Finding Balance at Fort Pickens, Florida

Since becoming a mom, I have struggled with balancing motherhood, marriage, work, and my own needs. The struggle has changed in some ways since we went fulltime, but it is definitely still there, in some ways more so. As an introvert, I love that our bubble is very small, but I also crave time to myself to reenergize and reset. Now, we have even less space to work with, more time together, and what feels like zero time or space for myself. So, when we were staying in Fort Pickens, I pounced on the opportunity to spend a morning by myself exploring the beach, trails, and fort.

In almost every place we have stayed, in order for me to get time to myself to work or just relax, Will ends up taking Little Bird on an adventure while I stay at the campground with Daisy and Cate (or I run errands and we call that me-time). While I love this time, when I am at the camper, I often feel the need to focus on work rather than actually taking time for myself. Because I usually get up early to work and work after Bird goes to bed, cramming work in when I have a day to myself leads to feeling burnt out by the end of the week.

Camping at Fort Pickens was different. The beach and fort were about a mile away from the campground with trails connecting everything, so I rode with Will and Bird to the beach, and while they went off to the left to go fishing, I went to the right to take a nice walk, finish my coffee (while it was hot!), explore the fort, and meander my way back to the camper on a beautiful trail. Only then did I allow myself to get out the laptop and get to work.

I started my solo adventure on the beach facing Pensacola Bay. There is just something so grounding about standing next to water and listening to the waves along the shore. After soaking in the water and sand, I made my way to what I can only describe as a seawall that follows the beach and presumably works to protect the fort from water and storm surges. The seawall stands about 4 feet above ground and is a couple of feet wide, which makes a perfect walking or running path (when we had visited the beach a few evenings before to watch the sunset, we saw lots of people taking advantage of this). I walked along the seawall toward the fort and thoroughly enjoyed the raised vantage point.

When I reached the end of the seawall, I made my way to the fort and serendipitously ended up at the beginning of the self-guided walking tour. This park, like others we have visited recently, did not have any maps or literature available due to COVID. There was clearly a brochure that should have accompanied my walk through the fort, based on the numbers I continued to encounter, but I gathered a lot of really interesting information from the placards along the way.

The walking tour led me through various rooms and all through the fort, including up to the base of one of the largest cannons, which offered amazing views of the surrounding bay and Gulf. The fort is situated right at the mouth of Pensacola Bay and was a very strategic location to fend off foreign invaders and also came into play during the Civil War. It is also where American Indians, including Geronimo, were held as they were being led from their native lands to reservations in Oklahoma. Because it has been used at different times through history, it is easy to see where renovations and upgrades have been made over time. I loved having the time to really look around and read the signs. I also loved that I was the only visitor in the entire fort. I saw 2 park rangers and a couple of guys who were doing some work at the fort, but other than that, I had the place entirely to myself. It was indulgent!

After meandering through the walking tour, I made my way to the trail that went back to the campground. The trail is the northern terminus of the Florida Birding Trail, which we encountered many times during our adventures through Florida. It was fun to be hiking at one end when we had been at the other end only a few weeks before.

The trail was beautiful, and it was refreshing to walk quietly and just listen to the birds and sounds around me. I was able to stop and observe a heron for a few minutes and have birds flutter past me on the trail. Because this was the first true hike I have been on by myself since before meeting Will, I was also on 100% high alert for snakes, alligators, spider webs, and anything else that might be out to get me. Again, I only saw 1 other person on the trail, and really enjoyed the 1.25-mile hike through the Florida wilderness with a quick visit to a battery along the way.

When I returned to the campground, I realized I was not quite ready to return (and get to work), so I made my way along the boardwalk to the beach facing the Gulf. I wandered along the beach for awhile, collecting shells and listening more to the waves along the shore. The potential for finding large shells on this beach is the highest I have encountered, as I found pieces that were as big as my palm. I would have simply died if I had found an intact shell as big as that would have been. Again, I only saw a few people scattered along the beach, and on my way back to the camper, I could not help feeling like God had truly given me the gift of aloneness on this short morning adventure.

While we enjoyed everything about our stay at Fort Pickens, this morning was something I truly needed for me. I am so blessed that Will and Bird have their own adventures (check out the video below about their fun day!) and that I was able to take advantage of this location that allowed us all to get out and explore. The history and beautiful white sand beaches made this park a place that is high on our must return to list, and I cannot recommend it enough if you are visiting the Pensacola area.

I also cannot emphasize how important, for me at least, it is to take a breather, take a step away from the every day, and take some time for myself. Finding balance as a mom is hard, especially in a pandemic, especially if you are working, especially if you live fulltime in a camper, especially if you are trying to keep hold of or remember who you are. It sometimes feels selfish, it sometimes requires staying up late or getting up early, and it sometimes requires missing out on some things, but, at least for me, taking that time allows me to be more present with my family and in my work and keeps my patience fuse burning just a little while longer, which really just makes everything better.

Here is to making more mornings like Fort Pickens and cultivating those feelings when getting away is difficult.

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