The reason people take to the woods is to get away from normal life and go somewhere there's nobody they know and no one know can bother them. This is even more true after working retail during the Christmas rush; my family was rather anti-social after working at Old Town Outfitters 7 days a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas. After a particularly grueling season, it was time to go on a big trip to decompress so we could work retail again for the coming year without a homicide. Since it was January, we hoped it would be warm in Florida without the threat of being eaten alive by insects unlike the rest of the year. The plan was to drive down and stay at Oleta River State Park for 2 days to rest and for the next 5 days we would basically maroon ourselves 8 miles from shore on Elliot Key in Biscayne Bay National Park. We'd then head back to Oleta for 2 more days before heading back home. Nine days of camping, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and fun in the sun is enough to snap anybody out of retail rage.
3 kayaks, 5 watertight barrels full of food, 8 people, and 1 CD were thrown into the truck and van and we all head south. Highlights of the drive included a manhunt for an escaped convict in Walterboro, several nervous breakdowns as a result of only having 1 CD for a 12 hour drive, and a person in the van remarking, “That summer camp looks like fun!” only to realize it was actually a Juvenile Detention Center. As anyone who has ever driven to Florida knows, most of the trip comes down to the passengers saying, “Oh look a field! And, another field! And another….”, until the driver snaps, so I'll just skip that part.
Oleta River State Park is the most unusual state park I've ever been to. Its 1200 acres of biking, hiking and kayaking trails located in downtown Miami. From the park office you can see 60 story skyscrapers. Oleta is also dangerous because of the rampant crime. Not of the human variety; the park is run by a cartel of raccoons. If you do not give them respect and pay them tribute, they will do everything in their power to ruin your stay. From an early age, I was taught two things about how to treat raccoons while camping: 1-If they are out during the daytime, they most likely have rabies, and 2-Stay away from them and they'll stay away from you. The raccoons at Oleta threw those rules out the window many years ago apparently. We pulled up to register at the park office at 4pm when a raccoon came waddling out of the woods (they were all rather portly little buggers) and began motioning for food and cigarettes and threatening us with a switchblade. We quickly paid the ranger for our cabin, jumped back in the car, locked the doors, and sped off.
Over the next 2 days, the harassment from the raccoons only got worse. They would stalk the cabins at night and try to scavenge any food they could from us. At one point, a gang of 3 raccoons swarmed the girl’s cabin by chewing through a screen door and began devouring our 5lb jar of peanut butter. The girls began panicking when they walked into the cabin and the raccoons motioned them over while making wolf-whistles. My father decided that this had gone on long enough and simply strode into the cabin and bellowed, “OUT.....NOW!” The weakest of the three just passed out right there, leaving his buddies to drag his unconscious body behind them.
After watching hairy Canadians play boccie ball and the passionate Cuban people at Oleta, we headed farther south to Biscayne Bay National Park. One of the only National Parks situated mostly in the water, Biscayne Bay has several keys (islands) in its boundaries and is a destination for scuba diving and snorkeling in the shipwrecks and coral reefs. What they don't mention is that it is cruel and unusual to be snorkeling 5' from shore and see a 6 lb lobster just crawling through the sand but you can't catch him because you’re in a lobster sanctuary. Well, you can catch him, and they are delicious, but I can tell you from experience it’s not worth the weekly phone calls to your parole officer.
Elliot key proved to be the most difficult but interesting part of our trip, and it started off by.........
I hate to be one of those teasing writers who leaves you hanging, but due to space constraints, the rest of our adventures on Elliot Key will be in the April issue of YC magazine. Just to give a glimpse, there will be the most daring raccoon raid of all, the flotsam of the seven seas, sharks swimming beside kayaks, a walk through death, and the preventive powers of bananas.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.