Have you been camping with 75 of your favorite friends and relatives lately?
Mother’s Day at Ginnie Springs is a family tradition, one we’ve been carrying on for around 13 or so years. Every 2nd weekend in May, our crowd of campers gathers for a few days of grilling & chilling at one of Florida’s best natural attractions, a privately owned site featuring 7 freshwater springs that gush hundreds of millions of 72-degree water into the Santa Fe River every day.
This year was our biggest group ever, with somewhere between 75 and 100 friends, cousins, parents, in-laws, former prom dates and people I haven’t seen since high school. Parents with babies and toddlers and kiddos, lifelong bachelors, party animals, shy gals, singers and songwriters and all manner of musicians, men with very serious beards… and a few random idiots.
All-in-all, it was a really fun mix of folks.
For the first time in all these years, I arrived on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised at how quiet & peaceful Ginnie can be midweek. It was a nice change from the hubbub of the Friday-Sunday crowd.
Last year at Ginnie I was sidelined with a wretched case of strep throat, so it was so much more fun to be there free of the fever and pain this time. (Though I did discover a bit of food poisoning or a stomach bug on the last night. Always fun to deal with that IN THE WOODS.)
The Santa Fe River was flooded and black for the 2nd year in a row – a total bummer, because I love to snorkel in the usually crystal clear water. The springs were clear and cold though, except for Twin Spring where we always camp, so there was still lots of snorkeling and underwater photo-snapping to do.
And just because the river is flooded doesn’t mean you can’t do the tube run! It’s a must.
While I’ve never been myself, Ginnie’s freshwater cave system is world renowned for scuba diving. One of these days I will get down there to check out the cave entrances, but I strongly doubt I’ll pursue the certifications needed to go way back into the system. That’s some serious stuff and I’m just not keen on the darkness!
So, lots of folks asked me what I pack for Ginnie Springs after my post last year. I was fortunate to have a ton of new camping gear for this trip, courtesy of Blacks and Millets, two UK-based sites featuring gear for campers, adventurers and athletes.
As always, I packed SO MUCH. Coolers and candles and lanterns and sleeping bags and air mattresses and chairs and about 40 pounds of meat and clothes and electronics and TWO new tents from Milletts.
I ordered a ton of goodies, hoping to have the most comfortable and magnificent campsite of all. It was pretty darn good, I must say. I chose the Buckingham 6-man tent from Milletts because it sure sounded like a palace — and it was. It took me 90 minutes to set up though, so I decided I might bring it out only on special occasions.
It was tall enough to stand up in, which is always pleasant, and there were cool storage options inside, too. I liked how it has three separate rooms and was incredibly spacious, but really didn’t like how the floor is not attached to the outer layer. A possum nearly crawled inside one night – and I have no idea what else I was sharing sleep space with, ya know what I mean? With all the flooding in the area, I could’ve been snoozing with a snake!
One of our kid campers tested out my red pop-up tent, and he loved it. After spending 90 minutes fiddling with Buckingham Tent Palace, it was a blessed relief to just unfold that one and not have to stake it down. What a treat!
While I ordered my tents and Quantum 2-season sleeping bag (which I loved so much I want to use it on my bed!) from Blacks, I used Milletts for just about all my smaller camping items – lanterns, storage containers, first aid kits, camp towels, etc. I tried out a really neat Coleman cooler that you can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter and a solar iPhone charger. (Unfortunately it was for an older model of iPhone than the one I use, but others in my group were able to get some use out of it. I definitely want to invest in more solar gadgets like that for future trips!)
Thanks to Blacks & Milletts, I had the best campout situation imaginable. I was comfy, I had a huge space all to myself and I had plenty of lights to guide me on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
By Saturday, we had filled up our reserved Twin Spring area with friends and family. (I totally had the best tent though!)
We had quite a few local visitors to our campsite – turtles, friendly dragonflies, possums, nosy armadillos, herons, chatty raccoons and some hardcore ninja squirrels — those sticky-fingered little thieves ripped off with quite a few snacks.
That’s another Orthapalooza in the books. Let me know if you want to join us next year!
For more information on Ginnie Springs, check out my recent article in Jacksonville Magazine.