Thursday, May 12, 2016

Finding Saint Andrews State Park: Or When A Map Beats A GPS

Saint Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach seems to be THE surf spot, or at least for swells that come out of the east. This is where I found the most surfers congregated, once I finally found the park. I had stopped at the PCB Pier and found about 3 surfers out and one of them told me to make sure I checked out the park before I went home. I got back in the car, shirtless with a towel wrapped around me (this was important later) and plugged in the information into Googlemaps. About an hour later, I found myself pulling up to the guard gate at Tyndal Air Force base. The guard asked for my ID and I responded by saying, "My guess is that this is not the way to the Inlet?" He then put his hand on his sidearm and took my driver's license. The missus smiled and looked innocent next to me, but he was having none of that. He had me make a U-turn and then gave my license back, and finally took his hand off his gun. Man, I thought the towel had to be wrapped around your head to make those guys nervous!
He was no help in finding St. Andrews, but looking at the map gave us a clue. The state park actually encompasses the inlet and both sides of the pass. Unfortunately, there are no roads on the east side of the pass and the surrounding land belongs to Tyndal Air Force Base. So, the instructions would have worked if we had been in a boat. About 45 minutes later, we found the park and realized that we had somehow managed to spend most of our time in Panama City Rush Hour Traffic for naught, except to say that it still wasn't as bad as Orlando.
We made two trips to St. Andrews State Park and I was happy both times to pay the $8.00 admission fee. There is camping, fishing, and some hiking. Mostly, I was in love with the beautiful water and the way the waves formed there. I'm not so sure about the hiking, but they did have a saltwater marsh and something they called Alligator Lake. The water clarity is better than anything I know, in fact I still had a memory of it from when I was 14 and surfed for the first time at the PCB pier. Ponce Inlet and Sebastian Inlet can have nice blue water sometimes, but this place seems to always have it. It is something that seems magnified when you are standing up on a board out there.
The dunes are made of a whiter sand that looks more like what I remember from Cape Hatteras than from the Florida East Coast.
I've decided that Panama City is a place that I must return to, and this park is on my permanent list of places to see when I come back. I considered getting the missus to go the camping route, but she saw the mosquito spray truck in the park, so I know that is out of the question. I noticed that many of the surfers I sawing getting in and out of cars had camping permits on the windshield.
Great for long walks, birding, surfing, paddleboarding, kiteboarding and something else I've been seeing a lot of: guys with those parachutes and a big fan on their
backs. I'm not sure if I'm seeing the same two guys everywhere I go, or there are many of them and they travel in twos.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Going Minimalist

I finally came up with a rig that works for two of us and gets decent gas mileage. I can carry up to two paddleboards on the locking Thule racks on the Veloster and the Hobie Tandem Mirage Outfitter on the Yakima Rack and Roll trailer. With big paddleboard on top and the cargo box on the trailer loaded with gear, I managed a 24-25 average mpg on the backroads to Panama City Beach. I like traveling light and this rig forces you to do that. The next thing on my list of things to try is an inflatable paddleboard. I'm hoping to try one without buying it first.
I assembled the trailer from a kit that I got from and it really only took a few hours. The parts are of very good quality and it seems a lot of thought went into the engineering of the trailer...I sure hope so because of the high price. There really isn't much else like this for a small car that is not built for pulling a trailer. The only difference I really noticed in my Veloster was that I really needed to prepare for sudden stops. Even with the light weight, it took a bit more time for me to stop.
The Hobie Tandem was a decision we came to when we realized that there were times when Pam didn't have the energy to pedal and I could keep going. It's great, we don't yell too much at each other while out on the water. One cool thing about this kayak is that you can steer from the front OR the back, so I let Pam do the steering and I make sure that the pedaling gets done. The boat is significantly faster with two of us pedaling than me by myself paddling my old Hurricane kayak. We had no problem at all yesterday pedaling against the outgoing tide. The one thing I would have done differently is there is another model called the Adventure that is two feet longer and has a slightly different shape...same price. On ours, there is very little room to bring anything along, even lifejackets. On the other hand, I did want to travel light, and now I have to. The Hobie came from Travel Country and those guys are great for support and tips on fishing from Hobie kayaks.

What We Discovered At Pinnacle Point

Our next adventure was to take us to some old bungalow in Panama City Beach to try to recreate something I remembered from my very first attempt at surfing when I was at kid. Instead we ended up at a high rise condo in a gated community that looked as if it was part of the set for the Truman Show. This is Pinnacle Point at Panama City Beach and here is where I learned more about Ecology than I had ever planned.

Pinnacle Point appears to be a lush planned community built in the last 1970's and is still adding on. The condo portion of the property seems to have been there first and is nestled between the gulf of Mexico on one side and an inland lake on the other. My first guess was that the lake would be something more like an overflow pond, but it turned out to be large enough to make it a good place to paddle. What makes this interesting to us folks interested in Ecology, is that the government here has done something similar to upset the balance of nature that we saw down in south Florida recently: They decided to dredge out the opening where the lake meets the gulf.

Normally in nature, the lake is closed and only when there are storms or a lot of rain, does the lake or gulf breach the sand dunes to meet, but the dredging changed all that. Now it goes with the tides, and even if we think we are smarter than nature, we can see something going on that can't be good. When the tide in incoming, the water is clear and emerald green, when the tide is outgoing, the tannic acid colored fresh water runs out to meet the salt water. You can easily follow the color out into the gulf and down the beach. Even if you are the sort of person that believes that this can't cause any ecological harm, there is the harm to the condo owners who now have a beach water that looks like  the Mississippi  River.

On this small scale, you don't expect to see fish kills. On the other hand, in spite of all of the fishermen around, I did not see one fish caught. They were definitely waiting for the outgoing tide, but I have to wonder what kind of game fish like the brackish water...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Business Of Eating Healthy On The Road

The waitress was practicing her eye rolls while the missus extolled on how we eat. This came on the heels of a hard sell from the waitress about the $42.99 special at the Texas Roadhouse that came with enough food to feed an army.  The waitress listened to the explanation of how we normally don't eat this much red meat, much less order appetizers. Meanwhile, I am getting sideways glances from both of them. Most likely this was because I had a yeast roll in each hand and one in my mouth. Hey I have to get those carbs where I can, because they sure aren't allowed at home!
By the end of the meal, we both had to admit that this place had served us both a steak that was one of the best we've had and the whole experience was top notch. Not something I expected from a Texas Roadhouse in Panama City Beach. We had salads, ribeye steaks and baked potatoes. It was about the normal price for this area. I would definitely return to this place, if allowed....