I recently returned from a trip to Daytona Beach in Volusia County. I was there attending the Florida Outdoor Writers Association conference which gives members the opportunity to research and explore an area of Florida for future communication ideas. I hadn’t been to Daytona since my brother graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University back in the early 80’s. He landed (no pun intended) a job here in Lee County with the Port Authority and my visits changed direction.
Daytona is probably best known for the Daytona International Speedway which hosts the official first NASCAR race of the season, the Daytona 500. A close second and third would be surfing and being able to drive a car on the beach, but I soon discovered there’s a lot more besides that to see and do.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse intrigued me a bit more than other new sites I visited, likely due to my time spent in the United States Coast Guard. The Guard has been responsible for the manning and care of most lighthouses in the U.S. since 1939. While in bootcamp Coasties are often threatened with assignment to the most remote lighthouse locations as punishment if you don’t toe the line. Knowing what I know now, I should have misbehaved.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest in the state of Florida, at 175 feet. It’s also the 3rd tallest in the United States. John Mann, lead docent at the lighthouse, said that its height is equal to a 17-story building. There are 203 steps that have to be negotiated to get to the top, and let me be the first to say, it’s not easy.
As Mr. Mann was giving his history dissertation of the lighthouse I kept looking up at it and wondering if I really had the stamina to climb to the top. I’ve been walking quite a bit, spending time in the garden on hands and knees and paddling a kayak for fishing. My fight with cancer has reached a point where I feel much better than I did just a year ago. However, 203 steps up? I wasn’t sure, but there was only one way to find out.
As I climbed the granite stairs to the door of the lighthouse there was a sign very similar to the ones posted at amusement park rides which mention things like good health, minimum height requirements and being free from heart, neck and back problems. Hmm. This sign also noted that there’s a landing every 21 steps where you can rest and/or let other climbers or descenders pass. Lastly, the sign did not recommend wearing flip-flops as climbing shoes. Guess what I was wearing?
Let the adventure begin.
On any spiral staircase the outside edge of the step is larger, so I made sure to stay there. On every landing after number three I took a short breather, along with other climbers. There was no shame among those of us that were a bit out of shape. The climb got tougher and tougher as I approached landing number six. Yes, I was counting stairs and landings.
Just as you feel like you might be able to pull this endeavor off, there’s a small historical sign next to one of windows. Its title is Death Of A Keeper. The guy in front of me, who was sweating profusely mumbled, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” No, no they weren’t. It was about the death of First Assistant Keeper Joseph Davis who died on this very spot in 1919 of a heart attack while climbing the stairs to light the lamp. Wonderful.
Just before I reached the top I felt a welcome breeze. I looked up to see where the breath of fresh air was coming from and there it was, the door to the circular platform that surrounds the top of the lighthouse. As I exited the stairs onto the platform I was greeted by other climbers with fist-bumps and high-fives. We made it! It was like we’d conquered Everest.
The view was worth it. I could see for miles in all directions and truly enjoyed sharing the experience of the climb with the others that had made it to the top. I snapped a few photos and then began the descent.
The trip down was a piece of cake.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM from 7-10 a.m. every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.
- Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1887 and located south of Daytona Beach, is 175 feet tall.
- Spiral staircase leading to the top of Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Photos by Rob Modys.