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To Never Say A Commonplace Thing

Travelogue - April 3, 2012
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
- Jack Kerouac

Our previous travelogue ended on Saturday, March 3, when we tucked Sea Gator in at Boot Key Harbor. We would see what a month in the Middle Keys would bring...

Well, I'll tell you all about what it and what happened, although events are not presented in chronological order. Just because that's how this 'logue worked out.

Orange hat First, however: I heard myself sing (literally) "tra la la" the other day. WOW. That's good - no, not necessarily the singing, but the singing.

Seafood Festival

Of course Rick and I attended the Marathon Seafood Festival; it's held annually at the City Park right next to the harbor. As always, lunch was delicious but finding a place to eat it was a trial. We squeezed ourselves and our paper plates into two narrow slots at a long, crowded, noisy table - and found ourselves elbow-to-elbow with Polly! So this year's Marathon visit began with a reunion and hugs in the Park.

The festival seemed to have more vendors this year than they did last year, so I enjoyed browsing while Rick drank beer and listened to music.

At the Seafood Festival I bought a hat (yes, last year I did say that I already had enough hats, what's your point?) and it was bright orange and huge: big-brimmed, floppy - a truly shady hat. It was so very shady in fact that it blocked my peripheral vision and I kept bumping into people as I navigated the line at the beverage booth. "Oh, sorry," "Excuse me," "Oops, my fault, sorry..."

The sounds of guitars and drums led me to the music tent, and by tilting my head and lifting my orange brim I finally spotted Rick. I blundered into the seat next to him. He gaped at me - rather, at my hat - and hollered "It's hideous!"

I attributed his bad taste to the multiple beers he'd consumed, but people were staring - Philistines - so I took the trend-setting chapeau back and exchanged it for a more traditional, smaller, quieter, shady hat (left).

The smaller hat still tends to dominate a space but it's packable and I like it. Now I have enough hats.

Around and About the Marina

"I know where you've been this afternoon," I told Captain Jack. "You left a trail of hibiscus blossoms and smiling women in your wake."

Hibiscus Jack laughed, "That's not a bad thing."

A few minutes later he returned with an apricot-hued flower for me, saying "I didn't want you to feel left out." With some satisfaction I stuck the flower in my cap.

Later, Jack showed me how to solve a sodoku puzzle. And still later, I asked him to tell me his story.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asked.

"Sure" I said. Mostly when it's dark...

"Then I'll tell you a ghost story." And he did.

Click to read The Ghost and Captain Jack. But read it in the daylight.

Pleasantly Surprised

One of the first things we did was bring our bikes ashore and go for a long ride. We wound up at the Burger King (yes, how exotic) near Vaca Cut and enjoyed their air conditioning and free soda refills. Meanwhile another couple rode up on their folding bicycles and Rick guessed that they were boaters, too.

Linda, Mark, Rick The refills having run their course, I ducked into the ladies' room. And the woman who belonged to the folding bikes came in shortly after I did and introduced herself - she had likewise pegged us for fellow boaters - and that's how I met Linda.

We had plenty of time to become acquainted as more antsy women squeezed into the tiny space and we all grew weary waiting our turn. Finally I knocked on the stall door and said, "Ma'am, are you all right?" and a man's voice replied, "I'll be right out."

We all exchanged startled glances, and then a young man emerged from the stall and went to the sink - he had probably been silently wishing we'd go away so he could sneak out. "I'm sorry, ladies," he said, "the men's room was occupied and I was desperate." Despite his embarrassment he didn't skimp on the hand washing: 20 seconds under hot running water. Admirable.

It turns out Linda and Mark's trawler Hazel Ann is just a few rows away from Sea Gator in the harbor. And thus it was convenient for Rick to keep an eye on their boat while they were out of town for a couple days. When they returned we had some visits together. Right, meet Linda and Mark, with Rick; they've just arrived at the dinghy dock where we rendezvoused on our way to Hurricane for lunch.

I didn't expect to meet new friends this year. Which just goes to show you how much I know.

The Bus to Key West

Driving the Seven Mile Bridge One fine Saturday we arose ridiculously early, and - along with our folding bikes - boarded the Lower Keys Bus. We found seats near the back of the bus and settled in for the 90-minute ride.

As the bus traversed the Keys the regulars congregated at the back of the bus. They passed a brown paper bag among them and had a right jolly ol' time. Their conversation was entertaining enough until a young woman boarded and they began making innuendos. We presumed that she had (wisely) spurned one of them and so they cast bitter aspersions on her character. She stoically ignored them, and I was glad for her when we reached her stop.

The most annoying fellow (no doubt he whose manhood had been offended) tossed back his lank greasy hair and proclaimed through the few remaining of his crooked brown teeth that he'd be taking the 5:30 bus home.

Rick and I immediately vowed to catch the 4:30.

Revisiting Key West

Butterfly At the first city stop we bailed out, set up our bikes, and had a nice ride through town. We stopped at a bodega for a cool drink and a snack - Rick's first taste of bread pudding with mango sauce. Then we found our way to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

I had visited the conservatory with Annie and Peggy in 2007, in travelogue Key West, and was anxious for Rick to experience it. It's so interesting and so much fun I don't care if it is a tourist trap.

The educational displays feature a film, a map showing worldwide butterfly populations, and displays of the various life cycle and physical attributes unique to butterflies. We watched the film and read every panel.

Butterfly From there we proceeded through sets of double doors into the conservatory.

At first we were fascinated by one or two butterflies, and then our eyes figured out what they were looking for and suddenly there were hundreds of butterflies everywhere! People stood transfixed by butterflies on leaves and flowers (left), on their hats and shirts, and we stepped carefully to avoid crushing any that might have landed on the walkway.

Soon we began to discern which types of flowers were preferred by which types of butterflies, and which butterflies would deign to be photographed and which would not. The most beautiful blue butterflies flickered among the leaves and when they alit they displayed only their brown leafy-looking undersides. These were Rick's favorites, and soon one settled into his shirt for a free ride, below right.

My favorites were seen mostly as a quick flash of brilliant green and blue - I never did see one settle down to be photographed.

Butterfly on Rick Later we pedaled to the historic waterfront where we had lunch at Turtle Kraals - just a stone's throw from Sea Gator's former slip. We were unsurprised, but still slightly disappointed, to see no one we knew strolling the docks. Ah well, everyone has moved on.

The Bus back to Marathon

We arrived at the bus stop in plenty of time to fold and prep our bikes, and become acquainted with the folks who were also waiting.

The lady with a northeastern accent and a rough cough had just completed her trainee-day at the nearby Sears. "Whoo, I'm tired. I don' wan' this job, but I gotta." She lit a cigarette and inhaled with relief. "I'm a trained chef, and the only job I get down here is prep. I ain' gonna refill ketchup bottles for minimum wage! Now I gotta buy my own uniform shirt, I never had a job ya gotta buy your own shirt, and they make ya wear black pants, these black jeans won't do..."

Two young men joined us. They were friendly and polite, and their story included recent jail time for vagrancy (hm). Although they were both well equipped with smokes they apparently didn't have enough money for the bus. Rick paid their way aboard, knowing full well that he may have been played but deciding the entertainment would be worth the bus fare. And more pressing, that the odds of them talking their way onto the bus without delaying our departure (remember we were trying to get out of town before 5:30) were slim.

Water water everywhere So, all aboard. We found seats near the back of the bus and settled in.

When who should show up at the next stop but Mr. Toothless Annoying himself - this time with a couple six-packs. Which, to his credit, he shared with those around him (not including us). I was rigid with irritation, and stuck with no other available seat options.

As the trip wore on the two young men enjoyed Mr. Annoying's hospitality and their conversation wandered. At one point they were openly amazed at all the beautiful open water the bridges crossed (left) and they waxed patriotic along the lines of "This land is your land, this land is my land..."

Soon one of them went completely Woody Guthrie and asked his friend: "Wouldn't it be great to be a hobo, back in the old days?"

His friend replied, "Yeah, like in the 1800's..."

"No no no," his friend corrected him. "Way back in, like, you know, 1973..."

Sombrero Light The other fun moment happened as they tried to identify the tall Sombrero Light, now visible on the horizon (right). They guessed: Oil rig? Ship? Construction crane? High rise? When I told them it was a light house on the reef they were stunned, but very pleased. I tried to summarize the geology of the Keys but soon gave it up.

For a couple of jaded street-hardened boys, they possessed an oddly innocent enthusiasm that made me glad they were traveling together.

At our stop I hefted my bike and one of them ran up the aisle to help me carry the awkward load onto the sidewalk. They thanked us yet again, and we all wished each other a safe journey.

I think they are in need of more benevolent interference than we are.

Visiting

Gil and Brenda don't stay in one place too long, but we were really glad to have several evenings in their good company. Here they are at Dockside, where they treated us for dinner one evening.

Brenda, Gil Rick dinghied them to land to met their ride at O-dark:thirty one morning, and the three of them later told tales of a mama manatee and her baby! A bystander confirmed that that adult had been hanging around the dock two weeks previously (she had phone pictures to prove it) without a baby; therefore the youngster was less than two weeks old. Here's the photo Brenda snapped on her phone, showing mama and baby! Awww...

Manatee baby and mom Rick had offered to watch over their boat while they were away on that road trip, so every other day he dinghied back to Suits Us to run her genset, check her bilges, and make a general display of oversight. He also made a number of timely observations which - when painstakingly organized and presented in booklet form - gave Gil a good overview of some fine-tuning opportunities for his electrical system.

One day while biking back from aerobics I ran into Gil and Brenda in the Park, and they accepted my obvious hint that I join them for lunch. Which turned out to be one of the best conversations I've enjoyed in a long time; we covered hugely varied topics and we were confident enough in each other to touch upon religion and politics as well. How often is it safe to do that among company?!?

And on another day Brenda and I enjoyed a leisurely shopping expedition and tried on clothes and swimsuits - again, how often is it safe to do that among company?

Ellen from Our Turn kayaked by Sea Gator one day to say hello. She and Rick had a nice visit, and when I got home I dinghied over to their slip at the marina for a reunion. Unfortunately, she and Roy were getting ready to head out the very next day but we did enjoy our abbreviated visit. It was fun to reminisce about their trip to Wyoming in 2010 and to hear about their upcoming summer plans.

Rick, Jim, Lisa, Pat Ellen and her neighbor Diane told me that "our editor", Lisa of Women On Board Cruising fame, was currently in Key West. Ah-ha! Lisa and I emailed back and forth, and when she and Jim pulled in to Boot Key Harbour aboard Kismet we finally met face-to-face.

Here we all are, enjoying happy hour at Keys Fisheries: Rick, Jim, Lisa and Pat. It was awfully nice to meet them finally, and we're only sorry our shared time in Marathon was so brief.

For something completely different, check out Jim and Lisa's blog about cruising in their "trailer trawler" - on Lake Powell no less. Holy smokes.

Kayaking

It sure was nice having Jenna Star within biking distance all month.

George, Nancy Nancy and George are always up for an adventure - including breakfast at the Stuffed Pig, left.

So one day the four of us rode our bikes up to Currey Hammock State Park where we rented kayaks for the morning. We launched in the lagoon and paddled out to the ocean. Our intention was to circumnavigate the little Park island clockwise.

Off in the distance we saw a storm billowing over the reef. Sombrero Light was there... and then it was gone in a mass of grey clouds. Lightening flickered in the distance. Suddenly George shouted, and we looked up to see a waterspout whirling at the edge of the storm. We watched the twister until it disappeared into the dark. We were glad we had not picked that day to snorkel the reef!

We didn't get rained on nor swept up in a waterspout. It was just a calm, lovely morning.

Kayaking Here are Nancy and George paddling alongside the mangroves, right.

We finished our tour in a nearby canal where we paddled past swarms (herds? flocks? schools?) of iguanas sunning themselves on the docks and lolling up in the trees (below left). They were fast and, obviously, agile.

I prefer to see them slow and docile, myself.

Iguana in a tree On the subject of iguanas, we've seen more of them on this trip than in all our other years combined. One even sprawled arrogantly across the bike path as I was riding home one day, and I had to veer around him to avoid running over his tail. As I wobbled past I muttered "I bet you taste like chicken," and he gave me a snotty look with his protruding eye. Blech.

Back to the adventure day at hand: After we returned the kayaks we continued the bike tour.

Nancy and George showed us some fun neighborhoods we hadn't seen before, and also a big outdoor aquarium at a dive shop that George has frequented. There were nurse sharks, parrot fish, sheepsheads, needlefish and, um, some others etc etc in the artificial lagoon. That was a highlight.

George named the fish and we memorized them (with limited success, obviously)... because we were going snorkeling.

Undersea Kingdom

Snorkling One day we dinghied slowly past Gallant Knight to talk to her owner about his solar panels. And so we met Charles. There followed various visits back and forth, during which Charles and Rick debated all of their solar power plans.

It was Charles who invited us to go snorkeling aboard Gallant Knight. And so George and Nancy hiked over to the harbor, and Charles piloted all of us to Sombrero Reef for a bumpy day in the water.

Despite the sloshing and churning, the water was clear and there were lots and lots of fish!! Lots and lots of... fish! Whatever they were called.

When we'd had enough being sloshed and swirled around we enjoyed the sunlight on the deck, then motored into a lunch anchor at Sister Creek.

Charles took photos from his deck: Rick and me, and George and Nancy in the background. All in all it was a great day. Thanks, Charles!

Adventures in Dinghy Land

My friends and I agree that we should have no qualms about taking our respective dinghies wherever we need to go: "I'd hate to have to ask for a lift in to shore every time. It's too much like asking permission."

Betty Kudos to Linda - she spent an afternoon in Sister Creek learning the feel of their hard-sided dinghy. I asked Mark what he did throughout the ride and he pinched his lips together with his fingers. Good man.

Betty motored over in Lili's dinghy, right, on her way home from Vesta's. She described Lili's upcoming cruise to the Bahamas; since her "crew" arrived in Marathon this week they will set out as soon as the marina's Easter Egg Hunt is complete.

Because, when faced with a choice between sun-drenched island beaches and chocolate Easter eggs, who wouldn't postpone their departure a couple days at least?

Later I met Patti, who was on her first cruise ever. Between laundry-washer loads she was working out with her jump-rope and she generously allowed me to try it while we discussed the challenges of maintaining fitness aboard.

As I whacked myself on the back of the head with the rope she revealed that her boyfriend refused to teach her how to drive the dinghy "just so you can go in to yoga."

I was incensed but subdued: "That's unfortunate." Whack. By then Captain Jack had joined us and he nodded in agreement. Emboldened, I continued: "That's not a romantic partnership (whack); it's more like prisoner and (whack!)..."

"Keeper", finished Jack.

"Right." Whack!

George, Nancy, Jenna Star Patty was stranded ashore with her laundry and jump-rope, but I hope she puts her foot down for a dinghy lesson. We all need a little freedom and a lot of independence.

And chocolate. Did I mention the Easter egg hunt?

Serenity and Joy

Well, we were coming to the end of the month.

Nancy and George had time for one last adventure: on their last day in the Keys we headed out for a cruise aboard Jenna Star, an American Tug that they've taken as far as Alaska.

George piloted us under the Seven-Mile Bridge, and the seas in the Hawk Channel were foreboding. So we continued on to Bahia Honda, and once we arrived we realized that we didn't have a dinghy to take us to the beach! Oops. Fortunately, we had brought lunch.

So we enjoyed our picnic lunches and listened to music, and it was a great treat for me and Rick to see how the other half lives on shiny new boats! Very well, in fact.

Thanks George and Nancy! Bon voyage.

Vesta, Pat All this month it's been fun to "neighbor" with Vesta and Dale! We met in 2007, but it seems we're just getting to know them. And it's been a pleasure.

They braved my dinghy piloting to join us aboard Sea Gator for dinner one night, and that was a unique opportunity for leisurely conversation. As a boat-builder, Dale was kind in his compliments to our Sea Gator, which makes him always welcome aboard.

On another early morning Vesta brought me to her favorite yoga class - which proved to be a serene 90 minutes on a terrace overlooking Florida Bay - how perfect was that.

There was more perfection to come: Vesta outdid herself with the genius plan to experience the sunrise on the Old Seven Mile bridge. So I dinghied to her dock at 6:25 a.m.; she drove us to Tranquility Bay to fetch our friend Lily.

Vesta, Lily And then the three of us walked in the dark onto the bridge, left.

It was like walking out into space (except for the sound of continuous traffic along the "new" Highway one bridge a quarter mile away).

We were nearly at the bridge's end overlooking Pidgeon Key, when the sun came up behind us. Here are Vesta and Lily, right, and Lily and me, left.

Pat, Lily We talked and laughed, and told the truth.

I think this about everything we've experienced and everyone we've met: but these were among the most magical moments of the season.

When we finished our walk, Lily and I returned to Sea Gator to join Rick for breakfast. I had warned Lily that the meal would be humble and it was: but fortunately she had the foresight to bring watermelon and Vesta had been kind enough to stop at Publix so we could run in and get juice and (yes) donuts to have with our cereal and fruit.

After breakfast I returned Lily to shore and to the loving arms of her mom Tracy, who had - understandably - experienced some terrible moments wondering what was happening to her girl...

Thank you, Lily and Vesta! And Tracy. And Dale. And Lily's dad and sister! And Rick. And Goldie...

Goldie

Goldie Speaking of which, you think, where has Goldie been throughout all these events?

Answer: She's been sleeping.

She doesn't care much for a crowded harbor. But she likes a marina even less, so we do the best for her that we can. Every evening she and I and her brush gather on the floor for some petting and grooming. And every now and then she'll deign to entertain me by chasing her squeaky mouse or attacking crackling sheets of tissue paper.

Here she is, resting inside her Scratch Lounge after I rubbed some fresh catnip into its cardboard grain. Mr. Scratchy is snugged up inside the angle of the windscreen, just above the helm station so she is warm and toasty, and she can look across at us in the salon and look down on us in the galley.

Whenever her eyes are open.

Henry

Henry, Judy Judy, Vesta and I kept each other company in the Fishermen's Hospital surgical waiting room for the better part of a day; and Vesta and I were there to share Judy's relief and joy when the good news finally arrived that Henry came through his surgery with flying colors!

In less than two weeks Henry returned home, where both he and Judy tried to get some much-needed rest.

The evening before Rick and I departed Boot Key Harbor and Marathon, Henry had recovered enough to make his first foray outside the house, Yay! So he and Judy came to say goodbye. Henry was looking mighty spry, considering what he'd been through!

We bid farewell just before the sun set over the harbor.

Get well soon, Henry!!

Bon Voyage

This was a wonderful month in Marathon, what with cementing our friendships with people we already know and love, and the added bonus of meeting some new folks. I was ready to go, but I hated to leave.

But it was time, and NOAA's weather report was good for a comfortable cruise.

We intended to cross Florida Bay to the mainland, round Cape Sable, and continue as far as Russell Pass at the north end of the Everglades, in one long but productive day.

Stay tuned!

Take care, everybody!

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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