Editor’s note: This column originally published May 14, 2015.
The only way to reach Florida’s Cayo Costa State Park is by boat. It’s a small barrier island off the gulf coast between Sarasota and Ft. Myers. When visitors motor up to the only dock on the island, a sign welcomes the adventures with the slogan “Welcome to the ‘Real’ Florida.” This is a place to get real.
The island is equipped with crude, cold-water showers, primitive plots for tent camping and a few small huts to rent for those adventurers looking for a bit more shelter from the quick pop-up storm. There is a small ranger station on the island with a mini convenient store, and the closest urban amenities are on the mainland 30 miles over Atlantic waters. It doesn’t get more real than that.
It may sound isolated — and it is — but I love most about the tropical desert island is the freedom that comes with that solitude. If folks leave their cell phone at home and take all the necessary provisions, the isolation will bring back the “real” you.
Miles of hiking through tropical trees — some trails that leading to secluded beaches — can remind a businessman/woman, doctor, lawyer, grocery store clerk or journalist what it means to be human. Emerging from the brush to an oceanfront trail head leaves a person with the water, waves, blue sky and their own thoughts. When surrounded by “the real Florida” it reminds the adventurer why they took that high-stress job and the reason they work 60 hours per week — it can be fulfilling but should be more of a means to get to this existential end.
Not maintaining any deadlines other than making that last kayaking trip before the sun goes down is freeing. Standing on a beach with only a few other adventurous campers, all watching the sun set in silence, creates a more personal connection than the most introspective conversation.
But there is no need to drive 1,500 miles to discover “the real” anything. Leaving the cell phone, tablet and laptop on the kitchen table and walking into Iowa’s backyard allows anyone to find “the real.” Iowa’s rivers, trails and prairies can provide all the “real” an adventurer needs to ensure they remember why we struggle through the every-day.
Get lost and get real.
Contact Mike Mendenhall