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.

Torchbug from Jalopnik

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.

Sheep

 

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.

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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Pinball Wizards

 

Summer is ending quick, but there is still time for an epic adventure.  You can still enter the Pinball Run.

The Pinball Run is a ten day rally that starts in Portland, Maine and ends in Key West, Florida.  Normally a drive like this would take anywhere between two and three days, depending on how you drive.  The wizards behind this run have allowed you a whopping ten days to do the trip.  There is one little quirk to this I haven’t mentioned.  This run is on mopeds.

Yep. Mopeds.  Those two wheeled machines that many seem to own, but few will admit to.  If there was ever a vehicle definition of counter culture, the moped is it.

If that wasn’t enough, the organizers of the Pinball Run have limited the size of the engines to 50ccs.  That means you get to ride roughly 1,800 miles at roughly 30 miles an hour.  Doing the math, you’re doing an average of 180 miles per day for six hours of riding; not counting lunch, breakdowns, construction, gassing up, bath room breaks, elevation, and other goodies.

All this with other riders and most likely an angry horde of traffic behind you the entire way.

Motorcycle riders like to show their toughness by doing runs called “Iron Butt”.  These are rides from 1,000 to 5,000 miles in one to five days respectively.  Now I will admit that those are tough long distance challenges, but none of these have the added stress of traffic looming behind you, waiting to pounce like an angry lion.  In my opinion, the Pinball Run is every bit as challenging.

To make it easier, teams are allowed.  You can have up to three riders taking shifts, or you can have three riders each on their own moped.  If one breaks down and can’t be repaired, that rider can become a shift rider on one of the other bikes.

While I may not be going to this (I don’t even own a moped.) it’s always fun to imagine how I would do this.

First is the bike:  I’d go as new as possible.  I know nothing about these machines and want the most reliable one I can get my hands on.  It needs to have good sized wheels on it to handle all the potholes, bumps, dips, and railroad crossings I’ll encounter while helping to give a smooth ride.

Image from diytrade.com

 

I also want racks on it; front and back.  I’m going to be on the road for ten days.  I’m going to need clothing, toiletries, snacks, water (not too much, mind you), tools, small repair kit, tire repair kit, and other odds and ends.  Weight is an issue with such a weak motored vehicle, but a balance can be made.

Second is safety gear:  Helmets and motorcycle specific clothing are always the smart thing to wear when riding on a motorcycle; They are even more important when on a moped that does not have the power to get out of the way.

Third are maps:  The organizers recommend either a GPS or a GPS app for your smart phone.  They even go so far as to show different ways to keep your smart phone or GPS charged during the run.  This is done because there are check-points along the way.  That’s all fine, but I’d go old school.  My original adventures used maps and they must still be useful since RoadRunner Magazine still prints them on their last page every issue.  Besides the guys over at Pinball dissed analogers.  Someone’s gotta show them what’s up.

Fourth is a computer or tablet of some kind:  If you think I’m going to do this and not blog about it, you’re nuts!  This thing just begs blogging.

Fourth and a half is a camera:  Gotta get pics.  With so much to see, it’d be a shame not to share.

Fifth is some goofy mascot:  A stuffed animal, action figure, pet fish, a trip like this just screams for something out of the ordinary leading the way.

With all this, I’d be good to go.  How about you?  Would you do this run?  If so, what would your set up be?

And for those who can’t get enough, here’s some links.

http://www.pinball-run.com/Welcome

https://www.facebook.com/pinball.run

Oh, and if you’re a woman making this run, tell the organizers that you want a beefcake drawing to even out the cheesecake one.  It’s only fair.

Epic Adventures by Bike

A third of July has come and gone; have you had your summer epic adventure yet?  Don’t think you can afford one?  Have you considered doing an epic bike adventure?

 

A bicycle is usually forgotten when thinking about epic adventures, but many adventures are lived on the humble bike.

Image from ookaboo.com

 

Peter Egan, lauded scribe and editor of Road & Track and CycleWorld magazine, bought a bicycle and rode with his friend from Paris, France to Barcelona, Spain to watch a Grand Prix race after his tour of duty in Vietnam.  They road roughly eighty miles a day through the Andes and had a memorable time doing it.

Not Peter Egan and not France, but you get the idea. Image by http://www.bikechina.com

 

When my friend Ian graduated from High School, he celebrated by flying over to England and riding through the country on a bike.

Not Ian, but England Image by blog.wickedcampers.co.uk

 

With no need for insurance, licensing, or fuel, a bicycle makes the adventure affordable.  If you’re in your mid-teens, a good bike makes the adventure attainable!

Even if you don’t have any gear, it won’t break the bank to build a decent outfit; and that includes the bike.  A quick walk through Craig’s List listed decent bikes starting at $10 and allowing yourself $50 will open up the choices to an unbelievable amount.  (Some will even have baskets and rear racks already installed, giving you more bang for your buck.)  A decent helmet is in the $20 to $30 range and the same goes for a tire repair kit and mini air pump as well.  I found tents as low as $20 and sleeping bags for $10.  School sized backpacks are everywhere and can be tied to the rack with bungees or clothesline if needed.  Cheap ponchos can be had at the dollar store and camping food can be bought along the way if you want to save weight.

 

You could turn gear buying into a mini adventure itself.  Riding around town, checking out the garage sales for discount gear builds up your stamina while adding to the excitement.  If you’re planning a group ride adventure, you could have a contest to see who gets their gear first and who gets it at the best deal.

The adventure itself doesn’t have to be overseas to be epic.  A trip to the next county or twenty miles down the road can be enough to be memorable.  You could ride to a campground and spend the week fishing, hiking, and biking in natures surrounding.  If camping is not your game, you could ride to various cafés or pubs to check out the local bands.  Food, history, architecture, art, sports, scenery; you can make anything the reason for your ride.  It’s all up to you.  An epic adventure doesn’t require a motor, just some imagination and a willingness to go for it.  A bicycle is a great and inexpensive way to get on the road or down the trail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s only July, how about an adventure?

http://www.railstotrails.org/index.html

 

Going on Safari – Tampa style

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Have you ever dreamed of going on Safari in Africa to see wildlife roaming in the open fields and not in segregated enclosures?  Well what would you say if I told you that you can have that experience without having to fly to Africa?  What would you think if I told you, you can go on Safari deep in the heart of Tampa?  Don’t believe me?  I have two words for you.

Busch Gardens

That’s right.  Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.  The land of wild rollercoasters and whirling rides is home to one of the first open air zoos in the country.

Opened in 1965, “The Serengeti Plain” started with 29 acres of land dedicated to the animals transferred there and has grown to a whopping 65 acres.

The animals living on the plain are diverse yet compatible.  All are herbivores so you never have to worry about a predator getting the munchies and every female is checked to see if she is in a “dating” mood.  If so, she is separated from the herd and spends her time in the “love shack”. (My words, not theirs)  The love shack must work well because over the years many “kids” have been born at the zoo.  There’s also an “exchange” with other zoos to promote diversity.

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So what animals do you get to see on this safari? How about Zebras, Rhinos, Addax, Bongos, Impalas, Storks, Ibis, and Giraffes?  You get to see all these animals roaming freely around the 65 acre habitat as you ride along in the back of a truck.  A fleet of ford F-350s has been slightly modified for safety and giving the rider the best views possible.  There are fold down benches for those that need them, but expect to stand the entire 30 minutes of the trip.  If you have a large crowd going, don’t worry, the trucks fit 18 people with ease.  (Although I do recommend calling ahead if you are planning to go as a large group.)

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It goes without saying, bring your camera.  There’s lots to see and the picture opportunities are outstanding!

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Also expect some up close and personal attention from the giraffes.  They get that way when they know they are about to be fed.  Did I tell you that you get to feed the giraffes on this safari?  No?  Well you do!

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The guide on the trip will hand out scrumptious green leaves to everyone in the group so they can each have their own one on one time with the giraffes.  Be careful though, some of the older giraffes are tricky and will try to sneak all your leaves so they can get the next persons.

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If the giraffes get over excited and reach a little too far, don’t worry, they can’t hurt you.

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Your hand might get a little wet, but that’s ok; the guides have gallons of liquid sanitizer at the ready.

Besides feeding the giraffes, experts literally climb aboard mid-trip to tell you all about the animals and answer any questions you may have.  A half hour flies by quick and before you know it, you’re back at the station with great pictures, memories, and stories to tell.

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Prices range anywhere from $19 to $39 depending on the season and time of the trip. (They even have a sunset safari for the truly exotic.)

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If you ever wanted to go on safari but can’t fund crossing the pond to do it, come to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and try their Serengeti Plains.  It’s an experience worth having.

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