Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trip 37: Anclote Key Preserve State Park (a.k.a. Our First Campiversary Celebration!)

State Parks visited: 31

365 days.  52 weeks.  One year.  Our year.  Our year...outdoors.  It has been one whole year since we started this adventure.  This thing.  This...whatever you want to call it.  Whatever it is, getting outside and seeing our great state in its most natural form, has provided my little family with a purpose we never had before.  A common goal, if you will.  I couldn't be more grateful for the experiences of the past year, or more proud of us, really.  We've grown as a family, as individuals.  We're better for the time we've spent together, and it's only going to get better.  For after this year, you see, are many more years to come.

To celebrate the first anniversary of the campout that started it all for us last year, we decided to take a Campiversary Celebration trip.  Clever, eh?  I love word economy (or, as Olivia says, word ecomedy).  But where should we go?  One park eluded us in the past year, and we decided we needed to conquer it:  Anclote Key Preserve State Park, 3.6 miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs.  Early one Saturday morning we loaded up our gear and headed to our launch spot, Anclote Gulf Park, and met up with Chris and Erika.

Our aborted trip from last fall was due to high winds and big waves.  We kept a close eye on the wind and wave reports before this trip and, as you can tell, we started out all smiles.  That didn't last long, however, once we got into the channel and the waves grew in size.  Much like our attempt to paddle up the Silver River, my fear of water had me in a death grip.  I screamed, I cried, I whimpered.  I almost gave up with each wave that crossed our bow.  Eventually, though, I calmed down and decided that I wasn't going to ruin the trip for everyone else, so I powered through.  For awhile I just paddled with my eyes closed.  Seriously.  Then we discovered that saying, "WEEEE!!!!!" really loudly during big swells actually helped break some of the tension.

Needless to say, it was a rough paddle.

That's what we look like when we realize the worst of it is over and we're pretty close to shore.

We were so excited to see land that we beached at the first place we could find, even though our journey wasn't complete.  If you look in this picture at the two tall radio antennae and see four white roofs underneath them, well, that's where we launched from.  Doesn't look like a great distance, but it felt like it.

Eventually we got back in the 'yaks and began the much easier trip around the tip of the island.  Since it was Saturday afternoon, there were lots of boats on the water!

Anclote Key is home to 43 species of birds, and it was immediately apparent that they were around:

Initially we paddled into a little inlet, with the main island to our left and a crescent beach to our right.  We were trying to decide where to land and set up camp when we looked across the dunes to the ocean.  Right then a dolphin swam into view, and we decided we wanted to be where the dolphin was.  So, that's what we did!

This was our little camp!  Chris and Erika each had nice, clean little spaces, while our Taj-Mah-Tent was covered with laundry.  Yep, I forgot to pack my and Olivia's clothes in plastic bags and everything got soaked on the trip over.  It really set the tone of the trip for me.  The trip over took something out of me, and when we got there I didn't have anything dry to wear.  I was freezing from being wet all day, and Rob and I were severely sunburned on top of it.  This is about the time I began to withdraw.  I finally warmed up after breaking in our new Jetboil and eating something warm.

  At least we were blessed with a gorgeous sunset:

Erika used our camera and got some great photos as well:

Our first night on the island was pretty miserable for me.  I had a hard time warming up after being cold all day, and then I had a hard time getting comfortable from the sunburn.  My knees were the worst, and by Sunday I was having a hard time moving around.  Unfortunately we didn't bring any aloe with us, so I did the best I could.  Rob, too.  We got up Sunday morning and had another visit from the dolphin.  In the distance was an entire pod of them playing and jumping.  It was an awesome sight! 

The shells on the island were amazing, and by the end of the trip each one of us had found at least one whole sand dollar (unless your name is Chris, and in that case you found about 14 of them).  Erika and Olivia spent Sunday using the shells we'd collected and built...well, it started out as a sand castle but ended up looking like a sand person.  Very cool!

Pretty soon the dolphin came back for another visit!  In that last picture I was pointing it out to Olivia.  It must have been feeding at that point because the lazy movements were replaced with frenzy and splashing.

We played in the water, relaxed in the tent, ate, went shelling, saw stingrays in the surf, and had a mostly enjoyable day.  Once I started moving, the sunburn didn't hurt so badly.  It finally began to feel like we were really vacationing.

Then Chris pulled up the weather report on his phone.

We bedded down that night, our last one on the island, knowing we were in for some severe weather.  We weren't really prepared for the lightning or gusting winds that came along with the rain.  Rob had put the rain fly on the tent before coming to bed, so thankfully we didn't get very wet.  I do remember the wind, though.  I was laying there in the tent, watching the ceiling get thrown around like a dog's chew toy, thinking the only reason the tent didn't fly off was because we were in it.  The lightning was pretty bad, too, and it didn't settle my nerves knowing we were the tallest thing on the beach.

Somehow, we made it through the night.  Rob snapped a picture when he first woke up:

We started to break camp knowing the worst was over, but more rain was still on the way.  By the time we loaded the kayaks with our gear, it was coming down pretty hard.  I had given up by then, not even changing out of my pajamas for the return trip.  The rain didn't help matters.  We decided to wait out the rain for a little while and ended up huddled up, on the beach, wrapped in a tarp.  A few minutes in, we began hearing a helicopter.  We peeked out and saw a Coast Guard chopper flying up toward us.  They hovered for a brief second, seeing we weren't necessarily in crisis, and flew off.  I wanted to cry.

I began to think about how ill-prepared I felt at this point in the trip.  I thought about being stranded or meeting some worse fate on the return trip that had yet to take place.  Why had we done this to our daughter?  Were we bad parents?  It was very emotional for me.  I was dreading the paddle back to the mainland.  I began to think about the movie 'Open Water' and wondered how people would interpret the pictures on our camera when they found it.  I sat there, wrapped in that tarp in the rain, watching the helicopter fly away, hoping we wouldn't end up as a Dateline Special.

And then Chris said it....."Let's just go."

We pushed off in the surf and got our bearings.  And then we just kind of settled in for the long haul.  Oddly enough, the rain stopped.  The sea was actually much calmer than it was on the trip to the island.  We saw our destination and just went for it. 

I'm sorry if I keep using this word, but this picture is very emotional for me:

It's very bleak, and it matched my outlook at the time. 

Defeated and ready to be done:

One person that was not bothered at all by then was Olivia.  She somehow found it in her to take a nap on the return journey:

Until then she had kept us in good spirits with songs she learned at school.  We actually started talking and laughing, but I think that's because we realized our journey was almost over.  And pretty soon, it was.  We pulled into the park and got out of the kayaks, and we were done.  Done.  I stopped some people walking by and asked them to take our picture.

I can't tell you I had a great time on this trip.  I don't think any of us would tell you that.  I did get an education, though.  I learned the value of sunscreen.  I learned the value of plastic bags to keep your clothes dry.  I learned that 365 previous days of outdoor adventures don't prepare you for things that are outside of your skill level.  I learned that my fears can be overcome.  I learned that my friends are the best friends I could ask for, and I am grateful to have shared this with them.  I learned that I love dolphins, stingrays, sand dollars,  and starfish.  I learned that I have many adventures ahead of me, because I didn't end up on a Dateline Special. 

Happy Campiversary!


  1. Incredible photos for an incredible journey! Paula, you are truly an amazing woman with an amazing family and friends. Hearing about this first hand from you then reading this and seeing the photos about had me in tears just now.
    I wish you and yours many more adventures to come on your journey - and may none of them land you on Dateline!
    Thanks again for sharing your adventures with us!