An honest to goodness dog beach! It’s probably the best dog spot in all of Florida. If you know of another dog beach, let me know.
Venice, Florida has a beautiful beachfront park called Brohard Beach Park. At the far end, to the left of Sharky’s and the pier, is a fenced dog park with a boardwalk that leads to the dog beach. Max has gotten really savvy about dog parks – so much so, that I can usually park the car and invite him out sans leash, and he goes right to the gate and waits for me to let him in.
So, we arrived on Wednesday afternoon (after parking in the wrong spot and walking around for a bit trying to find the dog park) and Max made his dash for the gate, then sat waiting to go in. There were two small dogs in the dog park, and it took a bit of coaxing – no make that it took leashing Max – to get him to go along the boardwalk to the true reward!
And what a reward it was! A quintessential Florida white sand beach with beautiful turquoise water breaking onshore. Sun, light southwest breeze off he water, temps in the 70s. Oh! Did I mention there were SCORES of dogs of all shapes and sizes?
Max immediately met up with Riley, a golden doodle about two-thirds his size, and with as much boundless energy, and they were off racing down the beach, leaping and nipping, tails wagging, big goofy grins on their faces. Turned out that Riley was turning one year old today – just two days after Max.
After Riley left, there were other dogs to play with, including a beautiful 9-year-old black standard poodle, some terriers, and a wonderful chocolate Lab whose owner kept throwing a tennis ball into the surf. The Lab would leap the waves to get the ball, sometimes connecting mid-leap, and other times having to swim out a way to fetch it.
Each time, Max would be waiting at the water’s edge to start poking his nose in as if to say, “Okay, already! Now pass it off to me for the return!” and the lab would drop the ball. Max would scoop it up and bring it back to be thrown, over and over and over again.
When they left, my enterprising young guy went off down the beach in search of new playmates, balls, whatever… and when he kept getting another dog’s ball and returning it to me, the owner didn’t seem to be of the sharing nature. The ball was tucked away in a beach chair so Max couldn’t get it – which only made him all the more determined. As soon as I would get him to run off down the beach with me, he’d circle back and head for that chair!
After almost 2 hours on the beach, Max was winding down, I was hungry, and as it happens, I was also sunburned! So, we went back along the boardwalk – again, the only way to get him moving in the right direction was with the leash. Even worn out, he still had a little more energy to give if there was another dog willing to play.
This park is really fabulous. Not only is the beach clean, beautiful, and safe for all the dogs, but they provide water bowls, and a hose for rinsing off the salt and sand!
After hosing off, and (sort of) drying Max with a towel, we piled into the car and drove into Venice for lunch at a nice little sidewalk café. While Max rested beside my chair, I had a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio and a roasted turkey, avocado, swiss, and onion sandwich with some of the best coleslaw yet.
As usual, Max was truly the celebrity of Main Street for the 45 minutes or so we were there. As I expected before we took this trip, he’s been the icebreaker at every stop. People come up and ask the same questions: what kind of dog is he? is he a portuguese water dog? is he a golden doodle? etc. etc. etc.
To a person, they always say things like how beautiful he is, how cute he is, or how he looks like a stuffed animal. And he just sits there, taking it all in like the seasoned celeb that he is – usually along with some loving pats, and chin scratches to boot.
After lunch, we headed north to Sarasota to stay with my friend, Joan. This time, the sometimes not so trusty GPS took me right to Joan’s driveway! We arrived about 4:30PM, and she and I had a really wonderful time talking about my trip, her plans and hopes for making it work to live in Sarasota in the winter, and Stonington in the summer… hours of good talk, wine, and a delicious meal together before going to bed. In between, we managed to get in a couple of meandering dog walks through her neighborhood too.
This morning, before we left, Joan made blueberry pancakes and eggs for breakfast. While she cooked, we grazed on fresh fruit and coffee, and continued our conversation from last night. By the time I packed up dog, me, car it was noon; we finally were on the road by 12:15, heading north for Cedar Key. Thanks to Joan for a wonderful visit!
I had a route planned (again, thanks to Joan and Rand McNally online!) but somehow managed to miss the turn back onto 41 North from 301 North, so ended up totally skirting east around Tampa-St. Pete. By the time I realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore (or on the right route anyway!), we were enough north that it didn’t matter if we were on 41 or not.
The great thing about my misstep today was that we traveled through some beautiful countryside – vast grazing pastures for cattle and horses, trees, small houses by the side of the road, a great little farm stand that sold fresh oranges from their own grove, as well as fresh strawberries and a host of vegetables. Note that I only mention by name the two items I purchased: Honeybell oranges and strawberries! YUM!
The real serendipity today was the discovery of Little Manatee River State Park. For $4 Max and I drove into this beautiful park that allows dogs, horses – yes! horses – camping, canoeing… Don’t tell ranger Ken that I let Max off-leash in the picnic area so he could chase a tennis ball and return it to me for a half hour of play, okay? We were the only ones around, and he needed the exercise… what can I say?
Our little state park respite also gave me time to call my daughter, Cindy, in Portland and hear about the beautiful fluffy snow that was falling. It was great to talk with her: we had a nice chat while I threw the ball for Max to retrieve, and I was able to get caught up a little on what’s doing back home.
Before I knew it, it was 3 PM and I stopped in a Publix parking lot in Riverview to eat a late lunch. I had my driver’s window open, and a car pulled up next to me so the driver could ask “Where are you from in Maine?” After I told him “Deer Isle,” he pointed to his wife and himself and said, “Orono!”
Turns out they moved here permanently a couple of years ago to be near their son and daughter-in-law, and they love it. We talked and I gave them a card for my blog, and they wished me safe journeys after telling me they were on the way to pick up a grandson.
I went back to eating, and was interrupted again by a young man who said, “I noticed that you were handing things out your window and didn’t want to be left out. Can I give you this?” (Which turned out to be a religious pamphlet.) Without thinking, I had said that he could and had taken it in hand. I quickly gave him one of my blog cards in return, and he began telling me why it was important for me to read the paper, and to get the free book that was being offered.
Basically, he was offering a way to salvation through understanding what the Bible has to say – which I was not interested in hearing, and I told him so. When he persisted, I held up my hands and said, “Please. I am not interested.”
I give him credit for being kind enough to back away and apologize for intruding. Then he asked me what my card was, and I told him that I was traveling around the country with my dog, and he could follow us online. He said something like, “That is a really beautiful thing!” and he urged me to drive safely, and have a good trip.
As he got into his truck, he shouted over to me, “Make sure to mention me in your blog!” So, here he is – nameless, passionate believer, and considerate enough to ease off when asked. Thank you.
Finally back on the road, I decided it was time to make some time and get onto I-75 North. Well! That didn’t work out so well for us! Almost as soon as we got on 75, the skies opened up with torrential rain. Traffic slowed to 40 MPH, then picked up as the rain slowed, then back down to 40 when the deluge returned. This went on for probably 10 miles, before we moved beyond the rain into, if not clear skies, at least no rain.
We traveled about another 10 miles and traffic began slowing, then all northbound lanes ended up crawling along at a snail’s pace. Soon, an ambulance and a fire truck came wailing up behind us, forcing cars to pull off to the right and left to make space. Aha, accident up ahead…
Soon, another ambulance and fire truck came up behind. Then a third ambulance. This could be bad, I thought. By the time we snaked our way past the accident scene, I was relieved to see that it had been a 6-car chain reaction collision, probably the result of someone slowing down in the deluge and cars behind not being able to see them. It didn’t look too bad; nobody looked like they needed an ambulance, so I breathed a sigh of relief and joined the rest of the cars as we picked up speed again.
All in all, it could have been a frustrating day on the road – missed turn, didn’t get to my destination (Cedar Key), five-mile traffic backup. Instead, I ended the day grateful to find a motel that would take Max, with a comfortable room, and a reasonable price. And I was grateful for the slower pace of driving that today brought. By missing the turn back to 41 North, we found a peaceful country route, some fresh fruit, a state park, and some nice people who wished us well on our journey.
I think we were lucky to get any room at the inn tonight though. It seems there’s a dog show in town, and the whole place is overrun with canines. Max may be the only non-show dog here, but what does he care? He’s a star wherever he goes – who needs a ribbon???