I pretty much spent my entire life plotting ways to get out of the middle of nowhere (aka Alaska) only to marry a man and move to the middle of nowhere (aka Tallahassee, Florida).
You don’t believe me? My mom doesn’t. Tallahassee has a Walgreens therefore it must be a real city. Low bar, mom…
But it’s true. I used to work in tourism. I LOST COUNT of how many times journalists would come up to me at conferences and say “I thought Miami was the capital!” People haven’t heard of it, haven’t been to it and only about 180,000 even want to live in it.
The problem isn’t so much with Tallahassee (people LOVE the trees…until hurricane season), rather, it’s the inability to quickly or cheaply get in or out of Tallahassee. Flights are hella expensive and the nearest city is a 4 hour drive.
If I get a bunch of comments saying “Destin is only 2.5 hours away” I will just assume you haven’t ever been anywhere in your life because Destin isn’t a city. It’s a beach town. Is there a Nordstrom? Didn’t think so. Thank you, next.
At this point you’re probably wondering, is this a rant from a lunatic about some tiny little capital “city” or a post about Mount Dora? I’ll get on with it…
My point is, I get VERY excited when we take trips away from Tallahassee that don’t require a $500+ airline ticket or a 5 hour car ride. It’s as rare as a unicorn so the excitement level is completely appropriate.
As a wedding present, my amazing aunt and uncle booked us a weekend getaway in Mount Dora, Florida. And they also got the same gift for my cousin and his wife who got married in 2018 as well. So THIS WEEKEND we are heading down for a couples vacation. Which, by the way, may be the last couples vacation we go on since we will likely have kids in tow in 21 days (but who’s counting?).
According to google maps, Mount Dora is 199 miles or 3 hours and 41 minutes from Tallahassee by car. No flight required. Under 5 hours. I AM VERY EXCITED!!!
We have a whole itinerary of activities planned that I’ll share in my next post, but since I’ve been to Mount Dora before, I can say with certainty to all my Tallahassee friends that if you are looking for a relatively close and affordable getaway, you should put this gem on your list.
It’s 7 a.m. but one look at the sky and you’d think it was high noon. Beads of sweat have already begun to form along my hairline as I trek across the grounds of the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs, California.
There are about 40 women of all shapes and sizes standing out on the Wexler lawn. It’s a perfectly manicured patch of grass that looks slightly out of place in the desert. And it’s much more suited for weddings than a yoga class. But conference space is tight and time outside is limited, so the spot works perfectly.
Brightly colored mats of green and pink lay in crooked rows of six or seven on the dewy morning grass. Yoga music plays in the background as the instructor, dressed in a tight-fitting pastels from head to toe, weaves in and out of the crowd.
I wouldn’t consider myself a yogi. For one, I’m Catholic and the spiritual side of it feels a little sacrilegious. But I do go once a week to a 90-minute hot yoga class to stretch everything out. It’s particularly important with all the weight lifting I’ve done over the past year.
The instructor in Tallahassee is a natural blonde, curly haired woman in her late 30s. She never takes herself too seriously and is quick to joke and quick with an easier yoga move alternative.
Yoga in California though – it’s just a little bit different…
This instructor is probably in her mid 60s. However, California is known for doctors with “magic hands”, she could easily be 40 or 80, depending on the surgeon. Her hair is dry, long, wavy and bleached blonde. She covers the roots with a baby-pink ball cap and her eyes with oversized sunglasses.
Class begins and we all stand on our mats, waiting for instruction, but it doesn’t come instantly. Rather, she begins by asking us to step off the mats and onto the wet grass.
“Feel the dirt beneath our feet and become one, grounded in the earth.”
Her voice is raspy, like a smoker…gruff, but the yogi-vocabulary takes a bite out of the harshness. A phrase my mom always used to say to me as a kid pops into my head for a fleeting second – “it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it”. Then it’s gone and instead I’m focusing once again on the instructor.
“Take a deep breath in. Don’t forget to breathe. Are you even breathing?” she asks one woman.
A little different than the “go at your own pace, listen to your body” mantra I hear at home.
Next we offer a prayer/meditation/wish to a higher power because the world is crashing and burning primarily due to the President, which is made abundantly clear without his name ever being mentioned.
Then it’s a warrior pose. Our feet dig into the ground, slipping just a little on the wet grass, but not enough to warrant a change in the position.
The instructor weaves in and out of the rows. This time the instruction is to “imagine your face is smooth and your lips are plump.”
“Smile…But don’t overdo it…you don’t have to smile THAT hard.”
With 840 miles from top to bottom, California’s topography ranges from soft sandy beaches to rugged mountain tops, all mixed perfectly into one amazing state. It’s breathtaking and intimidating at the same time. When you look across the varying skylines, you can’t help but wonder, “is this even REAL?”
This feeling transcends into the culture and the people I’ve met while traveling around California. Beautiful. Diverse…intimidating as fuck. They are cooler than you and they know it, but unlike a New Yorker, they won’t come right out and tell you.
So I wear my trendiest sunglasses, my most bohemian top and my acid washed, high waisted shorts…I only wish I could feel as cool as I look when I’m in California.
If there was a zombie apocalypse and citizens had to choose members of my family to teach them survival methods, I would be chosen, but I’d probably be picked last.
Growing up in Alaska, you learn how to rough it – how to hunt, how to fish, how to build a house, plant a garden, live without running water. All of these things I begrudgingly learned. Then, I turned 18 and I moved south to civilization. I will take glamping over camping any day of the week. I have grown accustomed to the easy life, predictable as the Walgreens you’ll find on every corner in the southeast.
So when Thomas said he wanted to go to Dog Island for his birthday weekend, I had to stifle a moan.
A weekend getaway with a hint of danger
Dog Island is a 6-mile tract of land smack in the middle of nowhere. I can say this as a matter-of-fact and not opinion because it is located 50 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida, which is the least developed capital city in the entire United States. This too is a matter of fact, as it costs more money to buy a plane ticket out of here than it does to buy a ticket out of Fairbanks, Alaska.
Besides the remote location, there are other factors that make the Island less-than-appealing to this Alaskan-turned-Floridian.
Getting to Dog Island, Florida
After you make it out of the Friday5 o’clock rush hour traffic in Tallahassee, you’ll spend the next hour stuck behind an F-150 pulling a boat bigger than two F-150s going 35 miles per hour through the following cities, I mean towns, I mean villages: Crawfordville, Sopchoppy (home of the worm gruntin’ festival), Lanark Village and finally, Carrabelle (home of the world’s smallest police station).
The Island is accessible by only plane or boat. We take the latter. After unloading 2 carloads of food, clothes and activities (remember: REMOTE island = you bring your own everything or you die) we play a 20 minute game of “will she or won’t she” with the motors on the boat. There are two.
I’ve learned from past experience you can get across with just one motor, but the 20 minute ride becomes a 40 minute prayer where you start questioning the last time you swam 2 miles in open water (7 years, if you’re wondering).
Then you dock and unload everything for the 3rd time. And play the same game of “will she or won’t she” but this time with the engine of a 2005 Isuzu trooper. If she starts, you hydroplane across waves of sand to a battered blue house on the beach.
If she doesn’t, you pop the hood, hopefully have a can of coke to pour over the battery that continually gets corroded by the salty air that finds its way into every metal surface on the island (and this is why you can’t have nice things) and start the engine.
When you get to the beach, you unload everything for a 4th time and then head up 15 creaky steps to assess the damage that has likely incurred between now and the last time you were on the island.
Homes on Dog Island
Does the electricity work? Is the water running? Is there enough salt in the tank to kill the sulfur taste? Have any windows been cracked? Do all the doors close?
Then you move on to the inside. Has the freezer stopped running, causing a gallon of bait fish to melt all over the floor? Are there ants crawling up the walls (hope you remembered to pack the bug spray).
Slowly you begin unpacking and remembering all the things you forgot – garlic, ketchup. You brought 3 types of entrees but no one brought a green vegetable…
By this time it’s dark. You’re tired but there are no restaurants on the island so you cook, then you clean up. You walk to the bedroom, shake out the sheets (because, bugs) and pass out…
Dog Island: A Hidden Gem in Florida
But every third time you go to the island, you get lucky. And you get out of town early enough to miss the traffic. The boat starts and the car starts and the house is in tact and mostly bug free and you remember the important stuff (wine and sunscreen).
In the morning you wake up, the sun is shining, the blue water sparkles across the sand dunes and the breeze blows just enough to keep the gnats away. You walk out to the beach and look to your left and to your right and all you see is wide natural openness. There are dolphins just outside the surf, jumping in the waves and you think to yourself “yes, this really is paradise”.
Locals island residents (of which there are about 20), will complain every time you mention Dog Island in public. They like their hidden treasure, their undisturbed gem off the coast, and want to keep it a secret.
But he reason it’s so untouched, so heaven-like, is because of it’s remote nature. It takes a certain type of person to want to put forth the kind of effort required for a 48-hour getaway. You have to be an electrician, a boat captain, a plumber, a carpenter and sometimes a medic.
In the end, most people will decide it’s not worth it. That Pensacola, St. George, Destin or even The Keys are far more attainable. But there will be a few rugged adventurers up to the challenge. Who like an element of danger to their weekend getaways. And if that’s the case, then then Dog Island is the perfect escape.