Happy New Year from the Florida Keys

Happy New Year! We’ve been continuing to bask in the warmth of the southern Florida winter weather. Here in the Keys we’ve enjoyed temperatures in the 70s and 80s while thinking about our friends and family in the Midwest and in Prescott who are enduring typical winter weather.

We know we are so lucky to be here, especially since finding an RV site is so difficult in the Keys. We had to work to piece together our reservations this time of year. Thus, we’ve jumped around a few times over the last few weeks.

We were able to book four nights at the newest KOA around. The Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA was severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has been under renovation ever since. The newly opened, completely reconstructed campground features a beautiful pool, a pub, full service marina, and all new facilities.

We kayaked right from the resort, and Steve got in some good fishing in the channel next to camp. We also took advantage of the easy-to-access Overseas Heritage Trail to get in some good runs and bike rides along the water. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine too!

New Years Eve took us to nearby Mangrove Mama’s for a drink and then back to the KOA to enjoy a local band. As usual, we didn’t make it to midnight but it was still a fun evening with lots of festivities to enjoy.

After our time at the KOA we drove about 20 minutes north along the Overseas Highway to one of Florida’s premier state parks. Getting a campsite at Bahia Honda is like winning the lottery and we scored four nights. With some of the few beaches in the Keys and breathtaking views, this is the kind of place you never want to leave. 

A highlight of the park is the broken bridge, a remnant of the park’s beginnings when Henry Flagler’s railway arrived on the key in 1908 en route to Key West. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane swept a train off the tracks, destroyed miles of rail lines, and seriously damaged the bridge. The railroad never ran again. The bridge found new life when they laid a concrete slab on top and opened it to cars. Now it’s a picturesque viewpoint from which to watch the sunset and a silhouette that makes for great photos.

Like at the KOA, we never left Bahia Honda while we were there, except to run the trail and to kayak the bay. Steve did some good fishing under the bridge pylons. If we can get reservations here again, we’ll jump on them!

We headed back towards Key West after this incredible stay and will report on that time in the next post. Spoiler alert: it includes appearances from our friends Tom and Nancy and a few more spectacular sunsets.

Gulf State Park – One of the Best!

In our travels over the past few years we’ve made a point of staying at state parks. We’ve found them to have more interesting features (trails, lakes, views) while being less expensive than private campgrounds. Most state parks are great but we think we’ve found the very best!

Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama impressed us from the first minute and we were sorry when the time came to move on.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico along the relatively small swatch of land that is the Alabama coastline, Gulf State Park encompasses two miles of white sand beach and over 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks. Oh, and they have one of the best campgrounds we’ve seen, with nearly 500 full hook up sites.

During our 11 days at the park we checked out just about every trail (some multiple times) and met some of the local wildlife along the way. The park is home to deer, armadillos, snakes (including one that visited our campsite), alligators, bald eagles, gopher tortoises, and much more.

It was easy to just head out and cover 10-15 miles on the bike, something we haven’t found at other parks we’ve visited. With no traffic to deal with, biking was a blast! Along the way there are benches that offer encouragement, pay respects, or recognize those who have contributed to the park.

Steve got in some long runs in preparation for the Space Coast Marathon next week and I even got in some runs. Paths like this made it easy to just keep going!

On a few days we took our Bote kayaks out to the nearby protected bay and paddled the bayous and waterways. The weather was a perfect 68-75 degrees the entire time we were there.

Gulf State Park also has plenty of amenities, many of which we never got around to using. There’s a long fishing pier, a swimming pool, a nature center, restaurant, and lots more. This is the kind of place you could just keep coming back to.

We also used the time take care of business like getting an oil change, buying a hoist for the generator, and getting a pedicure. Our days here were full but leisure-filled with no rush to get anywhere or do anything in particular.

Several times we ventured east to the Florida/Alabama border and one of our favorite bars, the Florabama. We visited this legendary watering hole and music venue last year and loved it. Gulf State Park is just about seven miles away, so we had to stop in for some music a few times while in the area.

Mostly we just enjoyed being in a beautiful place, doing the things we love to do.

We’re now in Destin, FL to pay a visit to the headquarters of Bote. We love these kayaks so much we had to see where they came from and pick up a few accessories. The sunsets here are pretty spectacular too!

We’ll post another update once Steve’s next race is over. Cape Canaveral, here we come!

Fayetteville is My Favorite ‘Ville’

Fayetteville is very cool! Our primary draw to this area was to attend the US Trail Running Conference and participate in the Spartan Trail US championship races. But there’s so much more. 

We camped at a new campground, Hog Valley RV & Treehouse Resort, just 10 minutes from downtown Fayetteville, which gave us easy access to the University of Arkansas, a great downtown area, and Kessler Mountain Regional Park, which is well known for its hiking and biking trails. Kessler Mountain Park is where we started.

We hadn’t been here an hour before we set out on the trails to explore where our races would be held the following weekend. The fall colors made for a spectacular hike. And check out those bike trails! We are certainly not in Prescott anymore!

We had a few good days during the week in which to explore Fayetteville, and we took in some live music at George’s Majestic Lounge, which seems to be the place in town. In the process we discovered a great new band, The Arcadian Wild. Check them out!

Then the rain began. It rained and blew and turned cold for three days. We enjoyed one day in the trailer just listening to the rain, reading, and hanging out.

Rain and more rain…Brr…

By the second day we were ready to explore. Despite the weather we headed up to Bentonville where we visited last year. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is one of the most incredible art museums we’ve ever seen, and a rainy day was the perfect invitation to explore it again.

Luckily, the bad weather cleared for the weekend and our race activities. On Saturday we attended a conference for trail runners, which provided us with some new perspectives about the sport.

The big event was Sunday morning which greeted us with clear skies and cool but tolerable weather. I ran the 10K and while I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t last. It feels good to be able to take on challenges like this again after two foot surgeries last year. 

Steve took on the challenge of the 50K, which is about 31 miles of running on trails. He’s done one race like this before, the Whiskey Basin Trail Run in Prescott which is 54 miles.

Still, the Arkansas hills, with many rocks, roots, and wet leaves proved to be a challenging event. He finished the course in about 7 1/2 hours and only suffered a skinned knee and some sore muscles. Now Arkansas is counted as another state where he’s finished a marathon or more. Only 27 more states to go! Next up is a marathon in Florida in a few weeks!