Out of the blue one day, I got an e-mail from a Nokomis photographer named Charles Neubauer. He was inviting me on a kayak camping trip with his sons and a few friends. I didn’t hesitate, even though I’d never met the man.
Heck, yes, I’d like to go.
What was the worse thing that could happen? You know, besides being murdered in my sleep.
Well, I’m here to tell the tale, so we know that didn’t happen. It turned out to be a beautiful-yet-buggy weekend on tiny Hoagen Key just off Gasparilla Island near Englewood.
Lots of kayak paddling during the day. Lots of campfire watching at night.
Charles and his buddies grew up in Sarasota, so I got to hear a bunch of small-town stories about things like fishing off the old bridge across Phillippi Creek. Good times.
It was quiet and I mostly listened, though I did jump into this ridiculous campfire debate about keeping ice in an ice chest. One guy was trying to argue that your ice would last longer if you emptied the melted water out of the chest. The rest of us thought this was ridiculous.
That became a running joke for the whole trip.
Listening to nature
On Sunday, while everyone else went fishing, I paddled off by myself through Gasparilla Sound.
It sounded beautiful.
There were lots of dolphins. As they swam by, you could see them surface and hear them exhale. It sounded like a sigh, but one that carried across the water for hundreds of yards.
There were lots of white pelicans. Their wings flapped against the surface of the water as they took off.
When it was just one bird, it sounded like clapping. When it was five birds, it sound like applause. When it was 25 birds surrounding a school of fish, it sound like an ovation.
There were lots of mangrove islands. As I paddled by, I kept hearing this clicking sound. It turned out to be the shell-encrusted roots of mangroves dangling in the water.
When small waves lapped against these roots, they clicked like castanets. No, not like castanets.
Like sea chimes.
Fresh fish for dinner
Most of us slept in tents, but Charles is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. He was experimenting with a home-made hammock draped with a rain fly and mosquito net. It looked pretty cool strung between two Australian pines.
The first morning, I asked Charles how he felt.
“That was probably one of the most comfortable sleepless nights I’ve ever had,” he replied.
His sons and friends were fanatical fishermen, which paid off on our last night. They caught and cleaned a bunch of fish, then seasoned and blackened them in a skillet.
I’m from Louisiana and I’ve never had better blackened fish. I’ve done a lot of camping and never had a better meal.
The next morning we shook off the bugs, packed our gear and paddled back to Gasparilla Island.
Somebody was already talking the next group camping trip. I hope they invite me back.