From across the country, ten brave souls took a break from life, work, and school to explore the islands that dot the southwest coastline of Florida, jetting out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Day One: Going on an Adventure!
The trip began as all good trips do – with food! As we nursed our coffees in a small hotel restaurant, our small band of camp-goers exchanged sentiments of feeling overwhelmed by the year and desires to disconnect and play. With that in mind, almost everyone decided to be unplugged for the trip, apart from disposable cameras, and this set the tone for the trip there on out.
On day one, we mapped out a route and paddled about 7 miles out into the Gulf. We camped out on an open beach right as the sun began to smudge along the horizon line. Before setting up, we paused the tasks to dive into the water and watch the last streaks of light die away.
We were sitting around the fire for dinner when Adam pulled out a book – The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. “I was thinking instead of having official talks for this retreat, we could read The Great Divorce together at meals and see what conversations stem from it.” We all were keen on the idea, and so Adam began reading.
Picture this: A small fire on an open beach, white sand, nothing but stars above, and everyone sprawled out listening to the words of C.S. Lewis. The picture of serenity.
Day Two: Yoohoo!
The next day, we dove into the ocean for a morning dip, and at a “yooohooo!” from Adam, everyone reconvened for breakfast and a bit of light reading. I was traveling with my sister, Elizabeth, and we were camping in a tent together, so we woke up early and went for a walk and talk, examining sea shells along the way. The beaches were white and sandy but speckled with a variety of rocks and shells… and even the occasional horse-shoe crab and puffer fish! Erin had brought a Walmart fishing rod and was challenged by Cesar to see who could catch more fish. At the end of the trip, we were at a grand total of -1 (the dead puffer fish may have affected the tally).
After enjoying a relaxing morning, we paddled a few miles down to another island to camp. On the way, we found a tree out in the middle of the water, with a sandbar and enjoyed a pause there to snack on apples.
That afternoon, we landed on Camp Lulu Key for the night. On this island there was a perfect lagoon for fishing and mangrove forests branching off the sandy beaches, and we spent a good deal of time playing “the water is poison” and climbing all about the trees like a tribe of monkeys.
The beauty of this trip was in its simplicity. No technology and no real things “to do,” which meant we were like kids who were told to go outside and entertain themselves in the great outdoors until dinner. Whenever there was down time, everyone turned to each other for conversations, games, adventures, seashell hunting, tree climbing, and stargazing. It felt like we were on the adventures of Tom Sawyer, exploring the unknown terrain of the Mississippi.
That evening, we again stayed up late reading The Great Divorce. We were really getting into the nuances of the book at this point, dwelling on themes of heaven, mercy, redemption, and repentance. Adam would read sections and then make a comment or someone would ask a question about theology and conversations would spiral in the most pleasing fashion.
That night, we had to fend off racoons and bury/hang our food and some of the hammocks were flooded. You can’t have an adventure without a little inconvenience!
Day Three: The Final Trek
On day three, we paddled a few more miles out to our last camping spot, a long beach with a secret serene patch wrapped around one side, and an island with a lagoon a few strokes away. That afternoon, we all took naps and then a few of us paddled over the island nearby and went exploring. Putting three of us in a canoe turned out to be a little more chaotic than just the two, but we raced back in time for dinner and sunset.
A few hours later, we broke out some costumes for a little luau party with singing and dancing. Leah showed us her trick of using vaseline and cotton-balls to light a fire and we enjoyed a fine dinner of sauteed vegetables and jambalaya made by the one and only chef Adam Trufant. I don’t think any of us wanted to go to bed, and we stayed up until the wee hours stargazing and reading around the fire.
Day Four: Margaritaville & Banana Pancakes
On the last day, we enjoyed a long Sunday brunch of banana pancakes and finished off the Great Divorce, except for the last chapter. While sharing some closing thoughts, one trip participant put it so well when she referenced Lewis’ idea of there being times in our lives when heaven is closest to us.
She said, “I truly believe that heaven and earth were a little bit thinner here on this trip. It was this diaphanous membrane between the two that made God feel so close. The peace and beauty of this place allowed us the ability to play with child-like elation. Where at camp this is still the case; this place held no schedule, due dates, or responsibilities to distract us.”
On the long haul back to the take out spot, we all talked, joked around, told stories, and sang songs:
Trip theme songs: Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett & Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson
We paused just before the take out to read the last chapter of The Great Divorce. Spending time in the sun and water with quality people inspired each of us to relax, enjoy the simple things, and let time fly. I remember the last morning, we were packing up and chatting, all of us taking our sweet time. At one point, someone called out “okay let’s leave in 35 minutes!” and then, two hours later, we were all still there laughing and chatting. Apparently daylight savings time happened over the weekend, and we were all in the same boat (pun intended) of not realizing it until we got back to the “real world.” The trip was really timeless.
After taking all the gear out, cleaning up, and strapping the boats onto the trailer, we all hauled our sun-toasted selves off to Ave Maria University where we enjoyed margaritas at the Pub and laughed over our adventures. There, we connected with a few more camp-goers, and, although we were all wiped out, stayed up talking late into the night.
Every time I mentally take myself back to this trip, I can feel this warm glow of joy that comes from being completely present to the people and place you are in. I can hear the waves crashing, see the burnt orange sun dip below the horizon, and feel the sun’s rays and salt crisp on my skin. The absence of technology and presence of C.S. Lewis created a space for deep thought, childlike wonder, and playful folly on this trip that I will never forget!
“I particularly enjoyed watching the group as they encountered some new wonder on our trip. Whenever a new sea creature was discovered, a beautiful sunset broke through the clouds, or the Milky Way was revealed during our late night, fireside discussions, there was a childlike reaction from all the trip members in their own way. The trip felt like a return to innocence. It was unplugged, laid back, playful, and free. Full of joy and learning, this trip was one for the books.”Adam Trufant