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Turning a long day into a solstice celebration

Turning a long day into a solstice celebration

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

But it’s got nothing to do with Santa, Rudolph or stuffed stockings.

Rather, for those lucky enough to spend time in Southwest Florida, it’s an annual sun-drenched celebration known as the summer solstice.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac defines the solstice as the mid-June instant in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun reaches its highest and northernmost points, conveniently making the calendar day on which it occurs the one with the most sunlight time out of all 365 days in a given year.

Here in Captiva on June 21, that meant a cool 13 hours, 48 minutes and 21 seconds.

And for your favorite Tween Waters Inn adventurer, it meant a corresponding agenda stretching from 6:36 a.m. clear through to 8:24 p.m.

Of course, given the complement of activities available via the resort and its island partners, the prospect of finding enough solstice things to do was far less daunting than the specter of finding the energy necessary to actually do them all from early in the morning to the middle of the evening.

Oh well, it’s a sweaty job… but someone’s got to do it.

Seizing the island’s pre-dawn serenity, I began the gauntlet with a stand-up paddleboard jaunt across the gulf – which simultaneously allowed unique perspective to a Thursday sunrise and discovery that while they’re not quite kayaks, the water-skimming crafts are bigger than surfboards and remain stable enough to stay afloat under the haphazard captaincy of a bleary-eyed New York-born 49-year-old.

Kneeling and paddling were a relative cinch, and, though my wobbly transition to standing won’t earn me a spot on anyone’s SUP fantasy team, the idea that I did so without becoming a shark’s breakfast was a huge moral victory. So long as you keep your feet spaced and your weight distributed, the rest, for a newbie, is pretty much academic. Simply put, staying steady equals staying dry.

(More info on rental rates, which go from $30 for an hour to $150 for five to seven days, is here)

Upon successfully surviving the gulf, the scene shifted to the resort’s east side where paddle gave way to oar for a two-hour mangrove kayak tour led by Adventure Sea Kayak and SUP. The trek takes participants across Roosevelt Channel and onto a water trail cutting through Buck Key, and it provides a chance to interact with manatees, dolphins, herons, egrets, anhinga, cormorants, ospreys and otters.

I shared a solstice trip with five TWI guests from four states and emerged with a primary takeaway:

Trying to get a perfect shot of a majestically surfacing manatee is practically impossible for a middle-aged guy wedged into a kayak and armed with only an obsolete cell phone to document the interaction, and the graceful sea cows seem to know exactly when to appear while you’re still fumbling through your access code, and precisely when to submerge just as you’ve lined up the perfect shot.

It was frustrating enough to make a guy crave seafood.

And fortunately, the Oasis Pool Bar was there to indulge.

It only took a few dozen steps to get from beached kayak to pool-side table, where a perfectly charbroiled gulf grouper sandwich ($14) provided a taste of revenge and a nicely chilled three-rum punch ($12.50) dulled the burgeoning soreness erupting from kayak and paddleboard taxed joints.

A relaxing mid-afternoon bike ride seemed the perfect follow-up to a casual midday lunch, and the quest for mild exertion amid world-class visuals began at the marina, where a full complement of non-geared bikes is available for rental by resort guests. Rates start at $15 for the first two-and-a-half hours and $5 per hour thereafter, an outlay which provides instant access to a fleet of ready-to-roll machines.

A leisurely pedal took me past fishermen on the Blind Pass bridge, alongside white egrets strolling the fence line at the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge and face to face with a gopher tortoise happily munching grass while cars whizzed past just feet away. The refuge’s parking lot was a pit stop prior to a tail-winded return trip and the jaunt was capped by a visit to the beach across Captiva Drive from the resort.

It had already been everything a sun-worshipping blog jockey could want.

But after paddleboards, kayaks and bicycles… something was still conspicuous by its absence.

Speed.

Feeling the need for a buried speedometer, I headed straight down Captiva Drive, took a quick left onto Andy Rosse Drive and sidled up to the desk at YOLO Watersports, where a fleet of WaveRunners — Yamaha’s proprietary label for the crotch rockets capable of up to 50 mph alongside dolphins, tarpon and whatever else that may sidle up — is available for rental in 30- and 60-minute increments.

Rentals run from $90 for the half-hour to $120 for a full (per machine, not per person) and as many as three people can pile on, provided the combined weight doesn’t exceed 450 pounds and the driver is at least 16. The ride area spans a mile-and-a-half along the coast and up to two miles offshore, and that’s aside from guided tours which take riders up to and around Cayo Costa before returning to home turf.

For the record, my late-arriving 10-year-old son likened my driving to “an old grandmother.”

Still, I prefer to think of it not as slow, but deliberate.

Anyway, the sound and feel of sea breezes reignited the collective appetite and sent our little crew – now augmented by the aforementioned son and my perpetually patient wife – back to our favorite resort dinner haunt, The Crow’s Nest Bar and Grille.

We dug into a pair of garden burgers and a serving of pasta primavera and dropped a couple bucks on the Captiva Crab Races while intermittently glancing out the window to make sure we’d not miss the marathon day’s final act, a sunset stroll on the beach with our resort newbie Dalmatian, Elsa.

The sluggishness of our crustacean ensured an on-time departure, and we kicked off our sandals at 8:19 p.m. – precisely five minutes before the glowing orb disappeared and began the stretch of 183 progressively sun-shortened days until winter formally arrives in the form of a 10-hour, 28-minute, 33-second solstice encore on Dec. 21.

It’s a little sad to realize it’ll be six months until days start lengthening again.

So long as the paddleboard doesn’t require chains and snow tires, though… I think I’ll manage.

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