Go Big or Go Home: A Trip to The Florida Keys
Winning A Ticket To A Dream Destination
A few years back my job at the time held summer parties where they would give away fun prizes, and have catering from local restaurants for the employees to enjoy.
2016 was particularly fun as not only was it the annual summer party, but the 20th Anniversary for the company. This meant lots of booze, yard games, and an extremely loud band playing from the porch where employees would take their lunch breaks.
I had had a few glasses of wine and was feeling pretty good when it came to the big event of the night. Every year the company would give away all paid tickets to anywhere in the lower 48 states. All employees were entered into a raffle at the beginning of the party, and one lucky winner would be pulled.
The band which had been playing their hearts out all night went silent. A quiet hush fell over the crowd as the tickets were mixed for one last time. And then... the raffle ticket was pulled, and the numbers were read.
When it comes to winning anything I never think twice about it because the likely chance I win is so scarce there isn't a reason to get excited.
And I was right in this situation. The numbers announced weren't even close to the numbers on my ticket which I held in my palm. I shrugged my shoulders, and took another drink scanning the crowd for the winner, but no one called out in joy. The numbers were repeated again thinking the person might have misheard, but no one came forward.
So it meant another ticket was to get picked! I turned to my friend/coworker, Sarah, and jokingly said, "If one of us wins, we have to take each other somewhere."
A new ticket was pulled, and the numbers were called one by one. I glanced at my ticket again, suddenly realizing the sequence of numbers sounding familiar. With each new number my ticket matched... and somehow I had won the tickets.
My roommate, who I brought as my plus one, and I screamed out with excitement. The sugar from the wine causing me to spaz more than I normally would made me run to the front of the band where the raffle was being held all the while screaming.
I was given 'fake' tickets which represented my win, and sauntered back to the group. Sarah was in shock and thought I had been joking when my roommate and I had yelled out in excitement. My response, "So where are we going?"
Go Big or Go Home
We waited almost a whole year before leaving for our trip. We decided to head to the Florida Keys where Sarah's boyfriend's parents(phew) owned a home so housing would be free.
We waited until the month of May to head down as the temperature wouldn't be outrageously hot(still in the upper 80's at that time). We had an early flight which didn't sit well with me. I had thought I'd be over altitude sickness which I experienced for the first time when I was 14, but apparently I was wrong. Poor Sarah had to deal with me the entire way with her occasionally passing mints...Thanks Sarah!
Upon landing, I could have kissed the ground with joy, but the hot air said otherwise. Quickly, we jumped into an old timey ambulance turned van(yes you read that right), and made our way to a tiny sandwich shop for dinner. We sat outside while wild chickens clucked near by.
The landscape was different than anything I had ever seen. The wildlife, the colorful buildings, the trees, and, of course, the water.
Upon reaching the house we were greeted by the endangered key deer.. the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer. They ran straight up to us to say hello. So adorable!
It was a great way to start off a fun filled week which included more things like bike riding(Sarah and I weren't very fond of this, but it took us to the bridge nearby where we would look for fish), playing a game of guess how many mustangs we see on the drive as we bounced from island to island, and buying a box of Cheez-Its because it had the saying "Go Big or Go Home", which became our motto for the whole trip!
We stopped at some amazing spots along the way such as Blue Hole where we spotted an alligator, turtles, fish, and the natural habitat of Florida.
We went down to the touristy board walk in Key West, and there we got free alcohol from one of the local breweries which just opened for business.
We also stopped by the Hemmingway House where all the cats who take up residence have six toes.
Then we walked through the Key West Butterfly Conservatory and saw the flamingos escape from their penned area.
Of course we couldn't miss the crazy cat man put on a show with several of his performing cats.
And that isn't even the half of it! What about the Go Big or Go Home moments?!
Oh boy, were there some!
An Unexpected Fish
The first night we headed out on the boat to fish for tarpon. For those who don't know they are a large fish which twist and jump out of the water, and often times you have to chase after them with the boat.
We had been out on the water for some time when Sarah had cast out. We tied a small balloon to the line to show when the line had been taken. Suddenly the balloon which had been bobbing on the surface disappeared and it was on.
Quickly, Sarah reeled pulling with all her might, but the line darted this way and that. We scrambled as Andrew headed for the front of the boat while Sarah and I were yelling which way the line was crossing. Sarah and I tried to keep out of each others way as I ducked under the rod while Sarah held onto the pole moving around the boat.
Andrew confused at the quick changes in direction yelled for me to start the boat, but before that could happen the tarpon which we thought was hooked at the end of Sarah's line broke the surface. Together we yelled, "IT'S A SHARK!"
The 150 lb. shark spinning and thrashing moved toward the front of the boat where it kept pulling the line no matter how hard Sarah tried to reel it in. With one last spin the shark yanked free bending a once curved hook into a straight line.
There was a split second of silence when the reality of what just happened set in. Andrew held a look of relief on his face happy he didn't have to deal with getting a Spinner Shark off the hook while Sarah and I simultaneously busted into laughter. The adrenaline was high and the laughing didn't stop for some time.
Fishing for Sharks
On the second day of the trip, we decided to catch bait which we would use later on in the evening to fish for sharks. The goal was to catch as many different types as possible before heading out for the bigger guys.
After catching about 6 to 7 different species we moved spots, and of course waited. It seemed like ages before anything happened when finally I got a bite. Reeling and reeling I was able to bring my first shark on board... A Bonnethead! Bonnethead Sharks are rather small, but man did it put up a fight!
Sarah was up next and to her delight caught a large Lemon Shark. It was amazing seeing it jump out of the water.
I was up again and found myself getting bite after bite, but the sharks were quickly freeing themselves from the line. After changing out hooks, I landed a Lemon Shark. Putting the butt of the pole into my hip I reeled, and reeled, and reeled until finally the shark was in sight. It was a good 5 footer!
Carefully, Andrew was able to get the hook out of its mouth and the shark was free to move along, but not without getting a picture first! The next day my poor hip was bruised like no other, but it was totally worth it.
The Grouper, The Sea Turtle, and The Tiger Shark
One day we decided to go further out to sea. It took some time as we weaved through little islands popping up here and there. Finally we made it to our destination. It was almost eerie peering out into the open water. Not a soul to see for miles.
We started off strong with Sarah and I catching grouper after grouper. Until I started feeling to current. Once I noticed it I started not feeling great with the sun beating down on me. That was taken away when Sarah reeled in something big. Unlike the other catches this was taking some time to bring to the surface.
When it did finally appear we were all very confused. There was a massive 60 lb. grouper and beside it a sea turtle! The sea turtle had followed the grouper to the surface, and hung out until the grouper was free. This incident was nothing the guys had ever seen before!
Then, Jason, who had been catching bait at the back of the boat, with a kiddie pole from Walmart, suddenly had a large bite. Somehow he had caught an 8ft. Tiger Shark! I don't know how the pole wasn't snapped in half as this thing swam back and forth. The guys knew better than to try and reel it in as the shark could bite off the line itself which it eventually did.
But now, because it knew we were fishing in the spot, the shark could get some free food. So there it stayed taking the line over and over again chasing away any potential of us catching anything else.
But that was okay as we decided to head to one of the islands before low tide kept us from getting back home. There we snorkeled, got sunburnt, and munched on snacks for the afternoon.
This was a trip of a lifetime and I'm so happy we were able to go. There is so much more that happened, but I hoped you enjoyed some of the highlights! Hopefully here in the next couple of years we will get to go again. Tell me in the comments below your favorite vacation you've been on, or your Go Big or Go Home moment!
If you're thinking about going on vacation check out my other vacation posts to see if it is something you might enjoy!
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