Puking in the panhandle: norovirus fun

I don’t often get to take vacations these days. I left on Friday for a quick four-day trip to the panhandle of Florida to do some paddling I have long wanted to do. By Friday night on arrival, I was ready to vomit. I thought it was exhaustion coupled with the idea I might have to go to breakfast in the morning but, as it turned out, no, I really wanted to vomit. Troy did not take my threat seriously. I collapsed at 1 a.m.

At 8 a.m., Troy was insisting that I get up to go eat breakfast with his Mom before she left to go home. It seemed rude not to go considering she owns the beach house where we were staying, but she offered up a place to eat known as the “Donut Hole” and I wanted to vomit. I got in the car because civility trumps common sense and reason. Within ten minutes of arrival, I excused myself to head to the bathroom. There are very few things that will make me lay down on the nice cool tile floor of a public bathroom. One of those things apparently is the well-placed fear that I will spew in public in a packed restaurant on a Saturday morning. I must say that the Donut Hole on Highway 98 has one very clean bathroom. As soon as I realized I was about to pass out on the tile floor of a public restroom, I pulled myself up and staggered back to the table. Troy’s Mom took one look at me and we went out the door to go home. I think she stills harbors hopes that Troy and I will spawn and that was morning sickness, but at my age, I think she should have been thinking less about pregnancy and more about contagious issues. Troy and his Mom left me to sleep which I did until around early afternoon.

This was a trip in which we were supposed to paddle both Ecofina Creek and the Wakulla River. I was very determined to do this. So I got up and convinced Troy I was OK because I am a moron. We drove to Econfina Creek and thank God the livery service that picks you up to return you to your car refused to take us since it was after one. We returned home. And that’s when the fun started. I will confess to you that at my age, the thought that I might puke on myself without being able to dash to the bathroom never occurred to me. Nonetheless, over the course of the next 18 hours, I think I threw up on myself no less than three times. I can now say without question that if I ever get too ill and will require someone’s round the clock care, I will simply swallow enough pills to make my sleep permanent. There is no reason to live if you are pretty sure you want to die, but can’t guarantee you will.

Because I am incredibly stubborn and stupid, I went paddling the next day and managed with the aid of medicine in combination with severe dehydration to paddle 7 miles of Ecofina Creek. Here is Emerald Spring in all it’s loveliness:

emerald springs

I will talk in detail about this run later for those paddlers that care, but I can tell you that I did not puke once in the two hours it took to paddle this run. I saved that fun for later. Never one to let a virus completely kill off my plans, I went ahead and toured the Gulf Shores National Seashore while Troy shot inspirational and beautiful shots of dunes and oat grass with crystal clear waters and spectacular sunsets. While he took awesome photographs, I puked in the sand. And thus ended the last night of the vacation, with me on my knees, on a deserted beach with my husband, while I puked. As an fyi, there is zero romance to anything with sand for those who expect some romance. Sand sticks to everything. Find a nice sand-free spot for romance. Also puking. You’re welcome.

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I have now toured every bathroom from Perdido Key to Rosemary Beach along Highway 98 and am contemplating posting a field guide to bathrooms to puke in or developing an app. Troy does not think this will be a big seller, but I beg to differ. This was crucial knowledge I would have paid to have had.

Ambling along the boardwalk in Blue Springs State Park, Florida

I have been out with major dental surgery for the past two weeks, culminating in an unplanned visit to the oral surgeon to address an infection in the jawbone. This sucked epicly, as the pain level was remarkably high. I am not a wuss as I walked around with a broken neck for three weeks in exquisite pain before it was surgically repaired. So when they asked me “How would you describe the pain on a scale of 1 to 10” my response was pretty simple: “That would be a 10” with an unspoken “thanks for asking Captain Obvious”” tacked on the end. Fortunately for me and those forced to be near me, someone totally awesome invented Percocet. I have decided Percocet doesn’t really dull the pain – it just makes you not give a damn that you are in pain. This post is dedicated to you, Mr. Unknown-I-invented-Percocet-guy. Without your invention, I would have either gone mad or killed my husband, and it was even money on which way I would have gone. I am on the mend, but I am pretty sure in my last life I must have killed a slew of dentists to end up in their chairs so much over the past two weeks.  Karmic vengeance to be sure.

So kids, here’s your pretty for the week while I live in a haze of oxycodone bliss. These pictures are from Blue Springs State Park just north of Orlando, Florida. This is just off the St. Johns River and during the winter, it is a major manatee hangout where they come by the hundreds as the temperature of the water is steady 72 degrees year round. The spring is enchanting, and for those who like to dive, you can get certified to dive here as the spring is 140 feet deep at the source.  There is a boardwalk along the river for those who want to stroll along the water and you can swim here unless the manatees are present, at which point, it’s off limits. For those of the kayaking bent, forget it. The main spring and run down the 3/4 miles to the convergence with the St. Johns River are closed to kayakers. The water is spectacular and the wildlife viewing is great if you want to see manatees in huge numbers. This park is famous for huge crowds during the season, so call before you come because they do close it off when the crowds are high. There is a $5 entrance fee, and for a quick stop, it’s a nice place to see.

Blue Springs State Park: it's just that pretty

 

Where the Blue Springs run converges with the St Johns River. This is all manatee preserve and it's off limits to people from November to March.

 

Spectacular scenery.

 

Scuba diving at the main spring. The divers disappear into a dark blue crack below the water. It's pretty cool to see.

Big Cypress: Kayaking in the Wind and Battling with Spiders

People use the word “hate” too casually. Some people hate raisins. Some people hate Republicans. I hate kayaking against a strong wind.  I mean, I really really hate wind in the same way I hate people who drive 15 miles below the speed limit in the left lane.   It is windy in southern Florida today. Strong east winds blowing at a steady 25 mph. We almost bagged the day, but we decided to kayak Halfway Creek in Big Cypress today. The logic was that it was (allegedly) protected from the wind and that it would make paddling tolerable. Big fucking mistake as it turned out.

Since my existence as an actual person has recently been questioned, I present the following picture. Be warned that the glare off my legs may blind you.

Yes, my legs ARE as white as my shirt.

Halfway Creek is a nice paddle with manatees in the creek and a lot of lakes and mangrove tunnels in between. The total mileage is around 8+ miles from start to finish. I knew on the way out it was going to suck on the way back in. The wind was to our back and we were paddling with the tide.  It was too easy. 2 miles in and we hit the mangrove tunnels. Mangrove tunnels are kind of awesome.

A mangrove tunnel on Halfway Creek

What we didn’t count on were the spiders. Millions and millions of spiders. They build webs across the mangrove tunnels to capture bugs. Also kayakers.

Millions of the bastards everywhere

I ducked, I tried to avoid them, and still, spiders in my hair and my cleavage, spiders on the kayak and in the kayak. I fucking hate spiders. Finally, one of them bit Troy, leaving a welt. I doubted they were poisonous, but we turned back anyway. You can never tell when you are going to have an allergic reaction to something and 4 miles back in a swamp is not the place to discover you are going into shock.  Unless you are trying to kill your spouse.  I am waiting to see if Troy develops any awesome superpowers.

This meant we had to turn around and paddle into the wind. The wind sucks. Epicly. By the time we made it back to the launch, I was crippled.  3+ miles against the tide and a strong 25 mph wind. Tomorrow should be interesting since I can’t lift my arms to even put on a bra.  I will say that the sunset was beautiful, but most anything is when you take percocet.

Goodbye Tennessee, hello Florida

It’s that time of year. The time of year when I ditch my relatives at Christmas and head with Troy to Florida to kayak the warm swamps, bays and rivers of southern Florida. We have new kayaks and will be heading out a week from today for a two-week stint.

Cades Cove in winter: lovely, but cold. Also, you can hear the strains of Deliverance.

Last year, Troy tried to feed me to the alligators in his quest to kill me:

The rare and elusive Jean in a mangrove tunnel in the Everglades

This year, we’ll be doing some open ocean kayaking. Most likely he’ll feed me to the sharks. In case he finally succeeds, it was nice knowing you all.

It's waiting for me. Or maybe just all the old people. It is Florida.

 

Road Trip to Miami, Part Deux

Picking up where I left off, I arrived to rescue my sister from the hospital in Miami. Finding her proved problematic – who knew how many Jackson Memorial branches are in Miami? The GPS was not helpful as I ended up in a parking lot in Little Haiti which is, I assure you, not where I wanted to be. If you are in Little Haiti and driving a Honda CR-V with Tennessee plates and have red hair and pale skin, you will be noticed in an uncomfortable ‘I’m a suburban white girl from out of town and I am lost’ kind of way.

I finally found Susan who was ranting and raving about some Domenican nurse and a dead guy. I really did not ask questions as she was not wearing a bra (or probably underwear), looked like Medusa after a four-day bender and she was cursing in a language which might have been English, but I’m still not sure. I was not happy about having to drive to Miami, so I had already decided that if I was coming down to Miami, I was going back to the Everglades National Park to hike the Snake Bight trail which I did not get to do in December. That meant Susan was going to go with me.

Susan smelled like a wookie and her hair was terrifying so I was deciding where I could dunk her as she looked like a homeless person. The swamp seemed possible, but having some experience being dunked in swamp water, I am reasonably confident she would have smelled worse afterwards. I knew that the Flamingo marina had $3 showers for campers and I could dump her off for a shower while I hiked the trail. It was a great plan. First, though, we had to fill her prescriptions. I headed for Homestead where I knew there would be a pharmacy on the way to Everglades National Park. I did not know the prescription was for Dilaudid, but I digress.

Troy and I went to the Everglades in December at the start of the dry season. The water was much higher then and three months later, the water levels were drying up. Before Christmas it looked like this:

Anhinga trail at Christmas 2010 with stacks o' alligators

At the end of the dry season, the same place looked like this:

Anhinga trail, same place, three months later into the dry season

I was pretty stoked as I thought the trail I wanted to do would be dry and bug-free. That was a mistake. First, I had to get Susan to take a shower. I told her she was scaring small children and I loaned her some underwear and a sports bra because I am kind like that. I paid the $3 shower fee and told her I’d be back in an hour.  I told her to stand on the side of the marina and watch for manatees because they hang out there. She never saw a manatee but I did once I left:

I saw manatees while Susan was in the shower

The Snake Bight trail leads from the main road to Flamingo to Florida Bay. It’s a little shy of a mile and three quarters one way. When I arrived, it was absolutely deserted and I was the only person on the trail.

Snake Bight trail, Everglades National Park

My theory that lack of water = no bugs was a major miscalculation. I have never seen so many flying bugs in my life. And they all wanted to bite me. Still, I persevered and walked very fast with the idea that I could somehow out pace them. Not possible. I walked this trail like it was the Bataan Death March because I drove to Miami in one shot dammit and I was going to do this trail. I could hear nothing but my breathing and the sounds of things rustling in the leaves off the trail. I did not investigate. I saw a giant water moccasin high tail it across the trail in front of me and I stepped up my speed. The longer I was alone on the trail the more I imagined some extra from Deliverance jumping out in front of me. I walked faster. About a quarter mile from the end I started to hear something odd. Like the squealing of piglets. I convinced myself my Deliverance fantasies were working overtime. I walked even faster until I was basically at a slow jog. The squealing got louder until it was clear I was not imagining the sound of pigs. There were pigs. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I recalled that the Everglades have lots of wild hogs and they are not friendly. The end of the trail was close – I could hear the ocean. I could also hear piglets. Somehow, despite years of stubborn determination to finish stupid quests in the face of overwhelming evidence that quitting was the best option, I decided to turn around. In short, I walked in a bug-infested swamp with lots of snakes in hot, humid weather at top speed only to stop short one-tenth of a mile from the end. Dammit.

I picked up a slightly cleaner and less smelly Susan who laughed maniacally when I told her I did not get to see the end of the trail because of wild hogs. We drove to Homestead to pick up her prescription of Dilaudid (note: Susan had been hospitalized for acute pancreatitis). We hit the southern end of Miami on a Friday night at 5 p.m. Genius. And to make my joy complete, the air conditioning in my car chose that particular moment in time to cease working.   Susan popped a Dilaudid for the road as we had a 470 mile drive to the beach house in Carillon.

Here’s a tip for someone who might be making a seriously long drive late in the day with someone taking Dilaudid: make them take enough so that they pass out. As the sun set, and I was able to roll up the windows and not broil in the car, Susan began to shout random things out to me in a truly-alarmed tone which caused me to automatically slam on the brakes. Some examples:

  • Look out for the basketball player sleeping on the road!
  • Oh my God, it’s a dead panther!
  • Don’t hit the dolphin!
Susan was hallucinating which is very unhelpful to someone trying to concentrate on seeing the road after two days of continuous driving. We rolled into Panama City about 2 a.m. and Susan shouted “Oh my God, don’t hit the people on the scooters!” I nearly paid no attention, but there was in fact, a horde of scooters loaded with drunk college students on the highway with no lights. Moral of the story: Sometimes, even stoned people have valid things to say. I did get 24 hours at my mother-in-law’s beach house which is not a bad thing. The view:

Carillon Beach, a martini and 9 hours of blissful, uninterrupted sleep = relaxation

Road trip to Miami: Part I

It’s been a hectic month. So I got a call from my niece who was on board a cruise ship in the Caribbean to tell me that my sister Susan was being pulled off the ship by Coast Guard cutter due to extreme illness. To normal people, this would be horrifying. My first reaction was “Seriously, you’re fucking with me” to which my sensible niece replied “I would never joke about something like this.” I only occasionally wonder if she’s really related to me.  My second reaction was to break into a Kathy Lee song “If they could see me now..” which is also probably inappropriate.  Sure enough, Susan got on board the ship 48 hours after having a shunt put in her liver. To most normal people, that would mean you would not get on the ship. Not Susan. I guess she was dying to sit at assigned seats for dinner, play shuffle board and be entertained by off off off Broadway musicals.

I would rather pull out my own toenails and drink them from a glass of sweat than have to cruise.

This created great consternation in the family since someone had to go get her. I made mention of my trial calendar, depositions, etc., but my Dad and uncle played the age card. Clearly, the writing was on the wall. Nashville to Miami is closer than Kansas City to Miami so I drew the short stick. I would drive to Miami since Susan could not fly.  To those who have only looked at Florida on a map, Miami is a long way from anywhere. The state of Florida is a really long state and it takes a long time to drive through.  It is full of old people who drive 30 miles an hour on the interstate and insane Yankees who drive 85 on the interstate and Europeans who don”t know which side of the road to be on. Seriously, my hat is off to the Floridians who drive there daily.

Florida has "Silver Alert" posters. To help find old people behind the wheel. For real.

To say that I was less than thrilled with the drive would not do justice to the word “annoyed”. Rearranging my calendar was not easy and also I had to drive through the entire state of Georgia. I should get some kind of medal for that. I had one major concern about where I would stay. This trip occurred the third week of March at the height of spring break. I should have known I would end up in Ft. Lauderdale. During Spring Break.

My personal nightmare. Katy Perry totally rules y'all!

Drunken twenty-year olds were far less traumatic than the legions of unbelievably cut gay men parading around in tiny swimsuits. If you would like to feel inadequate, put a swimsuit on and walk South Beach in the company of the gay beach brigade.

This man's ass is smaller than mine

I could never ever live in South Florida.

Kayaking the Everglades, part 1

As everyone knows, the best part of the holiday season is finding ways to avoid your family.  Going to kayak in the Everglades over Christmas is an excellent way to avoid your family. They can’t call to complain you aren’t home because there’s no way to reach you. Awesome.  Since Troy is always trying to kill me, it’s important to clarify that this trip was my idea. I had envisioned quietly gliding through still waters in this this gothic, romantic moss-draped swamp a la Interview with the Vampire. Not so much.

Moss draped trees are not what you get in the Everglades

 

This is what you get in the Everglades:

Troy took this picture of me over his shoulder. His life expectancy immediately dropped by many years.

The water is not very deep and, in most places, the water we trekked through was only two to three feet deep.  Of course, since I am graceless and flunked my deportment class in charm school as a young child, I took a header into the swamp leaving me wet and smelling like a wookie. I have always longed to be an impecccably dressed and composed outdoorswoman like Karen Blixen who can trek,  camp and cook a gourmet meal on the fire while mingling with the natives, but it’s just not in the cards for someone like me.  The day someone exclaims “that woman is just amazing on the trail” is the day you know the aliens have arrived and started body snatching. Troy had to come rescue me which was extra annoying. Troy claims he is invincible in the woods, and points out he never flipped over. Seriously, after 12 years, I can’t believe I haven’t stabbed him in his sleep.

Troy, being very insufferable

I had my chance to feed him to the local wildlife, but they were very uncooperative:

This Mama alligator with babies on her back was too busy to attack Troy.

 All rivers eventually end in the bay and here’s your moment of zen for this very chilly January day.