Camping at John Pennekamp State Park

Isn’t this pretty? Doesn’t it make you want to read about my (not hiking) weekend?

Last Saturday morning I flew down to Florida to spend the weekend with my older sister, Lauren.  I acknowledge that I tricked you into reading this post by categorizing it as a Training Hike. I mean, yeah, I know my blog is supposed to be all about preparing for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike and that the steepest walk I had all weekend was through the jet bridge between the airplane and the gate at the airport.  But stick with me; it’ll relate.

I took an early flight to Miami, and Lauren picked me up from the airport.  I gave her pouty eyes until she agreed to go to Everglades National Park.  She kept saying that it was just a big swamp and not worth driving out of our way.  But Saturday was National Public Lands Day (one of several times per year with free entry to all national parks.  See this link for more info), and I’d never been to the park before.  So we drove a half hour and got out to take a picture of the sign.  When we got back in the car, she pointed out five fresh mosquito bites.  Funny, I didn’t have any.  Clearly, this chick was an effective citronella candle, so I decided then and there to let her tag along the rest of the way.

This is it. All of the Everglades.

At the visitor’s center, the park ranger pointed out two walks worth seeing, at which point it occurred to me that the Everglades N.P. is just a big swamp and not worth the drive.  Geez, I wish someone had told me beforehand. Alas! But it was worth the drive. Now I can say that I’ve been to the Everglades and confirmed that there’s not much to do.

From there we drove down to Key Largo and pitched our tent at John Pennekamp State Park.  In case there’s interest, a campsite costs $38.50 and includes entry into the park, which would otherwise be $8.50 per car per day.  After unloading two bicycles, snorkel gear, an inflatable kayak and paddles, two boogie boards, two full-size mattress pads, and the tent (my sister should be a cruise director), we went over to the beach and snorkeled all afternoon.  Then we showered and went to dinner, stopped at a couple of stores because Lauren wasn’t ready to face the bugs at the campsite, and then returned to go to sleep.

There were a few minutes wandering around one of the stores where I was bordering on whiny.  It’s our sisterly pattern.  My older sister can be…let’s say manic, yeah, that’s a good word, she can be manic at times, which is exhausting.  So I got to the point, with a belly full of delicious food after a long hot day being active in the sun, that I was begging her to head to bed.

When we got back to the park, Lauren fumigated herself with bug spray.  I don’t like the chemical nature of bug spray since my “system” is so sensitive, nor do I like the feel of it on my skin.

Can you see the midges? No? That’s probably because they’re hanging out in the swamp behind the campsite planning their strategy of attack.

Well, the good news is that I learned that my body doesn’t go into anaphylactic shock when I get approximately 217 bug bites (from biting midges, I believe) over the course of one night’s sleep.  That’s really important to know before I’m on the A.T.  It’s also positive because it reminds me of the importance of a high quality tent with tightly woven mesh netting to keep out such tiny creepy crawlies.  Incidentally, the itching seems to get progressively worse days later, but I’ve got thick skin (mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over…) so no worries.  The bad news is I had to (gulp) admit that my sister may have been right.

Sunday morning we went for a 3.5 mile run.  Then we grabbed the bikes and pedaled a few miles to breakfast.  I borrowed my 10 year old niece’s bike.  Mind you, she’s a Gulliver in our family of Lilliputians (i.e. she’s tall), but she’s still just 10.  Needless to say, it was a sight, especially with the purple flowery basket on the front of the handlebars.  Nonetheless, we still got several catcalls and honking car horns on our way, to which I can only say:

You stay classy, Key Largo.

After breakfast, we biked back, broke camp, and packed the car.  Then we inflated the kayak and paddled among the mangrove trees for a couple of hours.  Since I’m a planner, we talked through our emergency preparedness.

Laur: I want to get in the water.
Jor: Please don’t. I don’t want you to get eaten by an alligator.
Laur: Jo-o-o-or, I waaaant to.
Jor: OK, if you get eaten by an alligator, you know you’re dead, right? I mean I’d go straight to that mangrove tree over there and climb for dear life.  So you’d be on your own.  You know what to do, right? Punch it in the nose.
Laur: And poke it in the eyes.
Jor: Right. Punch nose, poke eyes. I swim for dear life to the mangrove tree.

She’s lucky to have me as a sister, don’t you think?

When we finished kayaking, we deflated the kayak and put it in the car.  Then I sat on the beach while Lauren snorkeled for a half hour (I wanted my clothes to dry off before traveling), after which we showered and headed back to Miami for my flight back home.

So, you see, somewhere sandwiched in the middle there was a lesson relatable to hiking the A.T.  Aren’t you glad you stuck with me?  OK, OK, maybe I bamboozled you just a little.

Meandering on,



23 thoughts on “Camping at John Pennekamp State Park

    • The AT is top on my bucket list. I will have to settle now living vicariously through you as i follow your journey on this what i am sure will prove to be a most fabulous adventure. you lucky chica. Bugs often are attracted to your breath. (what do i know tho…)I do not seem to get bit by bugs hardly ever and i think its because i stay away from sugar down to a neurotic level and its not smelled on my breath. or perhaps my breath just smells too bad for them anyway. Love your blog:)

  1. You did everyone a service-confirmed Everglades N.P. isn’t worth the trip. But at least you made Key Largo. You also entertained us, you and your manic, cruise director sister. Ha, ha!

  2. Sorry you were eaten alive by the no-see-ums in the Keys. (That is the proper scientific name for those particular midges, so named by…um…proper scientists, of course). I camped Key Largo years ago, right on the beach, and Pennekamp, as well. LOVED both experiences, except for the no-see-ums. Okay, they weren’t actually named by proper scientists. It’s just that they are so small, you can’t SEE-um. And you can’t keep them out of your tent, either, no matter how fine the mesh is. I personally think they make the trip from the dunes to your sleeping bag via a tiny little insect wormhole in space. Either that, or it’s that rip in the space/time continuum thing.

    And I’m sorry you didn’t see anything pretty in the Everglades. There ARE parts of it that are very beautiful in a primal, river of grass kind of way. And of course, the wildlife is astounding. Or it would be, if you could rip it back out of the bellies of the giant Burmese pythons who have been released into the area and are taking it over, one big fat gulp at a time. When I was there last, I had a long look at a gorgeous Florida panther, for instance. (Of course, she was running from a Burmese python, but still…it was exciting.)

    Love your posts and I’m excited on your behalf about your planned hike. I know you will have loads of adventures along the way. Preferably those that don’t include no-see-ums. Or pythons.

    Good luck. I’ll be following your adventures for sure.

    • 1) I forgot to mention the part of the trip where I was eaten by a Burmese python but managed to cut myself free from its gullet with my handy dandy nail clippers (which clearly I had to sneak onto the airplane).
      2) Thanks for the luck and for following along!
      3) I love how much thought you put into your comment. Fun fun fun.

      • OH, I’m sorry. I have to apologize. I didn’t mean to leave you with the impression I was thinking, here. I just have this excess verbiage problem, which causes words to pour forth from my brain, through my fingers, and onto a perfect stranger’s blog, like I’m an old friend, or something. Eeep. It’s only when I’m actually trying to work on my own book that I’m at a loss for a single thing to say.

        I think you are a very funny writer, myself, and enjoyed all the posts I’ve read so far. And since I have always loved wildlife, nature, hiking and things of that sort, I’m going to be very interested in how you do on your Bataan Death March…er…I mean great Appalachian Trail Adventure. I’m going to be following closely, for sure, and living vicariously through your escapades. (Being as how I’m too old to do this kind of thing myself, any more.)

        Don’t forget your nail clippers. Sounds like they will likely come in handy again. One never knows when one might find oneself in a gullet of some sort, after all.

        All joking aside now, I’m serious when I say I hope you have a wonderful experience, and I wish you the very best of luck. You have a great blog! And I really did see a panther in the ‘Glades, once. Amazing!


      • (Notice how I didn’t respond last night so that I couldn’t further distract you from writing your book.) Thanks for the compliments and for the fun banter!

  3. Smart move skipping the Everglades now that the giant Burmese Pythons are taking over. Those things can swallow alligators. I hope they don’t migrate north.

    I am intrigued by the inflatable kayak. Does it feel sturdy?

  4. Pingback: Sisterly Advice: Move on and Leave the Couch « My Meandering Trail

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