The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Category: Camping (page 1 of 5)

Lost Fly Rods and Good People

You…Colossal…F$*% up.

Each step down the pothole riddled, dusty dirt road pissed me off even more than the last. I was so upset I wanted to scream. Cry. Anything. I absolutely could not believe I was so forgetful that I’d left my fly rod in that stupid truck. It could be anywhere up ahead and the only thing I had to go off of was that it was a black truck with a Hispanic man driving.

Those aren’t common in Belize or anything.

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Kids on bicycles occasionally rolled by, swerving smoothly between potholes as they peddled. Slowly but surely I was making my way out of Hopkins, and on my way down to Sittee River to the south. Since it was a dead end down there, I hoped that -maybe- I could find the truck I’d hitched a ride in. But with each step, I only found myself getting more and more upset, and quickly losing any hope of every finding the rod again.

——

That’s what you get for hitch hiking, Alex. And in a different country no less. You moron.

But I was tired…and he did -seem- nice.

Idiot

Maybe he’s just down the road and the fly rod is still there.

Probably not.

But there’s always a chance

Why did you think that was a good idea? Hmm? You’ve known yourself for 26 years. And you didn’t think something bad might happen. To YOU? Of all people. You’ve kinda got a track record.

It was an honest mistake

Stuff like this man…This is how you’re gonna wake up murdered one day. Or even worse…Lose your fly rod in Belize.

——–

I was beating myself up so bad that I didn’t even notice the brand new, blue Toyota Tundra that had pulled up next to me. Suddenly a man’s voice interrupted me mid-argument with myself. An American’s voice! I turned to my left to see your standard white  guy, mid 50’s maybe, looking at me with his windows down.

“Umm…I’m sorry?”, I responded, completely and totally shocked to be looking at what was in front of me.

“I said would you like a ride? I’m going to Sittee River…”, he said with a slightly concerned look on his face.

Aha! Not this time! We’re not falling for this one again…

But I could cover ground quicker in the back of that truck.

Woah woah…Pump the brakes. Seriously? It’s clearly a trap! Did you learn NOTHING from what just happened? It was like 45 minutes ago for Christ’s sake…

“Actually…Yes. Please”, I piped up and explained my situation to the man in the truck. He told me to hop in the back, and yell if I saw the truck I was looking for. I quickly climbed in, and took a seat on the edge of the bed as the truck sped down the road toward Sittee River.

You idiot….

The ride down to the next town was bumpy to say the least and occasionally I had to duck down to avoid taking palm fronds to the face. But eventually we arrived in Sittee River. On several occasions, I spotted out small black pickups, but upon closer inspection, was disheartened to discover they weren’t the one I was looking for. The man driving the truck was nice enough to drive me around the entire town in search of this truck (although the town was remarkably small). After close to 30 minutes of driving around, we were almost out of options. The only place in town that we hadn’t checked was the marina in the south end of town. Many potholes, several small bridges, and numerous low hanging branches later, I arrived at the marina.

There was a large, two story building at the marina and in the back, what looked like a small restaurant underneath a pavilion. Boats of various sizes filled the slips while some of the bigger, offshore boats, were docked up on the river’s edge. The parking lot was about half full and almost immediately a lone truck caught my eye. It looked just like the truck I’d been after! I leaped out of the bed of the Tundra and ran over to the truck. It -had- to be the same truck. I was sure I’d looked at every vehicle in Sittee River. So I got to the truck, looked in the bed, and…

It wasn’t the right truck. The one I was after had a tire and a ladder in the bed. This truck just had some trash and leaves. It was over. My fly rod was gone forever and I could do nothing but thank the man who drove me down to the marina for being so nice and patient with me. He wished me luck on the rest of my trip, and drove off down the dirt road back to the main part of Sitte River, leaving me there at the marina.

Hitch hiking’s a one way ticket, remember?

With no reason to be in Sittee River anymore, I had no choice but to make the long walk back to Hopkins and find a place to sleep for the night. I was still absurdly upset. I kept my eyes peeled for that truck, but it was just false hope. That rod was long gone, and my fly fishing days in Belize were over.

Walking back to Hopkins seemed to take longer than walked to Sittee River. Maybe it was because I was so distraught over the fly rod. Or maybe my legs were just tired from walking. Who knows? What I do know is that slowly but surely, I made my way back into town. I passed several small groceries, little “restaurants”, and run down homes on my way to the center of town. Soon I found myself standing right where I’d been dropped off hours beforehand. I heard a car coming up behind me so I stepped aside and continued walking. But the car didn’t pass. Out of curiosity, I turned around to see what the car was doing.

It was the truck! And the man who’d given me the ride!

I raced up to the truck and looked into the bed. My fly rod wasn’t there. I quickly went to the window and started blabbering at him. Honestly I have no idea what I said, but it probably wasn’t English. Not that it mattered though considering the man only spoke Spanish. Good news? He knew what I wanted, and with a big grin, handed me my fly rod.

You’re the luckiest person alive…

I look for you”, the man said with a heavy accent. And I thanked him profusely, even offering to buy him a case of beer for his troubles, but he refused and just seemed happy to have gotten the rod back to me. Not nearly as happy as I was to have said rod back, however. I was ecstatic. Not only did I have my beloved fly rod back, but this man single handedly restored my faith in humanity. It’s a relief to know that there are still good people that exist in this world.

I thanked the man a few more times, then set off on my way. It was getting dark, and I desperately needed to find a place to stay. “The Book” claimed that on the north end of town was a place called Lebeha. It was a drumming center, but also had rooms for rent. So I wandered my way around locals on bikes, stray dogs, and amongst the smell of delicious street food until I saw Lebeha. Actually, I didn’t see Lebeha first. I heard it.

People were busily beating wooden drums in the courtyard of the center and singing when I arrived. Not wishing to interrupt, I sat down on a chair and listened while they finished their song. One man in particular (who I later found out was co-owner of Lebeha) was teaching others drumming lessons. Eventually, they stopped playing and the man asked if I needed a place to stay. I explained that I did and he got me in contact with his wife Dorothy. It turned out that the room I wanted to rent was taken for the night, but she had another that was shared with a stranger for 7$.

Yeah…Why not?

So I took the room, secured my belongings, and since I was on cloud nine about having my fly rod back, I decided to treat myself. With the place I was staying being a drum center, I’d overheard that the local band was playing at a pizza place on the north end of town (about 1/4 mile away). It was getting late, I was starving, and after the hellacious day I’d just suffered through, I needed a drink. So I wandered off in search of pizza and beer.

I’d been sitting at a long wooden table in the bar for over an hour while I ate pizza and listened to the band drum away just a few feet from me. Generally a beer drinker, it was an odd sight for me to have a giant, five-gallon bucket sized Pina Colada in front of me. But sweet Christ it was delicious. The pizza wasn’t bad either. And the fact that I’d gotten my fly rod back made everything all the sweeter.

A little while later a family of four walked into the bar and, as my table was the only one with open seats at it still, they asked if they could join. I didn’t mind, of course, and they sat down at the table with me. There was something, however, that really stuck out about this family of four (two sons about my age and their parents). They were white Americans. I’d only seen a couple throughout my wanderings around town, and from their reaction to seeing me, I think the surprise was sorta mutual. Hopkins is a bit off the “tourist” path. So you really don’t find the same amount of tourists here like you do in other places around the country. Regardless, we all began talking and over several more beers and pina coladas, learned that they were from California and had all sorts of plans for their stay in Belize. It ended up being a great night and after a paying a record breaking bar tab (for a different country), I said goodbye to my new Californian friends as well as the band, and wandered back to my room.

———-

Just breathe through your mouth dude. You’ll be alright.

He stinks so bad though…It’s like…It’s like I can smell it in my eyeballs. How does no one else seem to notice this??

I took a glance around the school bus as we flew down the road just west of Hopkins. We’d all, of course, been crammed into the bus like sardines and the man who’s personal bubble I was forced to share standing space with smelled like he’d died about two weeks ago. Somehow the other passengers seemed unphased by this assault on the senses. Either that or they two had learned to breath through their mouths.

The stop is just about 3 miles ahead. Suffer through it.

The bus dropped me off at the intersection of the highway and the cut off road for Hopkins just west of town. The plan was to make a short hike to a national park and do a little jungle hiking. That was at least the “plan”.

I began walking down a dirt road in search of this national park. But after a couple of miles, I soon found myself standing in the middle of a citrus orchard with zero sign of a preserve entrance in sight. Convinced I’d screwed up, I walked all the way back out to the highway to see if I could get my bearings. When I arrived back at the intersection, there were a couple of men waiting for a ride from the bus. I asked them directions to the national park and they said “Just about a mile -that- way” and pointed north down the highway. So I thanked them, and started walking.

And walking.

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Then I walked some more.

This man’s version of “about a mile” quickly turned into close to 7 miles. And even though this was December, it was pretty hot. Hot enough that by the time I FINALLY reached the turn off for the preserve, I was almost completely out of water. The good news? Don’t kid yourself. There was no good news. The sign read that the actual entrance to the national park was 4 miles down this NEW road. With no other option, and after having walked this far, I made the choice to just continue on.

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The dirt road wasn’t particularly well maintained, but it was decent enough to walk on. Thankfully there were several shaded patches which was a blessing after reaching the dregs of my water bottle. A few cars passed by as I continued on and each one left a cloud of dust behind them, forcing me to stop and wait rather than breathing it in and getting sent into a coughing fit. I’d made it maybe a mile down the dirt road when I heard a car coming from behind. In my usual fashion, I stepped off to the side of the road and continued walking. But the car slowed, and pulled up next to me.

“Hey! We know you!”, yelled a voice from the car.

I turned to look and see my Californian friends from the bar!

No. Freakin. Way.

They surely saw me drenched in sweat and breathing hard, so without hesitation they asked, “Need a ride? We’re going to the preserve”

By this point you’d think that maybe I’d learned my lesson about hitching rides. And you’d be wrong. I gratefully hopped into the back of their SUV and we motored along to the preserve. These were some of the nicest people I encountered during my stay in Belize. They gave me a cold Gatorade and some water (which was a life saver) and were all around just great people. And rather than make me walk the 13+ miles back to Hopkins later that day, they even offered me a ride back. Which I gladly accepted.

The national park was absolutely gorgeous. I learned that there was a trail that led straight up the mountainside and eventually ended at a waterfall, so I chose that one for my hike. As I walked along, I noticed my first cat track in the mud. I still don’t know what sort of wild cat this was, but I still found it pretty cool.

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But not another three or four hundred yards down the path, I heard something that sent shivers down my spine. No. Not the roar of a big cat. Something far more deadly.

It’d been 28 years. 28 years since Dutch and his team of Commandos fought the Predator deep within the Central American jungle. And here it was. I’d stumbled across it again. Armed with nothing more than an empty water bottle and a half eaten sandwich.

Turns out those are Howler Monkeys, and I realized this after just a few seconds. But it did scare the life out of me at first. Besides, I know better that I’d never hear Predator if it was hunting me. I could only hope to spot out his tell-tale shimmer.

The hike up the mountain was steep to say the least, and the combination of Howler Monkeys in the distance and crashing water from a nearby creek made everything surreal.

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I eventually reached the waterfall at the top of the trail, and took a swim in its crystal clear waters to cool down. It was one of those rare instances where pictures just don’t do it justice. So rather than breaking out the camera and ruining the moment, I opted to sit on a rock, eat my lunch, and listen to incessant yet soothing sounds of crashing water. After a little while, other people made their way to the top of the trail, and I’d been there long enough. I certainly didn’t want to miss my ride with the Californians. So back down the mountain I went, eventually meeting up with the Californians and hopping back into their car.

On the drive back, I couldn’t help but stare out across the jungle and be absurdly thankful. SO many things could have gone horribly wrong during the past couple of days, but thanks to a few truly good people and a healthy spattering of luck, things turned out perfect. I’ve got quite a lot of good deeds to do to make up for everything that happened, but I look forward to it. The world could always use a few more good people.

 

 

 

Poodles in Hell

“Oh….Oh God. Oh LORD! THEY’VE FOUND US! Let’s go! Grab the dog! Forget the tent, let’s just GO!”

It was far too early in the morning for this, but there was no escaping it. I ran back and forth across the chickee, flailing like a madman and screaming obscenities in a futile effort to rid myself from the undying horde of mosquitoes that had found us. At daybreak, the black cloud of bloodsucking demons left the safety of the mangroves and ventured out to our chickee. A faint roar could be heard coming from the swarm during the brief pauses while we caught our breath between screams.

Seriously…They were bad.

“Going!”, shouted my friend Johnny as he hopped aboard the gheenoe, swatting wildly with one hand while his other cradled a poodle. I leaped aboard a moment later just as he cranked the engine, and we sped off in an attempt to escape the bloodthirsty horde.

Welcome to fishing the Everglades in May.

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I’d gotten the bright idea to go on this adventure a few days beforehand. I’d been wanting to make a trip down to Flamingo for some time now, and I figured since it’s about a 2 hour drive for me to get there from where I live, that camping would be the best bet. The idea at least, was to be out on the water late, and also super early. A task that would be simpler if I was already out there. So my plan was to sleep on a chickee and fish for a couple of days. I ran the idea past my buddy Johnny, and he seemed game to come along under just one condition; He had to bring his dog.

Sadly, no one would be around to take care of poor Otis while Johnny and I fished, so there was really no other choice. I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work with two full grown men, camping gear, fishing gear, and a dog all packed into a 16ft Gheenoe, but I honestly didn’t care. I just wanted to fish.

So after loading up, we made our way down to Flamingo. Upon arrival, I had to go fill out a camping form. I realized once we pulled up that I hadn’t actually been to Flamingo in over a year. The last time I was there was when I’d finished the Everglades Wilderness  Waterway. So I went upstairs into the visitor center to fill out a camping form and pay. As it turns out, there are only a few of us insane enough to camp in the Everglades during summer, so camping was free. In addition to that, it’s all self registration. No rangers are involved. Which is quite a bit different than when I camped in January and had to reserve campsites and adjust my trip because there were so many people. I turned to exit the visitor center and stumbled across this helpful sign. Had I known it’s inaccuracy, I may have just gone back home.

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So we took off into the backcountry. We launched around 4, so we still had plenty of daylight to get a little fishing done before dark. Upon entering Whitewater Bay, however, we realized just how hard the wind was blowing. It was an absolute gale from the east, and that happened be the direction we were going. But it was anything but a dry ride. It’s called Whitewater Bay for a reason and the crashing whitecaps periodically made their way over the bow, soaking both us, and poor Otis. We finally pulled off into a spot out of the wind and got ready to fish. We dropped the trolling motor and…

Nothing. No power. We fiddled with it, and messed with it, and did everything we could do. But nothing. The trolling motor was dead. To make matters worse, as we were packing to leave, the subject of a push pole was brought up. “Do you think we ought to bring this?”.

“Nah. It’ll be alright. We’ve got the trolling motor after all”.

I dropped anchor while Johnny proceeded to mess with the trolling motor, and I took advantage of this pause to try and fish. I took a cast along the mangroves and before I could even twitch the jerk shad at the end of my line, a fish inhaled it. First cast, and it was a good fish too. It immediately took off, sending the drag into a screaming fit. I fought it for several minutes without every laying eyes on it when suddenly “pop”. And just like that, it was gone.

I generally never beat myself up over lost fish, but this one was a good one, and it hurt. I imagine the way it was fighting and generally steering clear of the mangroves that it was a nice Red. But sadly there’s no telling.

Almost as soon as I’d lost the fish, however, I heard “Aha!” along with the beeping of the trolling motor. Johnny somehow managed to get it working, and we were back in business. We fished for probably another hour, and I proceeded to hook and lose two more fish. It was odd because my line was getting cut clean like some toothy critter was on the other end. But soon, the dying light was a telltale sign that it was time to go. We needed to set up camp before it got too dark to see. But more importantly: before the mosquitoes showed up.

I’m not an idiot. I know there are mosquitoes in the Everglades. Particularly during the warm months. Hell, even during my paddle in mid-January, I was almost carried away on several occasions. So we’d come prepared. 3 thermacells and several cans of Off. Hopefully we could eat and be in the tent by dark.

I drove us to our campsite at South Joe River Chickee and it was during this that I was overly thankful to have a motorboat. I couldn’t believe I’d once paddled this exact same leg before. It was 12 miles from South Joe to Flamingo and I was getting impatient in the -boat-. The thought of paddling it again was cringe worthy. After a bit of meandering around switchbacks through the mangroves, we came into the small bay where the chickee was. We docked up, unloaded our gear and the hound,  and I started walking around on the chickee. It was then that I discovered something I’d completely forgotten about; my initials.

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This chickee was my last stop on my paddle through the Everglades. Just before the helpful couple showed up and gave me a towel and socks, I hacked my initials into the wood to signal the end of my trip. I remember being almost overcome with a wave of emotions that evening as I watched the sunset. Thankful for the opportunity to do the trip. Proud of myself for even completing it. And most importantly, grateful to actually be alive. I was in rough shape to say the least.

So seeing this was quite the nostalgic trip. I couldn’t help but have a big stupid grin on my face.

Johnny, Otis, and I ate dinner a little bit later which consisted of Spam, macaroni and cheese, and kibble (in no particular order). The wind was still blowing quite strong, and before long we were sitting in the dark.

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But there was something happening that neither of us wanted to bring up; There were no mosquitoes. Rather than jinx ourselves, we just sat up BSing, and attempted to shark fish (which produced nothing but catfish). By about midnight we’d had enough and called it a night.

My alarm went off about 530. In the dark of the tent, I could just make out the shape of Johnny and Otis next to me. Out loud, Johnny said “They’re here…”

All creepiness aside, that’s not exactly what you want to wake up to. But before I could even ask “who”, I figured it out. The mosquitoes were out in full force. In fact, a quick glance out of the mesh window revealed that about 2000 of them had found there way to the down wind side of our tent. The roar from the swarm outside was almost deafening, and it set up a rather odd situation. Two full grown men and a poodle, having  mental pep-talks to themselves in the dim twilight of early dawn inside a tent. It’s one of those talks you have with yourself before doing something horrible like jumping into icy water, or going to the DMV. Finally, we couldn’t take it anymore. Otis most assuredly had to poop, and the hard deck of the chickee was breaking my back (we brought no sleeping pads). I unzipped the tent, and stepped out into the horde.

They really did get bad enough that we were forced to leave everything on the chickee and run away in the boat. We did a little exploring and found some cool waters that I’d like to go back and fish at a different time. It turns out that we timed our trip -perfectly with a neap tide, and got absolutely skunked the entire day. But I’ll remember to go back and fish some of the areas we visited.

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Later that day, we motored back into Hell’s Bay in search of the non-existent fish. It was actually getting hot enough (ironically) that Johnny kept having to splash Otis with water to keep him cool. Something that I’m sure he was unamused about considering he still hadn’t pooped. Hot, tired, sore, and about a gallon of blood low, we decided to call it and head back to Flamingo. I hopped behind the wheel, and turned the key.

Mrrrrrp. Mrrrrrp. Dead battery

I’d prepared for such nightmares, and actually brought a kayak paddle with us. I could only imagine how bizarre it would look to see two men and a poodle paddling a 16ft Gheenoe across Coot Bay on the way to Flamingo. But as luck would have it, the new Gheenoes come with a 25 horse that has a pull start. I haven’t been so thankful to hear a motor start in a -long- time.

I’d like to go back again soon. Maybe out front into Florida Bay instead of the backcountry. Next time I might just bring a bug net though.

And maybe leave the poodle at home. Till next time,

Fish on!

Sand in the tent

“Did you hear that?” asked my dad, looking over his shoulder at the ominous dark cloud across the bay.
I had, of course, heard the thunder coming out of the massive storm. “Yeah.”, I responded, brushing some sand off my arm. “I think it’s heading away from us though”.
If ever there was a phrase to guarantee a direct hit from a storm of apocalyptic proportions, that’s the one. It’s probably what Jim Cantore says when he arrives at some poor old coastal town ahead of a hurricane.
The storm took no time to decide to jump right across the bay, and whip everything into a frenzy. Paddling our hearts out, my dad and I raced back to shore, praying that we not only made it, but wouldn’t get hit by a bolt of lightning. Our campsite was a little dot on the pristine white-sand shoreline of St. Joseph State Park and in that dot was our tent, the only shelter for miles….
I was lucky enough growing up to get to spend many of my summers in and around Port St. Joe Florida. A hidden gem along the Gulf Coast, St. Joe and its state park provided an almost limitless playground for me in the form of camping and fishing. My dad and I would load up the canoe or kayaks and set out for week long camping and fishing trips along the bay. We’d pitch our tent right on the sandy beach next to the water and fish from there.
If you’ve never had the good fortune to camp on the beach, allow me to set the scene for you:
Sand
Sand everywhere.
Sand on your feet. Sand in your tent. Sand in your shoes, your gear, your clothes, your hair, your food, your water. Sand in your soul.
Try as you might, the sand gets onto and into everything. After about four days, it becomes a way of life. Its omnipresence is a constant reminder that even in paradise, you’re forced to cope with this otherwise unseen gritty hell. There was, however, always one thing that could give you a break from the sugar white sand: Rain.
So as my dad and I paddled for our lives from the storm ,which had now whipped the bay into a frenzy, we were hit with fat heavy raindrops. I was already covered from head to toe in sand from camping for several days. So when the rain finally hit me it was almost like taking a shower. It honestly felt amazing to finally get SOME of the sand rinsed off my body.
We were close enough to shore now that I could see the trees and grasses getting whipped around in the high winds. Heavy bands of rain and wind were no longer showering us, but rather drowning us. Most of the sand on me -had- to have been washed away at this point. A crack of lighting ripped through the white-washed sky as our kayaks ground to a halt against the sandy beach. Only a few yards up onto the beach was our tent. Shelter. And inside were towels, sleeping bags, and various gear to get us dried off. I pulled the yak onto shore and looked up just in time to witness one of the strangest sights I’d ever seen.
Thanks to a massive gust of wind, our tent, with all of our supplies, was ripped from the ground and sent tumbling down the beach. I couldn’t really believe my eyes. I just sort of stood there trying to mentally grasp what I was watching. The tent, with its poles sticking every directs, was hurtling itself down the coast like some massive sea urchin. To make the sight stranger, all of our gear pushed and bounced on the canvas from within, making it look like some beast was attempting to kick its way out.
By the time I gathered myself, the tent was a good 40 yards down the beach and gaining distance. I immediately broke into a sprint after our runaway shelter. I should note that no matter how many sports you play, or how many outdoor articles you read, you’ll never be fully prepared to chase down and tackle your own tent. It’s not exactly something you get to do every day.
I’d finally gotten within arms reach of the tumbling canvas mass and after lining up my shot to avoid the swinging poles, I dove…
Face first into the sand. I did manage to get my hands onto the tent, but the wet canvas just slipped out from underneath me. I spit a mouthful of sand out onto the ground as I picked myself up and took off after the tent again. I was angry now. Not because our gear was threatening to blow into the water and out to sea, but because less than 2 minutes after my “shower” I was sandy again. Actually, sandy isn’t the right word to describe me at that point in time. Powdered donut is perhaps a more accurate term.
Perhaps I just got lucky, or maybe it was the extra grit all over my body, but my second attempt at tackling the tent proved successful. I wrestled it still and my dad caught up to help me stake it back to the ground. I opened the tent to find that our gear had been thrown around every which way, and I sat down inside to try and dry off.
Never in my life have I seen more sand in a tent than I did that afternoon. I thought about going back outside into the storm to let the rain wash some of it away, but as quickly as the storm was on us, it was gone again. Trying to become sand free would be nothing more than an effort in futility.
I just sat there, looking like a powdered donut, and stared out across the now sunlit bay. “At least the fishing’s good”, muttered my dad.
Summertime in St. Joe is something I’ll always be grateful for. Even through all the bugs, heat, storms, and runway tents, I enjoyed (and still enjoy) every minute I get to spend down there. Everything about the place has a special place in my heart. Even the sand…
Seriously there’s probably sand in my heart from that place.
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