Driving south of Miami, we finally arrived to catch our shuttle boat to Elliot Key. This was the culmination of our entire trip; 5 days on an island 8 miles from shore with no resupply. We had three kayaks, eight backpacks full of gear and clothes, four 15 gallon barrels and one 40 gallon barrel full of food and provisions to load onto the shuttle along with 5 gallon water tanks to carry the islands clean, sweet tasting drinking water to the camp site. (The shower water, however, smelled so strongly of sulfur that we held our nostrils while showering).
Jim, Dave, and I went on the first shuttle to the island with some of the gear. No sooner then arriving, our boat sputtered, coughed, and died. Leaving the rangers to figure out how to get the rest of our crew across, we hiked to the Atlantic side of the island to the site we had reserved. It was a ¾ mile hike on a dry sandy trail, and would have been beautiful except for the ravenous mosquitoes.
After our first walk through death, A.K.A. Mosquito Alley, we realized that even in January, Florida mosquitoes are of unusual size and strength. Ounce for ounce the most terrifying creature on God's green earth, Florida mosquitoes could bite through almost any clothing. Only rain jackets stopped their biting, so even though it was in the high 80's with clear sunny skies, I wore mine every day. Twice daily we applied 70% DEET bug lotion which was strong enough to eat away the plastic on our Nalgene bottles. We hated to leave our tents in the morning because we knew the mosquitoes were waiting like lions licking their lips at a gazelle with 3 legs. Thankfully on the Atlantic side of the island we at least had a breeze; campers on the lee side of the island had no defense. Near the end, we met a Cuban man whom the mosquitoes avoided and we begged him to tell us his secret. He said that he’d always eaten 2-3 bananas a day and that the potassium apparently kept the winged-evil away. Bananas were not on our shopping list for the trip but I've never failed to pack them since.
On the ride to the island, the rest of our crew met three college students who possessed a degree of intelligence only found in plant life or Congress. Celebrating New Years, these students came to the island with 2 coolers: one filled with steaks, the other with beer. Upon arriving on the island, they were shocked at the lack of a convenience store on the island for them to restock on ice. Knowing that they couldn’t let the meat go bad, they decided to cook it all that first night. And, since warm beer isn’t that good, they decided to drink all of the beer too. At this point, the story they told us begins to get fuzzy, no doubt from the cases of beer they consumed. One of them decided that they couldn’t just leave the steak lying outside because of the raccoons that roamed the island. (These were the rough, uncultured, hillbilly raccoons that were kin to the gangster raccoons of Oleta State Park). So to keep the cooked steaks safe, they stashed them in the gear loft above where they slept in their tent. According to the evidence, these college students were so inebriated that raccoons chewed through the wall of the tent, stood on the students stomachs, and ate all of the meat without waking anyone. All of this is assumed from the muddy paw prints that were on their bodies, so the true story may never be known.
Our crew, however, had a campsite right on the Atlantic with all of the benefits of being ocean side: a constant breeze, beautiful sunrises, pallets to use as firewood, Japanese toys to play with, and French perfume (which we sprayed on would-be-campsite sharers and watched them carried away by a squadron of mosquitoes). Cargo that fell off of passing ships would wash up on Elliot Key, and the flotsam was from all over the world. Our hikes weren’t so much to see the scenery but to look through all of the goods that washed on shore. In the spirit of the movie “Cast Away”, we all made our own personal Wilsons out of lobster buoys and trash we found on shore; it was fun until mine started talking back to me. Moral of the story? Dehydration does funny things to your head.
One evening, three of us decided it would be fun to go on a sunset paddle in our kayaks. The weather was perfect and we were having a grand time in the dying light when I looked about 20 feet to the left of my kayak and thought, “Ooh! Look! Dolphins! But…the fin isn’t going up and down…. it’s just cruising along” and that's when the music from “Jaws” kicked in. Instantly, I remembered that sharks feed in the hours when the sun is either setting or rising. Yelling to my friends with a voice they mistook for a 12 year old girls, I told them that it was time to go home because I just saw a shark. Suffice to say, you could have water-skied from the wake created by us getting back to shore on record time.
When it was time to leave the island, everyone was more then ready to go. 5 days in the heat fighting mosquitoes had taken its toll on morale. Our first stop when back on shore was Wendys because it was the first fast food chain we passed. When 8 grimy and desperate looking people kept on screaming something about cold drinks and how much they missed ice and that the Frosty in their hand must have been delivered by an angel, the employees called the police. That's also why we can never go back to Elliot Key unless escorted by Florida State Police.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.