Note: not a single one of these pictures is filtered.
Jon Stewart once described Penn State--and by extension, my hometown of State College where Penn State is located--with, "You’re driving along with nothing, and then it’s like cow…cow…cow…20,000 hot chicks — that’s Penn State.” Minus the hot chicks, "tons of cows and farmland" is an apt description for where I come from.
I've only told one person this until now but the thing I miss most about being from the middle of nowhere is seeing the stars at night...city lights pollute the sky and you lose the magnificence of nature.
But this trip to Florida and our morning kayaking reminded me exactly how wonderful it is to be off the grid and to forget the bustle.
To celebrate my brother's birthday, we (he, his girlfriend, her sister and I) took a three day trip to Orlando. Our original plan was Cancun but our family has a condo in Florida. It's easiest for us to get there quickly. Of course, we wanted to go to Universal Studios because riding the Hulk never gets old. And most importantly, HARRY POTTER.
Then I saw a picture on Instagram of crystal clear blue water, and a girl in a clear kayak.
Long story short, we ended up booking a reservation with Get Up and Go Kayaking, a company with a few different locations to choose from including a bioluminescent kayak trip. We chose the location at Rock Springs, a 45-minute drive outside Orlando and signed up for a two hour experience. It was about $60 per person and worth every penny.
We'd registered for the 8 AM tour. The Rock Springs location is in the middle of nowhere (as it should be) and we lost cell phone signal quickly. The starting point for Get Up and Go Kayaking uses another company's facilities so we signed safety waivers for both companies, got a quick tutorial from our tour guide, Austin, took off our shoes and seated ourselves in our clear kayaks.
The weather was beautiful, if not a little chilly for the early morning, and the fog was rising up from the water--a perpetual 68 degrees. The water was murky and dark but as we set off, it cleared very quickly and began to take on shades of blue, aqua, teal and crystal clear. Austin led us through a 1.2 mile spring, stopping at various points to let us out of the kayaks to wade in or swim as we saw fit.
And the sun came out!
I've never seen water so clear in nature...minnows came and rallied around our toes, turtles burrowed into the sand, and we kept an eye out for alligators because it is Florida and they're everywhere.
Sri also hit me in the head with an oar twice but if you mention it to him, he laughs too hard to breathe so my chances of an apology are slim to none.
Having a tour guide was great--namely because he was there for help when people got stuck (like the couple doing double the work zigzagging through the springs rather than simply going up them...) but left us alone to enjoy. A fun fact Austin gave us: When the Europeans came to Florida in the 1500s, they spoke of a fountain of youth because the natives in Florida were living until their 80's while those back in Europe only survived until their mid forties...the secret? Drinking water. Europeans exclusively drank wine because their water systems weren't sanitary--whereas native Floridians drank lots of mineral rich, clean, spring water from these aquifers and it contributed to their life expectancy.
Once we reached the 1.2 mile mark, we turned around and went with the current...floating back down allowed for pictures, less work, and coasting as the palm trees, forest and water surrounded us.
I'd highly recommend Get Up and Go Kayaking, but I'd also encourage a nature day on every trip you take...because while tourist locations are wonderful experiences too, the true moments of magic can always be found in what the earth already created on a lesser walked path.