Some day, I want to make a massive road trip across the country, coast to coast. Hit some major tourist tops, see places I’ve always wanted to see and stand in the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It will happen some day, but for now I have one slightly smaller shore to shore experience to live off of.
At the end of my program, I had grown close to several people. One of them was Brittney, the same person who took me surfing. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I believe in soulmates (of the romantic and platonic kind). One thing that is very certain to me now, especially after my program ended, is that Britt falls into the latter category. From Day 1, we have clicked and understood each other. We have a way of communicating and encouraging one another, and I wouldn’t trade her friendship for anything. The other person in this story who I hold very dear is Nicole, a co-worker from the TTC. Through Brittney, I was able to get to know Nicole better and I am so glad for her friendship as well. She is kind and genuine and she always has a grounded view on the world. These ladies make up 2/3rd’s of a trio that will always be special to me, a group that encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, to be brave, and that has continued to lift me up since I returned home.
But I digress- one week before my program officially came to a close, Brittney, Nicole, Brittney’s roommate Jess, and myself set out on an all day adventure. If I recall correctly, I worked a late closing shift the night before we were to leave, so when I arrived home close to 3am, I debated if I wanted to get up in two hours to go on this journey. I’m so glad that I did. I napped on the couch and woke at 5am, threw on my swimsuit and some over-clothes and joined the
girls half an hour later. Leaving town headed East, we were on our way to Cocoa Beach, the only beach that I had ever been to in Florida. Sunrise was at 6:43 (God bless the internet for this tid-bit), and we pulled into the parking lot shortly before 6:30.
Walking down the boardwalk toward the beach, it was near silent and it seemed that we all unanimously agreed to not break the bubble by talking. We approached the water as the sky grew pink and we were nearly the only ones on this stretch of shore. The serene morning weighed on my chest and even though I was running on 2 hours of sleep, I felt awake and alert; the vast ocean stretched before me, illuminated in pale blues and pinks, stretching forever
forward. My whole day, my whole life, was ahead of me. The red sun peeked its head above the horizon and Jess brought out her ukulele, playing some quiet ambient music as we enjoyed this spectacular sunrise. Facing the water, the day was before me, and the night behind. There were wispy clouds in the pale blue sky, the air was warm, and the water was perfect. We took some pictures and just soaked in the moment, and it was truly incredible.
After watching the sun fully breech the skyline, we found a small bagel shop for breakfast. We visited the RonJon souvenir shop again, and then headed down the beach. For a few hours after breakfast we camped on the shore, watching as more people arrived, and getting horribly sunburned. We didn’t drink near enough water and we didn’t use near enough sunscreen in those first few hot hours of the day, which led to nearly all of us suffering from so
me kind of ailment by the end of the morning- be it heat exhaustion or dehydration. We stopped and had lunch at Pineapple Point, a small themed restaurant with the best pineapple mixed drinks I’ve ever had (okay, maybe we shouldn’t have been drinking while severely dehydrated, but hey, it was my last time there. Pineapple Point had been a stop that Nicole, Brittney, and I had made on one of our other beach days, and it was my pick for lunch. The nachos were pretty much to die for!) Once we ate and rested a while, we hopped back in the car and headed for the other side of the state. It takes about two and a half hours on a good day to get from Cocoa to St. Petersburg, but on this day we not only were facing rain but an accident on the interstate. With Nicole graciously offering to drive, the other three of us passed out and missed most of the excitement. I don’t remember any storm, but I do remember moving at a crawl for a while. About half an hour from our destination, we pulled into a Starbucks for a stretch and drink. By now it was nearly 5:30. Part of my plan for the day that my friends so wonderfully allowed me to do was to get a couple of small tattoos to commemorate my program. We cruised around and found a nice looking shop (after my first two turned out to be duds), and they dropped me off to walk around while I got my work done.
It took close to an hour and a half to get two pieces done. The first was an ear of corn on my right inside ankle, for me and for my fellow Cast Members at the TTC who teased me out of love for being from Iowa. It’s silly but it’s true to who I am- an Iowa girl at heart. The second was a phrase from another close friend, written in his handwriting. The words, “And… But…” on my right arm above my elbow to remind me that I must continue to move forward, move my life along, and not get hung up on small things. I finished up close to 7, and sunset was at 8:22. We drove over to the beach, stopped at Walgreen’s where I bought a St. Pete Beach spirit jersey and then went down to the water. With a blanket and Jess’ uke once again in tow, we found the perfect spot and camped out on the pristine white sands of the shore. We had about 30 minutes to sunset, so we walked around in the shallows, Nicole took some amazing shots on her phone, and I even got a few more good pictures of my own.
The day was nearly over, the adventure mostly behind us and yet the feeling in the air was hopeful. My arm and ankle had that familiar sting from the new tattoos and I remember standing at the shore looking out over the Gulf
waters, once again seeing the water stretch seemingly endlessly before me. A beginning and an end, but somehow it all felt whole and connected. Instead of feeling wired and full of adrenaline like I had that morning, now I felt calm and peaceful, as though everything in the world were perfect. Despite the earlier rain, the sky had cleared and we had a picture perfect view of the sun slipping below the waves into the night. We went to our blanket and relaxed, listening to Jess play on her instrument, singing along to the songs we knew. Laughing, taking pictures, playing in the sand. It felt like the end of a feel-good girly movie, like the camera
should have been zooming out and away, and the credits should have been rolling while “Over the Rainbow” by Isreal Kamakawiwo-ole played in the background (please follow the link if you don’t know what song I’m referring
to, it’s truly amazing). It was surreal for me to be in the middle of a moment I knew would live in my mind forever.
That night as we drove back across the state to Orlando, it felt as though the day had been a perfect representation of my time in Florida. An end to a beginning, the perfect journey. I want to make this trip again, coast to coast of Florida taking the time to see the sun rise and the sun set, but I know nothing will ever beat the magic of the first time, as with just about everything in life. I know that I didn’t do the experience justice, that words could never capture the feelings I had while I stood and watched the Earth move around me, so I encourage you to try this yourself. The next time you visit Florida, or while you’re on your Disney Program, take just one day to commit to this adventure. I promise you won’t regret it.