10/30… Damn You, Coleman.

Yesterday saw the girls up early as the tree outside our tent is host to a bird that seems to delight in calling out to us at about 6:30 until we’re awake, then, its task complete, it disappears into dawn to go irritate some other creature.

It was pretty windy and, with a low cloud cover, surprisingly warm despite the partial obfuscation of the sun.  Val decided she’d take the girls to the beach while I took the opportunity to go for a little jog.

I decided to push myself a little, as, despite being generally active all day long, every day (a novelty for someone who has been bound to a desk for two decades) I haven’t really reminded my body that every now and then I expect it to be able to keep moving at a pretty high output for hours at a time.

For motivation, I pulled on my Lake Placid Ironman finisher’s shirt, laced up my shoes, doused myself in sunscreen and, after filling up a water bottle, decided to run to the front gate of the park and back – call it 11 or 12 miles.

I ran into a prevailing wind on the way out and kept my speed under control.  It was pretty hot, frankly, and the road out and back offers exactly zero shade from the sun as it winds its way between the dunes and reveals the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Pensacola Bay on the other.

Aircraft from the nearby base began running their training missions, often flying low over the bay, and at one point the Blue Angels in their unmistakable azure F18s came roaring overhead in formation.

There was virtually no car traffic at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, and certainly no people – who the hell is dumb enough to bang out a half-marathon in the rising heat of a Florida sun?


Answer: exactly one person, this guy.  I was kept company by the occasional osprey circling overhead, and every now and then a ghost crab would burst from the sand, scuttle into the road ahead of me, wave its claws menacingly and then hustle to the other side of the path.

I felt pretty good on the way out as the constant wind gave the illusion I was keeping cool, and I took measured sips of water to make sure I was hydrating evenly.

At the front gate, I took a lap of the ranger station and the woman on duty looked at me like I was nuts.  Which, arguably, I was.  I made the turn in 47 minutes and headed back, and the sun came out, and ironically, with the wind at my back it felt like I was running in a capsule of dead air.

An hour and twenty minutes into the effort, and I was hurting.  I wanted more water than I had, so forced myself to measure every sip.  The wind dropped altogether and it became silent and oppressively hot.  I fantasized about running over the dunes and leaping into the Gulf.

At one point, close to the finish but not quite close enough, with my pulse hammering away in my head, I forced myself to walk for 20 yards or so in order to lower my heart rate.

Then, back on the gas, to the beach, where my imaginary finish line was and the girls were bouncing in and out of the water.

photo 1

I collected myself and recovered in the waves, which were incredibly restorative, and then the girls showed me their collection of mole crabs, which they had dug up with the help of a couple fishermen who were raking them up for bait.


They’re funny, alien-looking things, and the girls each had a large one as a pet for the day – a potentially better fate than ending up on the end of a hook as bait, I suppose.

We all swam, drifting down along the shore with a mild rip, then ordering the girls to climb out just prior to the fishermen’s poles only to run up the beach and do it all over again.  We jumped off a smallish drop of sand into the water (the Cliffs of Doom) and inspected a bed of hundreds of fingernail-sized clams revealed by the surf (the Clams of Doom).

Later in the day we walked out on the path through the brackish salt marsh that ran between the Bay and the Gulf.  A small bridge over a deeper section of the marsh had an enormous heron parked on it, and Leonie crept up on it until she couldn’t have been more than ten feet away before it finally decided to acknowledge the threat of her and fly on.


Looking down from the bridge into the smooth, sinister water (it was almost black) we could see that the turtles were out in force, sunning themselves on rocks or taking quiet swims just an inch or two below the surface.  As soon as they swam deeper they disappeared in the inky water.

At one point, a giant old snapper surfaced for air, about as prehistoric-looking as you could imagine, and took a lazy lap of the dark pool below us.

Finally, home to dinner and a campfire and a cozy night of sleep.  Maybe.

The replacement air mattresses we bought in New Brunswick have developed a slow leak, meaning that we wake up at about two in the morning with hard parts (hips, shoulders) touching the ground.

The mattress issue is maddening.  There seems to be no practical middle ground for vehicle-based camping.  There are either cheap air mattresses (the $20 Coleman or equivalent) available at any WalMart but the second you buy one you know you’re sleeping on borrowed time.  They will develop leaks, the only question is when, and our experience is beginning to show us that 30 days of continuous use is about it.

Higher end Therm A Rest mattresses, which we have and used extensively when we were younger and doing backcountry camping, are fantastic – totally bulletproof, in our experience, and ours are well over ten years in use without issue, but they aren’t exactly plush at maybe half an inch thick.  We have ours in the truck as backups, and they’re seeing a little too much use.

They’re also five or ten times as expensive as the disposable Colemans.

So, Coleman marketing executives, if you’re reading this, know two things: First, I want to buy your product, because a three inch thick air mattress is super comfy and exactly what I am looking for, but I am getting awfully tired of throwing one out every month.  Second, can’t you make a “Coleman Plus” or “Coleman Supreme”, higher quality and more durable than your ordinary stuff, charge me double or triple for it, and have it last a year or more?

There has to be some way to get the factory in China to do a better job than they’re currently doing.

Regardless, for the moment we’re sleeping on a white sand dune, so even when the mattress deflates in the dead of night it is a soft landing.

Such are the problems I inherited when I renounced my life in Brooklyn, with its  king-sized mattress with fluffy extra top thingy, to enjoy – will I be sleeping on the ground, or two inches above it?

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