Space, Time, and Tranquility

September 4, 2020

Hectic — that sums up my life for the last couple of years. Work, home, and family obligations came to be non-stop action sequences filling my life. My body was beginning to complain and my mind was screaming for a break. I needed a vacation.

Shell Island — Almost off the beaten path

It isn’t a secret. My family knows that I love the clear waters of the Emerald Coast of the Florida panhandle. The beauty of the waters and perfect climate make for a great place to lounge and relax. The springs are great spots to dive or swim, and the off-shore diving isn’t bad either. Mostly, I’m here for the beach.

The white sands and clear waters bring a sense of calm. It is something we can all do with more of in this day and age.

Getting there is part of the fun

Shell Island is just off the coast of Panama City Beach, Florida. There are several shuttles to the area during the day — and no facilities on the island. What you see with you is what you get, so you’d best bring anything else needed with you.

We made our trek to the island during a trip to Panama City Beach. My wife’s father lives about an hour north of the area, so we’d planned a visitation into our trip. This would also be a trip for our oldest son, who likes to dive. We planned to make a day trip to a few of the freshwater springs in the area so he could go SCUBA diving, while we snorkeled. While I also SCUBA dive, I’ve gotten lazy and don’t like to lug all of the gear around with me as I did back in my 20s.

The base of operations — The Motel

We had checked our mail before leaving for Florida. Publishers Clearing House had yet to notify us of winning with a fat check. The state lottery, nor PowerBall, had contacted us either to inform us of winning. That left us to our minimal financial status for planning. The internet brought us together with Expedia.com, where we found the cheapest accommodations in the area.

  • Note to self, do not go with the cheapest accommodations next trip.

The less than pristine hotel had been purchased by less than two months prior and had chosen to not make any of the needed upgrades. My wife made two trips to the front desk to get sheets on our beds and towels for the bathrooms.

I’m not a fan of Super 8 at this point. We hadn’t received such a less than warm welcome since we stayed at one in Jersey City, NJ nine years ago. The high point of the hotel was its location central to our plans. On the bright side, the air conditioning worked in one of the rooms and the other had a television.

Spring Diving

We made our first trip from home-base to Blue Springs Recreation Area. It is a beautiful freshwater spring with crystal clear water and well-maintained amenities. The water is a bit cool if you’re used to the warm air. Our oldest son wore his wetsuit while diving, and his mother and I bought lycra bodysuits at the on-site shop. These helped a bit, not enough that I’d admit — but still, better than just a pair of swim trunks.

We spent the better part of the day, enjoying the water and park. We had a small lunch purchased from vendors at the location, saving our cash for a larger meal closer to bedtime.

If you like the fresh clear springs of Florida, I’d recommend making this part of any trip to the area. They are open for SCUBA diving year-round!

A few days afterward, we made it to Ponce DeLeon Springs, where we encountered a smaller state park that was well maintained and much less commercial. Here we found a spring basin made into a type of swimming pool, that flowed into a river.

The lycra suits we purchased earlier were put to use once again, as we all snorkeled the area. The peacefulness of the area was only spoiled by a couple of gangs of kids playing in the water around us, trying to beat the heat as we were attempting to explore. While not much for a diving spot, the place is a great place too cool off and enjoy nature.

Panama City Beach

A great town with plenty to see and do, we made a few stops in the area for dining and enjoying the beachside fun. A trip to Hooters for wings and drinks was a perfect break from playing in the surf and catching some sun on the sand. The water was great and the beaches were clean. I’m glad we didn’t try to compete with Spring Break crowds.

During one day with scattered showers and a cool breeze, we ventured to the local zoo. We managed to see a sloth and tried to move fast enough that the other patrons did not confuse it with the rest of us. (Now that I write that, it isn't as funny as it was in my head.)

Our dining days weren’t done. We went looking for steak and located Angelo’s Steak Pit. Oh my! If you’ve not been to a good steakhouse, you have got to eat here. Big steaks with big flavor. Wow.

Serenity

I’d lived enough through the vacation that I now needed a vacation from it. We’d been hard at it trying to have fun and see enough that a respite was in order. We’d heard of a place called Shell Island, and located a charter. Our captain explained charters depart for the island every hour and leave from the dock on the island every hour for return passengers. He also let it be known that the last boat would leave the island’s dock at 6:30 pm.

The boat ride to the island was peaceful enough. The scenery was as beautiful as nature could make it, and the weather was perfect. Our boat wasn’t jam-packed, and the tone of the passengers became more subdued as we approached our destination.

 
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John & Nikki Dabbs —enjoying life unplugged

The quietness of nothing but nature was almost surreal. Even with the other people around us, it was very quiet and relaxing.

We carried our towels and cooler off to a spot we claimed as our own (temporarily), as we basked in the natural splendor.

As we soaked up the sun, played and relaxed in the warm waters, we began to relax. Hours of peace and idleness found my mind clearing and unjumbling many partial ideas that had been swimming in my subconscious.

Unplugged, there was no need to check my e-mails or look for missed calls from the office. Our here it was just us. The subtle reminder encompassed my soul, that we must truly unplug ourselves from the daily grind if we are to relax and get not only our bodies but our minds away from work.

My wife and I looked for shells, played in the sand, and played in the surf for hours. The kids swam, snorkeled, built sandcastles, and rested.

I’m not sure if it was the sun, physical exertion, or our minds finally catching up with us after being always on for so many days. We left feeling very tired, fatigued, yet refreshed at the same time.

Late that night, we dined at a beachside restaurant. As we watched the sunset, I realized this had probably been one of the best days of my life.

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