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The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Brooksville, Florida

I get it now. I see what all the fuss is about - the allure and attraction of wintering in Florida. When my northerly friends were shivering in their longjohns, negotiating treacherous icy sidewalks or roadways and shoveling out of neck-high snow, I was paddling crystal clear spring-fed rivers where the wild and friendly manatees roam. I have fallen in love with Florida....WILD Florida, that is, and this guy had something to do with it:

I met this manatee on the Chassahowitzka River in Homossassa. Friends Tom and Martha told me about this river and campground when we went to paddle the Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River. The Chas, compared to the popular Crystal River, is not crowded with development and is a wilderness paradise.

Kayaking at Crystal River can pretty much guarantee you a manatee sighting, but you'll also have to contend with the tourist crowd and you'll essentially be paddling through a suburban neighborhood. The homes are built on a network of canals and every home has a boat with a motor. And motors, by the way, hurt and kill these beautiful, gentle creatures. The manatees have a very small "protected" area that humans are forbidden from entering. Outside of that, they go about their business and don't seem to mind being crowded by us. And there are lots of them! You can even get in the water and swim/snorkel/dive with the manatees, just remember to look out for the kayaks, paddles and motor boats....and respect their space. Getting to the actual source of the springs can be a little tricky, as the entrance is very narrow and creates a bottleneck of human and manatee traffic. Once you're in, though, these three springs create a small tropical paradise and it's easy to forget that it is surrounded by development. If you're a diver, skip the diving here. It's so shallow, there's no need for dive gear. Much better to snorkel.

Crystal RIver kayaking
Entrance to the Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River

Crystal River kayaking
The Three Sisters Springs

Crystal SPrings manatees

So after kayaking Crystal River, we took a quick drive to see the Chasshowitzka campground and river and I knew right there that I couldn't survive in this watery state without a kayak of my own. The view from the boat dock was a panorama of Florida wildlife - in its completely natural state - and it was the perfect antidote to Crystal River's commercialism and development.

So I did a bunch of research and decided on the curiously awesome Point 65 Tequila - a two-piece rigid kayak. The idea of it might sound a bit odd, but for me, it seems to be a good solution. Each piece is under 25 pounds and very easily packs away - one half in my rooftop box, and the other slides into the back of my truck on its side, so it takes up very little room. It's always very secure and protected from the elements. I don't have the nuisance of trying to get a heavy kayak onto my roof, and I also don't have the annoying sounds and visual obstruction when driving. Compared to an inflatable, I don't have to spend time inflating, or waiting for it to dry to pack up. There's also no worries with oyster beds or other sharp objects like alligator teeth. I can be in or out of the water in 10 minutes. So QUICK and EASY!!! ...which is key, because if it's not easy, I'll never use it.

Point 65 kayak on roof
Front half of kayak

Point 65 kayak in truck
Back half of kayak

For my maiden paddle, I went back to the Chassahowitzka River, which, by the way, is noted as one of Florida's Outstanding Waterways. There were only a few other boaters on the river that day, and it was glorious. A couple of other kayakers told me about three friendly manatees in the nearby cove, so I paddled over there and sure enough, all three manatees came to say hello, and I got that video (among many others). I suspect that this big snuffle wonder creature of love probably hoped that I would have some cabbage. They're vegetarians, and people feed them cabbage, which is illegal since they are an endangered species. It's an unfortunate problem because like other wild animals, they get used to being fed and will go looking for food near people and in marinas where they get hurt or killed by the motors of boats. But my new cute and lovable friends seemed to have found a fairly safe, protected haven, and despite their likely hope for food, I still felt honored to have their attention. So in honor of their honor: The Snuffle Wonder of Love.

...and here's another short vid:

Apollo beach pwoer plant
APOLLO BEACH POWER PLANT - where manatees congregate near Tampa. I didn't see any.


I was staying inland, at Camper's Holiday in Brooksville. I didn't consider Brooksville a Florida destination, and it's not what you might expect when you think of Florida. Here there are cattle ranches and horse farms, Brahmin bulls and endangered Sand Cranes. There are even hills and dirt roads.

Florida sand crane
Sand cranes

brahmin bull in florida

Brooksville bull

Camper's Holiday was a particularly great find just 15 minutes from my mom's house. It's a 55+ park on a beautiful country road shaded by large oak trees. With a particularly bright, active and very neighborly community, there were always people out and about, around the nightly campfire, riding bikes, fishing in the lake, walking, or just enjoying lazy conversation. It's a big park, too - with most of it made up of interesting old trailers that have been modified and built up to appear as real houses. The RV side of the park is nice and shady and most people are repeat visitors who come here for the entire season, so there's a feeling that everybody knows everybody. It's like summer camp for grownups. There's something fairytale and idyllic, maybe even utopian about this place. I liked it here - probably due in large part to my neighbor Georgette and her sweet beautiful dog Shelby who graciously tolerated Harley's advances. Another resident, Andy, made my day by helping me cut down the bed platform I had built for the back of my truck when I was in Georgia (I made it 6" too wide and the wasted space was making me crazy). And of course there was Blue, a young black lab who gave Harley somebody to wrestle with and chew on.

Georgette and I with Shelby and Harley

The weather here was still relatively cool, dipping down to freezing temperatures overnight and in the 60s during the day. We had a few perfect 75-degree days, and one dramatic storm that brought tornados uncomfortably close.

And I got another fun toy here - for Harley, really. Since I couldn't let Harley run loose in alligator country, I did what any loving dog mom would do and got a FOLDING BIKE so he could run fast with me. I got a Downtube Nova. Since he was going to be on a leash, I thought it'd take Harley some time to get coordinated, but he was a natural right from the start. So awesome! ...for both of us. And a lot easier to pack than the full-size road bike I've carried in the past.

Downtube Nova

Just a little north of St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs is a real genuine Greek neighborhood made up of old brick streets lined with old Florida bungalows and fancy houses. But it's the sponge docks that attract the tourist crowd and of course, this is where you'll get a decent gyro. And while you eat that gyro at a picnic table on the sponge docks, you'll surely be entertained by funny pelicans trying to catch fish being tossed to them:


Bates RV, on I-4 near Tampa, is one of the largest Airstream dealers in the country. It's also home to the Airstream Ranch, an Airstream version of Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas. I'd been thinking about trading up to a bigger model, so I went to take a look. I'd been drooling over the 25' Safari, but now after spending some time in it, I love mine better. My little 20-footer is really just perfect - easy to tow and easy to park in small places. Also, surprisingly, of all of Airstream's models, it is the one that has the largest kitchen and bathroom which I would miss tremendously. Of course, if money was no object, I might settle for one of the new 27' International Serenity models.

Airstream ranch


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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