The first adventure of my summer road trip began with a plane trip and ended with a spaceship. In between: camping, dolphins, stingrays, and jet-skis. I had meant to start the road trip on May 15th, but last year I gave my dad a Christmas present. I told him I would go with him to Cape Canaveral,Florida to watch a Space Shuttle take off, something neither he nor I had ever seen but that everyone should see at least once.
This endeavor proved more difficult than I had imagined at the time, resulting in three trips to Florida this past year, two of which resulted in postponements by NASA. We were running out of time, as the last shuttle launch will be in July. So off we flew to see the shuttle, never expecting to find an adventure along the way.
We landed in Orlando, surrounded by DisneyWorld families and space nuts. I had wanted to buy the $169 tickets to get as close to the shuttle as we possibly could from a reputable tour company. The fine print of the tickets had me realizing that we would be staying up all night at the Kennedy Space Center. Plan B: Craigslist.
Normally the domain of shirtless congressman and creepy stalkers, Craig found us an irresistible offer. The shuttle was due to take off at 8:56 AM. If we wanted to get close, we would need a place to stay the night right nearby. An island, no bigger than an acre but protected by palm trees and the calm of the bay, would be our “place to stay.” For $25, Trent and Cecil, two friendly Floridians, would ferry us across the bay while providing tents, fire, and company free of charge.
We set up camp, arguing over the angle the poles should go in and why we only brought one chair. Cecil came over and started a fire in front of our tent, and it was then that we realized our conceptions of the night were all wrong. Instead of holing up waiting for the event, we became it.
As a nearly full moon illuminated the bay, the blazing lights at the space center alerted us to progress. Heat lightning seared holes in the sky miles away, but the island was quiet. Quiet that is, except for Trent, Cecil, a classic rock musician and his wife, an old retired motorcycle racer named Clayton, a pensive repeat customer named Mark, and my dad and I.
Gathered around a campfire, a group of people who an hour before had never met one another, were yelling and laughing like old friends. We were brought together to see the launch, but had it not gone again, I don’t think any of us would have been all that disappointed. Trent told us of his encounter with a great white shark in California, and the scar on his calf to prove it. The aged adventurer kept us entertained all night with tales of NASA’s weather controlling machines. Listening to him talk, it was hard to resist believing him.
Love was in the air, and splattered on our windshield. Little lovebugs—linked together at the bum before they die about 24 hours later—flew around the island and state in swarms. They were just about the sole annoyance the night provided. 500,000 plus came to view the launch, but I think only a few left having truly taken part in Florida’s space coast culture.
The next morning, the launch went off right on time. It was the 15 seconds my dad and I had traveled over 5,000 miles up and down the east coast to see. I was happy, but that wasn’t why. I was happy because Clayton wanted to take me fishing, and because Trent wanted me to try his Jetski. I was happy because I was surrounded by dolphins surfacing ten feet away and horseshoe crabs mating below my feet.
The unexpected friendship found in our motley island crew culminated in Endeavor disappearing above the clouds, but the day went on. As people were ferried back to the mainland, I spent the next few hours fishing off the sandbar. It was the kind of fishing day when you would reel in your line and your bait would be gone just below the hook. Unable to convince the fish to bite, the island seemed determined to make sure everything went right for us. It provided my first sting ray.
That marked the end of our adventure, eerily reminiscent of summer camp. We piled up our stuff, hopped in the Cecil’s Boston whaler “Buddy Buddy” and drove to my uncle’s house. I did a little bit of writing for a USA Today College article, made a couple of calls, and relaxed poolside for the rest of the day. Today, I’ve convinced my dad and uncle to take me on an air boat in the swamp rivers of central Florida. We’ll see what adventure results from that!