Suppose someone said to you “I’m going to take you on a three-day weekend, in the sun, soft breezes blowing, not a lot of traffic, transportation laid on, hotel booked, nice company – and you’re going to walk 36 miles”. What would you do? Well, I went for it.
This past weekend I joined my walking club on an excursion to South Florida where we walked twice a day for three days, aiming for 10-11K each segment for a possible total of 62K. We managed about 5K less than that due to an emergency we had with a sick passenger who had to be taken off our bus by ambulance. Kudos to Fort Pierce ambulance service and first responders who met us at an exit off the Florida Turnpike to take our sick companion off to hospital where she spent the next five days.
South Florida is a delight in April. I’m not sure I’d say the same thing in the humidity of August! We set off at 7.40am Friday morning from a crazy golf attraction venue just off I-4 in Lake Buena Vista, near Disney World. The management of the golf venue had agreed to allow our vehicles to be left there over the weekend, but instructions had been given not to have them lined up and drawing attention to their being somewhat abandoned for the duration. I left my car at home safely ensconced in its garage and got a friend to drop me at the pick-up location. I felt smug in the knowledge that deluge, tornado or pestilence would not befall my four wheels while I was away!
I had carefully packed two pairs of footwear so my hot sneakers from the morning’s walk could air out on the bus while I walked in the second pair during the afternoon. In between times, at lunch and travelling on the bus to the next venue, my feet got some respite in their Skechers sandals. I wasn’t the only one with this degree of forethought: I saw another pair of feet whose owner had planned the same quick-change scenario.
Lunch on the first day was at a branch of The Mellow Mushroom. Peculiar choice of name as there was only one dish on the menu with even a hint of mushroom in it. They served basically pizzas, soups and burgers – and a fabulous barbecued chicken salad which I was lucky enough to discover on the menu. It sustained me through to breakfast the next morning, with the aid of a double-scoop chocolate ice cream cone at around 5pm.
With brilliant co-ordination by our trip planners we had only steps to go after lunch onto the bus for a short hop to our next stop which was the town in which we were staying, West Palm Beach. Our bus deftly manoeuvred tiny streets and sharp corners to the drop-off point at a newly-established shopping-and-eating venue called City Place. There were hoards of people enjoying the shops and restaurants but none of them could have had the merest idea we were about to set off on a 10K walk, armed with our bottles of cold water from the cooler stored in the bowels of the bus. Route map and written directions in hand, we set off with various degrees of enthusiasm it seemed – as a second walk in one day might be putting doubt in the minds of some of our group that their choice of weekend had perhaps been a bit foolhardy!
WPB, another charming venue, with long straight streets, and long periods to the next turn on the map. Some amongst us found the route a bit boring with ‘walk 8 blocks’, ‘walk 13 blocks’, ‘walk 8 blocks’ in the instructions. Having walked so many of the City blocks in Manhattan during 30+ years, I found the empty streets and sidewalks of WPB a delight to walk on, and even the cars will stop and wait for a group to traipse across the road, with not a hint of impatience or annoyance that we might be hindering their progress. When you can see charming street markers like this, it makes it all very much worthwhile.
The finish point was of course exactly where the bus had dropped us earlier that afternoon. Being a pretty fast walker and with a companion who could keep up, I arrived back at City Place with a desire for an ice cream and there was an ice cream ‘parlour’ right there waiting for me to go in and buy. Plenty of time to greet others arriving back at our destination, some of whom went to the pre-assigned bar and grill where a ‘happy hour’ area had been reserved in our name and many partook of sustenance more in line with dinner than my ice cream.
This was now Friday evening, end of the work week for lots of people who had decided that a drink and meal with friends in City Place right after work was just the ticket! There was outdoor entertainment by a small group who had a couple of singers with pretty good voices. Tons of space to sit and enjoy that, and many people who must have been regulars had toted their own portable chairs (of the canvas/beach variety) to sit and listen. Our group assembled in dribs and drabs but we were nonetheless early for our bus. We stood by the valet parking line for City Place, and we observed that it wouldn’t be impossible for an enterprising thief to come along to one of the very nice vehicles being abandoned by their owners and drive off with it, ostensibly to park valet-style but really to take off on a joy ride. I picked out a very shiny black Jag convertible. Being English, I felt I should have first pick of that one!
Our bus was a few minutes late getting to us as the tiny street was really bursting at the seems with valet-parking hopefuls and those dropping off people who were probably thinking they’d get a head start on a table if they scooted into a restaurant ahead of their driver. We snaked along the sidewalk and hurried onto the bus, doing so in record time for a group of about 40 people; we never heard even a peep of a horn blowing from the cars behind us that we held up for only a few seconds. We congratulated ourselves on the speed with which we boarded the bus; it might have been some kind of record!
Returning to our hotel at around 7-ish, we scattered in several directions to our rooms in the hotel. Showering and a cup of tea was definitely necessary and a quick diversion into Target next door secured the provisions I needed. Night came a bit early that first day. To bed, perchance to dream…….of walking even further the next day!