February 26, 2021
Story submitted by traveller Blair
I’ve always been quite the adventurous girl but I never dreamt of traveling alone. That was, until 2020 and the experience of going through a breakup and quitting my job threw me into a whole new world and gave me the chance to look at life differently. I realized there was a silver lining to it all. I was free! I was taking care of myself and I felt like nothing and no one could stop me from doing what I wanted to do!
First, let me preface this story by telling you that I am capable of being independent, but I’m also stubborn and sometimes I do things that get me into messy situations. I am always open and raw about things and I find that people appreciate the authenticity, and humor in my stories.
After solo backpacking in the mountains of North Carolina a few hours from my home and taking a few solo kayaking trips I decided it was time for something bigger. For quite a while before this whole traumatic life transition I had been dreaming of kayaking the Florida Keys. I was obsessed with the photos I’d seen of the pristine crystal blue water, purple coral, and huge starfish. Something was calling me to go there and I couldn’t shake the feeling. I tried to get a few friends to go with me in the past but no one was ever willing to go. Christmas rolled around and being that I was newly single, I decided I wanted to take myself on a trip. I was craving to be somewhere warm with my kayak and a drink in my hand soaking up the sun.
I packed my bags, loaded my kayak, and began the 15 hour solo road trip on Christmas day. I stopped in Jacksonville the first night to see some family and the next day in Orlando to see a fellow shuffle dancer friend I had met almost a year prior through a virtual dance group on Instagram. I got the chance to hang with her in downtown Orlando that night for drinks and more shuffles.
The next day I kayaked in a place called Kings Landing in Apopka, Florida. It is fed by a spring and it was a lazy river speed perfect for all levels of kayakers and white sandy bottoms you could see in crystal clear water that was up to 6 feet deep. I felt as though I was rowing around a jungle river. I was surrounded by huge palm trees, lots of vines, turtles, cranes, deer, blue skies, and the blissful feeling of warm sunshine. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
Here’s where things got interesting.
I’m paddling down the river and I hit a couple switch backs, resulting in a whirlpool. All of a sudden it catches my kayak at just the right angle and quickly swings me towards a nearby low hanging tree branch. I panic and do my awkward quiet but pterodactyl sounding screech and start trying to paddle away. My phone was sitting on my mount attached to the top of my kayak filming (I obviously need to get a GoPro and you can probably guess what happens next). My phone gets knocked into the water and I watch it float down to the bottom as I am trying to regain control of my kayak.
Naturally I’m yelling profanities and panicking more. I tie my kayak up and jump in fully clothed to swim down and get my phone, which at this point, had been submerged for over 6 minutes. I retrieved it and I was surprised that it worked but the battery life was drained to 5%. I get back to the dock soaking wet with people curiously staring at me and I can see the questions in their minds.
I reached my car and plugged my phone in for the purpose of google maps so I can find my way back to my airbnb. To my assumptions it informed me that it was unable to charge due to moisture. So, I get my 2008 garmin out of my console. Naturally this wasn’t a reliable or updated way of getting directions but it was my best bet. Can you guess what happened next? It took me down the wrong road and I ended up with ¼ tank of gas on the Florida turnpike with 20 miles until the next exit and the sun creeping down below the horizon. If I ran out of gas, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, with no phone, 9 hours from home, I WAS SCREWED. So I did what any sane person would do, I used the emergency turn around in the middle, hoping a trooper didn’t see me.
Luckily, I managed to find my way back and plug my phone in and jump for joy when I discover it's working perfectly fine with all my photos and videos still in place! I do like to focus on the positives in any situation, and here the positive is my phone miraculously works and I didn’t get stranded.
The next day I made my way down to Miami, stopping at Cocoa beach along the way for a lunch date with myself and a poke bowl. I had wanted to visit Cocoa Beach the last time I was in Orlando but didn’t get the chance. Also, take yourself on lunch dates to the beach. It’s important.
The next morning I headed to John Penneycamp state park in the Keys. It is full of mangroves, coral reefs, and clear water you can see 8 feet deep. If you can go in the summer when the water is warm enough to scuba dive, I’ve been told that you can see the famous statue underwater. It was a pretty peaceful paddle. However the route I took to and from the mangroves had some current and wind to push against. I actually strained my wrist out quite a lot by pushing so hard, but I’m the hardcore type of adventurous person that feels so alive when I am exploring nature that I ignore any sign of discomfort. Can you guess that I decided the pain and pushing myself the rest of the week was worth it since I was already there?
When I decided to head down to Key West the next morning I stopped at Bahia Honda State Park. It is located about 50 miles from Key West. Palm lined beaches, white sands, and the bluest water you can imagine. I saw quite a few Portuguese Man-O-War on the beach. The park is home to over 150 species of flora, including rare yellow satinwood, key thatch palm, and lily thorn.
I went to Geiger Key, located only a few miles from Key West, I kayaked over lots of purple coral, and tiny fish. There were square yards upon square yards of Cassiopea (upside down jellyfish) laying in the sand under the very shallow water that I saw as I floated over. They appeared to be coral at a glance, but when I scooped my net down to check I was proved otherwise, and I am so glad I didn’t step out of my kayak.
Afterwards, I changed clothes and put on makeup in my car like the van life weirdo that I am becoming. I went to Key West to take myself on a super exclusive dinner date. I ate conch fritters for the first time ever and treated myself to a cocktail and then some Key Lime ice cream. If you’ve never been, the most famous attraction in Key West is a giant buoy on the street next to the ocean that stands as a landmark of the southernmost point of the continental U.S. and 90 miles to Cuba. The waves were crashing against the wall and creating splashes that had to have been a good 8 feet in the air!
I headed to Miami on New Years Eve to kayak in Bal Harbour and to Haulover Sandbar. This is where many famous movies such as Bad Boys II were filmed. Bal Harbour is also where many MTV cribs homes were shown.
The sandbar was the perfect place to hang out and vibe to all the music from surrounding yacht parties and meet some very interesting people. I even met this really cool couple who was into music festivals and kayaking just like me! We sat down to chat and have a few drinks together on the sandbar while enjoying the sun and scenic views of million dollar yachts sailing by. I met up with some fellow shuffle friends in Miami that night to have a freestyle flow session at the park and then rang in the new year with another friend at her house.
New Years Day was my absolute favorite part of the trip. It was 78 degrees and I was totally loving the sunshine! I went to Indian Key, which is about a 40 minute paddle from the launch point at the bridge. The water was the color of seaglass and as I approached the island I could see that the shoreline was made up of prickly, sharp-edged reef rocks. I discovered I was the only one on the island, and I’m not going to lie, I was RUNNING around like a toddler that had gotten the joy of exploring the park playground!
There was so much to see. Indian Key has lots of history. In 1840, 10-15 people were killed when a group of 60 Spanish speaking natives snuck onto the island and burned the community buildings down. An outdoor museum stands in its place with a lookout tower, well, and garden full of tropical plants and butterflies.
Remember my wrist? Yeah, to no surprise after 4 days of continuous kayaking it was really painful, even though I had kept it wrapped all week. Oh well, I knew it was going to happen so I can’t complain. I had an amazing day and it was completely worth the pain I had to endure for the next week. The drive back through to Miami was bittersweet. Palm trees lined the side of the road and as I exited the Florida Keys the vastness of the sea-glass colored ocean disappeared. I was happy though, because I was on my way to another flow session with my friends! As tired as I was, their energy and the music was enough to keep me alive.
I have more family in Jacksonville that I stayed with for a couple of nights before heading back to North Carolina. I actually had not seen them for a few years so it was great to connect again. I took a bike ride to the beach to watch the sunset and read my book. I spent the remaining time relaxing with my family recuperating from the wild week I had.
I would totally, and absolutely do, plan on doing this again. I am beginning van life in the spring of 2021 and look forward to many more adventures like this. Life is short my friends, don’t waste it wishing you were traveling the world, or regretting that you didn’t take that chance on that business opportunity, or jumping out of that plane. Just do the things you want to do, when you want to do them, because you are never promised tomorrow, only today.
Find Blair at:
Instagram: @unicorn_ninja.shuffles and @elevatedfreedomdigital
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