Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

We had two weeks to get to Tampa from the Raleigh area, so we had planned on doing some sightseeing and taking our time getting to Florida for the remaining two games in our schedule. After another night's stay at the rink in Raleigh, we pulled up stakes and headed south. Our destination for the day was Wilmington NC. It was a pretty quiet drive down highway 40. North Carolina also seems to have the messiest highways I have seen in our travels. Along with the ordinary trash, there were chairs, coolers and lots of cooler lids with no coolers. Maybe they haven't done their spring clean up yet. It sure was messy. We stayed in another woodsy campground near Wilmington and enjoyed the warmer weather. After a great breakfast, it was a short drive to the border of South Carolina. The one thing I noticed immediately upon entering SC, was the palm trees. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and everything was so green and colourful. Myrtle Beach is just a short drive from the border of the Carolinas right on the coast. I have never been there before, so didn't know what to expect. It was very touristy, but mostly deserted at this time of year. I guess the golfers and tourists are mostly present in the fall and the spring. It was a cold day with the wind blowing in off the ocean when we were there, so I can see why there weren't many people around. We stayed at a local campground that was again like being in the woods. If there is one thing you can count on seeing when you are in the Carolinas, it is pine trees. I thought Northern Ontario had a lot of pine trees. So do North and South Carolina. Lots and lots of tall ones. There are also lots of living oak trees. They have leaves on them all year round. They shed constantly and are very messy. At every campground they seem to be cleaning up after them with leaf blowers. And very early in the morning too!!! We headed out in the morning for Charleston as our next stop. We travelled along the ocean highway and saw bits and pieces of the water. The area along the northern coastal area is The Grand Strand. There were a lot of bridges to cross when we got to the Charleston area, but we finally found our campground. It too was in a piney woods area in the north of the city. It was mostly quiet till after supper when we kept hearing gunfire. It came in regular rounds and we found out that we were quite near a firing range. That went on for a couple of hours and then it stopped. Ran out of ammunition I guess. After sleeping with one eye open we made our way to the southern coast area. Moonshine Madness on the radio kept us moving while we got ready to go in the morning. As we left the Charleston area, we passed some beautiful homes as we made our way back to Interstate 95. They were every colour imaginable. They were all surrounded by gorgeous trees and bushes. Some were just plain green, but some were flowering. And most of the trees had Spanish moss hanging from them. It looked so wispy and airy. I read in a travel brochure that there is an old tale about why Spanish moss hangs from the trees, that has to do with a young couple. They were travelling under a banner of trees when they were attacked and murdered on the spot. The locals cut the young woman's hair and hung it from the trees where they both died. Spanish moss grows and hangs like hair from the trees in their memory. An interesting old tale indeed. We were now on our way to Hilton Head, where we planned on staying for a few days. The campground we stayed at was indeed one of the nicest we have been to. I would say it is at the top of the list for me. It was a well established campground with many of the lots being owned by the campers. Much like a condo, only with a RV. The landscaping and maintenance of the grounds was beautiful. There were palm trees mixed in with the living oaks and pine trees. Baskets and beds overflowed with lots of colourful flowers, so it was my kind of place. It made me anxious to get home and work in my own gardens. We had dinner with the Ferriers and the Mansers from good old Elmira on two nights while we were at Hilton Head. It was nice to see some people from back home. The grounds were indeed beautiful, but to maintain them they had the leaf blowers running about six hours a day. I grew weary of that noise after the first day. We rented bicycles for three days and did some major biking. For us anyway. There are bike paths to follow everywhere on the island and the main highway loop in the centre of the island has a bike path going beside it the entire way around. We biked for two or three hours everyday and it was a nice way to get around. We even biked several miles on the beach one afternoon. We haven't had a car available to us when we are stopped and camped, so we have to make sure we get our supplies before we make camp or walk when possible. It was nice to bike to the store and do a bit of shopping. We left Hilton Head and the leaf blowers behind and made our way south to Florida. It was the warmest day of our stay here. When we left later in the morning the mercury had already risen to 76F. The warmer weather was now beckoning. We went as far as Jacksonville and camped at a place right by the highway. It too was very woodsy and had a small outdoor restaurant that served barbeque. There was a huge meat smoker going right beside the screened eating area. Lots of locals came for their barbeque. That is one term I have found funny as we have travelled in the southern U.S. At home where we live, you barbeque your food. And you cook it on the barbeque. In the south, you grill your food and you eat barbeque. Every restaurant has claims to having the best barbeque around. And some of them do. We have had some good barbeque!! The next morning it was back on the highway as we planned on getting to the Orlando area by the afternoon. Today is February 23rd, which is Dan's birthday. It seems fitting that we arrived in Orlando where he played for two hockey seasons and won a Turner Cup championship, on this his birthday. It didn't make the day sting as much. For me, he felt close. We camped in the Disney area and met up with some of the Snyder family while there. Jeff, Jacky, Blaire and Nicole were starting a holiday in the Orlando area and we spent two days with them. Finally, we made our way to the Tampa area. We found a place to stay just near Busch Gardens that conveniently had a huge weekend flea market across the highway. It also just happened to be Sunday, so that made for a good way to pass the afternoon. Also, as luck would have it, there was a shooting range (inside a small trailer) right beside the flea market, and we got to listen to gunfire for the evening again. I guess we are in the south. Guns and Barbeque instead of Guns and Roses. Finally on the 27th we made our way to the St. Pete Times Forum, which is where the Tampa Bay Lightening play. The team arranged for us to stay behind the rink at the loading dock for the night after the game. Graham attended the game day skate and I explored the shops on the waterfront. A good deal as far as I was concerned. Game time soon approached and the Lightning had their hands full with the Dallas Stars. During the first period intermission, Executive Vice President and General Manager Jay Feaster and Community Relations Director Nancy Crane presented us with a cheque for the Dan Snyder Memorial Foundation in the amount of $3500.00. They made the presentation on the Lightning bench and we were very grateful for their generosity. We also had a nice surprise cheque from Russ and Lorraine Snyder. Lorraine found us in the concourse level at the Tampa arena and we then met Russ. They met Dan when he played his first year in Orlando. They introduced themselves at the beginning of that season and Dan said it would be nice to have "family" at the games. They went to see him when he played his first game in Atlanta. He signed their "Snyder" jersey for them. When Dan passed away, they also sent us his jersey from his first year in Orlando. They bid on it at the end of the year and had Dan sign it for them. It was ripped and sewed in a couple of places and had a lot of holes in it. Russ said that it looked just like the way Dan played. Rough and tumble. It was very generous of them to send it to us and is a treasured keepsake for our family. Their donation to Dan's Memorial Foundation was much appreciated and again they showed us their generosity. The amount reflected the numbers he wore. $1519.37. Very symbolic numbers indeed. Thank you Russ and Lorraine. It was nice to finally meet you. The game went to overtime with the Stars coming out on top by a final score of 2-1. That makes our record 18 wins and 11 losses for the home team. This is stop number 29. One more stop to go. It seems like yesterday that it was stop one with 29 to go. The time has passed quickly. I must say though, the warm weather makes the winter go much faster. It just doesn't seem to work that way in the cold north! Miami and the Florida Panthers, here we come.

Graham's Game Report

Feb 27, 2007
St. Pete Times Forum
Dallas Stars vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

This game featured two teams who have been playing well lately. As expected it was a close game decided in overtime by recently acquired Ladislav Nagy of the Stars. It was a tense day around the rink today as teams made a multitude of moves on deadline day. The sight of a player heading out of the rink with a hockey bag and sticks slung over his shoulder just a few hours before the game was a reminder how little control players have over their careers and how it changes a family's dynamic in the blink of an eye.
The Stars got off to a quick start and controlled play for long stretches of time even though the game remained scoreless past the halfway point in the match. Jere Lehtinen notched a powerplay marker to break the goosegg but Brad Richards broke loose on a shorthanded breakaway late in the second period and put a slick move on Marty Turco to tie the score. After a scoreless third period with strong goaltending at both ends the above mentioned Nagy quieted the boisterous home fans for the ony time all night. We were pleasantly surprised by the strong support the Lightning receive in a city not recognized as a hockey hotbed. The Cup win I'm sure is a factor but it feels like the Bolts have found a home in Tampa.
It hardly seems possible but we head south to Miami now to see our 30th NHL rink. An amazing journey it's been but we seem to be running out of road.

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