Worthington couple, wintering in Florida, share story of paradise lost to Hurricane Ian

Doug and Linda Bakkene of Worthington have spent their winters in Florida since 2020. Their paradise, however, was destroyed by Hurricane Ian's force last September.

Little remains
When Doug and Linda Bakkene visited their rental property in Florida late last fall, they were able to salvage some of what they left behind. Hurricane Ian left in its wake a disaster area.
Photo contributed by Douglas Bakkene

FORT MYERS, Florida — Looters had an open pathway into our Fort Myers Beach rental property. The 1970s-era double-wide trailer was open to the elements as well as to those who choose to take from them. And we received word that looting was definitely taking place. Days had passed since Hurricane Ian struck when we were finally able to see drone footage of our 550-unit community on Facebook.

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We could pick out a blurry image of our rental that seemingly showed it to be intact. We didn’t know it yet, but our winter escape in the Sunshine State was destroyed beyond a level we couldn’t imagine; even though it was still standing.

When news was broadcast that Hurricane Ian’s predicted path had shifted to a landfall near Fort Myers, Florida, I didn’t gasp. Nor did I grasp that our snowbird get-a-way on a canal in the “Bayside” community, inland off the beach, could possibly become uninhabitable. Even as we watched live-action camera feed showing beach-front flooding, it still didn’t fully register that our exclusive rental, two miles away, might possibly be in peril.

My wife, Linda, retired at the end of 2019 after nearly 40 years as a Nobles County social worker. A sun-soaked winter reset was in our plans. The humid beaches of Florida pulled at us harder than the dry desert of Arizona, even though Linda’s parents had chosen that climate when they became snowbirds. We had last visited them there in 1992 and knew things had changed dramatically in the Phoenix area since then. My two siblings owned Florida property, and that had a direct effect on our ultimate decision.

Through my sister and Okoboji friends of hers, we were given a phone number to a Grand Rapids, Minnesota landlord regarding a possible place to rent in Bayside. My sister, Darci Walters, was only two miles farther inland from there, just beyond where the FMB zip code ended.


The bikes
Douglas and Linda Bakkene's collection of bikes remained in storage, though the roof was pulled from the building. The bikes were repaired and are back in use.
Photo contributed by Douglas Bakkene

Ironically, the landlord’s last name was Myers. He had recently bought the property from the original elderly owners and did an extensive make-over of the place. His main interest in owning the space was canal access. He and his wife, both considerably younger than us, were avid boaters in Minnesota and Florida. Most of the rehab was spent on maximizing the dock and boat slip area behind the house. Paving stone for the front parking area extended along one side of the building all the way down to the dock, creating a great patio area. Indoors, new tile flooring and a repaint of all the walls in light gray was deemed sufficient.

Our first season of 2020 proved to be memorable; and it wasn’t just because of COVID-19. We stayed for three months, and Myers wanted us back, but hoped for a longer stay. We agreed to rent for four months for the 2021 season, and he allowed us to leave behind any items we wished, as he didn’t plan on renting the place during the off-season. We were beside ourselves with joy.

One of the first things we did upon our arrival in Florida was to find bikes to ride. Knowing we had a secure indoor place to leave things behind was a blessing. My Mongoose stat 29er, purchased from a young individual moving back to the Midwest, was my trophy ride. It had been barely ridden by the young professional from Chicago.

I loved exploring the Fort Myers/Sanibel Island area, and there was an extensive system of trails and biker-friendly sidewalks. The very popular tourist destination known as the Edison/Ford Estates near downtown Fort Myers was on my two-hour plus journey.

During the 2021-22 season, I acquired two more bikes — saved from the scrapheap and restored. One was a 1985 Peugeot road racer. I couldn’t believe how nice it turned out considering I had only paid $5 for it. All four bikes were safely stored in the enclosed “Florida” room just off the canal when we drove home in the spring of 2022. Two days before we left, I purchased a high-rise handlebar for the pink Schwinn Roxie beach cruiser. I looked forward to transforming it upon my return.

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Hurricane Ian obviously had other plans. The Bayside Facebook site revealed to us just how bad things were. Pictures and survival (and death) stories surfaced. One picture, taken during the storm by someone who stayed, showed one of our community’s streets flooded to such an extent that a home in the background was halfway covered by water. That was a real eye-opener. We knew the flood surge had likely breached our rental as well.

I texted our landlord and asked how much he had heard about the damage down there. He let us know he was heading down soon in his RV and would contact us after he had assessed the situation. Besides the rental property, the landlord had two trailers full of personal belongings at the RV resort that he was concerned about.

Evidently his despair was so great that he didn’t even contact us before he began the long drive back to northern Minnesota. When I couldn’t stand the wait any longer and finally called him, he was already on his way home. Our conversation was so brief that I didn’t get to ask about specific items we had left behind on shelves high off the floor. I still didn’t know how deep the water had gotten inside the house. But we knew we sure weren’t going to be spending the winter in the Bayside paradise we had come to love.


The scramble to find alternative housing had to begin. Or did we give up on our snowbird dreams and stay in Worthington for the winter? We gave serious consideration to that possibility. But then our next conversations would find us exclaiming that we weren’t going to give up! Arizona was considered, but eventually dropped as a possible destination. Florida had too much of a tug on us.

Besides, I reasoned, we had to make a trip to Fort Myers to see if we could rescue any of our goods left behind. I couldn’t see myself just walking away from the bikes if there was any chance I could save them. Linda reminded me that everything we left behind had been purchased for less than several hundred dollars. Still, I silently knew I had to find out for myself.

Linda’s concerted efforts on the computer resulted in our finding a bungalow in Sarasota to rent for five months, our longest stay yet. Two days after arriving, we headed 90 miles south to get our first glimpse of the devastation a category 4 hurricane can deliver.

The route to Bayside takes you past the Minnesota Twins’ spring training site. Huge piles of vegetation littered the roadside there and everywhere it seemed. Six weeks had passed since the hurricane, and it appeared no clean-up had even begun. We were in awe at the landscape changes that had taken place, having become quite familiar with what it usually looked like.

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Pulling into the Bayside entrance off of Pine Ridge Road was surreal. No matter how we had talked about being prepared for seeing the very worst, it still came as quite a shock.

A large open lot next to the office management building was piled 20 feet high with people’s belongings, furniture, building debris and more, still waiting to be hauled away. We slowly continued down Stevens Boulevard — our street.

“You loot, we shoot” greeted us as we approached our driveway. That message was hastily spray-painted on a large piece of plywood nailed to a nearby surviving palm tree. I already knew our bikes were still inside the back room — and that the room’s roof was partially torn away.

I backed our Buick into the driveway as far as I could, but I was barely off the street. When the water had receded, flood debris was left behind and I could see our landlord hadn’t spent any time cleaning up while he had been there.


Getting out of the LeSabre, I picked up a “For Sale” sign that I recognized as having been posted on a vacant lot property along the canals in an adjacent community where I had biked. That vacant lot was one of very few available nearby, but as damaged units are torn down, many more will soon be coming available. A few brave and resourceful individuals gutted homes down to the studs to start over.

Despite being totally covered by four and a half feet of flood waters — and looking for all-the-world not worthy of saving — my Mongoose was saved. And for a second time, the Peugeot was restored as well. I consider them my Christmas gifts.

A second trip to Bayside was made and we recovered numerous useful items. It now feels like home in Sarasota and this will be a long-term solution for escaping the Minnesota winters.

One question remains unasked and perhaps never will be — are we entitled to a refund of our damage deposit?

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