Beach banality

June 13, 2012

On my way back to Durham, N.C., from Tallahassee, Fla., I stopped at the beach.

After searching the web for the ideal beach to visit near the state capital, I got a brain wave: Jacksonville is on the coast. Jacksonville has beaches. And Jacksonville is approximately three hours closer to my destination than Tallahassee or any Gulf of Mexico beach near Tallahassee.

So around 9:30 a.m. Monday, I headed east from my motel and kept on going until I hit the Interstate 295 loop around Jacksonville. Some maneuvering delivered me to Heckscher Drive on the city’s east side, where I paused by the St. John’s river ferry. In fact, I parked in the lot of a bar I mistook for a restaurant.

But when I walked in and asked what they had for lunch, I was told I was in a liquor store. I walked out with a bag of potato chips and a can of soda. Then I drove to the gas station across the street and picked up two pouches of trail mix, a chocolate bar and a large bottle of water. There was some confusion on my part as I searched for an ice cream sandwich, which I thought I had seen advertised on the iceboxes outside the convenience store. In fact, the iceboxes were for bags of ice; the store had no ice cream due to one of its coolers being broken.

Then I went eastward on Heckscher, glimpsing from the road a marine terminal and/or Navy port to the south across the sound, and passing what appeared to be a municipal park. The park had already passed when I gave serious thought to stopping there.

But I was at the entrance to Little Talbot Island State Park only a couple of minutes later. I pulled in, paid the $4 fee, took the access road to the first parking lot, changed from socks and sneakers to sandals, and packed and extracted two bags from my car. One bag had a book, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, and my water and junk food. The other bag had a blanket and a towel.

Outside the bathroom, I paused to pull off my shorts, since I had my swim suit on beneath it; I stuffed the shorts in the beach bag. I began applying sun screen, struggling to cover my back and searching for a second tube after the first ran out. Once I was satisfied with my level of skin protection, I washed off my hands. Then I went back outside and started walking to the beach. I felt silly walking, feeling conspicuous for carrying two bags; indeed, every person and group that I saw at the beach that day was carrying less than me, even groups that consisted of two adults and two kids.

It was a clear warm day. I spent about three hours on the beach. The first hour consisted of chowing down and reading; the second hour consisted of reading and napping; the third hours consisted of wading and sitting in the surf, which was strong enough that I did not hazard any actual swimming. (The three or four prominently posted rip tide warnings that I saw certainly helped to discourage that particular activity.)

When I was ready to depart, I packed my things up and began walking south, away from the wooden foot path that had carried me from the bathroom facility to the beach. I had seen a second wooden path to the south, but after a few minutes I began to fear that I had passed it without seeing it. Fortunately, there was a sandy access road that I followed to the back of the second bathroom facility.

I got to the car, packed up my stuff, grabbed a pair of underwear and my shorts, and went to the bathroom to change out of my swim suit. It was then that I decided to rinse the sand off my legs, feet and sandals; I hadn’t brought a towel, but I managed to change without getting my dry clothing particularly moist.

There was a vending machine by the bathrooms, but it was being worked on; the technician told me that there weren’t any cold beverages in it. On my way out of the park, I spotted another vending machine by the entry gate. I hopped out of my car, grabbed some kind of blue sports drink, hopped back in my car, and left the park, heading north toward Amelia Island.

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