As I drove away from South Carolina's sea islands, I found myself saying aloud, "If I ever get to heaven, I hope it's a little bit like Kiawah."
It wasn't the golf. I don't play, but I respect the five courses created by master designers, the toughest of which — Pete Dye's Ocean Course — will host the 2012 PGA Championship. In our villa overlooking Jack Nicklaus' Turtle Point course, we could smile at a foursome fudging the rules to hurry their game at dusk. Don't like the ball's position? Nudge it with your foot.
No, the mud was our ticket to heaven. And the bicycles. And the 10 miles of beaches, of course.
My daughter, who just graduated from USC, was a 7-year-old beginning cyclist. On the protected paths at Kiawah, she went from a worried wobbler to a confident smiler.
My son, then 9, got an ecology lesson with me when we paddled to a marshy inlet on a warm summer day and got out of our canoes to wait for dolphins.
The naturalist warned us about the soft ground. "That doesn't matter," said the first canoeist who sank in muck to the top of his shoes. The rest of us, barefoot, discovered that pluff mud has that name because "pluff" is the sound it makes when you lift your foot.
The naturalist dug in to his elbow to grab a quahog. His legs were slathered to the hips. My son sank so deep he couldn't move, but how could I grouse? I was up to my knees. We washed off most of the muck before we got back in the canoes, knowing that showers at the put-in would remove the rest.
And the dolphins didn't disappoint. They swam right past us in another catch-your-breath moment.
But the thing that put Kiawah over the top for me was where it came in a trip — at the end of a tiring 10 days on the road — and the fact that family met me there. The joy of reuniting made it seem that, for a little while, all was right with the world. And that's beautiful no matter where you are.
Calos works for the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch and was its travel writer from 1992 to 2008.