The Beach Rx

Jun 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Summer My Way

"When I was a kid, I lived at the Grant County Fair in John Day, Oregon. I won my first bull-riding event there—I was probably 12 years old at the time. I knew I wanted to ride bulls, and when I actually won, I was overwhelmed with joy. My dad still wears that belt buckle."—Dustin Elliott, 2004 Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Association World Bull-Riding Champion

While camping on what is now my favorite beach, I once stepped on a scorpion.

I was alone in Cayo Costa State Park, a barrier island of sand and palms about 100 miles south of Tampa, Florida. I rushed to my boat, then to a neighboring island restaurant, where I called the only doctor I knew. It was a Sunday, near midnight.

"Is there much pain?" he asked.

Nope, the slight burning sensation had faded.

"Any dizziness? Uncontrollable salivation?"

It was a scorpion, I reminded him. Not a werewolf.

His indifference changed to irritation. "Did the scorpion sting you on the tallywhacker?"

Was the man drunk? "No!" I snapped. "Didn't I just tell you I stepped on it?"

"Yes, but I'm a urologist. So why the hell are you bothering me at this hour?"

Return to my camp, the doctor advised, and administer alcohol and ice.

It is a wonderful thing to sit alone on a beach, on a starry night, with nothing to do but drink a thermos of margaritas as prescribed by a pissed-off physician.

Filtered through tequila, a beach becomes more than a percussion skin for waves. This particular beach is many miles long and shaped like a new moon, a convex curve extending into the Gulf of Mexico. My camp spot was at the island's narrowest point. It was an isolated place with no docks and no homes, centered on a fragile land break bordered by sea, and thus more intimately connected to a wider world. But this small section of beach was now linked to my own small history.

The scorpion was not my last intimate encounter on this beach. My wife and I returned often to that camping spot. Our sons learned to snorkel there. They learned to throw a cast net and how to build a fire that's good for frying fish.

Both sons-out of college now-still camp there. It remains my favorite place to go for a solitary jog or swim.

Cayo Costa State Park offers primitive cabins ($30 per person per night) and tent camping ($18 per site per night); rental information, 941-964-0375

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