Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-03-16

Florida Keys: Curating the Sunset

My second favorite thing we did on our trip to the Florida Keys was curating the sunset. I absolutely love doing this. By curating the sunset I mean, finding out when the sunset is going to start and finish in my vicinity and setting aside the time and effort to go enjoy it. This means not just noticing that the sunset is happening but finding the exact right place to watch it happen.

I call things like sunsets “God TV.” If it’s something naturally occurring that is interesting to watch, I call it “God TV.” I like watching the sky turn all the different colors, notice the changing shadows around me and finding a spot to watch it that affords a lot of great ambiance.

The Keys are ALL ABOUT THIS. Most notably there is a sunset ritual every single night in Key West. My pal Maura in a super helpful email to me about my impending visit to the Keys that watching the sunset from the Mallory Square sunset celebration was very Lez and woo in a satisfying way. I could not agree more.

16766270835_edcd34fe77_zStreet vendors and performers line the square. The sunset celebration is free, but Dara decided to jazz it up by buying this non-alcoholic frozen pineapple coconut juice concoction. Beautiful and delicious!

16558999917_1633abaf18_zHere you can see the big crowd just in front of us, it was pretty thick the length of Mallory Square by the time we got there.

I have not been in such a diverse crowd of collective rapt attention on something spiritual since I attended my Uncle’s ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church (it was a very long ceremony in a HUGE cathedral). Sure, lots of them probably just thought the sunset was pretty, but there was a significant payment of attention to something I felt very reverent about. It was churchy, even if it wasn’t a brick and mortar institution. No religion or belief necessary, just payment of attention. Crowded but not loud, at least during the 2 minutes or so the sun was really sinking.

4731417391_0f4900890d_zMy cousin Sooz (yes, I have a queer cousin, it rules) at her dad’s/my uncle’s ordination.

16765201512_95c905e4c0_zWe creeped up through the crowd to get a better view.

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16559009917_cb5388b3f9_zI was obsessed with all the creatures we met, and the different kinds of pelicans were a highlight.

Outside of Key West I found it pretty easy to pinpoint a good sunset spot. A quick yelp search of “Islamorada sunset” in the restaurant category got me to Lorelei’s Cantina, a spot on our road trip back up to the mainland to catch our flight home. It’s this huge outdoor bar and restaurant where you don’t even have to order anything, you can just grab a plastic chair and chillax watching the sunset while listening to live music. It was so beautiful and such a disappointment when the sunset was shrouded in a rain cloud.

16644041818_5ff227d273_zThis is the big mermaid that looks out on Southbound Interstate 1, the two lane Overseas Highway that connects all of the Keys. The parking lot was VERY crowded so this Escalade just decided to park blocking the sign.

16145663324_4eb599f559_zThe view was spectacular but sadly the clouds did not cooperate.

16560705517_461654b905_zI swear to the Goddess that while we were sitting watching the clouds covering the sunset the dude-fronted Jimmy Buffet style jam band that was playing did a Dolly Parton cover. I realized I knew all the words.

The same thing happened with bad weather luck when we went to see the sunset at a beach in Key West the night we had a hotel room in town. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, which is just off of old town Key West (the neighborhood with all the cutie pie wooden buildings). It was $2.50 for each of us because we came in on bicycle not car. We sat on the beach, I was so regretful I didn’t wear my bathing suit, the one day I didn’t just have it on under my dress, and I wished I could have gone swimming in the gorgeous clear blue water.

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We didn’t spend enough time at the beach during our vacation overall, which was my own fault. There were just so many fun things to do in the Keys that sitting still for a few hours a day was not a priority. We did a great amount of taking it easy and letting things flow in terms of planning so I never felt stressed, I just was so absorbed by my surroundings at all times that I didn’t ever crack that copy of Southern Living magazine I dragged all over the Keys.

But I got to the beach twice, both for sunsets. The time the sunset was a bust at Fort Taylor I still saw a couple of tiny schools of fish from my ankle-deep vantage point, and we watched an entire flock of seagulls leave their rock to go fish for dinner. Hundreds of birds taking off at once is a breathtaking vision you only get to see when you watch God TV or as intro cutaways on one of the coastal Real Housewives franchises.

16144219244_cd4c9d5459_zWater so clear I felt totally fine swimming in it. I get the creeps when I can’t see the bottom, even in the deep end of a dark pool.

The best sunset we saw was our first night in the Keys. It was about 10 minutes from our cabin on Big Pine Key, about 2 keys North of BPK. (Do they abbreviate in the Keys? I hope so.) Bahia Honda State Park has been voted one of the top 10 continental US beaches for several years. I heard this from a few sources. I’m not sure what this list is, or if we just happened to see it at a particularly sea grassy moment, but it wasn’t super amazing. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of had big expectations for the beach.

16757039142_39611c34b5_zI saw this on the beach and because of the intense blue and plastic looking filmy bubble I thought surely this was manmade, like a condom or a plastic bag. I am the kind of person who appreciates nature AND picks up litter. (I was a Girl Scout for so many years this kind of habit never dies.) So to find out if it was litter to be picked up with a stick for the garbage can… I popped it. It was clear it was organic matter and I left it alone. Found a couple more on our beach walk. Thank Goddess I popped it with a stick because a later google search told me this is a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and I could have gotten stung and gone to the hospital! The Wikipedia says that sometimes whole beaches close down when these appear on shore.

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We got there and the first place we went was SO seagrassy we didn’t want to sit in it, so we kept walking. Then we bailed on that beach and crossed the parking lot into the info center, who told us that they beach they’re known for is on a different part of the key. Which meant that to see the good sunset view (pointed East) we would not get to be on that super cute part of the beach. We did check out that super cute beach on the way out after sunset and it was quite pretty. We would like to go lay around on it on a later trip to the Keys.

Undeterred, I went out to a third beach of theirs, this one was Gulf Side (to think I walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in just the span of minutes) and started following the shoreline. Dara followed dutifully along as I searched for something I couldn’t even fully articulate to her. “I want to watch the sunset,” I told her, not even sure myself what I was looking for but knowing that once I saw it I would realize what I was looking for.

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We walked the length of the beach and I took off through some palm trees up a nature trail that went under the abandoned railroad bridge. Dara had suggested a few spots on the beach that might be a little less crowded but gave up when she saw I was on a mission. I climbed under the railroad tracks, went to the chain link fence under the bridge to take a couple of photos, retraced my steps and went to the other side of the train tracks, back to the Atlantic but much further down than we could see from our original vantage point in the thicket of washed up sea grass.

16138168973_200ebb52d4_zThat road in the background is the Overseas Highway I’ve mentioned.

16135808124_de577ca163_zUnder the train track bridge.

I found an inlet of trees that looked like a great make-out spot, then went down a rock “scramble” onto a patch of nearly empty beach. With a perfect view of the sun, just about to start lowering. We took some photos and cute video in the surf and laid down to watch the sun take its journey. We soaked this in for a good thirty minutes before the incoming tide convinced us to move down the beach a bit. We did some yoga while watching the sun’s descent. It was so profoundly beautiful. Worth every bit of work to find the just right place to watch it. The curation of the moment was almost as fun as the moment itself.

16138173863_ae0ddc6128_zAs a fat person I’m used to being the one who is being coaxed down rock scrambles. But I have a lot more bravery for nature because of my scouting past, so I lead Dara in these matters. It’s a really interesting to have the table flipped and me being the brave one offering a hand to the person behind me. But I’d like to think knowing how uncertain a rock scramble can make me feel helps me be a more supportive partner when I lend the hand.

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16570745720_1560559ce6_zDara is such a wonderful partner in crime for adventure. I have so much fun with her. She’s instagramming now after this trip, @daremedara if you’re instagrammy.

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16550904177_52dd24bcf9_zThe moon rise on the other side of the beach was so pretty.

16572055289_1319b04a29_zMoney shot.

I rarely, if ever, curate a sunset in Brooklyn. There are so many variables here–it takes me 30 minutes to drive to a spot to get a good, clear view of a sunset, only if that’s the direction of the sun that time of year. Buildings that are in the way sometimes are not in the way other times. Weather is a huge variable. It is often cloudy. I make it a point in NYC that when I see the sunset colors in the sky I take a pause and notice them.

Out of town I make it my unspoken priority to ensure that we are exactly where we need to be to enjoy the best sunset possible. I love organizing my day around this. It feels so natural and cleansing and really meaningful. I came back from the Keys and I know, as I start working towards the next phase of my life, I want to make it a priority to have abundant access to beautiful sunset viewing options. I can see this ritual becoming a big part of my self care.

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2015-03-12

Florida Keys: Big Pine Key, Key Deer and Kayaking

When planning our trip to Florida, I did a lot of crowd-sourcing. I feel very grateful to have a diverse network of folks in my life who are generous with information. One of the best parts of Facebook for me is information sharing with folks I don’t see often but who I get to stay connected with! When I asked the internet where in Florida would be gay-friendly and have nature and beaches they overwhelmingly answered the Florida Keys. I also got lots of recommendations for things to do, which really helped me come up with a loose itinerary.

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The rental car (which I managed to get even cheaper by doing a night before we left search on Orbitz, saving an extra $100 on the reservation for a total of $134 for the week rental) and flights were cheap but lodging in the keys for the first week of March was really difficult to find and pricey! In January I scoured all the Air BNB listings and VRBO type places and had a hard time getting something with any availability. I got really attached to the idea of staying on a houseboat in Key Largo, but they were all booked. I think I reached out to ten different managing companies. I am so glad I had trouble finding a place because we ended up with a sparkling jewel of a place to stay! (Also, this was a great reminder to me of the spiritual idea to just kind of listen when the universe gives me road blocks, that sometimes something even better is around the corner.)

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This tiny one room cabin on Big Pine Key in the middle of a National Key Deer Refuge came up in a search, having just been added to Air BNB. It was only $100 a night and luckily three of the days we were going to stay in the Keys were available.

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We had such a great time in this magical little cabin! I am glad we stayed somewhere unusual rather than in a motel or resort because I love having an adventure.

It was really a cross between glamping and a hotel room, as it is a room with walls, windows and a comfy queen size bed. But the sink, shower and toilet were all outside. The toilet is a fancy compost toilet in a screened in room. Dara was so skeptical about the toilet situations (I’ve had to sing to her to distract her from her hatred of a port-a-potty before).

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The Key Deer in the Florida Keys are an endangered species. The Overseas Highway slows down to 45 MPH during the day and 35 MPH at night through Big Pine Key to protect them. The population of the Key Deer dwindled to 27 in the 1950s and is now up to about 650-700. A few of them came up to us during our stay. Our Air BNB host (who shared a driveway with us, but otherwise our cabin was totally private and surrounded by Everglade forest) said that about seven will visit his house every evening and three come to the cabin, but we only saw one or two at a time. Our first morning I was up before Dara and our friend Doe came to visit.

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Key Deer are about the size of a small big dog. Smaller than a Great Dane, taller than a Golden Retriever. But SO cute. The first one I met followed me around the cabin as I took photos. Another one (although hard to tell if they were the same Doe or a different Doe) licked Dara’s pajamas.

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When I tried to drink sun tea outside and continue visiting with the deer I realized we couldn’t share space and food with them as they were waaaay into trying to eat or drink whatever we had. But still really cute and sweet about their relentless desire for food.

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Showering outdoors in a private paradise like this is such a luxury, and brushing my teeth with a deer hanging out next to me was wild. I also saw a tiny brown and white striped snake friend in the brush by the sink, several lizards and about 1,000 turkey vultures overhead. And one tiny spider that left Dara with 100 tiny bites she’s still recovering from on our last night in the cabin.

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We never pulled down the shades in the cabin and it was so wonderful to watch the sun go down and the moonlight shift through the little forest that surrounds the cabin. There was one night (after our catastrophic snorkeling trip that left both of us deeply nauseas) that we slept 13 hours and I remember waking up several times during the night noting different celestial positions based on the light coming through the windows. It was such an amazing form of natural intimacy, all from the comfort of a super deluxe queen size bed.

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Dara was a little freaked out by the Poisonwood that was along the nature trail leading to the cabin, but I kind of just trusted it would be fine. The noseeums (tiny, biting mosquitos) were kind of obnoxious on the last night.

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Our Air BNB host also gave us a print out with points of interest to go to. We went to nearly all of them. The Blue Hole, a freshwater pond made from an old quarry that has a few alligators. In our ten minute stop we saw one alligator, a butterfly and a bright green iguana scamper into the forest.

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That was the only gator we saw on the whole trip, in spite our many pre-trip queries to Floridian friends about what to expect from glamping in Florida. Dara was certain we would run into a gator that was trying to hunt the Key Deer but apparently that’s really unlikely and you’re more likely to be struck by lightening twice than get attacked by an alligator.

16739273036_4b3374f945_zThe gator was sleeping and came up for air once while I watched it.

On our last day on Big Pine Key we rented kayaks ($42 for two single occupancy kayaks for 2 hours) to cruise across the channel to No Name Key, a key with no electricity (all of the houses on there run with generators or from solar power). We didn’t see much when we were kayaking except mangroves and some pelicans in the marina, in spite of a little map the marina gave us with our rental. (The map yielded not much from two points of interest we tried.) I kind of wished I had done better research about where to kayak because there are a lot of paddling guides on the internet about where to paddle through the Florida Keys.

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16740608726_11cabfd888_zThe two photos above were from a secret, free, boat launch not far from our cabin.

Watching me and Dara approach kayaking was kind of hilarious, since I hadn’t done it in about two years and was a little nervous, and so was Dara. Luckily there was a couple who had their own kayaks simultaneously launching at the boat ramp (it costs $15 to launch from the marina we were at, but the little municipal boat ramp we saw earlier was free) and they gave us some quick pointers, which helped.

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As a fat person I am always mindful of my center of balance and new things, like a kayak, kind of freak me out. Having been in a kayak a handful of times has given me more faith in it as a vessel that’s not going to topple over when a wave hits it, but I’m still not at 100% confidence.

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My arms were really sore from paddleboard yoga the day before, so I was glad we only did 2 hours. Next time we go on an adventure vacation like this I’ll add some serious arm work to my prep, as my 3 times weekly elliptical to fight seasonal depression didn’t cut it.

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16740617196_38321a0466_zKayaking across the channel was daunting.

16559234107_e9399e5968_zThe mangroves, the trees that literally hold the land together, are so freaking cool.

Check out the rest of my Florida Keys adventure at this tag!

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