A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep me going!
Sometimes when I travel, I visit all the sites; I explore the towns and eat the food and hang out with the locals. Other times I stay in; I tune out and turn introspective. I wonder and write and work during time I spend alone. Pensacola was just that, and the majority of my time I spent at the many beautiful beaches.
The coastal drive down Santa Rosa Island, from Pensacola Beach to Navarre Beach, is ten miles stretch of pure, unpopulated, white sand beaches. In the middle of the peninsula sits Opal Beach, with facilities, pavilions and ample parking. At the far West end of the peninsula is Fort Pickens which offers many recreational activities including fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, birdwatching, picnicking, camping and historic structure tours.
The entrance fee/pass for the Fort Pickens Area is $10/ per pedestrian or $20/per private vehicle. The entrance fee/pass is good for seven days at all the following locations: Fort Pickens Area, Opal Beach at the Santa Rosa Area, Okaloosa Area, Fort Barrancas Area, and Perdido Key Area.
Last time I was in Pensacola…
The first time I saw the ocean I was 20 years old. Growing up in MN, you couldn’t get much further away. I remember as a young child thinking of the ocean as some mystical Faraway paradise; In my mind sharks were the equivalent of dragons, and people that lived near the ocean may as well have been royalty. I couldn’t understand why we lived so far away, or why anyone for that matter, wouldn’t want to live near the sea.
I felt it drawing me, long before I ever actually experienced it.
At 20 years old I took a month off from my job at a coffee shop in MN, and drove down to FL alone. It was my first big road trip, and my only goal was to see the sea.
I remember driving through the night, tired but so full of anticipation; Rolling the windows down and smelling the salty air for the first time. Squinting through the darkness and realizing I was passing palm trees… Perhaps it was the song on the radio that evoked such emotion, but there, upon seeing my first palm trees, I actually cried.
It was about 1am when I passed a sign for Pensacola. I remembered reading that the beaches there had the finest white sand. I took the exit despite a feeling of hesitancy… I didn’t have a clue where I was going and it was very dark.
I remember driving across multiple bridges wondering if they would ever end, and at one point coming to a toll in the middle of a bridge. I somehow scraped up enough change to make it through the toll and ventured on across into some area of Pensacola.
I could smell the salt in the air and hear ocean waves nearby, though I couldn’t actually see the ocean anywhere. I knew I was on a peninsula and would run into it eventually if I kept driving, so that I did, passing tall hotels and stopping at a small convenient store along the way.
I drove for miles, passed houses and more tall hotels. Out of the town area and onto a long narrow road
I rolled my window down and salty air filled my car. The wind was strong, and blew my hair into a mess around my face. I turned my radio down, afraid I might wake someone in the houses that closely lined the streets. It was so quiet, except for the roar of the ocean nearby.
The air was cold agents my body, but I refused to close my window, or have my senses dulled to any part of this experience. My body shivered as I pushed my knotted hair from my face. I was on a journey and I was going to find something out there.
At on point the street lights gave way and the houses turned to trees and shrubbery. I rolled my windows up, feeling apprehensive once again. I drove through the darkness for a mile or so, fighting the voice in my head telling me to stop and turn around.
As I continued down the road I came upon two towering hotels. They were all alone however, not like the clusters of hotels back in town. I couldn’t tell if they were open or if they were experiencing high vacancy rates. There was a lot of construction around… on the road, and perhaps the hotel as well.
It was very quiet and dark, and I felt my senses heighten as I slowed passed the hotels. About a hundred yards further down, the road abruptly ended. A road closed sign sat in the middle of the street and I pulled over close to it.
On the right side of the road was a massive sand dune. I could hear the ocean roaring and was sure it must be right behind it. I looked around with hesitancy, this might not be safe… But there was no one in sight so quietly I unlocked and opened the car door.
I slipped my sandals off and tossed them into the passenger side of the car. The moon was huge and nearly full. I shut my door as quietly as possible and double checked that it was locked. Clutching my keys in one hand I tiptoed across the cement road and into the fine white sand.
The sand felt good agents my feet and sinking in between my toes. The wind continued to whip at my body as I stated up the sand dune. Within a minute I had reached the top and stood staring out into the darkness.
I could hardly see the ocean before me, but it was so loud it frightened me. The night sky stretched further then I’d ever seen, and was lit with a million stars.
I stood frozen in time and space, forcing myself to breathe.
I was a grain of this fine white sand. I was a drop on the ocean.
I felt as if the night sky might swallow me up right there, or perhaps a wave come up from the ocean and carry me away. I was in such great awe, and at the same time terrified.
I forced myself to stand there; to stay, alone. Taking it all in. Being faced with my insignificance.
I am nature.
I am a moment in passing time.
A wave that will eventually crash and hit the shore.
I whispered a prayer into the darkness. Honestly, I don’t remember what it was.
The important part was, I was there, overwhelmed, taking it all in, feeling something so much bigger, becoming part of something expansive.
I turned, my legs sinking into the sand as I stated down the dune, my heart pounding hard, still forcing to breathe. What the fuck was that?!
I felt alive like id never felt before. So small, and yet empowered. So insignificant, yet free.
I drove to the public beach where I slept with a blanket, until I was awaken early by thunder and rain. The sky was grey and full of clouds, I was covered in sand. But still it felt magic. Still, I was free.