Port St. Joe: Salinas Park and Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach

Friday was our first beach day, and the decision was made to try out Salinas Park on Cape San Blas Road.

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Salinas Park caught our interest for several reasons:

1. It wasn’t too far from where we were staying in St. Joe.

2. It was free.

3. It’s dog friendly.

4. It’s where we were already scheduled to meet for Broke-A-Toe horseback riding on the beach that evening.

The county park was established in 1991, and it has bathroom and picnic facilities, but we didn’t come across any showers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any showers, but if there are, we didn’t find them.

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When we arrived Friday morning, we basically had the beach to ourselves. The sand was white-ish, but the water stayed shallow for quite a ways out. We spent most of the day lying on the beach, applying and then re-applying sunscreen, but not much time in the water.

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We also discovered the hidden dark side of Florida beaches — the biting flies! They came and went throughout the day, but when they bite, it HURTS!

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After finishing the sandwiches we’d made for lunch and all of the drinks we packed in the cooler, we decided to call it a day and headed back to the cars. Kelly and the Broke-A-Toe crew had already unloaded the horses for our 4:30 p.m. ride on the beach, so we enjoyed some shade while they finished saddling up.

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We had wondered whether or not we needed to pack pants and shoes for the riding, but due to county regulations the horses can’t go faster than a walk on the beach, so it’s a nice slow ride, perfect for beginners or people wearing swimsuits and flip-flops.

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One very special thing about the Broke-A-Toe horses is that several of them are rescued horses and older horses, and all of them were extremely sweet, especially compared to some of the ornery horses I’ve known.

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After a quick horse-steering demonstration, we headed back down to the beach to discover a pod of dolphins was frolicking less than 100 yards offshore. It was magical. Even the horses were watching the dolphins, and as we rode down the beach, the dolphins swam with us. My only regret was that I had a wide-angle lens on the camera because I had been planning to shoot our horseback riding experience, not offshore marine mammals, so the dolphins just look like specs in the photos. I should have brought a zoom.

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Our ride guides not only made sure no horse poop was left on the beach, but they also proved to be great photographers.

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The ride back up the beach went a little quicker than the ride down because the horses knew there were hay bags waiting for them at the trailer, but the entire ride was very relaxed and enjoyable.

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This really made a great post-beach pre-dinner activity, and it added a little something special to our day. Of course, they can’t guarantee dolphin frolicking every ride.

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I’m not much of a cyclist

In 2007 I was asked to spend a Saturday in La Grange, Texas photographing cyclists doing some sort of two-day charity ride from Houston to Austin. That was my first exposure to the BP MS 150, and the energy and atmosphere was overwhelming. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was 12, but right then and there I pledged to ride in 2008.

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I bought a bike, I trained, and I rode the 187 miles from Houston to Austin. That year I raised $660 for the National MS Society.

Despite swearing that I’d never put myself through that misery again, in 2009 I found myself back on the bike.

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That year I raised $850 for the National MS Society.

In 2010 I’d had enough riding. I sold my bike, and I took over as Team Captain and organizer for the Technip MS 150 Team. For the past five years the BP MS 150 hasn’t just been a charity event, it’s been MY charity event.

I was content to organize for a couple years, but as you sit in the team tent and congratulate the riders for besting the challenge, you just want to be out there, so in 2013 insanity struck again. I bought another bike and made another ride, although this time my back and my legs weren’t holding up as well even though I did the shorter express route, which was only 167 miles.

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I was supposed to ride again in 2014, but I was introduced to sailboat racing that year with the GBCA Icicle Series, which took place the same weekends I should have been training for the ride. Then I ended up in London for work the entire week of the event, so Mary and I just volunteered.

However, this year I was determined to ride again! I raised $1025 for the National MS Society this year, the best fund raising I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, that was offset by failing to train … at all … whatsoever. The week before the event I finally pulled my bike out of the garage and aired up the tires. I managed to squeeze in a total of three hour-long sessions on the stationary trainer before D-Day hit.

Sailing has some very good health benefits. The constant motion of the boat does strengthen your core and help your balance. Pulling lines and raising the anchor does work the arms, shoulders, back and legs. However, I can say with 100 percent certainty that sailing every weekend is not appropriate training for a 100+ mile bike ride.

When the thunderstorms hit and the La Grange fairgrounds flooded canceling Day 1 of the ride, I don’t think I was the only rider feeling relieved. Day 1 is the 100-mile portion, and while the logistics of getting my 90 riders to La Grange Sunday morning were daunting, it wasn’t as scary as that 100-mile ride.

I spent Saturday morning picking up trash at the spring Adopt-A-Beach Clean Up, and I spent Saturday evening carbo-loading. Sunday morning we were up at 4 a.m. and headed to the office to get the volunteers set up for rider check-in.

By 7:30 a.m. the riders and I were in La Grange and lining up for the start of the 67-mile ride from La Grange to Austin.

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My group finally rolled out at ten till 9. By 9:30 I was really wishing I had done some training.

By noon I was ready to die, but I kept on pedaling. In previous years I had been able to skip rest stops to save time. Not this year. I made full use of every break point the volunteers provided.

Not until 6 p.m. did I finally roll into the Austin city limits, feeling terrible that I had told Mary I’d finish by 4 p.m. at the latest. It was almost 6:30 p.m. when I finally reached the finish line, but there was Mary, still waiting for me with the camera in hand.

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I felt a vindication as I crossed the finish line. Something along the lines of, hey, you’ve still got the willpower to push through this kind of challenge. I’m also very proud that my team has now raised more than $63,000 for the National MS Society this year.

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However, the experience was a wake up call. I can’t let myself fall out of shape again doing nothing but sitting on a boat drinking beer every weekend. There’s a new fitness program being implemented aboard Gimme Shelter.

I’m not sure if any of my co-workers and donors read the blog, but thank you to all the riders, our two riders that volunteered as ride marshals, all the volunteers who supported the riders, and all of our donors.

I think I’m through with cycling. I’m really tempted to sell the road bike and buy two folding bikes for the boat — but you never know. Whether riding or not, I’ll be there supporting the MS Society in 2016.