Saturday, August 15, 2015


Fruity drinks on the beach....digging my toes into the sand....watching the pelicans as they glide low over the water.  It's time!  Time to return to my place on Captiva Island and enjoy a bit of self-pampering and indulgence.

I've been an owner at South Seas Club Resort on the north end of Captiva Island for 32 years.  Hard to believe it's been so long!  Over those years I've watched my son grow up - now himself a middle-aged man and father - and watched the change and evolution of this resort as it went through its ups and downs of ownership, management and the economy.  I even watched as it survived and rebuilt after Hurricane Charley.

Entrance to reception area, taken in 2004

I've seen how both of us have aged over those years, the inevitable march of time across not only my own face but across the "face" of this resort.   I must say, the resort is aging far more gracefully than I am.  Beautifully re-purposed buildings, construction of new facilities, revamping and refocusing of the resort's mission statement, have all resulted in a resort that is timely, appropriate, and just downright gorgeous!

When I bought into this resort in the early 80's, it was all about the adults. After all, it was the height of the "Yuppie" era, the start of the "me generation" fostered by unprecedented career and salary growth among the baby boomers who wanted it all.  Turn the kids over to Captiva Kids camps during the day while the adults took sailing lessons, SCUBA'd or snorkeled, went deep sea fishing, and then turn them loose on age-appropriate supervised evening activities, while the adults had a jacket-and-tie formal dinner at the fine-dining restaurant, the King's Crown.  The resort catered to this demographic back then.

After Hurricane Charley hit Captiva square-on in 2004, the resort closed for almost two years, as it rebuilt, repaired, reconstructed, refurbished, replanted, and reorganized.  I was at the resort the week the hurricane hit. As soon as the forecasts were accurate enough to predict the location of landfall, I called Continental Airlines and re-booked my flight home for that Wednesday, just two days before the storm made landfall and the day I was originally scheduled to fly home.  Then I rented a bicycle and, with camera in hand, took an extensive photojournalism tour of the resort, taking photos of literally everything on the resort.  I wanted the historical record before the hurricane hit.
I'm so glad that I did this. Captiva 2004 Album

During that closure, the resort totally reinvented itself.  Gone was the stuffy formal King's Crown restaurant.  Gone was the stodgy and dated restaurant at the south end of the resort, Chadwick's.  Gone was the antiquated "beauty parlor" where women could get their bouffant hairdos touched up in time for their formal dinner.  Gone was the rather "pedestrian" rectangular main pool.  These were good decisions.
The main pool on the north end of the resort as it appeared in 2004 before the hurricane.

The main pool complex as it appears today in 2015.  Consists of three pools:  The pool
at the H2 Whoa! water park, an olympic pool to the left, and a large free form walk-in shallow
pool to the right with water features.  A tiki bar, a restaurant, and oodles and oodles of
shaded seating areas surrounding the pool areas.

 But also gone, sadly, was the cool, old Cap'n Al's bar and grill on the docks at the north end.  They actually had remodeled it years before the hurricane.  It was a neat old wooden building, dark with age, its interior rustic with wooden beams and floor and nicked, stained dark wooden tables and chairs. Feral cats lived beneath it in the crawl space; they were fixtures, living off of lizards and food scraps.  Well, they trapped all of the cats and raccoons and gave the old building a major face lift and bright and cheery paint job.  But it sustained major damage in the hurricane and was significantly remodeled into a new, airy casual restaurant and bar in its place.  They reoriented the entryway from the street side to the dock side, with some really cool outdoor casual seating groupings facing the water and renamed it Harbourside Bar and Grill.

Cap'n Al's, taken in 2004 just days before the hurricane hit Captiva.
Today this restaurant is called Harbourside Bar and Grill and has
been totally remodeled with a different exterior.

Today the resort is all about the kids!  It has transformed itself into a family-friendly, kid-centric resort, filled with little touches to delight the kids.  There is now a water park, just for the kids, adjacent to the main pool complex, lushly landscaped, lots of seating in the shade for the parents, all within quick reach of the little ones.

View of the kids pool area, called H2 Whoa!

Two really cool slides in the children's water park, H2 Whoa!

The shops, the cafes and restaurants, the activities, the resort grounds - and the tiny little touches in place to catch a passing child's fancy - all aimed at pleasing both parents and children.

Child-centric pool shop, selling toys even adults would like
I wanted the poolside Barbie doll but resisted!

My granddaughter would have loved to do this!!

Fun photo op for the kids!  And the adults!

Randomly placed bubble machine by the beach.  Non-stop captivation

I returned to the resort the first year it reopened after the hurricane.  I was curious to see the damage and to see how reconstruction was proceeding.  Not all facilities were open.  In fact, very little was open.  Only the Ship's Store and Cap'n Als had been rebuilt or repaired and were open.  But with my own kitchen and plenty of food stocked, that was unimportant.  What was very important was the loss of habitat and devastating loss of vegetation.  It was shocking and heartbreaking! In particular, along the beautiful resort drive from the south end to the north end - a pristine, undeveloped 2 mile stretch - was pretty much destroyed by the hurricane.

The resort drive, running the 2 mile length of the resort, a runner's paradise,
with ample shade along the way.

That same stretch of road in 2006 - two years after the hurricane.  Totally destroyed
habitat and cover for wildlife....and runners.

I don't return every year, but I do try to go back every 3rd or 4th year. I returned again in 2011.   Ever so slowly, the vegetation along the 2 mile long resort road is returning.  It will still be another decade or more before it reaches the height and cover it provided pre-hurricane.   The resort has replaced many of the large palms and plantings in the landscaped areas of the resort and along the golf course, and the landscaping today is, in one word: gorgeous!

And now again am returning in 2015.  I was in need of a purely decadent vacation, one not in any way tied to running a half marathon race.  So I booked my flight and rented a car (after debating whether to fly or drive) and then counted the days until it was time to go.

United has only one non-stop flight into Ft. Myers.  It's always been that way, even when it was Continental Airlines.  So I am always at the mercy of their flight schedule which changes at least yearly.  Some years that flight would get me there in the early afternoon.  Some years it would get me in late at night, in which case I'd fly in the day before and stay on the mainland that night. This year it got me into Ft. Myers early evening.  I made a quick stop at the big Super Walmart to buy a pillow (the resort pillows are awful) and to stock up on food, wine, beer, and anything I may have realized I'd forgotten.

I got to the resort at around 7:30 PM - it's a long drive to get down to the bay, go across the causeway, travel the entire length of Sanibel Island, and then onto Captiva Island - and picked up the key to my condo before driving up to the north end of the resort where my unit is.  As soon as I could get unpacked and get the groceries put away, I walked over toward the beach just in time for the sunset.  Always a stunner, always predictable, always a photo op.

Sunset on my first evening in paradise....Captiva!

Getting morning runs in here is so easy, since there are plenty of options and diversions along the way...ocean and bay views, wildlife - owls, osprey, lizards - and a Starbucks at the south end of the resort, just a convenient 2 mile run from my condo.  The Osprey population has increased since the hurricane and every day I could hear them calling. I spotted at least two bonded pair in my runs and walk-abouts at the resort.  A fairly new nest platform had been erected along the golf course near my condo, no doubt in response to a pair trying to nest in an inappropriate location.  Very cool!!

Osprey nest platform just to the right of the large cabbage palm

4.6 mile run for Starbucks on Sunday morning, before the sun was up.  
My first morning run came on Sunday morning, a 4.6-miler, and netted me a Starbucks cappuccino.

Tuesday Morning Run:  Shorter, 3.4 mile very early morning run in the dark
and in the rain rain for Starbucks. 
My second morning run came on Tuesday morning, a 3.4-miler, netted me another Starbucks cappuccino and drenched running gear and soaking wet running shoes.  Always fun to run in the rain.

Wet running shoes drying on the balcony.

Wednesday morning run:
This started out as a short run for Starbucks but it was feeling so good
that it turned into a 6.2 mile run before stopping for a Starbucks.
My third morning run started out as just an easy run to get a Starbucks.  But I was feeling good and instead of going into the Starbucks store, I turned left out of the resort and kept on going.  Then I turned around and headed back the way I came, stopped at the Starbucks along the way, for a 6.2-miler.

Saturday late morning "I'm on vacation" celebration
at the Tiki bar, having an excellent, spicy Bloody Mary.
I started my vacation officially by having a most excellent Bloody Mary at the Tiki bar on the bayside of the resort.  By far the best ever, good and spicy with plenty of olives to add their own certain salty piquancy to the drink.

Lunchtime beer

Crispy buffalo chicken wrap with a beer, poolside at The Pointe

I made sure that I had an outdoor lunch every single day.  Some days I ate at The Pointe overlooking Pine Island Sound and the main pool complex.

Having a Captiva Sunrise, a fruity drink enjoyed on the beach
at Sunset Beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico
 The old beachfront bar, the Sandbar, pre-hurricane:

The Sandbar, beach front bar, as it appeared in 2004

The beachfront bar today, with outdoor table seating on the sand, grill, bar, sundries shop:

The beachfront bar today

Other days I ate at Sunset Beach Bar on the beach, in the shade of palm trees overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunset Bar table seating on the beach

My favorite spot at the Sunset Beach bar: on a stool, sipping a cool
drink, waiting for my lunch to be ready.

Many waitstaff working those beach umbrella patrons out there on the beach.

The old Uncle Bob's ice cream parlor before the hurricane:

Uncle Bob's Ice Cream Parlor in 2004.  Small, cramped, always a long line out the door.
Sold ice cream and penny candy.  

The new ice cream parlor, in a new location, bigger, better, serving ice cream and pizza, right across from the entrance to the H2 Whoa! water park:

The new ice cream and pizza shop, large interior with tables and booths.

The shoreline has changed the most of anything over the years.  Erosion, enrichment, more erosion, more enrichment....the beach front is continually shifting, sometimes with a gentle slope down to the water, sometimes with an abrupt two-foot drop onto the tide line.  But one constant has always been there:  the sea turtle nests this time of year.

Beach in 2004, just two days before the hurricane hit.  Some significant but normal
 erosion of the beach, pre-hurricane.

Same stretch of beach in 2015.  Notice total change in contour of the
beach front and loss of nearly all significant trees.

Sea turtle nest in 2004, before the hurricane. Note the sharp drop-off down to tide line
and amount of vegetation before the hurricane.

Sea turtle nest in 2015.  Gentler drop-off to high tide line and
significant loss of vegetation along the beach.
 After the hurricane, the 9-hole golf course with par-3 to par-5 holes was converted to a par-3 executive course.  This moved all of the tee boxes to the western side of the resort roadway and left more open land for greenscape.  It was a nice change, and also moved the golfers through the course more quickly.

I noticed this year that traffic on the golf course seemed very light. Changing times, changing demographics, and probably a victim of the family orientation of the resort these days.  My condo looks out over the tee box for the first hole.  In past years I could sit out on my screened in balcony and eat my breakfast while watching the golfers line up - sometimes get stacked up - as they teed off.  When my husband was alive, the ritual was to arrive and immediately go to the pro shop to get our tee times booked for the week. The course would be so busy that we were always paired with another couple, so that they could push more people - foursomes - through the course.  Not anymore.  Times have definitely changed. was a wonderful and relaxing week.  I accomplished what I wanted to do, which was pretty much very little.  The change of scenery added new life to my running - always a plus.  I drank bloody Mary's for breakfast, had fruity rum drinks for lunch, sat by the beach, sat by the pool, ran to Starbucks several times.  Watched the sunset over the Gulf.  Watched the sunrise over the bay.  And as much as I didn't want to, it was time to go home.

Next:  Race day in Montreal!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Ennui of Summer

It's August in South Texas, where daytime temperatures are flirting with that 100-degree mark and the ground and all green, growing things are turning crispy brown despite the sprinkler system's best watering efforts.  I'm packing my bags, getting ready for a trip down to my beachfront condo on Captiva Island to escape the heat.  I'm trading the relentless scorching hot days of Texas for the fresh offshore breezes and daily afternoon showers on an island in South Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, where temperatures are easily 10 degrees cooler.

It was Monday morning, just days away from my trip to Florida and I had no cares in the world, my only quandary being what sandals to pack.  I was sitting at my breakfast table, enjoying my morning coffee.  What could go wrong?

I suddenly realized that it seemed to be getting rather warm in the house.  I got up out of my chair and walked to the thermostat and there, before my astonished eyes, was the readout:  85 degrees and climbing!  That's not good!  The fan was running, and I remembered that it felt appropriately cool when I got out of bed earlier that morning.  This must have just happened.

A quick check outside and indeed....the compressor was not running.  Then a quick check of the circuit breaker and it had been tripped.  I flipped it to off then flipped it back on and it immediately tripped again.  Well, crud!

I pulled out my paperwork for the A/C unit and found the phone number of the company I'd been using for years to service my unit.  They assured me that someone would be out to look at it within the next two hours and that they'd call to let me know they were on their way.  Did I say how much I love this company?
The old compressor is "toast."  It shorted to ground and the
hard start capacitor exploded.

Sure enough....within an hour I got a call letting me know they'd just left their last job and were on their way, would be there within the half hour.  And they were.  As soon as they popped open the panel on the compressor, they identified the problem  The hard start capacitor had exploded.  A check with an ohmmeter showed a ground fault and the compressor was declared DOA.

close up of the exploded start capacitor.  the insides were all
black and melted.  Wow!

We reviewed all of my options for replacement and I chose what I felt would be the best unit for my home, my lifestyle, and my expected tenure in this house.  Because of the Freon regulations and the recent Federal change in SEER requirements, my entire system including the coil, compressor, and furnace would need to be replaced.  For the heart of the HVAC system I went with a 4-ton Trane 20 SEER variable speed compressor.  Not cheap, unfortunately, but definitely the cadillac of systems.

Temperature in the house up to 91 degrees, on the way to 93 degrees.

It's no surprise that the HVAC companies are absolutely covered up with service calls in this, the hottest month of the year in Greater Houston.  So Thursday was the soonest they'd be able to do the install work.  This meant almost 4 days without A/C.  Meanwhile the temperature inside my house had climbed to 93 degrees.

Nice portable a/c units...this one in my bedroom easily cooled
the room, the adjoining large master bath and the huge walk in closet.

And here's another reason why I love this company.  They had two LG portable AC units delivered to my house late Monday evening.  The two young men hauled them in, unpacked them, set them up and showed me how to change the settings with remote controls.  Very cool!

The portable unit in the living area.  A bit of struggle for this unit to get
anywhere near a comfortable temp during the day, because of all the open
space and high ceilings in the living area, breakfast room, kitchen, dining room.
But way better than nothing at all!!

I had them put one unit in my bedroom and the other one in the living area.  The bedroom unit quickly got the bedroom, master bath, even the large walk in closet down to a comfortable temperature within an hour.  The unit in the living area had a much tougher job.  It struggled to somewhat cool the large open area of living area, kitchen, breakfast room, dining room and foyer.  I closed off the laundry room, guest bedroom and bathroom, and office, which helped, but no doubt about it.  The very large open area was a struggle for that little unit.

I went to bed that night, filled with thoughts of dread and frustration.  Dread at the prospects of getting the actual work done on Thursday, so close to my departure the next morning for my Florida trip.  What if something goes wrong?  What if the job spills over to the next day?  Frustration at the unneeded and unexpected expense so close on the heels of my very expensive attic remediation work in January.  Now that I've completed my 50 States 50 Half Marathons quest, I'd hoped to pull back on spending for the next year or so, try to recover a bit and rebuild my savings account.  Now this.

Temperatures soared the next two days.  The little portable A/C units were able to recover overnight and get the house temperature down to 78 or 79 degrees, but it quickly warmed up throughout the day, reaching over 90 degrees in the living area.  The bedroom/bathroom suite stayed comfortably cool throughout the day, but that's not where I was spending my daylight hours.  And it seemed that each day, the house got a little warmer as it accumulated a heat load in the windows and walls, the furnishings, the cabinets and closets. Thursday was not going to come soon enough.

In the midst of this fiasco I needed to get a run or two in, get laundry done in preparation for my trip, and get packed before the distractions of Thursday's service call/installation.  The temperature in my laundry room became almost intolerable as I cycled the loads through the washer and dryer because I kept the laundry room door closed to preserve whatever cool air that little portable AC unit could generate out there in the living area.

On Thursday morning I received a call from the company letting me know that they were loading their gear and equipment and would be getting to my place within the next couple of hours.  I could not wait!

They arrived and with tremendous efficiency got started.  Earlier in the morning I'd pulled the two retracting stairwells down part way to encourage better air flow through the attic and the ridge vents before their arrival.  I knew it was going to be suffocatingly hot up there in the attic.

old compressor and plenum/coil.  

One man got the old compressor disconnected, bled and flushed the lines, and then moved the new compressor into place and started the hook-ups.  The other two crew members got started in the attic disconnecting the plenum coil and the furnace and getting them moved out of the attic.

New Trane unit.  So much bigger and taller than the old
unit.  High-end features and maximum seer rating.

As efficient as they were, it was still a long, hot job to get this done.  The temperature in the living area steadily climbed into the 90's and as miserable as I was, I had to remind myself how miserable it had to be for those two who were working up in that hot attic.

The new coil (left), furnace (center), and plenum (right).  Obviously much
better quality than what was removed.  The coil is a totally different design
with much greater surface exchange area!  Much larger plenum with thickly insulated walls.

By late afternoon they had everything installed, and started charging the compressor unit.  He had me step outside so that I could hear just how quiet this new unit is.  Wow!  I couldn't even hear it until I was standing right next to it, and then it was just a slight humming noise.

Great job, folks!

Good job guys!  Lots of ice water, several bottles of cold Gatorade were donated to their effort, along with nice cash tips for each of them.  "Buy something cold," I said to them as I slipped the folded money into their hands.  They knew exactly what I meant.

Next for me:  hop on a plane to my place on Captiva Island, without worrying about a broken A/C.