Saturday, February 12, 2011

Road Trip: Ft. Pickens

FINALLY, I had enough of being cooped up in the house all the time. I haven't gone anywhere but hospitals, doctors' offices, the pharmacy, drive-throughs, and convenience stores since all that fun back in July.

Every time I was ready to get out, something happened: my left knee in early December, weather and lack of money in January, my left foot, right knee, and right foot in quick succession a few weeks ago, all seemingly conspiring to keep me mewed up in my room, bored off my twig, watching "NCIS" reruns and wondering who would replace Keith Olbermann.

The X-11 took to the road with her usual purr and grumble, and my only complaint was all the too-low speed limits between home and fort (45 mph? Awwwwwww, maaaaaan!)

Unlike my last ride--The Homewrecker Tour--more than a year ago, no little plastic playhouses were killed. The only snag was a funeral procession headed east through Gulf Breeze, but once I nosed south toward Santa Rosa Island I didn't have to bother with them.

Most of the trees killed by the storm surge of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 are still there, still dead (imagine zombie trees...rooted in place), but the National Park still looks good.

Battery Langdon is closed up again, the big steel doors that covered the two gun casemates are back in place (they went back up 2 years ago). Ivan's storm surge smashed both of them into their casemates, then drove straight through the hallways behind and out the back doors.

I didn't stop there; this trip was for Pickens alone, since I had no idea how long my legs would hold up. That fort's pretty big--something like half a mile around the perimeter if I'm remembering right. Plenty of places for a worn-out person to sit and rest.

I brought three hardcover photo albums, thinking I'd be using them as guides for pictures to take, but I never even pulled one out of my backpack. I just looked at the fort instead. Plenty of things caught my eye, so I shot them with the FujiCam and moved along: the north-end rifle gallery, the outside of Bastion E and the north wall, then into the fort, my favorite place on the planet (aside from the driver's seat of the X-11). I lugged the deadweight backpack, snapped photos, moved along, resting when I couldn't go much further.

The National Park Service folks have put up new signage all over the fort--attractive, clearly-detailed compared to the blurriness of the old signs.

The slopes on the Gulf side of Battery Pensacola and the earth fill covering the wreckage of the south wall's collapsed arches have been cleaned up significantly. There used to be an impenetrable thicket of wild plum trees with thorns like toothpicks covering both slopes, but now it all looks like the previous president took a winter vacation to clear out the brush, just like back on the ranch--maybe trying to boost his book sales.

I didn't make the full tour; somehere along the arches of the southwest wall--more than halfway!--I decided I'd had enough. I sat on a bench for a while, building up the ambition to go the few hundred feet to the parking lot. The camera's card was almost full, my legs were tired, and it had been a good two hours of walking and enjoying the hell out of being somewhere I didn't have to be, let alone enjoying the fact that I walked as far as I had.

Once I got back to the car, I rested some more, chugged a Sunkist, rested a bit more, then decided that I needed to make one more visit.

The library/auditorium/museum building had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan, lifted partly off its pilings and its south wing broken loose. After the storm, the seawall that had been built around the fort and batteries at the end of the island contained several feet of seawater. Three-fifths of the library's contents were destroyed, computers in the Rangers' offices were ruined (lots of irreplaceable digital photos, gone).

The building was set back on new pilings, the broken wing re-set, and the rooms gutted. I hadn't seen it since July of '09, so I got a pleasant surprise: bright white paint, green trim, like a brand new building.

The museum was open (at least the doors were unlocked), but empty. Even that is an improvement: something needs to go in there.

Tired as hell.

But happy. That's what a road trip should always be like.

I even got to wind the car out a bit by getting up on I-110 and running north a few miles.

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