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Doug's Diggings: Lucky enough to get to Florida during 'snowy' spring

My wife and I were able to travel to Florida for a week in the middle of March. It was a special treat this year because the weather in Hudson was awfully cold and snowy when we were gone. Every time I called home, I heard, "it snowed again last night!"

Our trip was a bit unusual. Again we stayed with my wife's sister and husband, Tom and Sandy Wells, in Fort Myers Beach. They are now officially Florida residents although they still own a home in New Richmond.

Air fares, however, were extremely high this year. We purchased our tickets way back on Sept. 27 and still paid over $300. Usually we wait until we find a deal, but because we were limited to a specific week this year, and with the price of gas, we decided we better book early. Good thing we did -- airfares went through the roof for flights in mid-March. It was kind of the perfect storm, spring break in Florida and Easter being so early. People who might normally go in April were also traveling to Florida in March.

Even in September, however, flights to Fort Myers were expensive. My brother-in-law suggested that we fly into Tampa (at that time it was a couple hundred dollars cheaper than going directly to Fort Myers). His daughter and husband, Meagan and Derek Widner, and their daughter, Kate (who live between Hudson and River Falls), booked the same plane, and my brother-in-law said he'd pick us all up in Tampa.

As long as Tom was willing to make the trip to Tampa, I was willing to book the cheaper flight!

As usual, I spent time at the Minnesota Twins spring training facility in Fort Myers. We attended two games at Hammond Stadium. Derek and I attended a Monday afternoon game against the Florida Marlins and four of us attended a Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Monday afternoon game found the Marlins defeating the Twins 5-3, but the Twins won the Thursday night contest 4-0.

Hammond Stadium is part of the Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers and has been the spring-training home of the Twins since 1990. The facility includes five full fields and two half fields, as well as Hammond Stadium that also serves as the home of the Fort Myers Miracle (Class A; Florida State League) and the Gulf Coast League Twins.

As baseball fans know, several teams have left Florida (Grapefruit League) in recent years to train in Arizona (Cactus League). Two more teams are leaving after this season, the Dodgers and Indians. I heard the Reds are leaving after next spring. At that time, the two leagues will be of equal size, with 15 in Florida and 15 in Arizona.

My wife and I did a lot of walking on the trip. The Wells home is about 2.5 miles from the Pier area on Fort Myers Beach. So we could start at the house and walk the beach to the pier and cover about five miles each time we completed the roundtrip walk. I figure we covered just over 30 miles during the week, but with the great scenery and weather it seemed like a minimal task.

We also traveled to Sanibel Island and did some biking, which included a trip through the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The 6,400 acres of land and water includes 220 species of birds, many species of wildlife and a wide variety of trees, etc.

Oddly enough, the preserve is named for a political cartoonist who had an eye for conservation. Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island. At Darling's urging, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945. It was named for Darling in 1967.

The refuge includes a one-way road through the refuge that was used by both cars and bikes. It is a road with a very slow speed limit so the bikes and cars co-exist quite well. The road is probably six or seven miles, but to return to the starting point requires riding a few miles outside the reserve. It's probably 10 or 11 miles from start to finish.

Other than a trip to a movie theater one night and a few trips to area restaurants, the days consisted mostly of rest and relaxation in the Florida sunshine. We were fortunate to have great weather with highs in the mid-80s each day. We had only one day with a few clouds.

The worst weather came on the day we returned home. The drive to Tampa was interesting -- it took us about 90 minutes to get out of Fort Myers as we saw four accidents between the beach and the first couple miles of the freeway.

The real downpour came, however, as we got closer to Tampa.

We returned home the Saturday before Easter and almost didn't get on our airplane. The flight was oversold and between 15 and 20 people were bumped from the plane. We could have taken a bump, but would not have gotten home until later on Sunday -- a tough proposition when my son and his wife were planning a big Easter dinner at our house!

On a normal weekend we may have taken the bump. It included a free roundtrip ticket and a free night in a Tampa hotel.

If there had not been enough volunteers, however, we probably would have been forced to stay in Tampa. As many probably know, some airlines now sell you an airplane ticket, and for a few dollars more you can purchase a "reserved seat." I usually just wait to take an assigned seat at the airport, but when a plane is oversold, my guess is that the person holding a ticket without a reserved seat would be the first to get the ax.

But, we made it home and had a great Easter with family.