Posts Tagged With: Explore

Hunting for Shark Teeth!

The weather has been beautiful this month – 80 degrees, sunny – and is perfect for outdoor adventures  and explorations. One of our New Year’s resolutions was to have more adventures and an item on our adventure to-do list was to hunt for shark teeth. Yesterday, September and I jumped in the car and road-tripped down to Venice, Florida to get our hunt on. Just 50 minutes south of St. Petersburg is Caspersen Beach, located in Venice – Shark Tooth Capital of the World!


I had done some research online and Caspersen was said to be the best beach for finding loads of prehistoric fossilized shark teeth. Forgetting that this is Florida’s “snow bird” season, we were not the only ones on the prowl for buried treasure. The beach was full of grannies and grandpas hunting in the water and in the sand for teeth. Not even kidding, we were probably the only people there who were under 65! While I had read that the best way to find teeth is to use a “Florida Shovel” aka a wire basket on a stick on it (retailing for nearly $30!), September thought we could do just fine with our dollar store pasta strainer.

September looking for shark teeth with our strainer. Ha!

September looking for shark teeth with our strainer. Ha!

I was very reluctant at first and afraid of looking like a rookie but the more crowded the beach was, the more makeshift devices we saw! While I had read that the teeth are usually found along the water’s edge, Sep overheard a man explaining that the teeth are everywhere – in the water AND in the sand. Once you realize what you’re looking for, the teeth can be found in the sand right under your beach chair!

Sep dug around in the sand like an archeologist on a mission!

Sep dug around in the sand like an archeologist on a mission!

Apparently, the teeth on the beach are fossils some thousands (millions, maybe?) years old. They range in size and while we only found small teeth, we spoke to a woman who combed the water and found one tooth that was nearly 2 inches!

Our loot

Our loot

Next time, we’ll come prepared with a heavy duty sifter and search the water for larger teeth. Hopefully the water won’t be as cold for September!

September doesn't like to go in the water until it's in the 80's (at least!).

September doesn’t like to go in the water until it’s in the 80’s (at least!).

Growing up in Michigan, I used to swim in the Lake when it was in the 60’s – so the cooler Gulf temperatures don’t really bother me. I climbed the rocks and waded in the water collecting and sifting through sand.

A rock covered in soft, fluffy seaweed. It felt like carpet!

A rock covered in soft, fluffy seaweed. It felt like carpet!

You can’t beat a warm January in Florida and we thing winter is a great time to be a tourist in our own state. We’re excited to go back to Caspersen Beach and find more shark teeth. Who knows? Maybe they’ll make their way onto some Top Knotch Gear paracord survival bracelets!




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R.I.P. Felipe

I received a sad email last night with an obituary attached. My friend and colleague, Felipe, passed away Tuesday from a brain tumor. Felipe was one of my travel companions on my first trip to China when I taught English and dance. He had a huge heart, he was always open to the new experiences abroad and was willing to give anything a try. His favorite song while we were overseas was the Cupid Shuffle and absolutely loved teaching the dance to the Chinese students. He will be missed dearly. Rest in peace, Felipe.


Felipe and me at the Summer Palace in Beijing, China (summer 2009)

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Kayaking Adventures at Fort DeSoto (Day 2)

Day 2 of our kayaking adventures took us to Fort DeSoto – a 1,136 acre nature preserve on the southern tip of St. Petersburg. Mullet Key is the big island of the park and it’s shaped like a “V” – the eastern part dips into Tampa Bay while the western part of the park is in the Gulf of Mexico.


I had read that Fort Desoto is great for kayaking and birding. There’s a canoe trail that’s just about 2.5 miles long or for the really ambitious paddlers (and something that’s on my kayaking bucket list), the trail around the perimeter of the island is 10 miles. We launched our kayaks at the apex and paddled due north on our way to North Beach.


Mangroves lined the waterways

It was a beautiful day for kayaking! I like to hit the water early so as to avoid as many other people as possible. For most of the day, we were the only kayakers paddling Mullet Key Bayou.

This park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail

This park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. This pelican was sitting at the very top of a mangrove tree, soaking in the sun.

This trail was different than the day before at Weedon Island, in that the waterways were much wider here and there were fewer mangrove tunnels. But there was definitely more active wildlife at this park!

The one mangrove tunnel we found - full of crabs and oysters

The one mangrove tunnel we found – full of crabs and oysters



We had quite a ways to go to get from the launch to the top of Mullet Key and eventually to North Beach. We’d paddle for a while, rest in the sun, talk, eat lunch…. one time we were resting and we started to drift closer to shore. I noticed we were approaching what looked like a random patch of sea grass…until the “sea grass” started moving! The waves pushed us within 5 feet of the “sea grass” until we saw a big snout come up to the surface – it was a manatee! The manatee looked like it was larger than our kayaks but before we could whip out our cameras to snap a picture, it meandered away from us. Because manatees are a protected species under Florida law, it’s illegal to chase them and/or approach them unless they come to you. As painful as it was for us to let it swim away without a picture, we bid the beast adieu and went in search of more excitement.

Perfect weather

Perfect weather

We paddled up to the top of the key and as soon as we rounded the tip from mangrove waterway to open water, the wind picked up. We didn’t have to battle whitecaps but there was enough of a breeze and current that made for a long trek to North Beach. By the time we beached our kayaks on the sand, our arms felt like Jell-O.

The open water was a bit rough because of the light wind but the breeze was nice

The open water was a bit rough because of the light wind but the breeze was nice

The tip of Ft. DeSoto is an island (at high tide) but we must have timed it perfectly because we ditched our kayaks and walked around the island looking for shells. It was nice to stretch our legs for a while and explore in the sand during low tide.

In 2005, Fort DeSoto was named America's Best Beach!

In 2005, Fort DeSoto was named America’s Best Beach!

Looking for shells

Looking for shells

A freshly dead horseshoe crab we dragged onto the beach  - about the size of a dinner plate.

A freshly dead horseshoe crab we dragged onto the beach for a picture – about the size of a dinner plate.

Once we got back to our kayaks, we jumped back in the water and headed across the channel to Shell Key.

The southern tip of Shell Key is just a few hundred feet north of the tip of Ft. DeSoto, so it's easy to access by boat.

The southern tip of Shell Key is just a hundred feet or so north of the tip of Ft. DeSoto, so it’s easy to access by boat.

Once parked on Shell Key, we scoured the untouched beaches for more shells. The shells here were smaller than the ones on Ft. DeSoto but we found some very cool calcified coral tubes.

Both Fort DeSoto and Shell Key are great for shelling

Both Fort DeSoto and Shell Key are great for shelling

Sep and me on Shell Key - the water was really that blue!

Sep and me on Shell Key – the water was really that blue!

We walked the beach for a while and on our way back to our kayaks, I spotted something weird floating in the water. Getting closer for a better look, I realized it was a JELLYFISH!

Taking pictures of the jellyfish!

Taking pictures of the jellyfish!

Neither of us has ever seen a jellyfish in the wild before!

Yes, it IS alive!

Yes, it IS alive!

Once we returned home, we found the jelly online and learned that it was Mushroom Cap Jellyfish and is harmless to humans. I must have taken 50 pictures of this thing – I was just so fascinated by it! Thankfully, as we began our trek back to the launch, the wind died way down. The water was calm, there were no waves and it made for easy paddling on our already sore arms.

Calm water

Calm water

On our way back to the mangroves, we found ourselves in the middle of a bunch of mullet (fish) jumping out of the water! There was so much splashing all around us as they leaped and skipped out of the water.

Resting for a picture

Resting for a picture

I think my tattoo does a pretty good job of representing me.

My tattoo

My tattoo: Adventure

We retraced our waves back through the mangroves and when we came out of the tunnel, we heard weird noises…


… like water spraying…

Dorsal fin!

Dorsal fin!

It was dolphins! We heard them blowing water as they came up to the surface for air! September and I sat quietly in our kayaks, just floating, so we didn’t disturb them. We think there were 3-4 dolphins in this little cove. I think they could sense our excitement as we quietly took picture after picture of them because the more excited we were, the more they’d swim around our kayaks. One of the dolphins swam right UNDER my kayak and came up on the other side! It flicked its head and swam close enough to my boat that had I not been taking pictures and video, I could have touched it.

I did not zoom in this picture - the dolphin was really that close to me!

I did not zoom in this picture – the dolphin was really that close to me!

The dolphins played around our kayaks for probably 20 minutes. When we were entranced by one, another would pop up right behind us! It was absolutely incredible. People pay for that kind of experience and here we were, having a lovely day kayaking and nature-spotting when a group of wild dolphins thought it’d be fun to play with us. AWESOME!

Bye dolphins!

Bye dolphins!

Sep and I could hardly believe what we had just witnessed. We’re still in disbelief that we happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Florida wildlife continues to amaze us and this was, by far, the best kayaking experience we’ve ever had!

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Kayaking Adventures at Weedon Island Preserve (Day 1)

Last week, I decided it was time to get back on the water and go paddling. It has been months since our last kayaking trip and the 80-degree January weather is perfect for being outside. Marsha, our friend down the street, graciously loaned us her kayaks for two days while I mapped paddling routes that we’ve never explored before.

The first day, we were set to paddle Weedon Island – a marshy, mangrove-covered preserve on the west side of St. Petersburg (right on Tampa Bay). The kayak trail is 4 miles of loops, tunnels and swamps and we couldn’t wait to launch our boats!


Weedon Island Preserve is in northwest St. Petersburg, right on Tampa Bay

There's a big map at the launch but it never occured to us to take a picture of it before we put in...

There’s a big map at the launch but it never occured to us to take a picture of it before we put in…

The trail is marked with these special signs. They’re especially helpful deep in the mangroves when it’s very easy to get turned around. However, in order for the signs to be effective, I’d have to look at them and make note of what markers we passed…

The trail loop is 4 miles long

The trail loop is 4 miles long

Being the excited, impulsive person I am, I failed to check the tide charts before launching our kayaks. We ran a couple of grounds, had to pull the kayaks over oyster beds and eventually, we had to turn around and do the paddling trail backward – finish to start.

Low tide made some of the trail impossible to pass

Low tide made some of the trail impossible to pass

It pays to pay attention to the tides

It pays to pay attention to the tides, I’ve learned

For Christmas, my parents bought me a new digital camera – one that’s waterproof and perfect for rugged adventures. Low tide was a great time to shoot pictures of the conchs and lightning whelks living in the sand.

Testing my new waterproof camera

Testing my new waterproof camera

The low tide also made for the easy stingray spotting! Unfortunately, they scoot away pretty quickly, so it was difficult to take good snaps. Plus, they seem to enjoy resting on the sand in the sun and we felt bad disturbing them.


Both of these rays were maybe 10-12 inches in diameter

Both of these rays were maybe 10-12 inches in diameter

We’re not avid birders but Weedon Island is a fantastic spot to see all kinds of native Florida birds. We spotted Roseate Spoonbills (they’re pink like flamingos with a platapus-looking bill), Great Blue Herons, Ibis, Egrets and many others that we had never seen before.

Spoonbill looking for shrimp

Spoonbill looking for shrimp

Heron stalking fish in the water

Heron stalking fish in the water

Because we didn’t have a map (nor did we take a picture of the map at the trailhead) and we were paddling the trail backwards, it was up to my [very good] innate sense of direction to get us on the trail and keep us from getting lost. While we were figuring out the numbered sign system, we stumbled upon a beautiful mangrove tunnel. The tunnel was so long and had such a relaxing current, it was like floating down a lazy river. We hardly had to paddle!

September riding the current in the mangrove tunnel

September riding the current in the mangrove tunnel

Mangrove tunnels are so quiet and relaxing and provide nice shade from the direct sun.

Mangrove tunnels are so quiet and relaxing and provide nice shade from the direct sun.

Once we made it through the mangrove tunnel, we finally figured out where we were and the numbered signs were easier to follow. (Before we realized we had turned around and were doing the trail backwards, it was so confusing to go from marker #3 to marker #37!) We decided to deviate from the trail a bit and check out Tampa Bay.

The Bay looks HUGE from the water level - boy did I feel small!

The Bay looks HUGE from the water level – boy did I feel small! That’s the city of Tampa in the background.

Back on the trail again, we spotted some more stingrays and various birds and oyster beds. The last part of the trail (which is really the first part of the trail, if you follow the markers in order) was our favorite – it was 1-2 miles of mangrove tunnels, one right after another!


We were the only ones in the tunnel for a long time and while we floated through the scraggly branches, we heard little noises coming from the trees…



Mangrove Tree Crabs were everywhere! What we thought were just knots in the bark of the mangroves were really dozens of crabs climbing the plants’ roots. THOUSANDS of crabs scurried around us as we floated through the tunnels. And once we realized how many there were, it gave us the jitters. After a bit of research, we later learned that the crabs are primarily herbivores. Thank goodness.. because there were a ton of them and only 2 of us.

The winding tunnels were incredible

The winding tunnels were incredible

I floated through the various tunnels with my mouth agape the whole time – in awe that something so amazing was just a few minutes drive from our house! We eventually made it through the last of the tunnels and back to the beginning of the trail (for us, the end of the trail).

We made it back to marker #3, right where we turned around at low tide.

We made it back to marker #2/3, right where we turned around at low tide.

It was a successful kayaking adventure. I was still riding the high from the amazing mangrove tunnels, convinced that nothing else could top the experience we had just had. Little did I know, the next day would go down as one of our TOP kayaking adventures of all time…

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Ignite Your Sense of Adventure

I ate a piece of Dove chocolate candy the other day and this was the message inside the wrapper. I think it’s my personal manifesto.


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New Start November

This time of year is beautiful in Florida. The days are consistently in the 70’s, sunny and dry. Mornings and nights are cool, breezy and unbelievably fresh. This recent change in weather has inspired me to undergo a new fitness and diet transformation that I am entitling: New Start November. This month I will jump start a 35-lb shred (a weight loss goal I’d like to complete by my birthday in April), I will take up running (something I’ve never enjoyed but want to try) and I will renew my love of the great Florida outdoors. My transformation includes the following:

  • 30 runs in 30 days – aka: running every day. I’m already sore but I’ve read that it takes 21 days to make something a habit… I have 5 days already under my belt!

Learning to enjoy running is going to be very difficult for me but I’m ready to shred it!

  • Running some local races – including the famous Color Run (more on this run in an upcoming post) and some island races in the area. This is a great way to socialize, challenge myself and see my training pay off. Goals are empowering and good motivation.

So excited for this race!

  • Liquids for breakfast and lunch – to cut down on calories and grocery expenses, I’m going to juice and make smoothies for every breakfast and lunch. We have a stellar grapefruit tree in our back yard and a fantastic produce stand just 2 blocks away from our house. It’s perfect!

First grapefruit of the season! SO juicy and delicious. Yum!

  • Daily dinner challenge – dinner will be “real” food (i.e.: solid foods) but I am challenging myself to see how much of my dinner can be made with locally-grown produce from the produce stand. This way, I can eat healthy and help out a local business!

Fun challenge

  • Not biting my nails – this has been a bad habit of mine for as long as I can remember. However, I’ve discovered that if I paint my nails, I don’t nip at them! So I purchased some obnoxiously awesome nail polish with giant, glittery confetti in it and my nails have never looked better.

My new Wet ‘n Wild glitter nail polish. It’s like wearing confetti!

  • Kayak trips – We live less than a mile from the beach and the mangroves (perfect spots to put in kayaks) and there are dozens of intercostal waterways and uninhabited islands to discover. I will plan half-full day kayak trips so I can explore the area and get back on the water. I find the water rejuvenating and meditative…and I can’t wait to get back out there!

The mangroves are practically in our backyard!

This challenge will be…. challenging. But I’m excited for the adventure I look forward to my new lifestyle… and my new body! And thanks to things like Pinterest, there are lots of tips, tricks and endless inspiration!

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Think Outside the Box

The weather is going to be beautiful this weekend in much of the country, so THINK OUTSIDE the box. Get out, enjoy nature and have a great weekend!

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Grand Canyon Reflection

September’s aviator sunglasses make such a great backdrop for photos. This is a reflection of the Grand Canyon that I snapped on our road trip!

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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Travel Tip Tuesday

Today’s travel tip: How to make postcard travel art!

I love postcards. September might even say that I am obsessed with postcards. I love sending postcards, receiving postcards, and collecting postcards that catch my eye. I was at a store about 6 months after we moved to Florida and purchased 15+ postcards to send to my family. The cashier looked at me like I was slightly insane and asked where I was from (she thought I was a tourist because I was snatching up so many of the colorful cards.) While I was too embarrassed to tell her that I had been living in the area for half a year, I fibbed and said I had just moved a few days ago….. then I B-lined out of the store.

So it was no surprise that while on our recent road trip, September found me at the gift shops at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park, eyeing the racks of….POSTCARDS!  This time, though, we had a new approach. We decided to get a stack of touristy cards for our friends and family (which we still have yet to send to them) and for us, we picked 3 vintage cards to use as wall art!

Use postcards as wall art!

Post cards are inexpensive, small (so they’re easy to pack) and a great way to commemorate a trip. We already had the frame – it was just sitting vacant collecting dust. Now, we have a fun piece of art that will always remind us of our road trip through the southwest. This whole project cost less than $1!

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Impromptu Road Trip!

Road trip across the southwest

In both of our families, September and I are known as adventurers – up for just about anything, the crazier the better. So when September’s aunt & uncle needed their car and dog (the fluffy, enthusiastic pup Raffles) delivered from Sarasota, FL to San Francisco, CA, they called US to make the road trip!

On Saturday, Sep, Raffles and I will spend 6 days driving across the southwest U.S. The trip alone is nearly 3,000 miles and takes over 41 hours… excluding pit stops, detours and must-see sites (which I am a sucker for).

Our itinerary:

  • Day 1: Tampa –> Gulfport, Mississippi (588 miles; 8.5 hours) – Point B on the map above
  • Day 2: Gulfport –> San Antonio, Texas (600 miles; 9 hours) – C
  • Day 3: San Antonio –> Tucson, Arizona (870 miles; 12.5 hours) – D
  • Day 4: Tucson –> Kingman, Arizona (300 miles; 4.5 hours) – E
  • Day 5: Kingman –> Yosemite Village, California (520 miles; 8 hours) – F
  • Day 6: Yosemite –> San Francisco, California (200 miles; 4 hours) – G

We’re stopping at things like the Alamo, Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park (and if we have extra time, Joshua Tree National Park) but we’ve got some 30 other sites that are off-the-beaten-path…. sites like the world’s largest rocking chair, a 25-ton tiki head and a house made completely of beer cans, that are just too wild to pass up. At Roadside America, we searched for cities on the various legs of our trip to see what bizarre, strangely awesome, roadside sites we’ll pass. There are TONS!

Time will surely be a limiting factor on this trip but we hope to move quickly (seeing as much as we can along the way), so we can gain some free time at the end of our journey to enjoy the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Neither one of us has traveled the southwest U.S. before and we’re so excited and grateful for this amazing adventure!

Be sure to follow along – we’ll be posting regularly with pictures, videos and fun updates! (Thank goodness for the mobile WordPress app).


Photo courtesy of

Please note: Our online shop, Top Knotch Gear, will be “on vacation” and we will not be processing orders until we return. If you have any questions/requests regarding gear, please direct them to us via email. Thanks!

Categories: Adventure, Backpacking, Extreme Vacation/Adventures, Family, Florida, Hiking, Landscape Photograph, Mountains, Nature, Outdoors, Packing, Parachute Cord, Paracord, Photography, Planning vacation, Rock Climbing, RTW, Survival gear, Top Knotch Gear, Tourist Site, Trails, Transportation, Travel, Travel Photography, Trip planning, Uncategorized, UNESCO World Heritage, World's Largest | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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