Bryan Hamilton will miss watching the sun come up over Bayshore Boulevard at next weekend's Gasparilla Distance Classic, but the U.S. Army Major will still get 9.3 miles in "shadow running" around Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
"This will be my fourth Ultra Challenge," said Hamilton, 43, an intelligence officer stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. "I'll do a 15K on Saturday, just a little earlier because we are 9½ hours ahead of you, and then a 5K to top it off."...
GRAYTON BEACH: A FAIRY TALE STATE PARK
Once ranked as America's top beach, this 2,000-acre state park on the Florida Panhandle has sugar sand beaches, pine flatwoods and stands of scrub oak and magnolias, bent and twisted from the salt winds, that look straight out of a fairy tale. The beach itself has great surf fishing and locals say the best sunrise and sunset in Florida. But it has something you won't find on our local barrier islands — a 100-acre coastal dune lake, ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Pitch a tent in a full-service campground, or rent a cabin nestled in the pine woods. The two-bedroom, one-bath duplexes come equipped with a gas fireplace (available November through March), a kitchen and screened porch and an outdoor grill. Linens, pillows, blankets and towels provided, but be forewarned, there's no television or phone, which is why Grayton Beach is a good place to get away from it all. Go to floridastateparks.org....
St. Petersburg's Grant Dumas races year round but he looks forward to February when the first stop of the National Offshore One-Design series brings in fellow sailors from around the world.
"It is cold up north and everybody always looks forward to coming to Florida," said Dumas, the 45-year-old skipper of the race boat Warrior who won last year's event. "It is a great way to show off our local sailing scene."...
River rockets: Bradenton Area River Regatta
The fastest inland boats on water, the Powerboat Superleague racing boats, will light up the Manatee River alongside the quickest personal watercraft in the world, HydroCross, at the Second Annual Bradenton Area River Regatta on Saturday. The action literally runs from dawn to dusk. You'll find the best viewing Bradenton Riverwalk, but this year's event will also feature activities on Palmetto's Riverside Drive, where you will find racing pits and the kids zone. A field of 12 professional "pilots" in the F-2 powerboat race will climb from 0 to 100 mph in less than four seconds and reach four G's or more on the course, negotiating turns at nearly full speed. Race fans can look forward to a series of qualifying runs and time trials before the division and championship racing from 2 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. The stand-up HydroCross racers will also be on the water competing for the Florida Winter Cup/Mayor's Cup title. In between races, the top riders will do stunts along a river course in front of Palmetto Pier....
On a recent trip down the Suwannee, a large bird of prey flew across the river about 25 feet in front of my canoe.
My paddling partner, a relative newcomer to the Great Outdoors, asked what kind of bird it was.
"A hawk," I replied.
"What kind of hawk?" she asked.
"A red-shouldered hawk," I replied, thinking I had a 50-50 chance of being right. Then I added, "Or maybe it was a red-tailed hawk."...
MAKE THE TRIP: BIG TALBOT ISLAND
If you have never been to a maritime forest, northeast Florida's Big Talbot Island is well worth it. This state park near Jacksonville is one of the last undeveloped "sea islands" in that area of the state. Bring your camera and binoculars and you'll get great photos and memories. Also bring your lightweight hikers. Take your pick of the Blackrock Trail, Big Pine Trail or Old Kings Highway, each one traversing a different habitat. You can put your boat in at the north end of the island to fish the edge of the salt marsh. Or rent a kayak and take a guided paddle tour. Afterward, visit the Bluffs for a picnic lunch, then head down to Boneyard Beach, famous for the salt-washed skeletons of live oak and cedar trees. For a more civilized adventure, bring your bike or baby stroller and cruise the paved, multi-use Timucuan Trail that runs parallel to A1A. Big Talbot Island State Park is on State Road A1A N, Jacksonville....
As a Boy Scout leader, I try to make sure the young men in my charge are always prepared. Troop 219's war cry is "We hike. We hike. We hike." Sometimes it is just along the waterfront of downtown St. Petersburg. But occasionally we take off to the woods of Withlacoochee State Forest.
Anything can happen out on the trail, so you need to be ready for everything. I have hiked in the mountains of New Zealand, the deserts of Australia and the jungles of Brazil, but my day pack always contains the same seven items, regardless of the terrain:...
Take it Outside Planner: Everglades National Park, a seminar for saltwater fishers, the best camp chair01/20/16Outdoors
HIT THE GLADES: pARK centenNiAL
Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service with a trip to Florida's best, Everglades National Park. January and February are great months for bird watching. Visitors can see large colonies of nesting birds from a respectful distance with binoculars and long-range camera lenses. This is the "dry season" in the park and wading birds gather at traditional and new nesting sites. If you time it right you might see hundreds, perhaps even thousands of birds as they prepare to build nests. Get out your notebook — roseate spoonbills are the first to show up, followed by storks, egrets, herons and ibis. If you are looking for a good place to see the rose-colored birds, check out Paurotis Pond, located approximately 24 miles from the main park entrance near Homestead. For more information, visit nps.gov/ever....
When George Poveromo brings his Salt Water Sportsman National Seminar Series to Riverview this weekend, he will be sharing some tricks of the trade. Host of George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing on the NBC Sports Network, the international angler will share the stage with some of Florida's best captains. • But if you can't wait to hear what this fishing great has to say, here are five tips from him that will not only work in the Gulf of Mexico but anywhere you travel in search of big fish:...
When most 8-year-old boys played Army in the woods, Patrick Feeks dreamed of being a Navy SEAL. He never wanted to be anything else.
"He was very focused and determined from an early age," said his father, Thomas Feeks, a retired Navy officer. "He was passionate. … Nothing could stand in his way."
The first time Patrick tried to enlist, the Navy told him he had failed his eye test. So he shopped until he could find a doctor to correct his vision....
Take it Outside Planner: Free entry to National Wildlife Refuges, scrub jay sightings and Smart Wool01/13/16Outdoors
GET IN FREE: WILDLIFE REFUGES
National Wildlife Refuges are getting a lot of attention as of late but for all the wrong reasons. Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, its headquarters recently occupied by armed antigovernment protesters, is also a great place to see birds. So are Florida's St. Marks NWR (established in 1931, it's one of the oldest in the United States), J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR and Ten Thousand Islands NWR. If you have never explored one of these American treasures, now's your chance. Admission is free on Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Feb. 13-15 (Presidents Day Weekend), Sept. 24 (National Public Lands Day), Oct. 9 (first Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week) and Nov. 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend). The NWR System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the nation's premier habitat conservation network, encompassing more than 150 million acres in 563 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Most refuges admit the public free year-round, but some of the more popular ones charge a small entrance fee to cover maintenance and visitor services. Visit fws.gov/refuges. ...
Local gyms will be packed this month with New Year's resolutionaries kicking off fitness programs. But come February, the crowds will be gone.
Most will say they just don't have the time to work out.
Some people will only stick with a fitness program if they have someone to hold them accountable. If you fall into that category, find a workout buddy or hire a personal trainer....
SWEET SOLITUDE: THE GREEN SWAMP
They call it a "swamp," but much of the land is high and dry, a mixture of hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods and sandhill scrub. Covering some 870 square miles in Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Lake and Sumter counties, the Green Swamp serves as the headwaters to four major rivers: the Hillsborough, the Withlacoochee, the Ocklawaha and the Peace. With its highest point 130 feet above sea level, this region is a major recharge area for the Floridan Aquifer, the state's water supply....
As a member of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, Congressman David Jolly knows the importance of good data.
"It's all about the numbers," said Jolly, a Dunedin native who takes a particular interest in fisheries issues. "Without good data, you can't make good decisions."
Jolly, a Republican, represents Florida's 13th Congressional District which covers most of Pinellas County. First elected in March 2014, Jolly quickly recognized the importance of both commercial and recreational fishing to the region's economy....
MANA-SEE: HOMOSASSA HOLIDAY
The 6-mile long Homosassa River begins in a spring at the state park and is home to one of the largest herds of West Indian manatee in Florida. Paddlers often see these gentle animals moving slowly upstream, especially in the winter months. The Halls River, which joins the Homosassa from the north, offers additional backwater paddling. As you near the gulf, freshwater mixes with salt, making for good fishing, so bring a rod and reel. After you are done on the river, spend the afternoon at the state wildlife park, one of Florida's original roadside attractions. You can see manatees every day of the year from the park's underwater observatory in the main spring. The park showcases native Florida wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles and river otters. Don't miss the kid-friendly wildlife encounter programs. floridastateparks.org/park/homosassa-springs....