Dirty, Stinking Tree High-Fiver

I’ve never considered myself to be a tree hugger. A tree climber? Yes. A tree hugger? Nope. It’s funny how the older you get (I’m getting comfortable with the old-er label), the more you value life. So  I’ve become something of a tree high-fiver… They are friends who I couldn’t imagine living without, you know, since we really couldn’t. The best part (other than the oxygen) is that they never tell me when I stink!

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My simple story goes something like this:

Wow. That’s a beautiful mountain. It really stinks that people are dumping their trash out there.

Wow. That’s an amazing beach. It really stinks that people are destroying it with their four wheelers/condos/beer bottles.

Wow. Those sea turtles are beautiful creatures. It’s a shame that people are killing them by being careless.

I’ve learned that when we truly love something, we would do anything to protect it. It’s how parents – most, anyhow – feel about their children. It’s why I eat my key lime pie extra slow – I want it to last as long as possible. It’s the same reason we have fan clubs, PTA, health insurance, and charities. We want to preserve what we love so that we can continue to enjoy it & share it with others.

Call me a crazy tree hugger all you want, but I’d rather see a sea turtle looking like this:

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Than like this:

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Just in case you’re wondering, that’s the string from a balloon hanging out of the mouth of a Kemp Ridley. What goes up must come down. Balloons that come down over the ocean look like jelly fish to sea turtles. Turtles love jelly fish. Remember that when you are having a planned balloon release (it kills me that people still do this).

See. That’s the kicker. Did you KNOW that balloons kill sea turtles? I don’t know too many people who do. I didn’t, not until I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.
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I don’t know too many people who, when faced with the knowledge that their actions are endangering an entire species, would continue to plow on. But most people don’t know. I believe most people care & would be willing to change. I believe that we have to do what we can to protect this blue marble for future generations. I believe that children are the future – teach them well and let them lead the way. Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away.

Education is key to preserving our environment – the mountains, beaches, lakes, creeks, all of it – and the plants and animals that live there. So, I signed us (me & the mister) up for a Leave No Trace trainer course.

To be honest, I don’t think Mr. Dirty had any idea what I signed him up for, but like a good man, he did what his wife said to do 😉 If you are like Mr. Dirty and have no idea what LNT is, let me explain. Leave No Trace (LNT) is an outdoor ethic meant to preserve our wild spaces & wildlife. There are 7 principles:

– plan & prepare
– travel & camp on durable surfaces
– dispose of waste properly
– leave what you find
– minimize campfire impacts
– respect wildlife
– be considerate of other visitors

Simple, right? It’s so easy to protect what we love, but we have to be educated on how to do it. It’s the same reason the Dirty Duo took infant CPR before bringing home the Dirty Boy who had respiratory issues as a baby(He’ll kill me for this, but he ate poop! Not real poop, that meconium prepoop babies do in utero. Anyhow, it jacked him up – what do you expect from POOP?). We have to learn how to help.

Our class was held in Shenandoah National Park. We were blessed to be a part of a phenomenal group of outdoor enthusiasts; all of us learning at the feet of the BEST LNT master educators in the country. I was in awe of the knowledge & experience these two shared with us.

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Our instructors – Hal Hallett & Alex Lampros

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LNT Trainers Course, 2014, Shenandoah NP

Fear Not! I will share more on the LNT principles… one principle at a time (it’s less overwhelming that way & way more fun!).

– Mrs. Dirty: a dirty, stinking tree high-fiver

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Getting Dirty in the Florida Keys

Last night, we left Georgia bound for a place that makes me soul feel at rest. The Florida Keys. I grew up in Florida so I’m no stranger to fabulous beaches. I spent a year living within walking distance of Kalathas Beach in Crete, Greece.

Kalathas Beach, Crete, Greece

I I feel alive & reinvigorated on a crisp mountain morning, but I feel a sense of being at home when I’m on a beach.

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

The Florida Keys are different from any other beach or coastal community I have ever been to. Almost everyone has heard that time practically stands still in the Keys. Stress? Not in Monroe County. It could all be one huge, glorious act;however, I’ve never seen anyone who lives here act stressed. They seem to be the happiest, easy going folks EVER. And why wouldn’t they be?!

Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park

This is our second trip to the Keys. We stay Bahia Honda State Park – where we sleep in tents. Our first trip, we stayed in the Bayside campground…. no electricity…. in July. Never again. It was hotter than Hades!

Last August, I reserved our site in the Sandspur campground. Electricity!! You will never appreciate the luxury of a simple fan to circulate air in your tent  until you’ve spent a week in Florida without it!  (I’m actually writing this on my fully charged Kindle Fire on my inflated queen size air mattress with a lovely man-made breeze blowing in my hair. It’s a beautiful thing.) Morning report: excellent sleeping. Bonus points!!

My morning view

I don’t think what we are doing is true camping. This? This is glamping! It’s way too comfortable to be true camping. We even have a table cloth on our table!!

Key Largo Sunrise

Key Largo Sunrise

Anyhow, we left Saturday evening and drove (with Frodo & the Hiking Ninja in our car and the Dirty Diva & her boyfriend following in her car) through the night to get here Sunday morning. We were blessed with a stunning sunrise over Key Largo. It was a lovely welcome “home.”

Our only stressful part of the drive – other than the I95 parking lot through Jacksonville – was my new bike rack. For Mother’s Day, Mr. Dirty and the kids bought me a Yakima Doubledown Ace 4 bike rack for my Subaru, George. It’s one incredible bike rack!! The problem? It rode so low that it appeared to be falling off the car. Initially, Mr. Dirty thought I had incorrectly installed it. A perusal on the internet (what did I ever do without a smart phone?!) and a YouTube video later, and we learned that I did it right. It wasn’t until I found a Subaru forum (yes, they have those…. they have an internet forum to talk about just about anything you could dream of) that I learned you needed a Class II hitch to transport any more than two bikes. I have a Class I. Guess who will be getting a new hitch for their car??

When most people think about the Keys, they think about Key West. With over 660,000 people arriving via cruise ships per year and Jimmy Buffett ‘s Margaritaville, it’s understandable. We spend just a few hours in Key West, and that’s plenty.  There is so much more to do! On a previous trip, we took an eco-kayak tour & snorkled the Looe Key Reef. This year? We’re going to have all sorts of fun!!

(Now that we’re home & the fun is over, I can fill you in on all of the awesomeness that we found in the Keys!)

Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key is located at the mid-point of the 7 Mile Bridge. During the building of the Overseas Highway, Pigeon Key was a camp for the construction crew. Later, it housed the bridge tender and his family. Now, the island is home to a museum that pays tribute to Henry Flagler’s Overseas Highway and the families who sacrificed for the OH. I know, I know… who wants to go to a stinking museum on vacation?! Who cares about the museum?! Not me. But the island (and getting there) is amazing! We rode our bikes across the Old 7 Mile Bridge; it’s only 2 miles to Pigeon Key.

Old 7 Mile Bridge
Old 7 Mile Bridge
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Osprey

The tide was out as we rode the Old 7 so we saw loggerheads and needlefish swimming in the shallows. There is a gorgeous osprey who lives on the bridge; he looked so regal looking over his kingdom.

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Dock at Pigeon Key

On the gulf side of Pigeon Key is a boat dock and small beach where we enjoyed fine cuisine (pb&j from my backpack) and snorkeling. Snorkeling under the dock was pretty awesome. We swam with tons of fish – most notably toothy baracudas and colorfully quilted parrot fish.

Kayaking at Curry Hammock State ParkCurry Hammock State Park is located on Marathon Key (I believe) and has kayak rentals at a reasonable rate ($21 per 2 hours for double kayaks).  CHSP has a small “trail” that you can kayak which takes you through a mangrove (these are trees & not to be confused with the mango which is yummy when ripe) tunnel. Having only skirted the mangroves on our last trip, we were rather excited to go through the tunnel! We were warned the mosquitoes were bad through there there but only the sweet one (Hiking Ninja) from our crew had problems with being tasty. It was pretty surreal paddling through the tunnel:  we weren’t that far from civilization, but it felt like another planet.

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Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

After the tunnel, we found a small beach that was a breading ground for horseshoe crabs and a sand bar that was teeming with life. It was amazing!
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Turtle Hospital on Marathon – This is the Dirty Diva’s favorite part of the trip. She loves turtles – especially sea turtles.
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The Turtle Hospital takes sick and injured turtles in from all over the US. On our first visit in 2011, we were able to observe a loggerhead by the name of George having tumors surgically removed. On this visit, we were reintroduced to George as Georgette.

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Georgette

Apparently, turtles don’t advertise their gender until they’re adolescents. Ahem. The hospital does amazing things for these turtles & is a highlight of our trip!

Islamorada’s Third Thursday Art Walk – On the third Thursday of every month, the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District sponsors the Third Thursday Art Walk. Local artists & musicians come out for the evening to show off their best work… which was incredible. The best part was meeting the local artists and hearing their stories (I loved talking to the retired teacher who left New York & loves that they know his name in the post office!).

Food? We did quite a bit of eating in camp (thanks to the Winn Dixie on Big Pine Key); however, our restaurant experiences were quite incredible… as always. I am not a seafood eater, but I tried the conch fritters in Key West.

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Conch Fritters on Duval Street

They were really… chewy. We enjoyed the Island Grill in Islamorada and Mangrove Mama’s  on Sugar Loaf Key (although the Island Grill was far superior to the more expensive Mangrove Mamas). Our top rated & most highly recommended eating? The No Name Pub on No Name Key.
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Always awesome. Always fun. Always delicious. The place is covered in dollar bills, one of which advertises for The Dirty Duo… just saying.
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There is so much more adventure to be found in the Florida Keys. We need more time! I’ve tried to convince Mr. Dirty to relocate, but I haven’t had much success. I think he’s scared of a little hurricane 😉