Several years ago I wrote a column that started with a paraphrase of dialog from the movie Apocalypse Now: “I wanted an adventure and for my sins, I got one.”
Unfortunately, that great opening line was used several years too soon because I now don’t have anything really catchy and appropriate to start this week’s story. Instead I’ll simply note: I’ve Been to Hell.
It all started with “The Idea,” one of the most dangerous concepts ever devised. Over beverages at a local watering hole, several of Us Guys decided that a tent camping and fishing trip to Florida in August was just what we needed to shake off the accumulating dust of polite society.
August Florida camping in a tent isn’t such a completely crazy idea because ten years ago we found a secluded campground beside a glorious white sand Panhandle beach that offered a reasonable facsimile of paradise. While the setting is perfect, more importantly, the campground also offers a steady supply of ocean breezes that gives relief from the tropical heat.
So, blithely and light of heart, four of us set out two weeks ago at 10 p.m. loaded with kayaks and camping gear for an unseen rendezvous with infamy and prickly heat under the harsh Florida sun.
The overnight trip was uneventful and we arrived around noon at T.H. Stone Memorial State Park on the Cape San Blas peninsula near Port. St. Joe, Florida. For those not familiar with the area known as “The Forgotten Coast,” Port St. Joe can be found by turning left at Panama City and driving until you find a stoplight.
T.H. Stone park has two campgrounds: Gulf Breeze and The Horrible Malarial Swamp. That isn’t actually the proper title but we renamed it years ago. On the other hand, Gulf Breeze is aptly named as it lies just inside the high-tide line of the beach. From inside your tent, you can hear the ocean gently caressing the shore.
At least, that’s what I thought.
It turns out that in the intervening years since I had last camped there, the formerly non-existent seaside dunes (which, in hind sight, had probably been bulldozed for ease of camper access to the beach) were rehabilitated to the point that campground no longer was truly oceanfront.
We have now renamed Gulf Breeze to the more descriptive Horrible Malarial Swamp II: The Reckoning.
Within minutes of our arrival, we realized that among all the wonderful attractions of this campground, unfettered airflow was not one of them. The dunes, which do provide wonderful wildlife habitat, blocked nearly every whisper of wind.
That’s why it was hot. Actually, to be more accurate, it was soul-sucking, brain-wilting, hope-crushing, fear-inducing, pain-producing HOT! Even spirituous beverages applied liberally could do nothing to sooth our bodies or minds in the heat. In fact, for five days we drank beer like proverbial fish but never even felt slightly tipsy due to continual sweating and the literal gallons of water we also drank to prevent lethal dehydration.
One afternoon, upon finding out the apparent temperature was “only” 113-degrees, we all laughed a bitter, unenthusiastic laugh.
Jeff, one long-time member of our crew, summarized things nicely: “You know, if you sit in the shade and the wind is blowing just a little bit and you have a cool drink and don’t move much at all, it’s still damn HOT!”
The only respite was the clean, modern bathhouse whose interior temperature was kept somewhere south of 40 degrees. Several members of our party freely admitted to using the cool white thrones therein as a lounge to get a brief respite from the heat and humidity.
How humid was it? Aside from an armadillo, the Hispid cotton rat we named “Doug,” assorted lizards and giant beetles that constantly sauntered through camp, I’m fairly sure I saw a small stingray swim past in the moonlight.
You might also be wondering about mosquitoes. During the first part of our stay, the Zika delivery service was kept at bay with copious amounts of insect repellent and a variety of smoke devices. Then, on our last two days, the standing water caused a skeeter population explosion and I experienced a wondrous miracle of nature: one large mosquito, looking for a free lunch, casually skated across my arm in a knee-deep film of jungle-grade bug juice!
However, in spite of the hardship and the blood loss, the woozy members of this erstwhile expedition still believe that T.H. Stone Memorial State Park in Florida is a special place to experience ocean-side camping and offers a great base for your outdoor explorations of The Forgotten Coast. We highly recommend you make plans to visit this unique and wondrous destination.
And, as soon as I figure out a way to transport and sleep inside my home refrigerator, I’ll join you.