Passing run-down rural houses with junk-filled yards and Confederate flags on the drive to Bear Lake in Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest northeast of Pensacola, we wondered what we were in for. Pulling into the campground, however, we were relieved to find it a tranquil spot set on a pretty lake in the pines with no one else in the tent camping area and only a few RVs in the full hookup section.
At least, it was tranquil for the first 15 minutes or so. Helicopters and planes began flying overhead and stayed at it for several hours. We looked at the map and reckoned perhaps we were in the training path for Eglin Air Force Base or Hurlburt Field closer to Pensacola.
No matter, we thought, we have the place to ourselves. We chose a campsite right on the water’s edge, eager to get the kayaks out the next morning despite signs warning of alligators in the area. (The next day I talked to a fisherman who said he’d never seen gators on this lake, but then another camper told me, “Oh, yes, there are gators here.” We saw none during our stay, nor did we see any of the namesake bears even though signs warned about those, too).
At sunrise I awoke to beautiful scenery, with the air peaceful and mist rising from the lake. I was starting to feel the scratchy throat Hector experienced a few days before but dismissed it as minor overnight dehydration. I had big plans for the day — getting out on the water while it was calm and then circling the lake on foot in the afternoon. Hector was still recovering from the flu and opted to stay back at camp and rest, suggesting I do likewise.
Being the stubborn old bird I am, however, I set off for a paddle around some of the lake’s coves. After an hour or so, the breeze had picked up and I headed back. Kayaking into an increasingly stiff headwind, I arrived at camp chilled to the bone. Unable to warm up, after lunch I took Hector’s advice and went into the tent to get out of the wind. I slept more or less all afternoon and evening, floating in and out of consciousness as two other camping parties arrived with dogs that barked at each other and probably at every bird and squirrel within sniffing distance. Waves of chills rolled over me throughout the night and I began to ache from head to toe.
By the next morning a fierce, cold wind was racing through camp. The helicopters began circling for the day, the dogs continued to bark, and I was upset about being too ill to enjoy the wilderness around us. We decided we’d had enough and packed up in a bit of a sick huff. As Hector pulled the tent stakes out of the ground, the wind sent the tent tumbling end-over-end into the nearby bushes. We were both feeling so miserable with aches and chills that we didn’t even have the strength to laugh. Time for a change of scenery and a change of attitude!
(Our next opportunity to test our attitude would be camping in the Everglades. That episode is on deck.)