Growing up in the land locked mid-western village, we had few options for recreational waters. Not exactly true, the Kankakee River hosted annual boat races. There were some places to swim but mostly people boated or fished the river. A neighbor had a pontoon boat and no kids – so we were lucky enough to be invited to go out with him and his wife frequently.
On my grandparents’ farm there was a small creek which was usually very protected but meandered into the river. Oh, and the Indian caves were good exploring fun. My sister, Mary, was the only one I knew who routinely, accidently slipped into the water at the caves – everyone else balanced across the log to the other side without even wetting a foot.
Big time swimming and sunning on “the beach” was relegated to Lake Manteno. * We spent many hours there. I tought myself to swim with the goal being to be able to jump off the diving board. Once I was able to that, I did it over and over again. The lake and the beach were man-made; my frame of reference. It was the only beach I knew for many years so it was perfect.
The first time I saw Lake Michigan, I was so impressed by its vastness; unable to see across to the other side or walk the beach in under five minutes end to end. You can’t imagine my glee and awe upon first seeing the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida beaches!
So that was more than half a life-time ago. Florida has been my home since 1979. Before my kids were born, I actually spent many weekend days at the beach. I was born under a water sign and that may be why I have always enjoyed swimming. It seems almost natural that I would now include the Gulf of Mexico and other local waters to log a list of “firsts.”
It began with the day trip to the warm mineral springs sink hole aka the stink hole. Next was tubing down the Rainbow River followed by the ferry taxi to Caladesi Island and most recently, kayaking in the Gulf. Each adventure unique and exciting in its own way.
Tubing down the river fed by nearby cool springs was challenging. It was quickly evident why some of the day trippers chose to bring their own floatation selections. The tubes provided are all identical but do not provide a good fit for all. The idea is to sit in the “hole” of the donut shaped tube. Depending on the wind or lack therof, the trip averages two hours – more or less.
There is no comfortable way to position yourself so your neck isn’t straining. My parnter in adventures is about five foot and a spit; no way her arms or legs reached over the edge of the inflated tube so she was literally at the whim of the river. I attempted to reposition less butt in the hole so I could paddle with my hands and feet. In my mind’s eye it was such a good alternative to just laying back for two hours. In less time than I could finish the vision the tube tipped me over and out. The hole was not large enough to maneuver myself back into butt in the hole position. The tube too high off the river’s surface to just jump back on/in.
For the next few minutes I poked my head through the hole and held onto the edge of the donut; imagining that I looked like “Kilroy was here.” I made up my mind that I was not going the distance in that position. I eyed a dock on the distant side of the river and made my way over to it but the current swept me past before I could grab anything. Up ahead there were steps leading to another dock and I managed to land there long enough to lift the tube off my head and plop my butt back into the hole.
The current had swept my buddy ahead of me; she was clueless to my predicament until I was able to catch up to her. By then, we both drifted out of the current off to the side and into a hammock/marsh/sea grass. One of the girls with her own inflatable recognized our situation and came to rescue us; dragging us back to the center current. She eased on down the river leaving us in her proverbial wake.
We tried to connect the two tubes by grabbing each other’s handle on the tube. That seemed to sort of work for a couple of yards before finding ourselves again off to the shore of sea grasses. After another struggle to reach midstream we actually managed another brief go with the flow. By now you probably figured out that we spent most of the journey struggling to free ourselves from the grassy shore shallows. We let go of each other and I floated ahead – by no means of my own.
When I realized the distance between us, I grab anchored myself to a small outcropping of an island to wait for my buddy. At some point, we knew the two hour tour travelers were to exit the river on our left. If we missed the dock and continued down the river we would be on our own…no one to pick us up or even aware that we were missing. Previous discussions determined that we did not want to end up like Gilligan and the folks on the S.S. Minnow.
Since most of the float was spent among the left shore, we decided to just continue the best we could so that we would not overshoot the dock. Luckily, two more experienced and much younger people were at the dock’s edge to provide their helping hands to get us off the course. We looked as if we needed their help. We decided if we retrun to bring our own floats so that we can at least have the illusion of controlling them.
The ferry taxi to Caladesi island was easy and uneventful. Along the boardwalk to the beach we spotted a gopher tortoise making its way slowly across the camping area. The beach is nice, lots of shells – some are alive – mostly small shells. I actually wrote a detailed review and posted it on Trip Advisor. Each time I enjoy an adventure I evaluate the ease of visiting again with my sisters. Caladesi is a possiblility but only if we can find big dune buggy type wheels for a wheelchair or walker. At the end of the boardwalk the sand is soft and deep; walking it was a struggle. Beyond the soft sand, the beach is fairly easy to traverse. The island has a concession stand/souvenior shop, showers, rest rooms and a nature trail. The ferry leaves from a spot along a nearby causeway every half-hour. Discount tickets are downloadable from their website.
Kayaking turned out to be less difficult than I imagined. The young attendent at the rental shack gave us virgin rookies great advice on proper paddling techniques. Even though we crossed paddles accidently a couple of times, we were actually cruising along fairly well. The two hour rental was adequate time for us to paddle around and get a good feel for the experience. There were several birds in the gulf that we watched sun themselves on pylons or dive for birds.
We also observed a group of stand up padlle boarders – not something I will be tempted to try. Some folks casting fishing lines from waist deep water, jet skiers, motor boaters and the ferry to Caladesi were all observed from our tandem kayak. Most motor boaters were considerate with low no wake speeds.
Kayaking will definately be a repeat activity. In fact, I may even brave it by myself at some point.
Red sky at night…red sky in the morning…one way or the other is a warning and a delight. I never remember which is which. Nor do I recall the similar advice for snakes …red on yellow vs red on black. With that, let me wish everyone a safe July 4th.