way to reintroduce my body to caffeine, but I think it might have propelled me a little bit on the bike once we got started.
The KOA campground is located directly on the Pinellas Trail, a 34-mile rails-to-trails path that starts in south Pinellas County and goes north the the Greek sponging village of Tarpon Springs. Our plan was to ride from the campsite up to Tarpon Springs for lunch at one the wonderful eating establishments, many of which feature greek specialities and/or fresh seafood. The trail is alot of stop and go because it crosses over side streets, but it is a beautiful ride. Some areas have overpasses to cross over busy streets and that gives us our much-needed hill work.
We rode north passing by walkers, joggers, roller bladers, and other cyclists; everyone was friendly and smiling on this lovely day. After we passed through Clearwater, we were heading over one of the longest overpasses on the trail and a woman came up behind us on her bicycle and commented on Mike’s sandals. As she was passing me, she also mentioned my sandals. I told her I love my Keen’s and she responded by saying that she was thinking about purchasing a pair for RAGBRAI. My ears perked up like a dog who just heard the word “treat”! “RAGBRAI, are going to RAGBRAI? We’re going to RAGBRAI!”, I said, excited to meet someone else as crazy as we are. She said it would be her first time and a friend was urging her to be a part of her team. I told her to go back and talk to Mike about it because he was the expert. The next few miles we spent with Mike giving her loads of advice on logistics, food, weather, and all the other things that go along with a week long ride across the state of Iowa.
She said she was riding up to Tarpon and wold be happy to show us how to get into town a little safer than on the trail. She also mentioned a little chapel she would like to show us, if we had time. Since the chapel was called the Shrine of St. Michael, we certainly couldn’t resist. As we wound our way through an area of Tarpon neither of us had ever seen, she lead us to a little chapel at the corner of Grand and Hope. It was a beautiful little place with stained glass windows, candles, icons and other religious artifacts.
We sat in silence for a few minutes and then went back out into the Florida heat and sunshine. I asked her about the little pressed metal ornaments hanging on a string, but she wasn’t quite sure what they were, just some sort of icons. Mike ended up asking a gentleman who was in the chapel what they were and he learned they are pressed tins with images of people, body parts, and other symbols. For just $3 each you can buy one, rub it with blessed oil and hang it under a picture of St. Michael to ask for help in healing. When Mike saw the images of arms, he just had to buy a left one, and a right one for good luck. He also bought an extra left one and carried it in his jersey pocket. What a serendipitous find! It was almost like we were meant to meet this woman and she was meant to lead us to a healing chapel, all while Mike is doing everything possible to heal his broken shoulder.
The chance meeting of this woman who is also doing RAGBRAI was a happy accident also. As we were talking outside of The Shrine of St. Michael, she mentioned that she is a motivational speaker and author specializing in women’s leadership subjects. I felt like I was destined to meet her and that somehow, sometime, this chance meeting will bring a new and exciting opportunity into my life. Her name is Fawn Germer and I have already purchased and started reading three of her books. Her blog is wonderful, and I feel very fortunate to have met her and hope to continue to stay in touch. In the little time we spent with her I could tell she has a positive attitude and sees the value in many things. She seems to be a very real person who embraces her flaws and has the determination to do anything in her life. I admire her and look forward to learning from her as I continue to explore what to do with the rest of my life.
After leaving the Chapel, Fawn rode us into Tarpon Springs and recommended Rusty Bellie’s for lunch (where we parted ways with her, but hopefully only temporarily). The restaurant was great, we enjoyed the delicious food and the view of the water. We were able to lock our bikes very close to where we were sitting so we didn’t have to worry about their safety.
After lunch we took a side trip (Fawn’s suggestion) to Howard Park and added about 9 miles to our ride. The streets weren’t terribly bike friendly, but we managed to arrive safe and sound to a causeway and beach brimming with people enjoying the weather. We stopped briefly to chat with a guy who sells Akwakats – a kit to convert your bike frame into a pedal-powered boat. It looked like a lot of fun, the kit itself is manufactured in New Zealand and can be purchased in the U.S. for about $1500. I would like to try one, but probably wouldn’t invest the money as I am perfectly happy riding my bicycle on land.
Back on the Trail we headed to Dunedin where we knew we would stop for some much needed refreshments. In the past we have stopped at a Jamaican restaurant/bar that is fabulous, but this time we decided to try something different. Earlier in the day we had stopped at the farmers market in Dunedin and noticed a little bar on the corner called Skips. It had a fairly bland outside, but the bicycle protruding from the front of the building over the door had intrigued us, so we planned on stopping. Inside was dark and an extremely contrast from the brightness out in the sun. The air conditioning was working very well and we were thankful for that. We bellied up to the bar and I ordered a Strongbow cider and Mike asked for a Yuengling draft. Once served, he said it was the coldest beer he had ever tasted, almost too cold to drink, yet a welcome refreshment. We sipped our drinks and chatted with the bar tender who gave us several recommendations for additional stops on our ride.
We managed to ride the remaining 15 miles without stopping for refreshments. I know, hard to believe. Back at the campsite we cracked open a couple of beers and headed to the pool and hot tub. After a refreshing swim, we prepared our dinner over an open fire and scarfed down the delicious food. A couple of drinks later and we were turning in for the night, tired, but feeling good about our 67 miles.
Waking up to a gorgeous sunrise over the water, we made coffee again (I managed to light the stove correctly this time), and then packed up our camping gear before embarking on the day’s ride. We started a little later than we planned and had to rush to get to the breakfast stop before 11am. On the recommendation of Karen at Skip’s, we stopped at the Dunedin American Legion for their $5 breakfast and $1 bloody marys. From 9-11am on Sunday mornings, the Legion serves 2 eggs cooked to order, toast, hashbrowns, biscuit and sausage gravy, bacon, fresh fruit, coffee and juice for $5. It was quite possibly the best breakfast either one of us had ever eaten. The bacon was thin and super crisp and I was thankful Mike doesn’t eat bacon so I could have his 2 slices. Even the bloody mary was delicious and I have never been able to drink one since I don’t really like tomato juice. We are now completely enamored by this breakfast and are both sad and grateful that we live a distance away from the Legion.
With full bellies we proceeded north on the trail to Ozona, another recommendation from Karen at Skip’s. We stopped at Molly Goodhead’s where the air conditioning was a welcome respite and the ice cold beer was served in frosted mugs. A couple of beers there and we were back on the bikes and heading south toward St. Pete. A few more stops on the way and soon we were back at the KOA enjoying the pool.
It was a great camping test for me, I hope I can do it in Iowa.