On May 14th we departed MacDill AFB and started our journey to Key West, Fl. We had been looking forward to this trip for quite some time, and the day had finally arrived. We were beyond thrilled. I had never been to Key West, and it had been over twenty years since Hakam was stationed there. We got a much later start than planned, and it had already started raining, but we weren’t deterred. Our trusty GPS advised it was an eight-hour trip, so we knew that meant it was going to be at least nine hours, but probably more like ten with the rain. The forecast for the day was rain and the week was forecasted the same, but the reservations were made so there was no looking back.
The manageable rain we started off with in Tampa turned ferocious just minutes after departing. After four hours of barely being able to see the road in front of us, we started questioning our judgement in choosing to continue. We contemplated stopping and waiting it out, but our poor judgement prevailed and we dredged on. The rain kept coming, hour after hour, and it was torturous! The worst part of the trip came about eight hours in while travelling the Tamiami Trail and through the Everglades. This is a two-lane road (traffic traveling in both directions) with swamp on either side and no barrier. There was maybe ten-feet between our vehicle and trailer and what I can only imagine are some pretty big and hungry alligators. It wouldn’t be so bad, and maybe even enjoyable, if we could see the road, but that wasn’t case. The rain was relentless. Our drive to paradise had quickly turned into our drive through hell. There was nowhere to stop along this never-ending stretch of road, so moving forward was our only option. This was by far the most unnerving part of the trip.
Riddled with anxiety from the last eight hours of concentrating on the road and the stretch through “swamp land”, we finally made it through the Everglades but now were exhausted and just ready for the trip to be over. The distance between us and our final destination was palpable as we passed through one key after another. The rain finally stopped and the skies were starting to clear. We were getting close to the seven-mile bridge and knew we would be crossing it right around the time the sun set. We hoped to capture it with the camera, so I got it ready just in case it was picture worthy. We didn’t have much hope we would see anything awe-inspiring considering our trip up to that point had been anything but. Nevertheless, I sat in the passenger seat with camera in hand ready to jump into action should the situation call for it. And did it ever! The trip across the seven-mile bridge delivered nothing less than exactly what we thought it wouldn’t. It was as if the sky was apologizing for the hell we had been through. It was indeed awe-inspiring. It was beyond words. And it was true, the Keys have the most beautiful sunsets. At least the most beautiful we had ever witnessed.
Because few others were ignorant enough to be on the roads with us, we were able to drive as slowly across the bridge as desired and take one shot after another of what was certain to be the best photos I ever took. The sun even strategically placed itself in the break of the old bridge creating a picture I was already thinking about where to hang in our tiny home. It was going to be our most prized souvenir from the keys! And after snapping away probably over a hundred times, our journey over the bridge had come to an end and we somehow instantaneously forgot about the last ten horrific hours. The journey was worth it even if the rest of our time in Key West was a bust.
Elated with the beauty we were able to capture and unable to wait to view the photos, we pulled over at the first available spot. We didn’t care it happened to be a dark parking lot of an abandoned building, or that we unintentionally parked right next to a dumpster. Those pictures assured us we were in paradise. We exited our truck and huddled around the camera, and even though the stench from the dumpster was noticeable, those pictures were about to make everything alright. With smiles on our faces and excitement in our hearts, we began to flip through one photo after the other that I had apparently taken on the wrong camera setting. Picture after picture was a sore disappointment, and that feeling of elation was torn away at with each one until there was nothing left. Not even one good photo. We couldn’t help but to think that the clearing skies and the dancing sun was all just part of a cruel joke. And for some reason, at that moment, the parking lot we were standing in revealed itself for the sketchy location it was. And that barely noticeable stench emitting from the dumpster was all of a sudden repulsively overwhelming. Without those pictures, nothing was masked, and we became very aware of our reality. It was ugly. We climbed back into the truck and started off again toward the Naval Station where our oceanfront site awaited us. At least we had that.
It was around 2100 hours when we arrived at our destination. It was dark, and we didn’t know where the RV Campsite office was located. The directions provided at the front gate were obviously lacking quite a few details. We drove around aimlessly attempting to find it until we were flagged down by a nice couple who apparently could tell we were lost. They led us to the office where we were met by the night host who politely informed us we had arrived too late to pull into our site. Yes, that meant we had to camp in the parking lot for the night. In case you’ve never been to Key West in mid-May, I can assure you sleeping in a travel trailer with no air conditioning in eighty-degree weather is not exactly “cool”, literally. We were advised we could move into our spot at 0700 hours, which meant we just needed to get through the next ten sweaty hours. It was an absolutely horrifying ending to a perfectly atrocious day. Could it get any worse!
At 0700 hours, on the dot because we got no sleep, we moved our tiny home to our spot which was indeed oceanfront. It came equipped with a picnic table, palm tree, and a gorgeous view. Things were starting to look up again, but we were cautiously hesitant. We kept waiting for someone to come over and tell us our campsite was really the one next to the bath-house with the view of the dumpster. That never happened, thankfully, so we went about our day with a little more confidence that our trip through hell really did land us in paradise. We shall see.
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