overcoming my unfounded Florida fears

I spent most of my childhood growing up on a fruit orchard on the Columbia River in Washington State. Our white two-story farmhouse was perched on a small hill, nestled within the protective arms of a pine tree covered hillside. If I tilted my head just right, I could see a sliver of placid blue water through the distant trees beyond my living room window. Our summers were hot and dry and the winters were cold and white. Although my family made many trips to Southern California to visit family, that was the extent of my travels and for all I knew the rest of the world looked a lot like the west coast of the United States of America.

First taste of freedom

In 1993 I turned 15 and my parents offered me my first chance to step outside my comfort zone and see well beyond my living room window. A pamphlet from Teen Missions International based in Merritt Island, Florida beckoned offered a travel experience like no other: two weeks in Florida for boot camp and then on to diverse international locations such as Mozambique, Papa New Guinea or Brazil. I scoured the brochure attempting to select the most ideal location like a discerning shopper looking through a fashion catalog. Dog-eared and worn, I poured over my printed options with vigor, circling those that seemed most promising and adding stars to the ones that seemed extra romantic. In the end, France captured my teenage heart and I submitted my application for adventure.

What the brochure failed to mention however, was the fact that no geographically informed individual would consider traveling to Florida in the height of summer. I was, up to this time in my life, grossly uninformed and blissfully naive to matters of humidity, chiggers and mid-summer mosquitoes. I was also somewhat self-absorbed and walking that difficult road of confident ignorance. (If you are over the age of 25, I trust I’m not alone in recalling memories from this period of time with embarrassing clarity.)

Reality check

What greeted me that July as I stepped off the airplane in Orlando, was a wash of reality served fresh on a plate of heavy humidity mixed with intense heat. Arriving late in the evening, I traveled under the cloak of night by bus to the boot camp location. Because of my late arrival, I was treated to a night on the floor in my sleeping bag in an air-conditioned building. This would be the last comfortable night of sleep I would experience in Florida.

For the next two weeks, my sleeping bag rested inside a small pup tent amid the forest floor. I learned to wash my clothes by hand and forgo the expectation that they would dry in the moist air before I needed to wear them again. My only comfort was that I was not alone. My team of 32 other teens had signed up for this self-inflicted experience as well.

Because there were thousands of teens representing countless teams traveling all over the globe, our conditions were set up to mimic those of the most primitive team. Every aspect of our boot camp adventure was designed to mimic conditions on the mission field and help us overcome culture shock before we left the United Sates to our varied international destinations. This included our dress code of jeans and combat boots despite the sweltering summer weather. Team building opportunities included classing in construction, puppets, drama and survival skills and a morning obstacle course through the jungle complete with a rope swing over a muddy slough and scaling a 12 foot wall.

Occasionally, I would peer into the night sky and see the blinking lights of an airplane. I’d stand in awe that somewhere in the stratosphere people were sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned cabin drinking soda with ice cubes clinking in their plastic cups watching an in-flight movie. How I wished I could be among them! As sweat dripped between my shoulder blades in the heat of the night, I made myself a promise: never again would I be dumb enough to visit Florida.

Lasting impact

Twenty-three years later I was staring hard into that promise as our family began charting our RV travel route. Logically and logistically wintering in Florida was the best choice.

For a lunatic, I reasoned.

We wanted to visit the states we’d never been to as a family. We wanted to travel up the east coast in the spring. Florida made perfect sense.

If you want to be an idiot.

Let’s set aside the humidity and the insects and pretend those are inconsequential. How can we ignore the alligators?

People say they are “everywhere.”

What about the hurricanes?

We are traveling in an RV for Pete sake, we’d likely blow right out to sea!

That’s not even taking into account red tide, sinkholes or the Zika Virus!

I might as well call CPS and report myself if I think it’s safe to subject my children to the dangers of Florida.

Facing unfounded fear head-on

unfounded fears

In my first post of 2017, I addressed the topic of fear. Please understand that was not written from a hypothetical or metaphorical standpoint. I’ve met fear face-to-face on many occasions and in varying degrees of circumstances or intensities. This time was guilty of nursing a twenty-three year old memory well past the weaning stage. I’d let the news, social media and those around me feed that fear. It’s embarrassing to admit but over time my fear became bigger than my God and my faith was in the words of those confirming my doubts. If you are looking for a good place to get lost in insecurity, turn inward and wrap yourself in a blanket of anxious thoughts. It’s awfully lonely, but at least you will be warm.

Choosing to winter in Florida this year was a deliberate move to throw off the anxiety blanket and step boldly toward fearlessness; away from hypothetical “what ifs?” and unfounded fears and toward more calculated curiosity and logical reasoning. What I have discovered after a month in the Sunshine Sate has been surprisingly straightforward: yes there are unpleasantries in Florida. It’s humid. It’s buggy. There are alligators, crocodiles, snakes and panthers. Hurricanes are possible and sinkholes occur. But that is only the view through one lens. Realistically speaking, the Northwest, where I call home has bears, cougars, moose, and poisonous spiders. The winters are cold and summer brings the treat of wildfire. Despite all of those perceived dangers, I’ve never questioned my sanity or well being living there. Have you noticed how relaxed we can become inside our zones of comfort?

I could have so easily missed out

Here is what it comes down to: my fear of the unknown is often deeply rooted in just that–the unknown. Becoming familiar with something new is often not only the antidote to fear, but also a close-minded outlook. My fear faded as my education grew. I learned that hurricanes more or less follow a predictable schedule and just like in Idaho, the wildlife prefers to keep to itself. Once I was willing to use a different lens, I saw that manatees were swimming in the same waters as the crocodile and shark teeth could be found on the opposite shore of the lazy alligator. Beauty and wonder co-existed with my misplaced fears. I could so easily have missed out.

Those Blue Angels that flew over our heads on the beach in perfect formation…
That spontaneous Dominion game night with three other couples…
The decadent Key Lime Pie purchased in Key West…
Standing on the southernmost tip of our continent…
Seeing a sea turtle both in the wild as well in a rehabilitation hospital…

Spotting stingrays…
Discovering shark teeth in a riverbed…
Sitting inches away from wild manatee…
Trying Cuban coffee…
Attempting to see the sunset while a cruise ship moved in to block the view…
Picking strawberries in January…

 Making new friends…
Biking through the Everglades…
Eyeing crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank…
Canoeing through mangrove forests while gliding silently past submerged alligators…
Watching dolphins swim in the Gulf of Mexico…

I could have missed it all.

Now certainly one could say that had we not been in Florida, different memories would have been made in another place. This is true and they could have been wonderful. However, in addition to all that we gained in friendships, memories and experiences, I can also add the lesson of facing my unfounded fear and realizing that the reality was much different than the expectation. Call me crazy but if I tilt my head just right, I just might see another Florida winter in our future.

12 thoughts on “overcoming my unfounded Florida fears”

  1. I love his post! I fear winter, snowy roads, & grey skies. Yet we’ve committed to being in the mountains for the month of January. We are headed towards Florida in a couple weeks & plan to travel the Keys down to Key West & back up into the Everglades. Thank you for your post & the hope for warmer temps! I covet your flip flops!

    1. Oh my goodness, I totally forgot about snowy roads! Of course people could be scared of those! That just goes to show how easy it can be to acclimate to things you have experienced all your life. Grey skies are no joke either. I really got to missing the sun toward the end of winter and would comfort myself knowing that there are people living even farther north than I what were practically living in darkness during the winter. You will appreciate both extremes I bet, they both hold special beauty and rewards. Which state are you in currently? My next post will cover details of our time in the Everglades so you might keep your eye out for that one ;).

  2. What a great post! I’m happy to see that you all are happy and healthy. It looks like Hunter is taller than all of you now! 😊
    God bless you!

  3. Heather, this is so well written…as always! I love reading every one of your posts and following along on your journey. Miss you!

  4. Just found your website. As a native Floridian, I’m glad you’re finding our state more palatable this time around. 🙂 (Camping in the woods in the summer…yeah, not the best introduction!) For the record, hurricanes mostly only happen between June and November, and if you see a panther it is likely just as scared of you as you are of it (and they’re so rare that if you see one in the wild many Floridians would envy your luck!). I lived in PA for a year and a half for grad school and was terrified of driving in the snow (I was convinced blizzards happened all the time and I would be ice-bound for 6 months), so I do understand about getting comfortable with what we know and also about stepping out of our comfort zones. Though to be honest, I hated winter so much that I moved back to FL at the first possible moment. 🙂

    1. Hi Helena! It’s really fun for me to hear from Floridians because it reminds me all over again how skewed our perspectives can be based on our experiences. Snowy roads are no joke and I can only imagine how intimidating they would be if you didn’t grow up in them (they can be intimidating no matter what honestly). I am glad you are enjoying Florida. We certainly enjoyed it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *