Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Tampa Adventure: Day 2

[Composed 5/20/2023]

The second day of our Tampa adventure began at about 12:15am when I heard a crash outside our tent. Of course, I wanted to ignore it, but I figured I better go take a look.

Outside I found a dark campsite, which was a bit surprising, as I'd intentionally left my improvised lantern on so that the kids could find the campsite should they step away for a nightime potty break. When I scanned the campsite for the missing light, I quickly realized the problem. I'd fashioned a lantern by attaching our recharagable air matress pump, which had a light on it, to a marshmallow roasting stick. I then duct taped the stick to a container of steel cut oats. The oats served as the perfect base to keep the light upright. It also served as the perfect bait to attract critters to the campsite, and that's exactly what had happened. A friendly raccoon had snatched the container of oats and dragged it, as well as the light, over to a nearby tree to feast on its discovery. Before bed I gave the kids a stern warning about leaving food out and how it would attract animals; and of course I hadn't put two and two together that this was exactly what I was doing.

I shined my flashlight at the raccoon and grimiced at it. He, or she, didn't care. It was as if the raccoon knew it was 12:15am and raising the alarm in a tightly packed campground wasn't really an option. After enough gesticulation, the raccoon finally decided to move on and scurried up a tree and disappeared into the canopy. I retreived the light and ravaged container of oats and put them both in the car for safe keeping.

The next morning, we had a delightful breakfast; the oats we ate in the morning had been soaked overnight, and weren't impacted by the raccoon incident the night before. After breakfast we started our first activity: fishing on the park's namesake river: Hillsborough River.

Fishing started off promising enough. We found a nice open area where I coudld safely teach the kids how to cast. All three kids picked up the skill quickly enough. The bottom of the river was absolutely packed with fish, just chilling. I believe these may be South American Armored Catfish that were first noted in the river in the 1990's. There were heaps of them, all just minding their own business.

After about 20 minutes of fishing, I got the sense this wasn't going to be our day. The catfish, as I expected, were completely uninterested in the nightcrawlers we were using. More surprising, the usual bluegill and sunfish where nowhere to be found. Even more problematic, the uber-cheap Zebco Slingshot Rod and Reels were failing us. The rod and reels themselves were actually OK, but the line they came spooled with was absolute garbage. In hindsight, this should have been expected. The problem with the low-grade line was that it would constantly tangle. The kids would cast a couple of times and then reel in a birds nest, which I'd have to cut out and retie their tackle. This would have tested the patience of even the most exerienced angler; these kids didn't stand a chance.

We hiked up the river a bit and tried a few different spots, but it was definitely not our day. The sweltering heat and humidity didn't help anyone's mood, either.

After lunch, we decided to try another activity in the park: we rented a canoe for the girls and a kayak for D and myself. If we couldn't fish Hillsborough River, at least we could boat it.

As we started our floating adventure, the attendant grabbed a canoe for Shira and the girls and dragged it into the water. T would sit up front and it was her job to be the first of all us to step into the seemingly unstable watercraft. She paused for a moment, and then gathered her courage and climbed in. I was proud of her for fearlessly stepping into the unknown. In short order, G was in the canoe, followed by Shira. They were off. D was up front in our kayak and I was in back. This was D's first time in a kayak and he quickly picked up the basics. He did manage to shovel a bunch of water into the boat, and in no time at all I was sitting in 3 inches of water. But, in hot the conditions, this felt good.

We cruised down the river, taking in the scenery, avoiding obstacles, watching the plentiful fish and calling out turtle and bird sightings. Most of all though, we kept our eyes peeled for gators. This being Florida, the river did not dissapoint. We saw aligators of every shape and size; from baby gators swimming in the water, to big guys warming on the shore, to ominous eyes pearing at us from just above the surface. It was awesome. I thought for sure the kids were going to be scared paddling alongside these powerful predators. But, they were fine with it. We all thoroughly enjoyed our trip on the river, and the kids got stories to take back to their parents about near misses with hungry gators.

After the boating, D and I did a bit more fishing and caught some tiny ones. D's got the perfect fisherman's attitude: give me just one more cast; all I need is one more cast to land my dream fish. 15 casts later, we're still just one cast away from leaving.

When we finally finished fishing, we made our way back to the campsite for a delicious quesadilla dinner. After dinner, the weather caught up to us and it started to rain. I quickly tore down camp, while Shira and the kids huddled in the car. I tried to explain to the kids that with their raingear, they could come outside and enjoy the campground. They weren't having it. Instead, they were enjoying playing cards in the car. G explained to me that it was I who was missing out, not them. Earlier in the day we had passed the large canvas tents that people rented to go Glamping. G, now explained to me, that they were Caramping, and that the real fun was out of the rain. I suppose they had a point. I joined them and we played Ship, Captain Crew and 98. It was a soggy end to our camping trip, but we were together and having fun, so that's all I can ask for.

After the sun went down, we headed back to Tampa proper and dropped off three very, very dirty children.

Shira and I weren't especially blown away by Hillsborough River State Park. The pool is currently under construction, and the nearby historic fort is closed as well. So taking both those off our list of activities didn't help. And the fact that a number of the trails were relatively far from the campground, so they weren't especially accessible to us (who wanted to walk, and not drive on Shabbat) also didn't make this an ideal park. However, the time on the river was a blast and a day spent in the outdoors is a win from my perspective. I'd be up for camping again, though we'll probably try a different park.

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