Bahia Honda State Park is breathtaking. The park has beaches, several campgrounds, concessions, a marina, kayaking, bicycle trails, and many more activities if you're interested. I arrived, checked in, and headed to my campsite...number 79 on the bayside. My friend, George, had left work earlier in the day from Tampa and was heading down to meet me for the last day of riding. He would arrive well after dark, so I decided to wait to set up the campsite until he arrived. He was bringing the air mattress after all, and I was pretty excited to sleep on something a little softer.
So I decided to go exploring. I stashed some of my gear in the mangroves next to the site and rode to the far beach, called Sandspur Beach. It is the most secluded in the park and the most beautiful beach to visit. I was also on a mission to find the two (#1 and #2) national champion silver palms (Coccothrinax argentata) in the park. I felt I was on the right track when I happened upon the Silver Palm Trail. The Florida Silver Palm is, in fact, a Florida threatened plant species. Perfect, I thought, finding a threatened species should be no sweat. How many individuals could there possibly be in this small area if it is threatened. Boy was I wrong again! As it turns out, Bahia Honda is the proud home of one of the largest remaining populations of the silver palm. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a forest of hundreds of gorgeous silver palms all waving their shiny fronds at me in the wind. How glorious! To have such a beautiful and rare tree growing all around me. The champions are 22 inches in circumference and 33 feet tall at their biggest, so finding them was not an easy task. And I doubt I succeeded. I did hug a few of these trees, hoping at least one of them was a national champ. Then again, they all need love, not just the biggest ones, right?
The Silver Palm Trail dumped me out about 1/4 mile north of the parking lot and pavilion on the beach. The sun was just setting, the water was the perfect warm temperature and I was hot, so I eagerly plopped my gear on the beach, stripped down to my bikini and waded into the water. I would have dove in, but this gorgeous beach stays very shallow for about 1/4 mile out. Although you wouldn't think so, it is actually quite rare to find a beautiful sandy beach in the Keys. Most of the beaches have sharp coral fragments and seaweed piled onto the shores. This beach, however, had sugar sand dunes and the coral reef started about 300 feet out, making for some fun finds. After a short period of splashing and playing, I suddenly realized that this was the first time in my entire life that I had been to the beach alone. No, I don't mean that I had come alone, I've done that many times (working near lots of beaches is awesome!). I mean that I've never been at the beach completely alone. There were no people in sight, no silent sunbathers, no screaming kids, no whistling lifeguards. At first, I wondered if I should be concerned, but there were no imminent dangers in this paradise. So I laid back, floated on the salty waves, and reflected on my situation. I was in heaven. Everything felt so right. I was relaxed, calm, and away from all the stresses in my life that I could control. I had no technology, no place to be, and all the time in the world. For a moment, I came back to reality, and reminded myself that I should stay on task and think about what else I needed to do before the sun went down. I pulled up my mental "to-do" list and found it completely blank. I thought a little longer, thinking that there must be something I needed to do that I was forgetting. After a few more seconds of pondering, it occurred to me that I truly had NOTHING to do. I should have been happy, right? But my first reaction was confusion. I always had something to do. Even if it was little or tedious, there is always something to do. But not this time. Another first. For the first time in my grown life, I had absolutely nothing to do, and it was marvelous. I enjoyed every minute of my to-do list prison break.
Later in the evening, once George had arrived and we had set up camp, we did some night exploring. We jumped on our bikes and zoomed through the camp areas like bandits. We ended up at Calusa Beach, a protected beach along the bay/channel side, between the old and the new bridge (see pictures above). Considering it was still pretty sweltering hot and very very humid at this point in the evening, we decided to go for another swim. In the beautiful moonlight, we swam through the seagrasses in the water here. Within a few minutes, we realized that the water had bioluminescence!! If you've never seen this before, it's basically many thousands of tiny living organisms that glow when you disturb the water. So every time you swish your arm through the water, it leaves behind a slowly fading glow on the surface of the water. In Calusa Beach, on this evening, the combination of the bioluminescence and the moon were magical. We even discovered that if you swam underwater with your eyes open (the salt burned a little, but it was worth it), these tiny glowing organisms would stick to your eyeballs and create lingering bright spots on your eyes. Luckily, they also washed off again very easily.
Upon returning to our campsite, the wind had picked up and it had started to rain. After retrieving our tent (no, we didn't tie it down) from the mangroves where it had been blown, we sought shelter within its dry confines and settled in for the night. What a perfect evening. I was relaxed and happy. George was still unwinding from a hard work week and buzzing with excitement to begin his ride on the trip. As much as I enjoy my alone-time, George is one of the best travel partners I have ever had and probably one of the most laid-back, adventurous people I know. His company was welcome, as always. Plus it was nice to have someone to unload all of my random stories and memories on. I was bursting with the traveling fever and I was very happy to be sharing it with someone.