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Swiss Misses; A Birthday Surprise; Alafia River State Park; Guard Dogs; A Very Cool Tree

April is a good time to visit Florida, because the weather is just about perfect. We were happy to welcome two young women from Switzerland on their first visit to The Villages on Tuesday. I met Claudia (on the right) on line while researching hiking in the Alps and staying in huts operated by the Swiss Alpine Club, where she works. She was very helpful in providing information for a trip Suzanne and I are planning to her beautiful country in 2015 or 2016. When I heard she would be visiting Florida in April, we invited her and her friend and traveling companion Elena to stop in for lunch. Claudia is touring the US for 3 months, while Elena only has a month here, but they had a good start, with stops in Miami, Merritt Island and Orlando before arriving in America’s Friendliest Hometown. We walked around Sumter Landing after lunch, and Claudia and Elena thought The Villages was a lovely place. But since they are both “underage” and still working, it’s unlikely that they will be starting a Swiss Miss Club here in the near future.

As Claudia and Elena were departing, Corvette Chick had to rev up her red C-5 convertible and burn the carbon off her valves; at least that was her excuse for violating Sumter County noise regulations again

(I have to add a side note here about “meeting Claudia on-line”. When I first mentioned to My Lovely Bride that I had invited the nice lady from the Swiss Alpine Club to the house, she looked at me somewhat askance… “Oh, really? I don’t suppose she’s young, blond and pretty, is she?”  “Uh, I have no idea. I only know her from email.” “Okay, Buster, she’d better not be cute.” Uh-oh… In all seriousness, she could have been any age, and even might have looked like Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein… what are the chances???  I think I’m in trouble… again…)

On Wednesday, we loaded up The Coach and headed south to Alafia River State Park about 30 miles southeast of Tampa. The primary purpose of our trip was to attend a surprise birthday party for Connie England. Her partner John had arranged for Connie’s sister Jo Ann, and Connie’s daughter Ann, to fly down from Maine. Another sister, Margaret, and her husband Frank, were already in Florida, and would attend as well. We met the family at Spinner’s Restaurant in St. Petersburg Beach. Spinner’s is a revolving restaurant, and provided remarkable views as well as a fabulous meal. John was the consummate host, and Connie looked lovely, as well as very happy to have her family in town. (I have to thank Joanne for these photos of Connie and Ann, and Connie and John, because all of my photos were either deleted or misfiled when I downloaded them to my computer, and they cannot be found… sigh; this never happened with Kodachrome prints!)

While camping at Alafia River State Park, we decided to try out the mountain biking trails, which are extremely popular and known for some very challenging sections. Here is My Lovely Bride with her new Giant Lust. (“The bike, Smarty Pants.”) 

We found the “Easy” trails to be a lot more challenging than at the Santos area trails in Ocala. After 3 sessions on the easy trails, we ventured onto our first intermediate level trail, named North Creek. It was amazing… a real roller coaster ride compared with the flat trails we are used to in Ocala. This was the start of a black diamond side trail; it’s hard to see, but the trail drops about 20 feet in a 45 degree slope, with a 15 foot rise after you bottom out. Yikes! (No, we did not try it. Sometimes sanity actually prevails.)

While we were mountain biking, Rudy and Gretchen were guarding The Coach. You can see how any burglar would be terrified by these ferocious hounds…

At the end of the day, we were bushed. At least, I was bushed. The conversation with My Lovely Bride went like this:  MLB: “Sweetheart, let’s go for a short hike in the woods after dinner.”  Me: “But My Darling, Love of My Life, I am exhausted; couldn’t you go hike and I’ll have a glass of wine?”   MLB: “Aw, c’mon, Ty, don’t be a lazy butt. Get your hiking shoes on and we’ll knock out a few miles before dark.”  Me: “Yes, Dear…”   Lest you think this was a mere walk in the park, so to speak, the trail she chose paralleled the double black diamond Moonscape mountain biking trail. I think there is a special ward in the local hospital for anyone over 30 who rides Moonscape. Several of the local kids (kids meaning “teenagers”) who had ridden that trail were wearing pads on their elbows, knees and shins, and one guy in his 20s had just endo’ed off a wooden bridge and did a face plant in the dirt. But he was still smiling! Here is Suzanne on the trail (note: it is not flat) standing next to an unusual palm tree that I thought I might smuggle out of the park and plant in our front yard… hmmmm…. how to dig it up, carry it out, and fit it into the coach will be my next trick!

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