At the beginning of the summer I told Hot Firefighter Husband that I wanted to learn to camp. He was all, “No.” Serious. “C’mon,” I said. “I want our kids to be more outdoorsy. We need to get away from electronics and civilization.” He poured himself a drink. “I’ll plan it,” I added. Which are sort of magic words for him. Actually, he loves to plan. It’s the implementing that trips him up.
So I started planning. I spent a lot of time Googling things like “beginner camper” and “luxury campsites” and “glamping” and “family wilderness retreats.” And “African safari.” I’m always wanting to go on an African safari.
I think I would really like camping, especially the type of camping that comes with guides who set up the tents and cook the food. Right? And those are SO TOTES available! For a price. Which is how we ended up driving from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (Part I of the Vacation Odyssey) to budget-friendly Adventures Unlimited in Milton, Florida. FULL DISCLOSURE: I did not take this picture.
Adventures Unlimited is a canoeing and kayaking outpost approximately one million miles from a Starbucks. Readily available items are limited to alligator jerky, mosquito repellent, and t-shirts. Necessities such as gin, gluten-free bread, dental floss, and honey-roasted peanuts are a long, nauseating drive over hills, through cow pastures, and past mud-splattered pick-up trucks with bumper stickers like SOUTHERN FRIED FLORIDA NATIVE and an Uncle Sam image over the words I WANT YOU! TO SPEAK ENGLISH.
But listen: COLDWATER CREEK! It was the bomb. We rented a treehouse cabin on the creek with one bedroom and a loft so we could be cozy. The cabin sat right on the stream so we could hear the water gushing over rocks and branches every time we walked onto the screened porch. It was a rustic place, all wood paneling and sparsity and piney-scented. On our first full day, we rented two canoes and the outpost guy dropped us off seven miles upstream; we then embarked on a 5-hour, fabulous trek through the wilds of Northwest Florida. The water was so fresh and cold that we stopped at nearly every sand bar to take a dip. The Diva and I paddled one canoe, and the Pterodactyl and Husband took the other. The Tyrant hopped between boats, depending on who was the least annoyed with her. (I WANT TO PADDLE! I’M HUNGRY. I DON’T WANT TO PADDLE! DAD’S A BETTER PADDLER. MOM, YOU’RE THE BEST PADDLER. THIIIIIRRRRSSSSTTTTTYYYYY! LOOK, I CAN TOUCH BOTTOM!)
At one point I spotted a gigantic water moccasin the size of my arm coiled up on a branch. HELL, YEAH, NATURE, RIGHT? Ack. But the rest of it was just as I imagined – dappled sunlight warming our shoulders, toes sinking in the soft sand, icy river waters cooling our veins. I felt transported to my own childhood, and hot summer days spent rope-swinging into the Little Tchefuncte River in Goodbee, Louisiana. No television, no Nintendo – just us, our little family, out of cell phone range and ensconced in what the best of Florida has to offer. The next day we drifted along the same route but in tubes, and got caught in a good old thunderstorm. The rain came down in sheets, and we could see the lightening electrifying the sky, but still the current carried us past ancient cypress trees and under mossy oak branches, and being there felt like the best gift I’d ever given my kids.
Toward the end of the trip, the Pterodactyl freaked out because his sister’s tube surged ahead of his, so he held onto a branch until he was so far behind it took me 20 minutes trudging upstream to get him, and I dropped my tube and stubbed my toe and and lost Husband’s favorite t-shirt. HELL, YEAH, NATURE, RIGHT? Well. No trip with kids is perfect, right? Say right. Anyway, Husband thinks wilderness cabin dwelling may be as close to camping as he’s willing to venture. And that’s okay, at least for now. I myself admit to being a huge fan of refrigerated goods and toilets.
Also, here’s a completely coincidental thing-a-ma-jig: While pseudo-camping and canoeing, I was reading an amazing novel called The River’s Memory by my friend Sandra Gail Lambert, and her whole story premise totally jibed with our Adventures Unlimited river cruise. And I’m going to tell you all about that tomorrow, because you must read this book if you care even a tiny bit about where the wild things are.