A year in my shoes.

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This was supposed to be easy.  Throw a picture up, toss out some words and poof!  Instant post.  Instead it’s over four days past my plan of posting and I’m still struggling.

I fell into the trap of overthinking. I needed new work boots and wanted to explain why I picked those originally and why I switched to something else.  The idea was good, but the words that came were so sterile and analytical.  Completely uninspiring and off-putting for me. I wanted something else, something better.

Kinda like my boots.

The boots I had were so disappointing this time.  They were Wolverines.  I’ve owned four pair of Wolverines in my life and three of them were this style. This pair just did not work.

You see the toes?  It took just one day for the leather covering the steel safety caps to wear off.  I was weeding and the shuffling of my feet against the asphalt wore the leather off by the time I was done.  The boots were one week old at that time.  I’ve had that happen with $30 boots, but never Wolverines.  There was no way I could explain this as normal wear and tear either, so I didn’t bother to call or write about warranty work.

The rest of the boot was fine.  They still were comfortable and supportive.  Together, we dug, moved, pushed, hiked, crawled, and even kicked through our work time.  I had noticed that this set of boots wasn’t as flexible as the earlier ones.  It took more effort to flex on the balls of my feet.  Still they did their work, but the stress was showing.

Then the rains hit.

Florida is known for its torrential rains, but this one was impressive.  It wasn’t tropical in nature, but the results were the same.  Roads closed, traffic diverted, trees fallen, electrics under water, and hundreds of fire-ants huddled together in a ball, just waiting for some poor soul to latch on to.   The last time I saw flooding like this was after tropical storm Gabriel.  The water was so high that the utility vehicles stalled from the strain.  I pushed mine off to the side.  It took three days for my boots to dry completely.  The leather never fully recovered.

The final straw came when the left sole split completely through.  I hadn’t noticed it until the day I had to clean brush out of a drained canal.  The area was drained, but not dry.  Its mud was slick and water seeped up with every step.  My soaked sock alerted me to the crack the boot’s sole.

It was time for a change.

But to what?  I sifted the search engines, read articles, and waded through the horribly arranged Amazon filters.  (It was easier pushing the utility vehicle through the flood than it was trying to find decent work boots with specific requirements on Amazon.)  Given the events of the year, I came up with an unusual result.  Jungle boots.  What other style would handle the abundance of water, humidity, and mud?

Jungle boots are not the easiest things to find.  Rack Room Shoes, Sears, and all the other usual stores were out and while I will buy some things online, boots aren’t one of them.  You have to go to an army surplus store.

Army surplus stores are very interesting to visit.  Tucked in the corner of a strip mall, they can be as bright and organized as Dick’s Sporting goods, or as dark and cluttered as a Hollister’s run by teenage boys.  The store I found was a mix of both.  The lights were low, but everything was organized.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any Jungle boots.  They did have other choices.  Desert boots, training boots, combat boots, parade boots, boots for almost anything.  I had no idea what to look for at this point.

So I asked for help.

The lady listened to what I wanted as well as the price I was willing to pay.  She offered a pair that is light, flexible, durable, and well-constructed.  They aren’t water proof, but they are good against high humidity and dry quickly.  They also are bought by police and fire fighters who are used to standing in their boots for long hours at a time.

I’ve had them for a week and they have handled having the toes scraped against the concrete, heavy mud, miles of walking and flexing of the soles.  So far I’m impressed.  Only time will tell if they last they year.  A future review will be coming.

In the end, this article is similar to my journey into new boots.  I struggled with it at the beginning and took many unexpected turns along the way before ending in an upnote.

With the creative damn broke, I look forward to the journey ahead.

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Mascots

A yellow car sits parked at the edge of a precipice.  Worn mountains cross the horizon as a thin ribbon of green meanders across the desolate field surrounding it.  At first glance, you could easily mistake the scene for a commercial, but you soon realize that the car is a toy and the scene is another achievement for a mascot.

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Mascots seem to have a curious life in the United States. Their popularity rises and falls like the tides of the ocean.

Do you remember Stanley?  You know, the little guy who usually wore a striped shirt and blue pants.  Someone would ship him in the mail to you and ask you to take a picture of him in some scenic place before shipping him out onto the next random person?  Well Stanley is one paper link on the long chain of mascots that have traveled abroad.

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Either before him, or around the same time, was the wandering gnome.  Unlike Stanley, the gnome was kidnapped.  Cruelly taken from his owners.  Then, after a ransom letter containing a picture of the beloved creature, the gnome was whisked across the globe. Pictures were sent back to the owners of their gnome skiing in Amsterdam, tanning on the beaches of the Caribbean, having coffee in Italy, and parachuting out of airplanes.  It ended well for the family as the gnome retuned one day with a peep or clue from his kidnappers.

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The rule of the mascot is simple:  Send it to an interested person; Have that person take a picture or pictures of the mascot in an interesting place; Ship the mascot off to the next person.

The rules for the mascot are unspoken and more involved:

1.)  The mascot must be cute, quirky, or friendly in personality.  The mascot needs to make friends quickly with each new person it encounters if the trip is going to happen.  Otherwise the mascot will be quickly thrown into the trash and forgotten.  This is why little bears, gnomes, paper children, and “cute” cars are used frequently. A spoon, not so much.

2.)  The mascot must be small.  Shipping costs money and if the mascot is too big or heavy, the cost to ship it will severely reduces its chances of meeting the next person. (This is why even teddy bear mascots are usually six inches or less.)  Flat Stanley is the gold standard here.  Being made of paper, he could be folded up, shoved in a regular envelope, and mailed off anywhere for less than the price of a candy bar.

3.)  The mascot must be durable.  Think you last flight in coach was bad?  Imagine being squished through rollers, tossed into bins, having other boxes staked on you, traveling with no heat or air conditioning, getting tossed again by strangers, and finally being shoved into a mailbox until the recipient finds you.  Now imagine doing this over and over again.  Mail carriers take care of their deliveries, but people are people and mistakes happen.  The mascot has to be tough to handle these situations.

4.)  The mascot must be affordable.  Whenever one of these journeys starts, the owner of the mascot will be faced with the fact that they might never see their mascot again once it is dropped in the mail.  It may never even make it to its first destination.  With this thought burning in the owner’s mind, they are not going to invest heavily into the mascot.  Usually the mascot will cost ten dollars or less.  (Again, Flat Stanley was king in this area.)  You might find the rare person who will spend a bit more for sentimental reasons, but usually the mascot will be low cost.

Mascots are a great way to physically connect with your friends in a way that facebook, e-mails, and phone calls can’t.  It’s a way to share fun and happiness when you can’t be there in person.  It’s an act of faith while also an adventure on the cheap.  I see the ebb and flow of their popularity traveling forever.

Go mascot.

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May wishes for summer adventures.

It’s mid-May; what are your summer plans?  Many of you have suffered a long and vicious winter this season.  Being locked up inside must’ve kicked your summer plans into overdrive.  I’m sure you spent hours, if not days going over every detail of what you would do once released from winters icy grip.

Here’s your opportunity kick those plans in motion and let the world know what you are going to do this summer.

You suffered the cold, so reward yourself by making those plans come true!

With an itch to see some spruce, I am going up to Maine.  I will hike the trails and enjoy lobster freshly caught.  Many pictures will be taken and wonderful ideas will be hatched.

I will also be hiking the trails more often around my local.  There are many places close by that need exploring and there’s no reason not to go.

I’m also going to do my first solo camp.  It’s amazing that I’ve never done one before, but I always felt like I needed to include the wife on this.  She has no desire this time, unless it’s glamping, (just say no) and I want to do the rugged thing.  I have made a concession on where this will be done.  I wanted to try this at Deep Creek Preserve since it’s my go to hiking place, but she would rather have me camp at Oscar Scherer State Park.  (I might push for Myakka River State Park since it has primitive campsites available.)

I will also be posting about my daypack since gear is always popular to blog about.

So what are going to do this summer?  The days are warmer and the nights are warmer.  Hear the whispers in the distance?  Those are your adventures calling.

Knife Fight – The second cut

Earlier I had talked about wanting a new pocket knife and the process I went through in deciding which one would be best for me.  Well Christmas came and not only did I get the knife I chose, I received two others!  Can anyone say comparison test?

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The challengers are the Ontario RAT Model 1, Ontario RAT Model 2, and Leatherman Sidekick.

The baseline I had chosen to compete against is the almost historic Buck 110 Hunter.  (My wife’s favorite large folding knife.)

To be honest, when comparing these three tools against each other, it’s not a fair fight.  Each one is a different size and has different strengths and weaknesses.

As you can see, they all fold nicely and will fit into a pocket no problem, and all have line locks to hold the blade in place. (More on this later.)  What did surprise me is that the Leatherman Sidekick had the smallest blade.  I expected it to be at least the size of the RAT Model 2.

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The advantage of the Sidekick is all the tools packed in it.  You can do so much more with it than the Ontario folders.

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But, of course, it is also heavier.  I can put both Ontario knives in a pocket to offset the weight of the Leatherman which weighs in at 7oz.  The blades are 420 high carbon (HC) stainless steel.  That’s a big plus living in Florida with the high amounts of rain and salty air.  I see the Sidekick coming along with me on bike rides, picnics, beach excursions, and possibly some shopping in other towns.  The bottle opener will come in handy if I ever have that urge to buy Sprite in a glass bottle again.  (They don’t twist open.)

The overall features of the two Ontario RAT knives are the same but the differences in size changes the character of them dramatically.   Both are made in Taiwan, use AUS-8 steel, have stainless steel liners inside the handle, have “jimping” on back of the blades, and have black handles.

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I should also mention here that the RAT in these knives stands for Randal’s Adventure Training.  It’s a woodman/survival school, but I really don’t care about that.  I just like the knives.

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The RAT-2 is the Gentleman’s folder of the two.  Lightest to carry and very discrete.  Its three inch blade is very maneuverable for projects like trimming a picture or cutting down an oversized straw.  Non-knife people won’t feel threatened if you use this to open boxes at work or cut string for a kite at a kid’s birthday party.  My wife balked at me bringing my old Smith and Wesson knife to the movies, but has no concern when I bring this one.  It is the best in a social setting.005

Its big brother, the Ontario RAT Model 1 is the woodsman of the bunch.  Its 3.5 inch long blade is the closest to the original Buck 110 Hunter as is its overall length.

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The blade of the RAT 1 is also a tenth of a centimeter thicker than the Model 2 as well. (0.3 cm/0.12 in for the RAT 1 vs. 0.2cm/0.095in for the RAT 2)

The blade is definitely wider than the blade of the Buck and gives a good, solid feel to the blade as you carve with it.  Chopping through branches is really easy with this knife.

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The AUS-8 steel is nowhere near as rust resistant as Buck’s hard chrome stainless, so you need to keep the blades oiled to prevent rusting in high moisture areas.  (I have a rule of oiling them once a month just to be sure.)

The blade is a flat grind which will make it easier for me to sharpen and while it does seep up to a point, it doesn’t have the hole punching point of the Buck  110.

There are a lot of differences between the Ontario RAT 1 and the Buck 110 Hunter, but two items were the most noticeable to my wife.

The first was the locking mechanism for the blade.

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The Buck uses the lockback design.  What this means is that a long piece of metal along the back of the handle pivots against the bottom of the blade to hold it in place.  Pressing a part of it, levers it open to allow the blade to fold into the handle.

The Ontario uses a liner lock design.  Here the metal on the liner of the handle pushes out against the bottom of the blade to hold it in.  To close the blade, you must push this lock back towards the handle and hold it as you start folding the blade back into its handle.

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My wife doesn’t like the liner lock design because she is concerned about cutting her finger while closing the blade.  I know that once you start the process of closing the blade, you can move your finger out of the way and not worry about cutting yourself.  My personal concern with the lockback design is that lint or dirt can get caught in the pivot point of the blade and locking piece of metal in the handle, preventing it from locking and allowing the blade to swing back into your hand as you are pushing down on the blade to cut.  (In fact this has happened to me a number of times with other folding knives.)

The other difference is in how they open.

The Buck uses the original “pull with your thumbnail” method while the RAT uses a thumbstud to flip it open.  The thumbstud is definitely faster and is easier to use.  Could it get caught in your key ring and open if you shove your keys in your pocket with it?  I guess it’s possible.  I keep them in separate pockets, so that’s never happened to me.  I will say that I personally prefer a knife that is easy to open one handed and takes more attention to close than one that takes attention to open and is easier to close.

So that’s my opinion of these great knives.

The Leatherman Sidekick is great for active days biking or picnicking.

The Ontario RAT 1 is a great camper/woodsman folder

And the Ontario RAT 2 is great for a night on the town.

You can’t go wrong with any of them.

What’s that?  You want to know which one would I pick if I could have only one?  “Sigh.”  I knew you were going to ask that.  Well, since I started this project by looking at my wife’s Buck 110 Hunter and wanting something comparable for me, I have to say I’d pick the Ontario Rat Model 1.  It does all the hard chores with ease and I’m not afraid to work it.  It is exactly what I was looking for.  (I’m still keeping all three though.)

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Cheese in the Cabbage

It’s amazing what you can ignore in your own back yard.  Since my move to Florida, I’ve been to Orlando, Miami, South Beach, St. Augustine, Sebring, Tampa, and Key West.  Along the way I’ve hit Disney, Universal Studios, Bush Gardens, as well as botanical gardens, music concerts, book fairs, and other places of gathering.  And yet, for all this, I almost missed a major landmark and cultural icon.  Cabbage Key.  Heard of it?  No, you’re not sure?  Hmm. Ever hear the song “Cheeseburger in paradise” by Jimmy Buffett?  Yep!   That’s the one.  Cabbage Key and The Cabbage Key Inn are the inspiration for that song and have been featured heavily on many travel and food shows up and down the television channels.

So how did I not see this for so long?  One reason is that you can’t drive to Cabbage Key.  There are no bridges that cross over to the little island and no roads there once you’re on it.  That means travel is limited to boats and water planes.  (Ok. You could technically swim it, but with hammerheads, blacktips, and lemon sharks swimming the intracoastal, I wouldn’t advise it.)  The other reason is that I thought it was much further up the coast.  With a week off, it was a perfect time to correct this mistake.

Taking the King Fisher out of Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda.

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Carol and I enjoyed calm waters as we steamed leisurely up Charlotte Harbor.  Passing the Island of Boca Grande, a few dolphins swam up to join us.

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The First Mate explained to us that the dolphins were not swimming alongside the ship, but were actually surfing the wake.  Cheers and clapping encouraged the finned coupe to jump through the air as they surfed just under the surface.  They also enjoyed giving the closets viewers an unexpected shower as the splashed close by the side of the boat.

After stopping at Cayo Costa state park to let off some passengers for the day, we continued south for another twenty minutes before reaching our destination.

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I was surprised by my findings.  Cabbage Key is small!  I was expecting an island three times larger.  At only 100 acres, it holds five houses, the inn, a water tower, a maintenance shop and a quick nature trail.

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Cabbage Key Inn has wonderful views and the restaurant is covered in the most expensive wall paper I’ve ever seen!   Carol counted over four hundred dollars on the pole alone.

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The wall paper may be a dull green, but the drinks are vibrantly colored.  Carol enjoyed the sweetness of the Chambord Margarita while I indulged in the classic Golden Margarita.  It may have only been two in the afternoon, but why not?

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When you go to iconic places, you have to try the food they’re known for:  Lobster in Maine; Pulled pork bar-b-cue in South Carolina; Paczkis in Hamtramck. Likewise I just had to have a Cheeseburger in Paradise.  I was not disappointed.  Thick and juicy, this perfectly sized burger featured lettuce, tomato, onion, topped with gooey melted cheese, all on a toasted bun.  It doesn’t overload the bun but compliments it.

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There is one deterrent to island life though.  With such limited space, there are no fries with any meal.  In fact, nothing is fried at the restaurant.  There is no cost effective way to store the new and used oil as well as shipping it over to the mainland for proper disposal.  On the bright side, every ingredient is guaranteed fresh as it is brought over on a daily basis.

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After our lunch, Carol and I walked off some calories touring the nature trail.  Full and content, we relaxed as we rode the still water home.  Cabbage Key and the inn found a place in our hearts just as we left a little of us to mark our visit.

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The Celtic Ray – more authentic than I ever knew.

 

Sometimes it takes going to another country to find out how good a place is.  That was the case with The Celtic Ray.

My wife and I have been going there for many years for their tasty food and warm atmosphere.  When relatives visit and want a good Irish pub, The Celtic Ray is the only choice.  I always got a kick taking my brother and his wife there for dinner.

“I can’t believe I have to come to Florida for authentic Irish/English food.”  I’d hear on the ride back.

I got a kick out of hearing that since they visit England regularly.  Being that the owner is Irish, I expected authentic cooking.  It never occurred to me that the authenticity was complete.002

That was until my wife and I went to Ireland last year.  The experience  of visiting multiple cities and all the pubs in them, showed us how The Celtic Ray is an Irish pub.  In fact, it is so authentically Irish that if you picked it up and dropped in off in Killkenny, Dublin, or Gallway that people wouldn’t even notice that it was of U.S. origin.

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It’s done well in Punta Gorda.  So well in fact, that it has tripled in size.  Don’t let that fool you.  When The Celtic Ray first started, it was so small that it defined the word intimate.  If I had to throw out a figure on its size back then, I’d say the dining area and bar were maybe 500 square feet tops.  Now The Celtic Ray has branched out into the building next door, offering more bar space, dining room both upstairs and down as well as a stage for live music.

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The music was good the night we were there.  The singer mixed Irish folk tunes with American ones.  The audience must’ve been regulars for they sang along with every song.  The entire event brought me back to Ireland.

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I have to admit though, that there is one major difference between The Celtic Ray and all the pubs in Ireland.  The Celtic Ray does not serve Budweiser.  In fact, they do not serve any common domestic beer.  If you want Bud, Miller, Busch, Mic, or any other usual big brand beer, go to a usual bar.  If you want beer with flavor and body, go to The Ray.  The beer is hearty and memorable.

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The food is also hearty and memorable.  There are choices of both Irish and English food and many is it good.  It is the only place I will go to get a rack of lamb and their pasties are out of this world!

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The food is so good that even after working outside in 98 degree heat with 80+ percent humidity, you still crave what would be considered a heavy meal.  If you want something familiar, go with the traditional fish and chips.  It’s so good it would make John Oliver weep for joy.  He would feel right at home.

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And that’s what I had to leave the United States to figure out.  If I had never visited Ireland, I would’ve never known how authentic The Celtic Ray truly is.  I would’ve thought it was just an American bar with a good Irish feel to it.  Now I know it is a true Irish Pub.  If you’re ever down in Southwest Florida you should come to The Celtic Ray in Punta Gorda and see for yourself.  You’ll be amazed.