TAKE A HIKE: GREAT TRAILS
Hillsborough River State Park, one of nine original Florida state parks, lies about a half-hour north of downtown Tampa. The park is so close and convenient, you can pack a pair of comfortable shoes in your trunk and head out for a quick hike after work. The park has four trails ranging in length from 1.1 miles to 3.4 miles that can easily be linked together for an all-day adventure. The River Rapids Nature Trail leads an intrepid hiker down to the Hillsborough's Class II rapids, a rare sight in Florida. Get there early in the morning and you stand a good chance of seeing a pair of river otters among the rocks. To start your hike, park in lot No. 2. Before you head into the forest, take a moment to read the "Prayer of the Woods" sign posted at the trailhead. It will put you in the right frame of mind. Follow the trail to the water, then along the river. Keep an eye on the trees overhead for everything from pileated woodpeckers to red-shouldered hawks. Deep under the canopy, you may spot barred owls and wild turkey, as well. Halfway through the Baynard Trail, you'll see the blue blazes of a link trail, which will lead you to a 3.4-mile segment of the orange-blazed Florida Trail. About a mile into this segment, you will find a primitive campsite, perfect for beginning backpackers. The remaining 2 miles of trail meanders about 20 feet above the river, providing a perfect opportunity for gator spotting.
GHOST STORY: Fort COOPER STATE PARK
In spring 1836 during the Indian Wars, Gen. Winfield Scott led a beleaguered band of Georgia volunteers to the area now called Inverness to rest and recover from their wounds alongside Lake Holathlikaha. The soldiers built a stockade out of rough-hewn logs, fearing another Seminole attack like the one that had wiped out a detachment of regulars the previous December. Scott left a young major named Mark Cooper to protect the position. The Seminole native Osceola quickly set up camp on the opposite side of the lake, but despite several skirmishes, Cooper held his own, and the fort continued to serve as an observation station and supply depot throughout the rest of the war. Today, the original battle works are long gone, but some say spirits still haunt the woods of Fort Cooper State Park. Come for a day hike, but whatever you do, don't spend the night!
LEARN SPANISH: MACKEREL, THAT IS
Looking for some good, clean, fall fun? Spanish mackerel are always good for heart-pounding, nonstop angling action. A schooling species closely related to the much-heralded king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla, the smaller Spanish mackerel is a voracious feeder. It is not uncommon to clean a "Spannie" destined for the table and find a dozen or more baitfish in its gullet. After mackerel of any species, be it Spanish, king or cero, work themselves into a feeding frenzy, you can toss out anything shiny — fly, spoon or bucktail jig — and catch fish to the point of boredom. As a boy, I enjoyed an annual mackerel run in the summers off the coast of Maine. We would cast into the schools and catch three, sometimes four or five, of the small Atlantic macks on brightly colored, multiple-hook "Christmas tree" rigs. Locally, the preferred method is live bait. Spanish mackerel in the 5- to 7-pound range are considered large, with a 10-pounder considered a real monster. In case you're wondering, the world record catch weighed 13 pounds and was taken at Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina on Nov. 4, 1987.
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL: MULTITOOL
There are a few things that I always throw in my day pack: matches, first aid kit and a multitool. Tim Leatherman, a mechanical engineering graduate of Oregon State, made the first device he called a "multitool" because it had all the essentials — knife, screwdriver, bottle opener — and the added benefit of pliers. It didn't take long for other companies to come up with their own multitool designs, because after all, if you can carry only one tool, it should be as versatile as possible. In 1998, during a survival training session in the wilds of Georgia, I asked my friend, veteran adventure racer Mitch Utterback, what he considered the ultimate piece of survival equipment. "A multitool," said Utterback, an officer with the U.S. Army Green Berets. "I never leave home without it."