A guy at Bill Jackson's Shop for Adventure in Clearwater Florida told me about this little island called cabbage key, the island is located about 10 miles off the coast of pine island outside Ft Myers FL and has a historic inn and restaurant on it. Cabbage Key is accessible only by boat, and has been a refuge to artists and writers since its founding in 19whatever. The kicker is that the key had once been a haunt of the infamous margarita wielding pirate jimmy buffet and the rumor was that old Jimbo drew inspiration from the burgers at cabbage inn for his song "Cheeseburger in Paradise". My family has been jamming out to jimmy buffet for as long as I can remember and I absolutely had to visit this secret little island retreat. Now here's the rough part, I got online and did some research and apparently Mr Buffet actually wrote cheeseburger in paradise after being stranded on a boat for 24 hours due to mechanical issues. I decided therefor that my trip should share in his hardship. So I called up the team and dusted off my kayak paddles.
Terry: a rough and tumble jar head with more guts than sense has been adventuring with me since we were in High School ROTC together. Then for some reason he joined the marines and got half melted by a roadside IED in IRAQ (I tell every girl we he talks too it was his lower half that got melted, he has no idea) the IED didn't ruin his lust for life or his sense of adventure it might have sharpened those aspects of his personality. Terry doesn't have a kayak and says his paddle-board will suffice for the roughly 16 mile paddle. Anyone who has ever used a paddle board knows that ease of covering distance is not one of their attributes.
Josh: Josh was invited by terry, terry described Josh as "Legit" and since that was one of the words terry uses to describe me, I know Josh is prepared. Upon meeting Josh I was expecting Dan from the Roseanne show and he turned out to be more like Captain America. Josh enjoys weight training as a hobby, and since he drives for a living my fears about his abilities to deal with discomfort and sitting for long periods were significantly decreased. Josh came ready to rock with a 15' sit on top fishing kayak for the trip.
I parked the car and check the temperature gauge on the dash, it was 94 degrees and I was parked in the shade. When I got out of the car the heat and humidity welcomed me like a solar smack in the face, I had a momentary doubt about the upcoming trip but let it go, it was time for adventure! I lowered Sea Scout off the roof of my suv, Sea Scout is a 16' old town kayak that has been in my family for a long time, Dad said he bought the kayak second hand in the 90's and doesn't even know the model or the year of manufacturing. She is long, fast and lean. She has tons of character, by character I mean her hull is covered in scratches and gouges from hundreds of oyster bars, river rocks, and accidental drops. If someone ever threatened to take Sea Scout from me, I'd knock them off their feet and kick sand in their eyes, I love the kayak that much. The place where we put in was covered in the typical west coast of Florida detritus mud, it's thick, smelly keeps the fish growing big and the tourists away from our undeveloped wilderness, Florida detritus is something that locals learn to love because it represents fertility and life. After a quick talk with a local mariner for a direction we set off, we decided to not use the GPS as it's not really an adventure unless you’re a little lost or a little scared. As we paddled out I turned on my Bluetooth speaker and cranked some Willie Nelson radio on Pandora and we took our first we paddle strokes to "mama don't let you baby's grow up to be Cowboys".
We were paddling towards the northern point of a small island and had covered about 1/2 the distance when we spotted our first pod of purposes, purposes are just like dolphins but about 3/4 the size and from what I understand not as intelligent. They came in from port side and crossed our bows about 50 yards away. For a moment we forgot our quest and just watched them swim on by, after a minute or two I started slapping the top of the water like a dolphin trainer, and josh murmured something about getting a tow, terry then offered 1/2 of his cheeseburger to the first dolphin that would tow him to cabbage key, we had no takers. By the time we reached the point terry had begun to slow, paddling a board like that was much harder than paddling a kayak, every wake or wave requires perfect balance but the man was keeping up and he had yet to take a swim. We rounded the point and gazed across several miles of open bay, suddenly we realized we had no real idea how far cabbage key was or how far we had come, only that we had been paddling for about an hour in the direction that the mariner had told us. A mariner we had begun to suspect was slightly evil. I decided it was time to check the gps, unfortunately I had forgotten to check the batteries before we left. I used what remaining battery was left in my cell phone to get an updated position off google maps. Unfortunately that meant no more Willie Nelson. It turned out we were just under 1/3 of the way there, we just needed to cut diagonally south around the next island and then the island after that would be cabbage key. The only issue was that we had to cross a major boat traffic channel to get there. We bunched up as we started out across the channel. I was out in front with scout and josh was bringing up in the rear, we were trying to shelter terry and his paddle board from the boat wakes as much as we could; Soon though a heavy trailer came by and nearly flipped my kayak, terry dropped to his belly and was able to avoid getting tossed into the blue. For the rest of the channel crossing terry used my spare kayak paddle and he paddled from his butt. We reached the coastal shelter of that next island, it was dotted with McMansions that looked semi abandoned, like the owners only came back one week out of the year, which seemed pretty over indulgent to me. These island are so beautiful, to destroy their natural beauty so you can have a weekend getaway seemed like a criminal act in that moment. We paddled along the coast looking at all the homes, thankful to be out of the wind. As we reached the southern end of the island we found that the last quarter mile was free of houses but someone had built a little shrine to relaxation under the shade of the scrubby mangroves. As we paddled in to take a closer look we saw a golf cart coming at us fast from the inhabited side of the island. I yelled "natives!” in mock panic we turned our boats south around toward shade and burgers. Soon we ran into a family on a 20' center console that was fishing, we glided up and asked for directions to cabbage key, they told us " it's just around the corner a couple hundred yards past the tip of this island" we thanked him and were about to paddle on when there was a large swirl In The water In Front of us, terry who had the best view because he was standing said in a subdued tone " is that?...no way" and then very loudly "Hammerhead!!!". Sure enough a three foot hammerhead shark was chasing something in the shallows near the coast. The fisherman's kids just about burst with excitement and all I could hear was excited gasps, murmurs and the clamor only excited young boys can make. The hammer head swam on and we said our goodbyes to the fishing family and followed suit.
We rounded the tip of the second island and ran into a strong head wind, but we could see the cabbage key inn at last! and we paddled like desperate men the last 300 yards against wind, heat and hunger. When we hit the beach we all felt a little wobbly and drank down the last of our few drops of water stores. It felt strange to be in such a civilized place, there were ladies in dresses and men in button down shirts while we looked more like refugees from Cuba.
The island itself was absolutely stunning, the water turned emerald green at the shore and the trees we all huge, well-trimmed and looked hundreds of years old. The trail was packed powder white sand and it was like a glowing runway to happiness as we ascended the small hill to the INN. We were seated In A room with what had to be 100,000 dollars in single one dollar bills taped to the walls and ceiling. Each had a slogan or a name written on it. We ordered and we all got a burger and a couple sides along with copious amounts of bottled water and a few piña coladas. I'm not sure if it was the difficulty of the journey the shear amount of calories burned, or the hype of cabbage key, but that simple cheese burger was the best one I have ever eaten. As we finished our food we all realized that we still had to paddle back, so we paid and busted out some ones to hang on the walls. Terry wrote "it's all about the journey" on his, I wrote "here's 2 Jimmy buffet, the salt, the sea, to good friends and high adventures". Josh in his stoic since of humor wrote in the largest letters possible "JOSH" we all broke into laughter as he hung it on the ceiling.
Our buzzes lasted about half the trip back but we made good time with the wind at our backs, as we cleaned up our launch site we all raised our assorted water bottles and canteens, clinked them together as if they were champagne flutes and just said "cheers".
As we were leaving cabbage key I remember a man had called out to us and asked where we had kayaked from, when we told him "pine island, He laughed and turned to his wife and whispered too loudly that we we're idiots. I looked Him over seeing he was 40lbs over weight and probably deeply in debt with his big boat and I laughed to myself. Some people will never understand that the journey is more important than the destination.