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L in the Florida Keys

1 Year and 7 Months After my 30th Birthday

I wanted to have a family trip. I feel like I've been working forever and I wanted to make an unforgettable experience. I've been to the keys at least 5 times in the past 10 years. It's become a home away from home. I like the quaint old-Florida feel mixed with the unmistakable 'down in the tropics' vybe. 

 So me and the fam scheduled 4 days off to take a quick trip down in the Keys. I recently saw some good L for the first time and wanted to really set this vacation off. We spent the morning driving down 1-95, through the bustle of Miami, and finally get to the "Last Chance Saloon"- a turning point form the mainland of Florida to where you enter the islands. Big name retailers  are replaced by mom-n-pop roadside joints and the water starts to turn a more vibrant, electric teal-blue. 

We drive through the upper-Keys and finally arrive to our destination: a small motel/botel in Marathon- a middle Key. Despite the overcast/drizzly weather, we are excited to be on vacation. The place is a classic Keys motel. Small, 10 units, older building, a 'vacant' neon sign, Coke machine in the front, small coconut trees around the grounds, and gravel parking lot. We step in and the room is noticeably small, painted in the dated island colors that add a type of charm. Take 5 steps from the front door and open the curtain to the sliding glass back door and you see the docks. Our back porch was a concrete strip connecting the other units where you step down onto the lower wooden dock where you can dock your boat in the small canal shared by several other buildings- an apartment, some small houses, and a nice newish big house, where the canal opens up into the main waterway called "Vaca Cut". 

Because of the weather we decide to spend the evening inside. We get some food, turn on the TV, explore the grounds a little, and get into some relaxing clothes. It got dark and the whole boatside community was pretty quiet. It felt like we were the only ones. It had the exciting feel of "House on Haunted Hill" where they spend the night in a cool setting. In fact, this setting would make an awesome story! It felt like we stepped 30 years back in time...with WiFi. 

With nothing to do, I convinced the wifey to drop in on a tab. I had for the first time last week. She was skeptical but we had nothing else to do (for a decent change) and the setting was perfect. I promised to babysit. After about an hour in she giggled more and more at her YouTube videos. I was watching something on TV. She started feeling good and wanted to explore the docks. We both love to fish and you can see some awesome stuff at night around the saltwater. She called me out to see a jellyfish. She was mesmerized by it slowing pulsating under the bright-white metal halide light, lighting up that section of the dock. Pine needles had drifted into a stall in the small canal. The smell was organic, salty, and almost like nasty sulfur in the water-alley in which this neighborhood shared. She was exploring our outdoor vicinity with the look of an innocent, engaged 5 year-old. I enjoyed seeing her full of this...life. We went back in and I left her to herself to explore as she wanted. She loves her phone! I decided to get milk from a gas station down the street. I down US-1 past all the bait shops, hotels, and restaurants and got a half-gallon. When I got back she was worried with a sense of panic. I calmed her down and everything was normal. She was laughing one second- crying the next. Afterwards, she described the experience as enlightening. She enjoyed her thought-pattern and how she was able to process thoughts in a "cohesive" manner, in ways she otherwise doesn't. The downside was about 4 hours in when her body was getting tires she couldn't get in sleep mode. It probably could of been better in the day but I think she took something out of it, nonetheless.

The next day we ventured out to do stuff on the island. I woke up super early and took the cast net to a recommended bait spot. I turned on the aerator and drove back to the motel. We walked over to the bridge and fished. I must have over-crowded the bucket because most of the bait died and we struck out. We decided to push on. We went to a really cool nature sanctuary called "Crane Point". It's 50 acres of preserve with trails, cool lagoons, historic structures, and a museum. It was my turn to drop one- damn it sounds unfair, I feel like an ass now. So I set sail on the way to the place. We paid admission and sat through the intro video. They gave us a map and set us free to explore. There were all types of paths-some built up, some totally trough the woods. I felt an energetic rush. I couldn't stop admiring the different species of plants and trees referenced. We came up on a animal rescue facility and saw a worker with a snake she had just found on the path. It was a red corn-snake. Apparently, they take on a more red hue down in the Keys. We walked further and I was really, really enjoying the outdoors. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We went to this cool lagoon that was an old swimming spot of one of the original settlers who built a house in the 60's. They house was on display and was still standing. So was another house a half mile down; built in the 1800's, by a Davie Crocket type dude. It's the oldest structure of it's type still standing in the Keys. He made a living by collecting wild sponges and selling them in Key West, some 60 plus miles away!

My trip continued and we spent a few hours at Crane Point. We finished there and went back to the hotel. We decided to get some frozen shrimp from a bait shop across the street. The keepers of the shop both greeted us and pointed us to the freezer. I struck up a conversation with the bait lady. She was talking about her birds out on their dock outside that frequented. This turned into a 10 minute sit-down complete with pictures, stories, and somehow dove off into facebook meme's. I was really trying to hold it together. I wanted to break the conversation off but it just kept going. In any other state of mind I would give a "hats off" for this lady's unique individuality but it was really overwhelming me. I indeed held it together without being rude and we went back to the hotel to fish off our back porch.

I was so excited to fish around our motel and feeling great; I decided to drop another. We fished and caught some small Mangrove Snapper. I was really vybing. The water was crystal clear and see it drop off about 10' down form where we were sitting, hanging our legs over the water. I noticed a what looked like a 4' shark pass against the rocks. I tossed the shrimp down by the shark. Within a second, he slurped it up! I couldn't believe it. I immediately set the hook and said to the wifey, "It's On"! I had 30lb tackle on what they would call a "light" poll in the Keys. I didn't want to break anything so my only chance was to tire him out. He tried to run but I was able to turn him around. He really didn't fight but didn't exactly let me reel him in either. It was like a slab of concrete. He laid down in the rocks and wedged himself in. I couldn't see him but I could tell he was bunker'd up. Just then, the motel keeper came out and saw the ordeal. I told him I had a shark and he looked dubious. Not because there weren't big fish caught in that canal, but because it looked more like I was snagged on the bottom. He probably thought I was tourist tripping- which I was. He then saw the rod thrash as the shark unleashed a burst of energy. He then looked just as excited as me. He suggested tying my line onto one of his heavier rods. I didn't want to go through all that so I thought heck it. I was either gonna muscle the shark out from his hole or something was going to break. I pushed past the threshold I had previously allowed and felt the weight float up out of it's spot. I lifted the shark to the surface and the keeper helped me drag the fish up a small boat ramp a few feet away. We dragged it to land and it thrashed a little. I was tripping pretty good so I was extra reluctant to handle the creature. This was way bigger than the few sharks I had caught before. I kind of felt the shark out and picked it up by its tail for the picture, straining to keep it far enough from my body. It felt like a good 40 lbs. The wifey took a couple shots and we set it back down to get the hook out. We dehooked it and I released the beautiful creature into the water. By then the keepers wife was out and I was struggling to interact with them. I probably seemed normal but I felt like I was struggling. We decided to take a shower and go get food.

In the room, we took showers and kind of hung out as we got dressed to go out and eat. I was on a 5 hour peak by this point and it wasn't close to over. I wasn't sure about going out to a crowded place but decided to be a good sport. After all, we were here as a family vacation; I would of felt guilty that I was a party pooper. So she drove us to a tiki restaurant on the water, I was really glad she did. This place was AWESOME! There was barely any parking but we found a spot in the back of the back near a helicopter pad- why did they need a helipad- I do not know. We got a really cool table back in our own little section, right on the water. The inside had all type of rustic looking pirate decor and the outside was a marina light up out of the tropical blue water. A gentle warm breeze floated in and the sun was going down in the background. It was so beautiful, I wanted to cry. I felt a deep love for my family. I wanted to be better than good. I didn't have a huge appetite but much enjoyed my seared tuna. The whole experience was just unreal. 

By the time we got back to the hotel it was dark and we were ready to chill. I kept jumping back and forth from listening to music to watching Mysteries at the Museum. One episode, they did a story in Key West. Watching some ghost story about the keys while tripping at a cool motel in the Keys at night time felt like it was meant to be. If it wasn't that, it was the music. I was discovering one of the artists' I like new videos. He kind of evolved on a elevated plane with his music and I was really digging it. 

This experience only solidified everything I've been feeling for the past several years: to love life, love one another, stay positive, be creative to take it to the next level, live life, explore, and don't second guess myself so much. There's so much to experience out there. I just want to continue to share with my family, see new places, and meet new people, learn new things, and pass whatever knowledge I might happen to accumulate down to the next generation. We have so much to share yet so much to learn. It's beautiful! 

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