I woke with the sun rising, heading over the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the sight of the blue ocean and the palms marking an almost absurdly stark change from the Appalachian Mountains of the day prior.
I was starving, and prevailed upon Val to stop at one of the south’s true gems, a Waffle House. That there is a house, dedicated to waffles, won the girls over immediately and I sat, dazed, in a booth while eggs, biscuits with gravy, toast, hash browns and waffles materialized in front of me, magically, just because I asked for them.
Our waitress doted on the girls, charmed by their enthusiasm, and at the end of the meal presented the two of them with complimentary Waffle House hats, which they proceeded to wear for the next two days straight.
From there it was on to the National Seashore, which we found without much complication, and where I yearned to be able to sleep. We arrived at the Park Office by 9:30 and discovered that the site we wanted would be available for the next five days by noon.
With time on our hands, we drove out to the ruins of Fort Pickens to tour them, and after clambering all over it we made out way to the pier where the girls inched closer and closer to the local fishermen, eager to examine their bait and participate in their successes. One fellow, unable to resist the allure of the unabashed interest expressed by our two future anglers, baited up a small rod and let Sylvie and Leonie take turns dropping a line into the water, and they actually caught a small snapper.
It was lovely. I found a bench from which I could observe the scene, and, warmed by the sun, closed my eyes for a minute. Or longer, because an hour later Val shook me awake and let me know our site was likely ready.
And so we piled back into the truck, and made our way to the campsite, and set up our tent in the warmth of the noon sun and I forsook my nap to walk with the girls to the beach, and it was breathtaking. Empty, beautiful, warm water, shore birds of every description racing through the sand, ghost crabs skittering out of the way, dunes of powdery white sand and, as we sat staring at the modest surf, we saw a sea turtle paddling lazily through the waves.
We agreed, as a family, that we would stay here a while.