Monday, August 15, 2011

sun, surf and stingrays

We have never had a vacation.  I'm not talking about those trips where you go to a relative's house and spend a few days or the day-trips where you exhaust yourself by trying to cram as much as possible into a short time and then deal with the lack-of-sleep grumpiness for the entire next week.  I'm talking about time away from home, just the two of us, for more than one night. 

Heck, even if you disregard the "more than one night" requirement, we've only had one vacation.  That was a trip to St. Augustine, the weekend after we were married, nearly ten years ago.

So, we planned an overnight camping trip to St. George Island State Park.  Granted, this was to be a single night of camping, but because it was at a beach and we planned two days of fun-in-the-sun activities, we were calling it a vacation.

Excitement mounted through the preceding week.  We had the tent.  We had a giant beach umbrella.  We found two cheap beach towels.  We started planning our menus and gathering together odds and ends.

We planned to leave home between 4 and 6 am on Saturday, stop along the way for breakfast, then have a sandwich picnic lunch on the beach when we arrived.  We planned dinner for Saturday around some chicken we began marinating in Mojo on Friday morning.  Peter even pre-cubed the meat for skewer cooking.  We gathered this, along with some other refrigerated items, put them into a canvas shopping bag in the fridge and planned to grab the bag on the way out the door Saturday morning.

Ah, plans.  How they go awry.

Friday, we gathered with two good friends for an afternoon/evening of pizza and games.  One thing led to another and we found ourselves getting home around 2am.  Obviously a 4-6am start had become unrealistic.  Instead, we went to sleep with the alarm set for 6am.  We still had to load the truck, after all, and we hoped to be on the road by 7. 

7am rolls around and I happen to wake up, look at the clock, and panic.  Upon waking Peter, we discover that the alarm had been set for 8, not 6.  Still not a big deal - after all, we're on vacation!  So what if we're running a little behind schedule.  Throw out the schedule and have fun with it.

So we load the truck and we head down the road.  About an hour into the trip, Peter turns to me and says something along the lines of: "Chicken."  I am somewhat confused.  "What about the chicken?"  and then it dawns on me... "We didn't bring the chicken!" 

Yes, the lovingly marinated and painstakingly cut-up chicken was left in the fridge. At home. Turning back was not an option.  So, I laughed.  "We're on vacation! We'll cook it when we get back, it will be fine.  We'll just have to improvise something when we stop for groceries."

Because we'd not only left the chicken.  We'd left everything food-wise except the sodas and the cooler-jug of lemonade.  We could stay hydrated... but not fed.  Not to worry, we were stopping for brunch anyway, so we'd stop by a store and pick something up.

10:20am found us in a Burger King, having one of the best fast-food breakfasts we've ever eaten.  The eggs were perfect.  The pancakes were fluffy.  The sausage was a little spicy but not too greasy.  The biscuit I could have done without, but otherwise the meal was quite yummy.

We found a store and picked up the necessary supplies: charcoal, some bratwurst things for grilling, lunch meat, bread and pork chops to replace the missing chicken.  Only we couldn't find any Mojo!  At least not of the flavor we are accustomed to using.  So we substituted a different flavor.  Chipotle pepper.  Now, I'm not particularly fond of spicy things.  Not true.  I like them, but they do a number on my tummy so I tend to avoid them.  Still, we weren't going to be marinating for long, and it was better than the other option - bitter orange.

We arrived at the campsite around 2pm.  Pitched the tent in the blazing heat while being eaten by mosquitoes.  Apparently no one has informed the blood-suckers that they are not supposed to be out and about during the heat of the day.  We pulled most everything out of the truck, stuck it all in the tent, changed into swimwear and headed for the beach.

I've been to St. George Island before.  Once.  With friends.  And I used a new-to-me sunscreen applicator - the spray-on kind.  I didn't realize that I needed to rub the sunscreen around once I sprayed it on.  So I ended up looking somewhat redder than a firetruck.

I headed off that problem this trip.  We had sunscreen, oh yes, SPF 50 sunscreen without aloe (because I'm allergic.)  Waterbabies sunscreen, even.  A brand I've never had reason not to trust.  So I slathered.  And I had Peter help me slather.  Head to toe.  And with as short as I've cut my hair, "head" in this case means "face, scalp, ears, neck."  Every exposed inch was carefully covered.  Peter declined use of sunscreen.  I asked if he was sure.  He said he'd put it on after he went in the water for awhile.  Okay.  His decision.

We went in the water to play.

It was... wonderful.  The waves.  The sand.  The swim goggles that decided to leak when I tried to swim underwater.  The giant patch of hermit crabs that I found with my feet, the water being too cloudy to see deeper than about 6 inches.  The little fish that kept trying to nibble at my fingers... and then proceeded to attack my toes and my leg.  It appeared to be a juvenile damselfish of some sort.  Apparently I was tasty.  I had to explain to the fish that I was not "noms" and finally Peter startled it enough that it left me alone.

So, it was wonderful.  Interacting with the sea creatures.  Peter would dive down and scoop up whatever pointy object I happened to step on and bring it up for us to examine.  I saw quite a few things for the first time.  Hermit crabs smaller than a pencil eraser - shell and all!  A mollusk shell of the sort usually used by hermit crabs but with an actual mollusk in it.  A live sand dollar.  They are brown and frilly looking when alive.  Quite different from the bleached white of the washed up remains.

It was wonderful.  And then the jellyfish incident happened.  Stung my foot.  The top of my foot.  While I was standing still minding my own business.  And it hurt.  It hurt with a great muchness.  Tears came to my eyes.  That was one mean jelly.

My foot still has red lines on it from what I am calling "the aggressive attack by jelly or jellies unknown" and my lower leg is sore.  I don't know if my upper leg is sore or not because that happens to be the leg with nerve damage - the thigh area is always sore. 

We took a break from the water for awhile and built little sand creations.  Dug some holes.  Giggled as the water filled them up.  Generally acted like we were little kids.  I wore my Real Deal Brazil hat most of the time.  Considered wearing it into the water, but decided against.  Meanwhile, Peter continued to avoid sunscreen.

We were only on the beach for about two hours before heading back to the campsite to make dinner and get settled.

Peter burned.  Oh did he burn.  Poor dear is burnt from his waist to his shoulders on his back, and most of his front.  Lucky for him, he is already starting to turn to tan.  I felt confident that my sunscreen had worked... so I might have been a little bit smug in my offering of sympathy to my lobster-esque spouse.

Dinner was delicious.  We even foil wrapped several baking potatoes and two apples and placed them among the coals in the fire-pit, anticipating lovely roasted treats for evening. 

As the sun was low in the sky, we decided to take an early evening stroll along the beach while our potatoes and apples baked.  We were using charcoal instead of the wood-fire we usually use for such things, so figured the cooking time would be a little longer than usual.  No worries.

An hour or so later, we arrived back at the camp to find our securely packaged treats had become potato and apple shaped blocks of foil-wrapped charcoal.  Apparently a charcoal fire is much hotter than a wood fire.  Oops.  We each managed to salvage about a spoonful of somewhat burnt tasting applesauce from the center of our blackened orbs before giving it up as a lost cause.  The potatoes we didn't even try.  When unwrapped the largest of them revealed a solid black surface that gave off a hollow, dull thunk when tapped with a fork.  It was toast.  In the toastiest sense of the word.

No worries, though.  We were still quite full from dinner and content to have had a warm shower (courtesy of the state park system!) and slip into our jammies.  It was at this point that we discovered, although it is possible for the two of us to sleep on a twin size inflatable mattress in an air-conditioned environment, doing so in a very warm tent is quite another story.  We had power (again, courtesy of the park) and had thought to bring an extension cord and small fan - so we had some air circulation at least.  But it was miserable.  And trying to sleep on the floor of the tent with the underlying rippled sand was even worse. 

I stared at the moon and tried to shift position as little as possible, but sleeping was simply not happening for me.  Peter, of course, has the lucky ability of being able to sleep almost anywhere.  I finally gave up around midnight-thirty and announced that I was heading to the restrooms.  Peter woke up long enough to help me escape the tent and I hiked the short distance to the facilities.  While washing up, I noticed that my skin was roughly the same shade as my sleep-tank-top.  Unfortunately, the tank top in question is a vibrant red.

I wore sunscreen, dangit all.  I wore it.  Peter helped me put it on.  We applied the heck out of it.

I burned anyway.  Oh did I burn.  My burn, it appears, is actually a deeper burn than that of sunscreenless Peter.  His covers a larger area - but mine is over my entire back and shoulders and the back of my neck and is not so much red as almost purple-red... with throbbing pain at every heartbeat.  Imagine my joy and delight at finding out the reason I could not get comfortable.  The source of all the pin-prickly sensations I'd been having. 

It was all I could do not to break down in tears.

My foot and leg hurt with the sting of the jellyfish.  My sunburn, well, to say it was like fire would be inaccurate.  I've been burned by fire.  This... this was different.  This was a sneaky burn, deep and thorough. 

I walked back to the campsite.  Stubbed my toe on the side of the road.  Tripped over my flip-flops - and realized that they had given me a pair of blisters on each foot from the plastic strap. 

I walked past the truck and up to the tent.  I heard Peter snoring inside.  My spirit collapsed.  I said the only words that would come to mind.

"I want to go home."

Peter snapped awake with an "Okay."  followed by rustling and rummaging for bits of discarded clothing... then he stepped out of the tent and asked "What's wrong?"

I could do nothing but repeat, "I want to go home."

"But why?"

"Because I'm burnt to a crisp and I can't get any sleep and I ... just... *fighting back the threatening sniffle* want to go home."

He sighed.  I started putting things in the back of the truck.  He started helping.  We broke camp in the middle of the night and my wonderful, patient and understanding husband... took me home.


We discovered around Tallahassee that we were both hungry.  Of course, we were both in pajamas, too.  So, where could we go to get food at 3 am in Tallahassee looking like sleepwalking vagrants?  Of course.  Steak-and-Shake.

They didn't even bat an eye.  We ate.  We wished we hadn't.  The food made us sleepy.  Dangerous when we had another hour and a half to drive.

We ended up stopping at a rest area along I-10 and there we discovered that the seats in my truck do not recline.  At all.  So I leaned on the window and Peter leaned on me and we were both asleep before I could even pet his hair. 

An hour later, we tried driving again.  Didn't make it very far.  Maybe another 20 minutes.  We weren't quite to Suwannee county when Peter pulled over and let me drive.  Somehow I made it the rest of the way home.  I don't really remember much of the drive other than concentrating very hard on the lines and the lights of traffic.  But we made it home in one piece and didn't hurt anyone else doing so.

We walked in around 6 am, let the puppies out for a walk and called Mom to let her know we were home so she wouldn't need to come over to walk the dogs.  Got the puppies in, walked Morgie - who is still in heat - got her in and then took a short, warm shower to get the last of the sand and the rather thick coating of bug repellent off.  Each had a something to drink.  And that was where the energy completely ran out.  We fell into the bed and were out before we finished making contented I'm-in-my-own-bed groans.

Around 4pm we managed to drag ourselves out of bed.  Well, we'd each been up individually before then, mostly for bathroom trips for us and the dogs.  But at 4 we both got up, pulled ourselves somewhat together, and headed over to Mom's.  After all, we had to cook that chicken.  And the breakfast sausage.  And the brats (which I split, stuffed with onion and a little mozzarella and foil-wrapped for baking.)  And we did.  And it was all tasty.  And we added some lettuce and cucumber that Mom had, and a bit of leftover pork tenderloin, and quite a bit of beverages... combating dehydration, one glass of kool-aid at a time.

We went home around 7:30pm.  Set the alarm for 2am.  Went back to bed. 

Got up this lovely Monday morning a little before the alarm went off and have been trying to think up excuses to crawl back into bed ever since.

Sunburn status: dark blood red
Jellyfish sting status: red stripes have faded to red spots on foot, foot and lower leg still hurt when I walk

We can't count it as a vacation - not even an overnight vacation - because we left before we were there overnight.  But it was still a nice trip.  Peter had never been to St. George Island and he likes it there.  The state park is awesome, even with the mosquitoes.  (And inexpensive.  $26/night for a spacious campsite - and no park admission fee if you are camping!  For day-trips, it's around $6/car.)

And when we called them on Sunday to find out if we needed to do anything about check-out since we left in the middle of the night, and told them we'd done so because I wasn't feeling well, they were nice enough to ask -in all sincerity- if I was feeling better.  Good people.

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