One more day. Our time was up at the AirBnB in Ft. Myers but we had one too many days for our travel home.
“How about we splurge and stay right on the beach?” I saw no point in leaving the beautiful weather any sooner than necessary.
Rich feigned deafness. He was bent over his tablet, intently searching, reading, expanding the map, searching again. I knew it, my fate rested in his hands.
“Here, take a look at this,” he said, handing over his tablet.
The charming cottage appealed to me, but it was the location that clinched it. The small peninsula on the Gulf Coast was dominated by Bald Point State Park. It had miles of beach, wetlands for Rich’s birding, trails for hiking and options for cycling. My eyes traced 5-mile long Alligator Point, already planning my bike ride. The cottage was wedged into this outdoor haven, surrounded by park land.
“Let’s book it!”
Turning off the Interstate toward Florida’s Panhandle on smaller roads, we lost traffic with each passing mile, and my muscles gradually unclenched after the tight game of leapfrog with the endless stream of semis. By the time we turned onto the peninsula we had the road to ourselves. After passing elaborate beach houses floating above impossibly tall stilts, we pulled into the grassy lot to find a humble cottage nestled among the wild Florida greenery.
This was a true cabin, Florida style. The floor was tiled in a colorful pattern, heat rose through metal grates in the floor, there was a hand-sewn quilt on the bed and the quaint, comfy furnishings invited lingering. The well supplied kitchen and modern conveniences ensured a comfortable stay. It didn’t take us long to unload and venture out to explore.
We both set out on our bikes, but in opposite directions. Rich headed into the park to check out the beach and marsh trails for birding options. I had Alligator Point in my sights, eager to explore. The road meandered down the narrow peninsula, first giving me views of the Gulf, threading down the middle, then following the bay side. This was an old-time beach community. Small ground level houses mixed with newer stilted monstrosities. A community center, waterworks and marina were among the few commercial properties. It was impossible to hurry despite the lack of traffic. My head swiveled to take in the ambiance and culture of this local culture.
It didn’t take me long to determine that this was a different Florida. Having traveled significantly north, the temperature had dropped significantly, especially when combined with the chilly wind off the Gulf. The highs were in the 50s not the 80s. Being from Northern Minnesota it still felt balmy to us, but was not yet inviting to other tourists. As a result, there were very few people around. It was quiet. For years we have tried to “think un” when we planned vacations. This time we nailed it.
I woke early the next morning, intent on walking the beach at sunrise. Noting the 38-degree temp I donned my winter jacket, hat and mittens and covered the short distance to the sand that stretched as far as I could see. Already the horizon was ablaze, the cloudless sky waking fiercely with the sun’s impending rays. The tide was well on its way out, leaving behind ripple patterns, tidal pools and sand islands that reflected the orange glow and blue hues of the water. It wasn’t the barefoot saunter I might have envisioned, occasionally splashing through the retreating waves. Instead, I headed downwind, braced myself against the chill and found my warmth in movement. Perhaps all the better in its uniqueness.
Over a mile down the beach, the sun finally peeped above the horizon, a yellow orb that rose quickly. And with it the beach glowed in its initial pastels. Transformed.
Lingering over my breakfast in the cottage as the sun streamed in, I perused the park maps and settled on a hike. The closest trail was the loop around Tucker and Little Tucker Lakes, and I liked the idea of seeing water along the way. I must have been in a Minnesota mindset, picturing narrow paths lined with trees and easy views of the lakes. But this was Florida.
I set off down a swath wide enough for a highway, looking more like a dirt road than a path. It became grassier at times but never lost its width. The tall pines that populated these woods seemed to emulate palm trees, with impossibly tall barren trunks that branched out into a rounded canopy of needles and huge pinecones. I admired those tall soldiers in a huge battalion. At their base swarms of palm bushes blanketed the ground, high enough to obscure my view of the lakes. But the sun beat down, I shed several layers and pushed onward – never seeing another soul on the trail.
A final short bike ride included a visit to the main entrance of the park. I pushed my bike out one of the beach entrances, where I could see the beach wrapping around the end of the peninsula. Boardwalks traversed the marsh, and a long wooden pier extended into the water. So much more to explore. Someday.
Sometimes the best experiences can’t be planned. What started as a solution to a problem turned into an unexpected pleasure. A peaceful coda on the end of a melodic symphony. A chance to unwind, to engage with nature and retreat from the more populated world. A stroke of luck.
Welcome to my neck of the woods folks. A lot of cyclers follow the coast and some stay at my place near Panama City courtesy of my warmshowers hosting. It’s a bit cool but our beaches and sunsets are still super and not near as cold as Duluth. I like to think that it is more like old Florida up here in the panhandle. Keep those bird blogs coming Rich.
Sweet article. 🙂