Lessons that may help on the A.T.
Went “home” for the long holiday weekend. Home is Tallahassee and the panhandle of FL. From reading thru the blogs, many of the lessons the A.T. teaches are lessons I’m already familiar with and try to practice even at work.
Had a pretty good trip even if it was a rough start. I set the alarm for our 6am flight. We didn’t go to bed until after midnight and being that I’m half an hour from the airport and I was shooting for arriving an hour before the flight, that didn’t leave much time for sleep. Turns out that once you set an alarm, you must also turn it on. I woke up at 5:47. I’m a pretty aggressive driver but I can’t make the airport in 13 minutes. We changed flights to a 3pm with a 3 hour layover for a $50 fee. There was an 8am and a 9am flight that we could try standby for an additional $50. Getting to ATL was going to be easy as the flights weren’t over sold. Problem was the leg to TLH was full so we might get stuck in ATL. I decided to try it anyway.
On the way to the airport, I’m not paying any particular attention to where I’m at as I’m dodging mouth breathers. I-95 between Baltimore and DC is full of them. I’ve made this trip many times so … I do see the exit sign saying I’ve got two miles to go for the left exit. It’s the only left exit. I get in the left lane and about 5 minutes later I wonder if I’ve missed the exit. 70+mph + 5 minutes = more than 2 miles. I’m about 4 miles beyond my exit. Peachy.
At the airport, we park in long term parking which means a ride on the bus to the terminal. We are at the first stop for the bus and he’s pulling up as we walk up to the little bus stop hut. Nicely done. Just as we pull into the terminal, I want to check the time on my phone. Where’s my phone? Oh, that’s right I put it in the center console before making the U-turn on the interstate. Great. Well, I’ve got time I’ll stay on the bus and ride it back. Nope. Gotta catch the bus from the lower level of the airport. Ok, time for a hike.
With phone in hand, security at BWI took forever and a half and it was starting to look like we’d miss the 9am flight. Managed to get to the gate in time. The guy said the 8am flight had been delayed but would be taking off 13 minutes sooner than the 9am. Because it was so delayed most people had missed their connecting flights so had bailed out early. There was something like 60 open seats. So we wandered down to that gate. The guy printed our boarding passes; they included the seat assignments for the TLH leg. Sweet. We got into town about 2 and a half hours after we should have. And got 2 hours of extra sleep. Good thing I didn’t bother stressing about the missed flight.
Had lunch near the airport, picked up Ali (my niece) from school. She wanted to ditch her last class and I might have been talked into that but with all the running in the morning, there was no time for breakfast and I was starving. Lunch first. Hung out with her and Calvin (nephew) with the intent of waiting for Jordan (other nephew) at their house before going to dad’s. Jordan didn’t show so we bailed. Got to dad’s and starting feeling the rush of the trip catch up with me. Gotta leave; it’s time for a nap. Drive down to Carrabelle and get checked in, talked to the owner (nice lady), went and had dinner at a place in Apalachicola that she recommended, and then went to bed. The nap didn’t happen.
Next day we drove to St. Marks to go alligator hunting. Went thru the lighthouse for a tour (that was a first for me even tho I’ve been there countless times) and searched the surrounding salt marsh ponds for the alligators. Thankfully there weren’t any alligators IN the lighthouse. Found hermit crabs and fiddler crabs but no alligators in the ponds. I don’t think I’ve ever been there and NOT seen an alligator so I didn’t bother reserving any. Went to the nature center and “hiked” the kiddie trail with all the little factoids about the local critters. Bats roost in trees (always thought they preferred caves or at least something covered). Alligators can out run a horse for 100 yards. If you ever decide to play tag with an alligator, run in zig zags. They can’t turn fast. If you should decide to play hide and seek, find a tree. They never look there on account of not being able to climb. The alligator factoids, while true, are my own. Driving back out thru the outlying marshes, I finally spotted an alligator in the water. There were two of them. From the size of their heads (the only part visible) they were about 3 feet long. I was hoping for an 8-10 footer but no such luck. It was also 90+ degrees out so there weren’t going to be any out sunning themselves.
Since we were going to kayak the Wakulla River I wasn’t too concerned about not seeing a bigger alligator there. What was unexpected was the mention of manatees in the river. Normally they only go upriver in the winter, preferring the warmer waters of the Gulf during the summer. The kayak dude said there was a group of 8 to 10 that has decided to make the river their home year round.
Spent the afternoon at Alligator Point working on a sun burn. Surf was lower than Rehoboth the week before but MUCH warmer. The water at Alligator Point was just as “dirty” with all the tannins tho. When we got there, the ranger said we had about half an hour until the rain would start. I corrected him and said it looked more like 15 minutes. He said he was trying to be optimistic. Turns out we were both wrong. It was more like an hour before it started. It rained to the east of us first. Blew out over the water and rained south of us. Then it tracked to the west and rained over there for awhile. Seeing that we weren’t leaving, it finally decided to come over to us and see what we were doing. We stayed in the water and let the wind blow!! The surf picked up a little bit. Still less than two foot waves. Then the rain started. We thought about just sitting in the rain on the beach. We couldn’t very well get any wetter, so why not? Because the rain was big, fat, and blowing at 30mph, that’s why. It hurt. Back in the water facing away from the wind. So there, take that Mr. Rain Cloud.
We finally decided to head in to the car. Wrapped in the beach towels so the rain wouldn’t hurt, we sauntered to the car. Soaking the car seats while deciding where to go next, we decided to drive to the end of the park (east). It was done raining over there. I guess the rain was the queue for the mosquitos to come out. While reading about the sea turtles, we got chewed up a bit. Headed down towards the water but we had been in the surf for a couple hours and had just finished de-pruning. The wind was still cold too. So, we decided it was dinner time.
Stopped by the world’s smallest police station; it’s literally just a phone booth. They even have it on post cards. The other claim to fame of Carrabelle, FL is they “are a drinking village with a fishing problem” so there’s not much need for a building and 37 cells. On a serious note, they do have a fishing problem. The problem; no fishermen. During the late ‘80s or early ‘90s the netting regulations changed. I’ve no idea if the ecosystem was in legitimate peril or not but the new regulations certainly killed off the fishermen. The local economy always hung on by a thread. A semiserious hurricane would cost millions in lost revenue just waiting for it to blow thru even if there was no physical damage to buildings/property. The regulations wrecked the town more than any hurricane. Motels, restaurants, houses, and seafood outlets were boarded up and abandoned. You can rebuild during the winter after a hurricane. 20 yrs now and they are decayed and falling apart. Hurricanes are kinder in flattening things all at once.
Next day was back to Apalachicola to wander the shops. Didn’t realize it was such a touristy little town. It’s not exactly on the well-trodden path. Panama City gets the lime light as a spring break destination. Apalachicola is famous for its seafood tho. When Maryland can’t get its blue crabs out of the Chesapeake Bay, they get them from Apalachicola. Next best is some place in TX. So if you hear one of them Texans bragging, be sure to congratulate them on 3rd place (*snicker*). Apalachicola is bigger than Carrabelle and weathered the fishing restrictions much better. Seafood is still big but it’s not the only source of income.
Midafternoon and time for the beach again. This time it’s St. George Island and dolphins. I’ve never been along this 30+ mile area of beach and not seen dolphins either. So, again, I didn’t bother reserving any. It turns out they are kind of uppity and won’t just show up when you call for them. But it’s ok, I got them back and peed in their water!! Despite very localized warm spots in the water, : suspect : the water was much clearer than at Alligator Point. Neck deep at 6’2” and I can still see my feet. Can’t quite make out my toes but the feet are still there. Try that on the Jersey Shore. There’s a reason it’s commonly referred to as The Shore. In FL, everyone goes to The Beach. The Shore … what the hell is that? Are you talking about a lake??? That orange gravel and opaque water they call a beach ain’t no beach.
The FL panhandle is known for white sugar sand and green waters. It’s called the Emerald Coast for a reason. The sand is somewhere between table salt and powdered sugar. The water has a very light green tint to it. Not much for sharks (unlike the Atlantic) but there are a fair number of sting rays around. Pretty sure I stepped on two of them. One being tiny, the other may have been a foot across. Both of them took off with out any tail whipping or barbs involved. Maybe it was because I unhooked one for one of the kids fishing on the old closed bridge. Word travels fast in this part of the country.
Herding relatives is about as easy as herding cats only less fun. At least cats purr when you pet them. Unless you live in KY, people look at you kinda funny when you pet relatives. But the relatives were indeed herded for dinner back in Tallahassee and a good time was had even without any petting.
Next day was the Wakulla River kayaking. Since the mannies on the river were a new thing to me I made sure I made a reservation for a tandem kayak and 8 mannies. 5 minutes and 100 yards into the kayaking and there’s a mannie. An adult with a quarter sized white spot on the left size of its fluke. I need to call back and get a name so I can send a thank you note. Maybe I’ll write it on lettuce.
There were plenty of birds. A boat load of turtles. Some mullet. Mullet are a fish not just a (hopefully) forgotten hairstyle. No alligators. What the hell?!? Factoid time: Wakulla Springs is the world’s largest spring by volume. It is where the movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon (and others) was filmed. And it was home to Old Joe (an 11ft alligator) before some dumbass shot and killed him. I do believe I like most alligators more than most people. Maybe hiking the A.T. will change that.
Monday evening the return flight was delayed by half an hour. The connecting flight was a brisk walk but was made in time for the tail end of the boarding process. I’ve still got to do some follow up work with DNR. Or maybe it’s Florida Wildlife and Fish Commission; does anyone know if dolphins and alligators fall under state or federal jurisdiction? Someone’s going to hear about those slacker fish and lazy lizards!!
Things I already knew and the trip re-enforced: some planning is helpful (proper reservations ~ reserve your bear sighting now!!), stressing is not a good idea, and be ready for and embrace change. I need to get to work on that Why I’m hiking list.
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