We breathe deeply, driving the long bridge from the mainland to St. George Island. A welcome change--pressures fading--rolls over us. Where the span arches over the ship channel we rubberneck to take in the barrier island's 30-mile sweep and the trip's first gander at the Gulf of Mexico.
Just on St. George, a compact district holds a handful of restaurants, stores for sundries, gifts, and fuel, and realty offices for vacation rentals. These will come in handy soon, but we breeze past them for now. We've arrived too early to claim our cottage for the week, so we turn east and head for the beach.
We find plenty of sand at St. George Island State Park with 9 miles of beach at isle's end. The park has campgrounds, nature trails, salt marshes, boardwalks, and bathhouses, but the best activity is staking out a stretch of sand for ourselves. Pull offs spaced along the road fit only a few cars each, scattering the population. Through breaks in the high dunes, we spot families flying kites, casting lines, building castles, donning snorkel gear, and resting in umbrella shade. Soon we see an empty pull off and spill out of the car, glad to be here.
Later we retreat with our first blushes of sunburn, pick up keys to our beach house, and haul luggage inside. Most of St. George remains uncrowded, with stilt-top homes fronting the water or standing one or two rows back. There's elbowroom and not a high-rise in sight.