The 2010 Sweetwater Kayak Symposium was a rousing success. With people coming together from all over the state and country to paddle and have a good time.
The last three days have kept me busy from early morning till the wee hours as much as I wanted to get on my computer and share what was going on, I couldn’t keep my eyes open at the end of the day long enough to get anything posted.
The 2010 Sweetwater Kayak Symposium was a rousing success. With people coming together from all over the state and country to paddle and have a good time.
On Friday people started to arrive from all over the state some were taking classes that day while others simply came in a day early to get settled in. While the coaches and students went out on the water the rest of the staff and volunteers put on the finishing touches for symposium preparations. I came over to help out in whatever way I could be it filling in on a class, moving boats, or hanging banners. I explained to Russell that I was up for anything even washing dishes if that’s what needed to be done. Apparently he took that sentiment to heart when he found me and asked if I’d mind fixing the toilet in the store that picked this busy weekend to give him trouble. A quick run to Lowes for a new flush valve and a few good pulls with a plunger solved the problem. Afterward I helped out with a few more things then found a quiet corner to put the finishing touches on my slide show.
The Bananna Boat Bar next door to the shop was the selected venue for end of the day off the water festivities. We feasted on Lasagna and afterward fired up the projector to share some of our adventures. First up was Kirsten (wife of famous Nigel Foster) who shared her artist’s perspective of many of the exotic paddling destinations she and Nigel have paddled. Afterward I took the stage and told a few of the many stories and showed a bunch of the pictures from the trip so far. Being my first ever slide show I was worried that I’d bore the audience. I did run a bit longer than I’d planned but the show seemed to be well received. What was great for me to see several of the people I’d met and stayed with along the route in attendance at the slide show. It truly is a small community in the paddling world after all.
The weather was a challenge when things got started on Saturday morning with rain and wind pushing people into dry suits and whatever other gear they could find to stay dry and warm. I dodged the rain while working in a storage building trying to diagnose and fix a mystery leak in the rear hatch in a kayak. By the time lunch was laid out the skies parted and it turned into a beautiful sunny day. Having not been on the water for a few days I jumped at the chance to go out for a short jaunt on a stand up board. I’d only ever done standup in San Diego in relatively deep water. Here in the shallow mangrove channels there was a never ending array of fish and bottom features that you can’t see while seated in a kayak but can while standing on a board. It made a quick run through familiar terrain seem like a completely new experience. I also took advantage of a quiet moment to demo a kit built skin on frame kayak that was a fun boat to paddle.
My boat repairs on Saturday didn’t solve the problem so on Sunday I took the kayak in question out in the sun where I could take a closer look and I believe I found the source of the problem. While I worked on that boat I took advantage of the warm dry day and laid my Ikkuma out on the kayak stands to do some work on that boat as well. Over the last couple months of travel I’d begun to drag thin spots on the keel strip so I laid on an additional layer to further protect the hull from further damage. Later in the day as things started to wind down we began the process of wrapping things up and saying farewell to friends as they loaded their boats and headed home.
I fear that these many days off the water may bore the readers of this blog but it's all part of the story so why not share it. Today, with the truck I borrowed from Neil, I drove from Fort Lauderdale back across the state to St. Petersburg where the Sweetwater Kayak Symposium is being held. I had planned on attending the event ever since the earliest planning stages of this trip. I thought early on that it’d be a great way to connect with paddlers from all around the state in one place. The symposium is put on by my friend Russell Farrow and is bringing in some of the biggest names in kayak instruction in the country. A list of people, because of my time at Aqua Adventures in San Diego, whom I consider good friends. The roster also includes Jen Kleck so the chance to see her again made the event something I wouldn‘t have missed for the world.
I always thought the symposium would be a great place to connect with paddlers from the area which is one of the things I hoped to do with this trip. For anybody that has never attended an event like this I highly recommend it. Aside from the great instruction you can get, the opportunity to meet and network with paddlers from all around the country is amazing. I've attended and worked at many symposiums over the last several years and each one has been a great time. The coaches and schedule have been sorted out I'm slated to share my slide show with folks Friday night. Beyond that I'm here to be plugged into whatever hole needs to be filled. After helping Jen Kleck run the Southwest Kayak Symposium out in San Diego for the last couple years I know how every bit of help you can find is appreciated.
For someone working (or volunteering) on the inside, the intensity around one of these events can be compared to a wedding. The organizer(s) are like the bride and groom putting on the show, they’re the center of attention but not the only reason people have come. The coaches are like the wedding party, they’re here to support the organizers and do a job to make sure the task at hand is accomplished. They’re here mainly for the big show of course but also (because they’re normally good friends) they help a lot with the final set up and execution of the event. The students are like the wedding guests, they are what the whole event is about. The fact that so many are good friends of the event organizers it really does seem like a wedding when everyone arrives and things get rolling. Not being on the actual coach roster and also not being a guest, I guess you could compare my role this time to the busy-body cousin that’s just there to help out… and get free beer at the reception.
Anybody that has put on a big wedding can appreciate the amount of work that goes into something like this. A date must be chosen, a venue found, coaches selected, plane tickets purchased, invitations sent out (advertising), you have to help people find places to stay, people must be fed before during and after the event… you get the idea. Financially the event is usually barely a break even affair for the organizer, and you could wonder if it’s worth all the stress and work. However, the fact that it is so much fun to see everyone year after year and provide a venue for students and coaches to interact makes it all worthwhile. I for one, can’t wait to get back to San Diego at the end of March to help out with the Southwest Kayak Symposium once again. It’s going to be great to see all my friends out west all in one place for what is always a fun weekend.
Today was another day off the water to be spent organizing gear and such before heading back over to St. Petersburg for the Sweetwater kayak symposium. My young friend Adam has been talking about my trip with his pre-school teacher so she invited me to come in and do a short presentation for the kids. Not sure exactly what I was getting into, but always up for something new, I figured I'd give it a go.
Never thought I'd see by boat in church
At 9:00 this morning I moved my boat and paddling gear into the pre-school chapel and after all the kids in the pre-school were assembled and the normal business was attended to I tried to explain my trip and gear to the children ranging in age from three to five years.
As much as I tried to bring it to their level, I fear that the long distances and logistics of a trip like mine were lost on children so young. However, the highlight of the morning came when the kids got a chance to sit in the boat and play with some of my gear.
Start: 7:15 AM- Virginia Key, FL (Miami)
Finish: 4:30 PM - Dania, FL (Jake’s old apartment)
Daily dist: 28 miles
Total dist: 2221 miles
Companions: Graceland the puppet
Weather: Partly cloudy, calm, high 70’s (perfect South Florida)
Notes: This was a neat paddle for me through the same waters where I started kayaking 10 years ago.
After writing off paddling over the weekend, the plan was hatched to ride down to the office with Neil today and while Neil put in an eight hour day of work, I’d put in an eight hour day of paddling. When I launched into the glassy smooth morning water with a glorious day of weather predicted I know it wouldn’t have been hard to get Neil to trade places. Considering the mess I know I’d make of the NOAA fisheries data he works with I thought better of making that suggestion and stuck with paddling instead.
As I came down the west coast of Florida over the last few weeks many people e-mailed wondering what would come of me as I paddled through the big city of Miami. In their minds the area is nothing more than a scary crime ridden black hole. The city does have it’s rough side but it is most definitely not on the water. Paddling in Miami (and South Florida in general) is a very pleasant experience. The water is generally calm and clear, the boat traffic is tolerable, there are a thousand routes you can take on the hundreds of miles of canals, and there is a lot to see along the way ranging from wildlife such as manatees, and dolphins, to huge condos, mega yachts, and waterside mansions.
You may have learned from my recent posts that the friends I’m staying with have a five year old son named Adam. Adam has been wondering when I was going to finally mention that I was going to his house in my blog. Adam lives a couple miles inland so I can’t quite paddle all the way to his house. His uncle Paul however, does live right on the water (in the same apartment we shared when I lived down here) so that became my destination for the day.
The big surprise was the fact that today, after spending three weeks riding in steerage with a fuel canister as a pillow, Graceland the puppet got an upgrade to a first class seat on the deck of my boat for the day long ride to his new home with Adam. You may remember that Graceland (named after the answer I gave to win him at the weekly trivia contest at Two Al’s Restaurant) is the puppet that joined me on this adventure over 600 miles back in Carrabelle, FL.
Today Graceland got to see some of the many things there are to see on the water between Adam’s parent’s office on Virginia Key and his uncle Paul’s house in Dania. Much of this blog written for five year old Adam to learn about what Graceland saw along the way.
After saying good by to Adam’s dad at his office, Graceland rode with me into the morning calm north around the island to the Port of Miami. There were no ships in just then, but we got a good look at the huge cargo cranes that unload the freighters that come into port.
A big Coast Guard cutter
Just around the corner from the shipping port is the headquarters for the US Coast Guard. Graceland and I were going to take a shortcut past their docks but we were quickly approached by guards in a patrol boat that politely suggested that we go the long way around.
In South Florida the Intracoastal Water Way winds through the interconnected bays inside the outer islands that lie a half mile or less from the main land. The water in some of the bays can often be quite shallow so it’s important to follow the navigation aids to stay in the boat channel. Graceland got a good look at many of those red and green channel markers today.
There are lots of draw bridges along the channel that raise to let sailboats and other tall boats to go past. Graceland got a chance to watch one go up to let a construction barge come through.
About half way through the day Graceland and I took a side trip to Oleta State Park. The park is an island of “nature” in a sea of city. In the park you’ll find a maze of great mountain bike trails wrapped around an equally interesting network of water channels winding through the mangroves. It was one of my favorite places to paddle when I was living in the area and it was fun to see it again.
The real reason for the quick side trip, however, was to check out the new rental/retail facility for Blue Moon Outdoor Center that is run by my friend Colleen Guido. I got my start in kayak guiding with Colleen’s fledgling Full Moon Kayak Company over eight years ago. Operating with a simple trailer full of about a dozen kayaks, we mostly did evening tours around the Las Olas Islands area in Fort Lauderdale with a few day trips to Oleta and other interesting and beginner friendly local spots. Colleen is a dynamo and I’m very impressed at where she has taken the business. The operation now has dozens of kayaks and canoes doing lessons, rentals, and tours in Oleta along with mountain bike rentals for the bike trails. Her new facility (on which the finish carpenters were still putting the finishing touches) is incredible and is sure to become a focal point in the park. Colleen wasn’t in when I arrived but I did hang out long enough to meet her crew and distract them from work long enough to sign my boat and pose for a group photo.
On the way back out to the main channel Graceland and I discovered a raccoon along the bank foraging amongst the roots of the mangrove plants.
Oleta is a special place and is a nice break from the city paddling that exists in the area. Much of the time today I paddled past towering condo buildings and hotels. It’s all interesting in it’s own way and there is never a loss for something to see.
A few hours north of Oleta I finally turned west off the Intracoastal waterway that I was following much of the day up the Dania Cutoff canal. The canal extends all the way out into the Everglades (now pushed over 40 miles away by city) and the first several miles are lined with finger canals, that jut off like side streets, that are lined with apartments, homes, and businesses. It’s this sort of network of finger canals that gave Fort Lauderdale (just north of Dania) the nick name “The Venice of America”. When I moved to Florida ten years ago I was lucky enough to have an apartment that was adjacent to one of those finger canals. To add still more to the luck, my apartment was a one story affair with a long straight wall just inside the front door which allowed me to get a full sized kayak in without any fuss. To go for a paddle all I had to do was take my kayak off the rack in the living room, pull it right out the front door, walk 30 steps to the water, lower it in, and go on my way. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was so easy for me, I’m not sure I would have gotten into kayaking as much as I did.
When I first started planning this trip seven years ago I was living in that apartment and it was a dream of mine to be able to paddle from my home up in Wisconsin all the way to my place in Florida. Today that dream became a spooky reality as I turned the corner off the Dania canal and paddled up to my old apartment. My friend Paul (Adam‘s uncle), and roommate at the time, is still living in the same place so Graceland the puppet and I got to share the novelty of linking two important places together. He linked Adam’s parent’s workplace to his uncle Paul’s house and I linked my home in Wisconsin to my old place in Florida.
When I woke to the sound of rain blowing against the side of the house my first thought was "well it's going to be a rough wet day on the water". However, before I got ready and joined Neil on the drive down to work in Miami where I had left my boat, I turned on the weather channel to discover that while today's weather is dismal, tomorrows weather will be absolutely perfect. So why not wait a day and enjoy the 28 mile run I plan to do up to my old apartment in Dania. I had a slide show to tune up and e-mails to catch up on, so instead of slogging into the wind and rain I put my feet up and sorted pictures all day.
Don't miss the recap of days 74-76 below this post. I added a bunch of great pictures and a video of the end of the Gulf and start of the Atlantic Coast sections of this trip.
After a long hard push from St. Petersburg (near Tampa) to Miami I am finally with my friends in South Florida. Everybody I’ve crossed paths with over the last two weeks has heard all about how excited I was to get here. It is here that I moved after college and got my start in kayaking and I couldn‘t wait to be in my old stomping grounds with great old friends.
I was also looking forward to making it here because it would mark the end of the Gulf Coast and beginning of the Atlantic Coast legs of this trip. What was more motivational still was the fact that here is where I plan to “base camp” while I deliberately slow down the pace of this trip while waiting for the weather to warm up north. If I continued on at the pace I’m going I’d be right back into Atlantic cold and storms way too early in the season. Over the next month I’ll be resting, and trying to put 15-20 pounds on my frame while I jump back and forth across Florida (and the rest of the country) working at kayak symposiums and ironically re-visiting the Everglades while I help guide a group down there.
When I last visited four years ago my friends Neil and Heather (with whom I’m staying) had one ten month old baby. In the four years since they’ve added two more filling the house with a four month old (Zach), a two year old (Seth), and the four year old (Adam). It suffices to say that the energy level and intensity surrounding Neil and Heather’s home has changed. Yesterday, with a weekend of kids birthday parties already planned, Neil and I tried to coordinate a paddle together from Virginia Key (where I arrived Friday) up to Oleta park in Miami. The normal “three kids” morning chaos ensued and before we knew it we found ourselves racing the clock to try to pull the outing off. Finally we wised up and decided to give kayaking (and my body) a rest and concentrate on a well planned BBQ instead.
While Heather went off to the bulk superstore to purchase the vast amounts of meat needed to fill my bottomless gut, I was sent on a mission to the local grocery to acquire the beer required to make good on the promise I had made down in Key Largo. Even my brother Aaron called to remind me that I had promised to drink a beer in celebration if I made it all the way to Miami by Friday. -- You see I don’t drink, for no real reason than I choose not to, so when I say I’ll have a drink it’s cause for fanfare amongst my friends. -- Neil and his brother Paul (also a good friend of mine) put their heads together to select the perfect beer for the occasion. Selecting the perfect brew turned out to be quite a process and I wondered if they thought that hard during their SAT tests. They both had given up beer for Lent but for this they were willing to bend the rules and have a beer with me. They selected Blue Moon as the beer of choice and I was sent out o acquire a six pack while they stayed home to watch the boys. When I got to the store and discovered there were no six packs, only cases of the selected beer, I phoned the house and got Paul. After explaining the predicament and asking what other beer I should get he quickly suggested that I “just get the twelve pack.” Apparently the Lenten rules would be bent a little more.
By the time I made it back to the house (never send a hungry man to the grocery store) the brats and burgers were on the grill and the house was filled with the sights, smells, and sounds of old times with the addition of the kids adding to the excitement. I had set my tent up in the back yard to air out which, of course, quickly became a focal point for the kids. Neil was a bit nervous to have the boys playing in the tent but I assured him that after seeing the strong winds and rough handling the tent had been through that there was nothing they could do that would hurt it. As I watched them play for a while, however, I finally decided that perhaps it was time to put the tent away. If only we could bottle all that energy.
The brats and burgers were done to perfection and we feasted on those as well as salads and baked apples from Paul’s fiancée Stephanie . Finally Neil proposed a toast to making it to Miami and we celebrated the accomplishment with a tall cold one.
Today (Sunday Day 78) I passed on the opportunity to join the family for a friend’s four year old child’s birthday choosing instead to get some quiet time and catch up on the blog and finally start to prepare the slide show I’ll be giving over at the Sweetwater Symposium next Friday. At this point I have over 1200 photographs to go through as well as a bunch of videos. It’s also time to start planning the Atlantic coast leg of this trip so I’m sorting through all of the e-mails I’ve received over the last three months from people along the route. I never thought the administrative side of this trip would be so involved but it’s definitely worth it in order to share the experience with everyone else.
Tonight we’re planning on firing up the grill again, this time to burn some chicken in celebration of a visit from Susan (another old friend from South Florida) who is in town from Charleston on a trip for work. As well as Lisa and Bill who live not too far away.
It really is like old times.
Ever since the moment I decided to do this trip I have dreamed of making it to Miami. Seven years ago I did a trip from Florida City through the Everglades and past Key Largo with hopes of making it all the way to the beach by my friend’s office the final day. Bad tides and persistent head winds wore me out however and I finally called for a ride from Alabama Jack’s bar just north of Key Largo. As great as the trip through the Everglades had been for me, loosing the chance at the novelty of arriving right behind my buddies office, walking in and saying hi, was always a disappointment to me.
This time around I started plotting my arrival in Miami over a week in advance. It wasn’t the most important thing in the world, but in order to make the arrival on my “friend’s” beach work I’d have to arrive on a week day. There’d be no sense in having him drive to work on a day off to pick me up. All the way back in St. Petersburg I had carefully scaled the distances, found the camp sites, and calculated the daily mileages needed to make it happen. It all depended on the weather, of course.
As you may have read the first four days out of St. Pete I ended up staying with people in their homes which allowed me to put on extra miles and stay “rested” on days that normally would have started to wear me out. By the time I was back in my tent on Cape Romano last Monday things looked like they probably wouldn’t work out for reaching Miami. Instead of arriving at the office on Friday I thought I’d be spending an extra night on an offshore island and possibly paddling all the way up to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. Which would have made a perfectly fine “plan B”.
Tuesday, however, brought a nice tail wind and I managed to put on some extra miles making it all the way from Cape Romano to Highland Beach in one day. Along the way I was stopped by some concerned game wardens that were wondering if I was OK as they don’t normally see paddlers out as far as I was. When I explained myself they relaxed a bit and were surprised to hear that I intended to spend the night on a beach twenty miles down the coast. When I explained that I have a 30 mile daily range and could do it they joked that their twin 250 HP Yamaha outboards could get them there in twenty minutes. As they sped off to do whatever it is they do I continued on at my comfortable 4 mph and reached Highland Beach well before sunset.
On the beach watching my arrival through the whitecapping waves with binoculars was a young bearded man named Matt. He was on an extended trip through the glades and (heading north) was weathered in on the beach for the day. He had already scouted out the camp spots that gave some shelter from the wind and suggested a flat spot behind a thicket on which I quickly set my tent. We were both happy to have someone to talk to on such a sunny but blustery day and we visited until the descending sun and mosquitoes pushed us into our tents.
The next morning we both launched just before sunrise and said or good bys as he headed north and I turned south. It was Matt that suggested that the “inside” route through Whitewater Bay (and the maze of rivers and islands that make up the setting for the Wilderness Waterway) would be a great way to avoid the big winds that were predicted later in the day on Wednesday. My friend Russell back in St. Petersburg had also suggested that route noting that he knew of several people that had run it all in one day. I was leery because the few camp sites on the inside are on raised platforms (called cheekies) that are often occupied by other campers on weekends and difficult to access from kayaks even when they aren’t. That meant that once I committed to the inside route I’d have almost no choice but to make it all the way to Flamingo by the end of the day. After getting worked over in strong following seas for half the day Tuesday I was in no mood to repeat the experience on Wednesday so I decided the long run through the inside was worth it. Besides that almost all of my time touring the Glades had been on the outside and I was up for something new.
After seeing just how beautiful it is on the inside route I am very glad I made that choice. I ran a route along Joe river which runs east and west on the southern perimeter of the interior. The relatively narrow “river” provided ample shelter from the wind and I paddled mostly flat water all the way to Flamingo. I did have to work against the outgoing tide a bit but by working eddies along the banks I was able to make good time.
Russell had mentioned the enormous mangrove trees at the entrance to the Shark River where I entered the inside route, but even his descriptions didn’t prepare me for just how huge the trees actually are. Most mangroves you see are relatively low growing plants with intertwined branches and exposed root systems that form almost impenetrable masses of foliage. It’s these tough trees that can withstand the hurricanes and tropical storms that tear through here every few years thus keeping the very low islands on which they grow from washing away in the big seas. I don’t know if it’s a quirk of the shape of the coast or bank erosion from the river, but at the Shark River the tallest mangroves that would normally be in the middle of an island (protected by those along the edges) are growing exposed right along the river. Towering well over 40 feet above the water with open air between the large trunks they look more like hardwood trees in a northern forest. It was only the shape of their leaves and exposed root systems that convinced me that they were indeed mangroves. It was inspiring to see the familiar scruffy low growing plants reach such lofty heights.
After reaching Flamingo I was helped around the dam that separates the Gulf from the interior by a kid named Alias who was working at the canoe rental outfit at the park marina. From there I paddled a mile back up the coast to the camp site and checked in. My neighbor in camp let me borrow his bicycle which I used to ride back down to the marina store to use the pay phone to check in. I was desperate to find out if anybody had replied to the e-mail my brother Luke sent to Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo. It was late notice but if I could spend the night there it would give me a better starting point for Miami the day after.
Sure enough the guys at FBO had replied and were up for a visit from me so the next day I pushed off from Flamingo and followed the network of channels across the shallows on my way to Key Largo. I watched my chart carefully and discovered that Low Key would be the southern most point of “land” I’d pass on this entire trip. After a few hours of paddling I reached the island and commemorated this turning point with a photograph and gulp of Gatoraid. I also called my mom with my cell phone and let her know I was finally on my way home.
A few more hours of hard paddling brought me in to the “Florida Bay Outfitters” kayak shop. As I approached the shop from the water I wasn’t sure how to find it so I called on my cell phone. It was Joel who answered and he immediately remembered who I was and that we had met out in San Diego when I gave him and two of his friends a ride to San Felipe in Baja for the start of a 30 day trip down the length of the Sea of Cortez. We had to laugh at how small the paddling community really is. Joel hooked me up with a hot shower and the owner Frank, Joel, and Josh took me out for some Mexican food. Fra;nk let me crash on the floor of the store which saved me the trouble of setting up my tent allowing for a quick departure in the morning. I learned that trying to sleep next door to what must be the busiest biker bar in the Keys is a bit of a challenge and I didn’t really get much rest during the night. It probably had a lot to do with the excitement of trying to reach Miami the next day that kept me up as well.
The next morning I got a very early start and was on the water by 5:50 AM with the wind already (or I should say still) blowing out of the NW at 15 mph. I knew it’d be a slog in the morning but the weather predictions showed that the wind was supposed to drop giving me a good chance to reach my destination on Virginia Key. The first few hours were challenging with the wind (and I’m convinced tidal flow) working against me I was moving a full mile per hour slower than my normal pace. Along the way I passed under the US Highway 1 bridge and commemorated the official end of the Gulf Coast and beginning of the Atlantic Coast legs of this trip.
It was a long day but the winds did slow and the rough choppy water I had been paddling in turned to glassy smooth. It was a great day made even better by finally arriving on Virginia Key to the welcoming cheers of my friends.
Start: 5:58 AM – Florida Bay Outfitters, Key Largo, FL
Finish: 5:19 PM – NOAA Lab -Virginia Key, Miami, FL
Daily dist: 45 miles
Total dist: 2,193 miles
What can I say... I'm tired. After eight days straight of grinding out an average of 35 miles per day, today I topped off the long run from St. Petersburg to Miami with one of the longest days of the trip so far. After starting the day at the Florida Bay Outfitters kayak shop in Key Largo at 5:50 AM I landed on the beach on Virginia Key at 5:15 PM after paddling 46 miles. Waiting for me there on the sand was a welcoming committee consisting of my friend Neil and a bunch of his co-workers. I truly am exhausted from the long week of paddling but at the same time excited to be done with the Gulf Coast portion of this trip and beginning the Atlantic. After getting a little well earned rest tonight I’ll be filling you in on the last four days as soon as I get a chance.
Start: 6:09 AM – Flamingo, Everglades National Park
Finish: 3:27 PM – Florida Bay Outfitters, Key Largo, FL
Daily dist: 38 miles
Total dist: 2,148 miles
Notes: Clear with northwest wind at 10-15.
Another call-in report from Jake today, as he’s getting his ‘beauty’ sleep for his first big push north tomorrow. Jake’s currently warm, dry and comfy as the good folks at Florida Bay Outfitters in Key Largo have put him up for the night. Tomorrow he’s planning to make a long run into the wind up to Miami.
Stay tuned… he’ll be posting all the details of the past three days over the weekend.
Start: 6:40 AM - Highland Beach (23 miles SE of Chokoloskee, FL)
Finish: 4:20 PM – Flamingo, Everglades National Park
Daily dist: 38 miles
Total dist: 2,110 miles
Notes: Partly cloudy. Sheltered water.
Jake called me tonight (actually I had to call him at a payphone) from Flamingo Florida. He had a great day paddling the inside route on the Wilderness Waterway. Jake expects to reach Key Largo tomorrow and is trying to plan the next few days around the wind and weather. Jake is very excited about catching up with friends in Ft. Lauderdale. Right now the plan is for tomorrow to be the last day of the “Gulf Leg” and the start of the “Atlantic Leg” of Jake’s journey. Stay tuned for further updates once Jake reaches “civilization”.
Start: 6:50 AM - CapeRomano (south of Marco Island, FL)
Finish: 3:20 PM – HighlandBeach (23 miles SE of Chokoloskee, FL)
Daily dist: 42 miles
Total dist: 2,072 miles
Notes: Clear with a strong tailwind. Gusts over 25 mph.
Jake is in another ecologically fascinating place. Ten thousand islands are home to endless mangroves, sawfish, goliath groupers, manatees, roseate spoonbills, American crocodiles, and deafening swarms of mosquitoes. Except for the wind, his winter visit should keep him relatively comfortable. His next blog transmission will most likely be in ~3 days when he reaches Key Largo (weather notwithstanding).
Start: 8:15 AM- Bonita Beach, FL
Finish: 4:30 PM - Cape Romano (south of Marco Island, FL)
Daily dist: 36 miles
Total dist: 2,030 miles
Weather: Beautiful upper 60’s partly cloudy and little wind
Notes: The first “Florida like” day so far. Ended up at a place where I’ve camped before with friends Jeff and Vic.
I woke in a bed for the seventh day in a row wondering if I even remember how to put my tent up. This streak of people to stay with has been fun but it does require a lot of energy to pull completely on and off the water every day. When I’m camping I only take what I need for the evening out of the boat and the rest stays packed. When somebody picks me up I end up taking every little thing I can out of the Ikkuma. That means that I have to keep track of it all as well as re-pack everything when I get back to the water. When I go home with people I also can’t resist staying up to chat and get to know them which is some of the most fun I’ve had on the trip. Of course evenings spent visiting with my hosts have been denying me much needed sleep. I’m not complaining though, the reward of new friends, showers, and home cooked meals makes it all worthwhile.
Larry and Kathy saw me off this morning
Larry and Kathy gave me a ride back to the beach this morning and we found a restaurant staff member to unlock the storage yard where the Ikkuma was parked over night. Larry helped me carry the kayak to the water and while I stuffed the hatches full of all my belongings, Kathy fielded questions from passers by on the beach. During the short half hour we were on the beach two more signatures were added to the already crowded deck of my kayak.
Today was the first day in the entire trip where I started out not wearing the Tec-Tour Jacket. In fact I went the entire day in perfect paddling conditions. Just enough wind to keep me cool and sunshine to brighten up the day. Navigating today was as easy as it gets as well. My brother had joked that all I needed to do to navigate on this trip was to keep land on my left and keep turning left. Today, with an almost perfectly straight run from Bonita Beach to Cape Romano, it was that simple. The first 2/3 of the trip followed a very developed section of coast full of multi story condos. The south end of Marco Island however marked the abrupt end of the populated coast line I’ve been following since last week and the beginning of the wilderness of the 10,000 Islands and coastal Florida Everglades.
foam dome house at Cape Romano
What made finding this place easy too was the fact that I’ve already camped here. About eight years ago when I was living in Fort Lauderdale I came over with Vic Sorensen and Jeff Bingham and we launched out of Goodland and camped here for a night. It’s a beautiful spot and what makes it most noteworthy is the ruined shell of a house on stilts that is falling into the ocean. The house (known as “The Castle” by some of the locals) consists of a series of interconnected half dome structures made of white painted foam. I have no idea how old the structure is only that it’s slowly loosing the battle with mother nature and is sinking into the sea. With the large arched top windows and open air decks, one can only imagine how interesting the home must have been back in the day.
I did remember how to set up my tent just fine and enjoyed a pleasant dinner just before a small shower blew through the area. Now I’m plotting my course through the Everglades over the next few days. Some of it familiar territory from past trips I’ve done in the area. Again, I don’t know what kind of cell service I’ll have once I leave here so be patient if the blog posts fall a day or two behind. I’ll get you caught up once I reach civilization on the other side. My friend and statistician Neil will probably still be posting my daily stats so you can at least keep track of my progress even if I can’t post.
Start: 8:45 AM- Matlache
Finish: 3:00 PM - Bonita Beach
Daily dist: 24 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: Partly Cloudy with light north wind and temps in the lower 60’s
Notes: The fishing pier on Sanibel was the first passing of a point I’ve already been to.
With a shorter than normal day in store for me today we made time for a big breakfast and took our time getting back to the water. So it was that at about 9:00 AM Jory waved good by from the dock and I started out on the first day of this trip since St. Louis that would take me past places I have already been.
Uncle Jim’s pier in the distance
It was the fishing pier on Sanibel Island where I had fished seven years ago with my uncle Jim when I was living in Fort Lauderdale and he and my aunt were spending their winters on the island.
I must admit I was a little lost as I approached the causeway that accesses Sanibel. The huge bridge that now towers over the water was not there seven years ago when I was last here. When I saw it took me a moment to realize that it was there in place of the low draw bridge that I had expected to see. The trend of replacing the low bridges (often with draw sections) that access off shore islands with huge tall bridges seems to be universal in every corner of the country. While it makes travel on and off the island much easier, I think it runs the risk of wrecking the remote (slow easy pace) feel of those vacation islands. All in the name of progress I guess.
From the bridge I had only twelve miles to go to reach today’s destination, Doc’s restaurant at Bonita Beach. That rendezvous point has been in the works since the first hours of this trip when the “bell ringers” Larry and Kathy rang a cow bell to get my attention and said hello as I paddled by on the icy cold Wisconsin River. Two months and several e-mails later we finally crossed paths again on a sunny (and not quite warm yet) Florida beach. Larry and Kathy (along with a bunch of their friends from Wisconsin) treated me to a sandwich and Coke at Doc’s. After eating we stashed the Ikkuma in an enclosure next to the restaurant and locked it to the wall. From there Larry and Kathy took me home to their vacation rental to spend the night with them. It was refreshing to be around so many folks from back home.
This was my last night “couch surfing” before I enter the 10,000 islands and Everglades and camp my way for several nights on my way toward my friends in Fort Lauderdale and the end of the Gulf Coast segment of this trip. It’s a fairly remote section of coast that I’m going to be entering so there may be a gap in posting, so please stand by.
Start: 7:50 AM- Manasota
Finish: 3:00 PM - Matlachacola
Daily dist: 34 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: 20 mph north wind
Notes: Very windy with good tail wind all day.
Today was exactly what I hoped this trip would be all about. For the first ten miles I was joined by Doug with whom I stayed last night. He is an avid kayaker who is very serious about the sport. It was a rare treat to have somebody join me and I thoroughly enjoyed having the company on the water.
roughing it Portage to Portage style
After I parted ways with Doug, with plans to paddle together again some day, I continued south another 24 miles with a very strong 20 mph tail wind that put me into Manasota a full hour earlier than I had expected. There I was picked up by Jory who is the owner of “Florida Paddlesports”. The plan was to go to Jory’s shop near Punta Gorda and meet whomever showed up for a “meet and great” event he scheduled at the store. I managed to come in a bit early so we had time to go back to Jory’s place to get some rest and grab a bight to eat first.
Because my plans are always changing do to the weather, it’s hard to pre-plan an event around when I might be in town. But even despite the short notice, about a dozen people braved the chilly windy weather this evening and showed up at Jory’s store. It was awesome to have a chance to meet a bunch of local paddlers and to share some of the stories and photos of this trip with them. Several signatures were added to the Ikkuma and I had a chance to meet a bunch of great people.
It’s interesting that when I meet people and tell them about what I’m doing a common reaction is comments such as “If only I was a bit younger“, or “I‘d never get that much time off work“, or a host of other reasons that can stop people from attempting a trip like this. All I can say is that most people would never be able to commit to any endeavor that pulls them away from home and family for a year, and I understand that. For all those people that see this trip and only wish they could do something like it I only wish that it might remind them of the adventure that can be found right near home. Perhaps then they might be inspired to do what it takes to do whatever trips they can with what their bodies, time, and lives allow. It doesn’t have to be a thousand mile epic, just go out and have the adventures you can - when, where, and however you can.
Start: 7:40 AM- Sarasota, FL
Finish 2:40 PM - Manasota, FL
Daily dist: 23 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: NE winds at 15 mph switching to SE headwinds at 20mph
Notes: I had planned on pulling off the water by noon but the weather looked like it was going to hold off for a bit longer so I cranked out another 8 miles. I did get caught by the weather and ended up paddling against a very strong head wind with big rain for the last three or four miles.
Somehow I managed to string seven days of people to stay with right in a row. With that the “Portage to Portage Paddling Project” is rapidly running the risk of becoming “Jake’s Couch Surfing Safari”. After three nights with my friends Russel and Claudia I spent last night with Ann my buddy’s little sister and today I was picked up by Doug Gilliliam and stayed with him and his wife Debbie. At a certain level I must admit it feels a bit like I’m cheating. However, the goal of this trip is not to see how much trouble and suffering I can endure, it’s to meet the people who live along the route.
Meeting Doug is an example of just how intimate the paddling community is. His son Taylor is going to school in San Diego and had stopped by Aqua Adventures several times to join us for our weekly Thursday night paddle. Taylor brought his own boat and Greenland paddle and watching him on the water it was obvious that he’d been doing this for a while. It turned out that he and his dad had done a lot of paddling out in Florida with his dad, everything from touring to surfing. I tried to find time to get out in the waves with him but his class schedule and my work schedule never seemed to allow it. Just the same he is a cool guy and a great paddler. When he heard about this trip he let his dad know and Doug, very early on, offered up a place to stay when I got to the area.
These connections that came into focus very early in the trip are very fun for me. When I started out in Wisconsin the thought of catching up with somebody so far away in Florida was hard to grasp. But two months later here I am… it’s a neat feeling. As is so often the case in the kayaking world, Doug knows a lot of the same people I do. He invited one of his paddling friends, Dave, over for dinner and as we talked last night about our past paddling adventures and paddling friends we were often mentioning the same people. The paddling world is truly a small and tight knit community made up of exceptionally good people.
The day started out windy and chilly, this time it was poor Ann standing out in the cold to see me off. The wind was already up and predicted to blow hard then harder as the day progressed. My plan was to tip toe around the weather and get as far as I could before it swung to the south and shut me out completely. I made it to our pre-arranged pick up point by noon and the weather had yet to deteriorate so I decided to push on another eight miles. It was in those last two hours that the wind did finally swing and build to well over 20 mph blowing a hard driving rain right in my face. I crawled the last two miles hiding behind docks and boats along shore and was very grateful to finally pull off at a boat ramp near Manasota Beach just south of Venice. The extra miles were tough but it will pay off by shortening the miles to be covered tomorrow. While I waited under a park awning for Doug to catch up with me to give me a ride home I was very grateful to have a place to go to tonight. This trip has truly been much easier with all the people who have opened up their homes to me, I owe so many my eternal gratitude.
Doug is quite an avid kayaker himself who loves to paddle rough water so with big winds in the forecast tomorrow he’s sure to find a little adventure when he joins me for a while tomorrow. It’s going to be great to have company on the water if only for a few hours. Dave and I were also talking about meeting up for an overnighter as I pass through the Everglades. If we can make it work it would be an awesome and welcome change to camping solo. This trip just keeps getting better and better.
Start: 8:15 AM- St. Petersburg, FL
Finish: 5:15 PM - Sarasota, FL
Daily dist: 32 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: North wind at 10mph partly cloudy with temps in the low 60’s
Notes: First day back on the water after two weather and rest days with my friend Russell
The weather is supposed to be trouble tomorrow. With rain and winds predicted to blow out of the NE at 15 mph then swinging to the SE at 20 mph I will have to tip toe around the weather to get any miles in at all. With that knowledge I knew I’d need to make the most out of today’s nice weather and log at least a few extra miles down the coast. Somehow, however, the route I chose on the outside open coast (while it was a fun day) only added miles to the route but didn’t move me any further south than if I had stayed in the Intracoastal. I didn’t know if the islands on the map I was heading toward were dry enough to camp on or if they were if camping was allowed. It’s an unsettling feeling to be heading toward a destination that you know you won’t reach until late in the day and even when you do if you’ll be allowed to stop there.
It was with that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I got a call this afternoon from my friend Dave Lindo at OKC Kayak out in Oklahoma City. He’s been watching my progress and knew I was nearing Sarasota. It just so happens his little sister lives in Sarasota very close to Siesta Key which was exactly where I was headed. He had spoken to her and she was happy to take me in if I needed a place to stay. With the option of a place to stay if the islands didn’t work out I was able to relax and enjoy the rolling swell and beautiful emerald green water I was paddling on. I called Ann (Dave’s sister) and made sure she was interested in picking me up. She said it’d be no trouble and had plans to take me out to dinner (per Dave’s orders and pocket book). So the plan was for me to try to paddle down to where she works on Siesta Key then go home with her.
I pulled hard, but like I said, the miles didn’t go by very fast today so by 5:00 when I was still six miles shy of our planned meeting point I found a backup takeout and called it a day. I was just too tired to slog out another hour and a half of paddling. While I emptied by boat Ann drove over to pick me up. From the boat landing we set about finding a place to grab a bight to eat on big brother Dave’s tab. It was once again a very fortuitous turn of events set about from friends and friend’s of friends that has saved my rear so many times on this trip.
With the wind predicted to blow at well over 15 mph it didn’t take much arm twisting from Russell to convince me to stay another day today. Of course when I got up this morning and Russell lined out the projects he had planned for the day I started to wonder if he really had MY best interests in mind when he checked the weather last night. Having been an intimate part of the Southwest Kayak Symposium in San Diego for the last three years I know how Russell’s mind must be saturated with planning for his symposium which is only a couple weeks away. It also makes me appreciate all the help he’s given me during my visit. I know his time is especially precious as his event draws near. That being said I was more than happy to help out with some of his projects, at least as much as I could while I tuned up my boat and gear. Today I helped put up a privacy screen on the fence in his back yard so when he has a yard full of campers during the symposium they’ll be out of sight of anybody walking past.
an old friend from my Fort Lauderdale days.
When we were done with the day’s chores we went out for some Mexican food at a restaurant just around the corner from Russell’s house. I had found out a day or two ago that an old friend of mine from Fort Lauderdale was actually living in the area. So I gave here a call and she caught up with us at the restaurant. It was great to see another familiar face and even more fun to get caught up a bit after the last six years.
From the restaurant it was back to Russell and Claudia’s house to do some last minute re-packing before leaving here early tomorrow morning to get back on the water. The weather looks like it’s supposed to be chilly but not too windy. Friday may be another story.
It’s been a while since I did a “double” post. You might expect that when I’m out in the middle of nowhere with a weak cell connection it would be the time I don’t get the blog post up for the day. The way it seems to work out however, is just the opposite. It’s when I’m in civilization around people that I’m so busy visiting that I just don’t have time. That’s a good thing, this trip is supposed to be about getting to know the people I meet along the way. If I spent the whole time with my nose down in the computer trying to chronicle what was going on I’d never see it. So thank you for your patience and forgive me for getting a day or two behind on all this blogging. Don't miss reading day 65 below this post.
The smell of pancakes cooking is what woke me up today. It was Claudia, Russell’s wife in the kitchen whipping up a batch of her gourmet wonders. By the time I was on both feet she had to head off to work so I finished frying up the last few for myself. Warm pancakes are certainly a great way to start a rainy windy day. Today was all about tuning up my gear, catching up on some mail that my mother sent down, and planning my moves over the rest of this month and the next.
With lots of time in my boat with not much to do but think I’ve been steering my mind toward trying to figure out how to better utilize the space the boat has. As I near the Everglades I need to have a way to carry a bit more water than I already am. I’ve been brainstorming ideas of re-arranging my gear to allow me to free up space for more water. After the last two months I’ve come up with a pretty consistent method for packing the boat that gets all the gear in without too much fighting but leaves very little slack space. It was hard to imagine any space that wasn’t already being used efficiently. I did have one thought however and today I finally took the time to see if it’d work. After a little brainstorming and simple foot pad alterations, I emptied out a bunch of space behind my seat in my day hatch which is prime real estate in a kayak. What I did was hollow out a space in the 2” foam pad I have for my feet to push on to make room to store the wheels for my kayak cart. The wheels had been in the day hatch so they’d be available without unloading the rest of the kayak. It doesn’t matter if they get wet so it was a shame to have them stored inside the boat. Not to mention whenever I used the cart the wheels would inevitably get muddy and I’d have to clean them off thoroughly before putting them away. My solution keeps them handy and with their location behind a ¼” pad under my feet it doesn’t matter if they’re a little dirty when I put them away. I was pretty happy when I saw how well it was going to work.
After working on the boat I focused on sorting through the mountain of mail my mother sent down. The most disturbing bit was the enormous bill I got from the hospital in Vicksburg MS stemming from my post pepper spray visit on New Years Day. The doctor billing people came down on their price (by a half) once they realized that my insurance wasn’t going to be covering this one. From the hospital itself I’m waiting for an itemized bill because, as I told the woman on the phone, the bill is so much higher than I expected that I want to be sure they’re billing the correct person. We’ll see what comes of all of that.
Next, as the rain came down sideways outside, I turned my focus toward planning my moves over the next month and a half. What’s happening is I’m a bit ahead of schedule. Some of the surplus time has come from the week I gained when my parents helped me leap frog over the nasty winter storm that stopped things up on the third day of this trip. My original plan was to reach Fort Lauderdale by the end of February spend a week visiting friends down there, then fly out to San Diego for the balance of March to help out with the Southwest Kayak symposium. Jen and I have discussed it and have decided that there is no reason for me to spend almost a full month in San Diego, two full weeks should be enough. So, that put another week and a half on my calendar.
What’s happening now is if I continue at the pace I’ve been going, I run the very real risk of getting too far north too soon. After spending the entire trip so far paddling through areas at the roughest time of year I have no desire to repeat that situation on the Atlantic coast portion of this trip. Interestingly some unique opportunities have presented themselves that look like they will allow me to slow down while still having a fair amount of adventure along the way.
Here is the rough plan for the next month and a half;
Start: 7:15 AM- New Port Richy
Finish: 3:15 PM - St. Petersburg
Daily dist: 32 miles
Total dist: 1800 miles
Weather: NE 7 mph
Notes: A nice tailwind and warm enough to take my jacket off. Re-entered the Intracoastal, nice to have a sheltered water option again.
Today was a great day of paddling. The wind was a pleasant 7 mph tail wind from the northeast that made the eight hours of paddling go by nicely. It’s a good thing too because with all the trip planning and corresponding I’ve been doing around this trip lately I haven’t had much sleep over the previous couple of nights. I was a bit sleepy to say the least. Not physically tired at all just ready for a nap all day.
The sleepy feeling could be coming from a bit of lack of mental stimulation too. I’m softening to the idea of paddling with an I-pod and some music. At first I said I wanted to be able to hear animal noises and waves and such. But after 1800 miles of paddling I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t miss too much by wearing some ear phones. I’d probably keep the radio turned off for the first couple hours when I could enjoy the morning calm and the peaceful silence that comes with that. But later in the day, when I’ve exhausted my own mind games to keep myself busy, it’d be nice to have some sort of distraction. Beyond that, as people suggested before, earphones and music would block out the constant blowing sounds of the wind the next time I’m beating against a crossing or head wind.
Today actually brought with it a change of scenery by way of a huge dose of civilization that was a distraction of it’s own. Because the water is so shallow along the coast, and I’ve had to paddle so far off shore to move efficiently, the shore line has been nothing more than a featureless green band separating the water from the sky. All I’ve had to focus on was the water around me, a few random birds, an occasional dolphin, and any slight variation in the coast line ahead. As I entered the Stillwater/St Petersburg area today I suddenly had buildings, bridges, cars, docks, boats, and everything else you’d find in a city. It was all candy for my eyes and mind. Add the fact that as I passed under the first drawbridge I officially re-entered the Intracoastal Waterway and had substantial land on both sides of me which meant calm water so I could relax and even more for my senses and mind to play with. It was a welcome change and the day went by quickly because of it.
Because the weather was finally nice there were also a lot of recreational boaters out today. Without exaggeration I believe I saw more non-commercial boats in use today than I have in the rest of the trip combined. It meant I had to watch out for the increased traffic, but the friendly waves I got from passing boaters was worth it. I can understand why so many people were boating today. It was a nice day, sure, but this area is also a very nice place to see by boat, especially a kayak. Calm clear blue water, big fancy houses to look at, even dolphins playing in the bay. What I really found intriguing were the spoil islands to be found along the dredged out Intracoastal Waterway. Spoil island is a terrible descriptor for what are really beautiful little islands with white sand beaches and shade trees. There are dozens of these islands spaced out along the channel as it winds its way through the interlinked bays that make up the Intracoastal. All day long I kept imagining myself putting my kayak in at a boat launch and paddling a short mile or two to take a nice long nap on a nice little island I’d have all to myself. Lord knows if any of the locals do that but I know I would… at least I would have today being so sleepy and all… How much fun would it be also to do a simple overnight trip on one of those islands too. Your own private island surrounded by glowing city lights. Pretty cool. There aren’t a lot of places that have places like that - where else can you get away from it all while you’re in the middle of it all.
Napping was not in the plan for today however. I wanted to crank out at least thirty miles before I called my friend Russell to come and pick me up. Russell Farrow is the owner of Sweetwater Kayaks located here in St. Petersburg. He is the first person in this entire trip that I already really knew before he picked me up. I’d met Russell when he came out to San Diego to coach at the Southwest Kayak Symposium. Russell is a great kayak coach and paddler, accomplished musician, and all round nice guy. I owe him a lot for taking time out of his busy schedule to pick me up. With his Sweetwater Kayak symposium only a couple short weeks away I know he doesn’t have a lot of time to be entertaining numbskulls like me.
I had made plans to paddle a few miles past my normal eight hour goal but as the clock struck 3:00 I came upon a Mc Donalds (full of juicy hamburgers) located right across the street from a very easy take out. So right at the eight hour mark of 3:15 my bow hit the beach and I quickly changed clothes and emptied my boat so I could sneak over and get a bight to eat before Russell came to pick me up. Based on the labels on the wrappers, the two hamburgers and two cheeseburgers I washed down with a coke put about 1200 calories back into my tank. It was a good start.
From the take out Russell took me back to his shop to show me around and pick up some of the gear that had mailed in for me. My 20 degree sleeping bag to replace the 0 degree bag I’ve been sweating in lately, a skeg wire to replace the one that got bent in the houseboat incident, some food from home, and a mail drop (bills of course). Russell’s shop is an intimate little building bursting from the seams with everything you need to get out on the water, most importantly the knowledge and training that Russell can provide. It’s a true paddling shop run by people who are passionate for the sport. As it should be.
Later we went home and I once again embarrassed myself by eating three times more than a person my size should. Having done more than a few long trips himself, Russell understood my bottomless stomach and smiled wide when I went for my fourth serving of pasta.
Start: 7:50 AM- Chaz… Springs
Finish: 5:15 PM - Island off of New Port Richie
Daily dist: 35 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: Chilly (by Florida standards) with a 10 mph north tail wind
Notes: Charlotte dropped me off at the landing and I had a great down wind run. I put on three extra miles and an extra 45 minutes to the time by paddling into Port Richy for a TV interview.
Charlotte and I were up by 5:00 AM in order to have time to drive all the way back to the boat launch and get the Ikkuma re-packed and on the water as early as possible. We weren’t in such a rush that we didn’t have time for some pancakes, bacon, and eggs for breakfast however. All my gear was nicely dried and rolled tight from yesterday so re-loading my boat was a quick process. Charlotte took a few pictures of me on the water and then we said our good bys and I was on my way with plans to meet up with a TV reporter for an interview later in the day.
I have to explain that for the Florida section of this trip I have been utilizing the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail guide. The guide has been a wealth of information regarding route information such as re-supply points, water stops, showers, restaurants, motels, and camp sites. For the most part I’ve been completely happy with the information the guide has provided. Today, however, I discovered an omission of some vital information that needs to be rectified for future users. Especially young men that have been on the water for two months.
Since early yesterday, I have been in contact with Chris from the local TV news station trying to figure out how I could meet up with a camera crew and reporter for an interview. We didn’t have time to meet up in the morning and the only camp site the paddling guide shows in this area is tucked back in the marshy shore line far from any road access. So, in order to meet up with the camera crew I needed a spot where both of us would have access so we could do the interview and I could continue on to the campsite. The town of Hudson, a few miles before the camp, looked like it might work but was less than ideal. Two miles down the coast from the camp a park near New Port Richy was indicated on the guide as a place to get drinking water which could work. However, I didn’t want to have to do a two mile backtrack for the interview so I fired up Google Earth and started looking around the water stop location to see if there might be a place to camp. What do you know a quick search revealed an island just a mile off shore from the New Port Richy entrance. Being just a couple miles from the park indicated on the guide, this spot would enable me to do the interview and still make it a bit further down coast to the island before dark.
Everything went well during the day today and the 10 mph north wind helped me make good time. As I neared the island I called the TV news producer in order to coordinate the exact location where we could meet. Somehow the producer’s GPS showed a different park (other than the one I had found) so I altered my course and ran inside the Port Richy river entrance looking for this other park. After paddling a mile inland, seeing nothing but huge houses, I started to doubt that there was a park where the producer thought there was. I pulled out my cell phone to discover that the reporter that was sent had called twice trying to contact me. When I got him on the phone we discovered that he was indeed at the original park my map showed a mile back out to sea and another mile up the coast.
After already paddling nearly two miles out of my way and with daylight rapidly running out I was not interested in back tracking to the other park. So we both turned on our GPS’s and were trying to find land/water access where we could meet. As I scrutinized the tiny screen on my GPS with my phone pressed against my ear I drifted around a large house on a bend in the channel. Right then I looked up and my eyes picked up lettering on the roof of a dock side restaurant a quarter mile away. One by one, past the edge of the house, ten foot tall bright orange letters of the name of the restaurant were slowly revealed; H-O-O-T-E-R-S. “No way,” I exclaimed to the reporter, “a Hooters!” Not only did we both instantly know where I was there was a boat ramp right next door. So that was it, “Meet me at the boat ramp by Hooters.”
Ten minutes later the bright red Channel 10 news van rolled into view and we did a quick interview and he shot some video of me paddling back out the channel to the island two miles away. The island itself turned out to be a real gem an absolutely perfect, easy access, clean, level, comfortable spot with a view of the interesting off shore stilt houses found along shore here. So here is my question. How on earth in the Florida Circumnavigational Salt Water Paddling Trail guide can the only campsite shown in this area be some back water spot stuck up in a mangrove swamp. Meanwhile, (completely unmentioned) just two miles away, sits an absolutely beautiful island WITHIN EASY PADDLING DISTANCE OF A HOOTERS RESTAURANT! It’s moments like these that make me question the overall integrity and content of the entire guide book.
When I came in off the gulf on Thursday I paid for a camp site for just two nights not knowing when I’d be able to get back on the water. When the weather reports showed 20-30 mph winds for today I knew it’d be another day off. As luck would have it when I checked my e-mails yesterday I found a note from a paddler the locals between Crystal River and Pensacola know as “The Kayak Queen”. Charlotte was tipped off about this trip in early January by a friend and has been following with great interest ever since. When she saw that the weather was going to have me stuck for a couple days she put out the offer of a nice home cooked meal and a place to stay. After almost two straight weeks sleeping in the tent I was happy to take her up on that offer, so after work today she stopped by the camp ground and picked me up.
At her friends insistence Charlotte took me straight to a little seafood restaurant to have “the best fried shrimp in town.” They were some of the best I’ve ever had. Of course as hungry as I’ve been lately I’ve had the “best” of almost every food I’ve ever had. From there we drove just twenty minutes up the coast to Crystal Springs (a route that took me an entire day to paddle) to try to see more manatees near Three Sisters springs. The wind however, was blowing so hard that the choppy water in even that protected water was too rough to see anything. So from there we stopped by to see Matt’s store at Ardvark’s Florida Kayak Company and then went on to Charlotte’s house.
Charlotte is about as gung ho a paddler as I’ve ever seen. Talking with her reminds me of the spirit of the sport that got me hooked so long ago. She’s paddled locations from all over Florida all the way up to Canada, the San Juan Islands, and Maine. Her favorite places to paddle are the blue water rivers of north central Florida and a large part of why she moved to this region is for the paddling.
While I organized gear and filled my water bags for a return to the water tomorrow, Charlotte prepared dinner for the two of us and her sister with her friend. Around three heaping plates full of pasta and chicken with cream sauce, I filled my hostess and her guests in on some of the highlights of the trip so far. Their eyes filled with wonder when I told about being robbed and pepper sprayed and about the enormity of the Mississippi River itself.
It was a great day in the company of great people. Once again it felt great to be able to meet local people and share this adventure with them.
After carefully studying the weather predictions tonight it looks like I might actually have a good day on the water tomorrow with a nice tail wind to help me on my way south toward Tampa.
After eleven consecutive days of paddling I was finally shut down completely by the weather. Where I am four miles off the Gulf under a thick canopy of trees it was calm and I felt a little ridiculous to not be on the water. However, the swaying tree tops and NOAA weather reports suggested that I made the right choice. My grateful resting body agreed as well.
After sleeping in I visited the little campground store to see if I could find something for breakfast OTHER than oatmeal. From there I took my Frosted Flakes, milk, and Pop Tarts to the laundry room to finally freshen up my rather stinky clothes. Later in the day, after getting a ride to lunch and the grocery store with Matt (more on that below) the rains did come, so I did what all resting expedition paddlers should do… I took a nap. Afterward I visited the local bar/restaurant and ordered the fried fish dinner with onion rings and a house salad. When the waitress came around to see if I needed another soda I said no, but could I have a cheeseburger. I slowed a bit for the last few bights, but two hours later I was ready for a late night snack. There is no bottom to my stomach lately.
For the last few days I’d been playing e-mail tennis with a gentleman named Matt who owns Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company. Based in Crystal River Florida, the operation is run by Matt and his wife which includes a retail store, rentals, and tours of the local waters, which of course includes Manatees. Matt was supposed to have a tour going out right from the boat launch here at the campground so the plan was for me to stop down there and say hello before he launched his group. With rain and lightning predicted to be mixed in with the building winds, Matt decided that it was a good idea to scrub their trip and stay off the water as well. Rather than pass up the chance to meet at all, Matt made the drive all the way down here so we could finally cross paths. He generously offered to drive me up to the grocery store to pick up whatever provisions I might need and also treated me to lunch.
Matt is a very knowledgeable guy who has been working in the Florida natural resources world since the 70’s. Not too long ago he retired from his job as a state biologist and opened Aardvark’s. With his training as a biologist he is especially attuned to the effects we humans have on the animals and environment around us. His tours are run with a strong effort to disturb the animals they’re observing as little as possible. As it’s written on his flyer “All our programs are conducted with a Leave No Trace ethic and a hands off approach. We believe that wild animals need to stay wild.”
We had a long conversation discussing the laws, rules, and logic around the way Manatees are being interacted with in the local waters. Not only by kayakers but divers and swimmers as well. Matt’s “hands off” approach to the Manatees and reasons for it gave me a different perspective to how the animals should be viewed and my own actions when I was with the Manatees yesterday.
Despite what the differing laws that federal and state agencies have come up with regarding how people should deal with manatees, we need to consider the long term effects close human contact (touching) the manatees may have. The real reason the manatees yesterday approached our boats was not so much curiosity (they’ve seen PLENTY of kayaks) nor was it to get their forehead rubbed. They were looking for handouts. Feeding manatees is, most definitely, illegal but people still sneak cabbage and other leafy foods out to where the animals are found. While we were not breaking the law by “harassing” the manatees outright, what we are doing by interacting with them when they approach our kayaks (or other boats) is reinforce that behavior. Through that reinforcement the manatees start to associate all boats and people with food (or any other positive reinforcement for that matter). This association and propensity of manatees to now approach boats (and boat lanes) is being attributed to more of them being hit by boats.
So our simple action of petting a manatee, while they do seem to like it, can actually harm them in the long run. The simple fact is they are wild animals and as such need to stay wild in order to survive. Just because we legally can touch them doesn’t mean we should. My experience with them yesterday would have been no less magical if I had refrained from touching them and kept a polite distance. I’ve observed several whales and countless seals and sea lions from hundreds of yards away and those experiences have been just as amazing. So please, if you do get a chance to visit this area and paddle with the manatees, consider the long term health of the animals and look but don’t touch.
“Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals “love” them, but those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.”
Start: 7:30 AM - Entrance to Crystal River FL
Finish: 3:30 PM - Chassahowitzka Springs FL
Daily dist: 28 miles
Total dist: 1783 miles
Weather: SE wind 10-15 mph
Notes: Saw manatees and the first kayakers in Florida
me at the springs
Hey Joe from Kansas, you can relax man… I saw some manatees!
Poor Joe, who I met up in Pensacola, has been e-mailing repeatedly urging me to stop and check out Crystal River to see the manatees. I can only imagine his disappointment when my spot marks touched at the end of Crystal River but never went up to where the manatees would be. He had no need to worry though, once I realized that the weather was going to throw a system my way that would stop me in my tracks for a couple days, I made plans to be some place that would be comfortable and fun. The Florida Circumnavigation guide showed only a couple camp sites along this section of coast and one happened to be right at the end of the Chassahowitzka river at the like named springs. The guide not only said the campground there not only has showers but that the area is popular with manatees. The perfect place to wait out the wind.
Today was the eleventh consecutive day of paddling for me and my body and psyche were nearing their limit of effective use. I was grateful to have a sheltered water route, mostly out of the wind, to run the twenty odd miles south from Crystal River to Chasahowitzka. I was doubly glad when I started on the route and discovered that the trail is well marked and I wouldn’t have to think too hard to make sure I stayed on track through the labyrinth of channels and bays that links the two rivers. Quite frankly my tired body and mind were not up to the task.
The route from Crystal River down to Homosassa River is very well marked and absolutely gorgeous. The route winds around Indian shell middens and coral rock islands covered with palms and cedars. With the first mangroves I’ve seen on the trip, the area offers an amazing mix of several coastal plant environments. It was a great morning of paddling through an area I can’t recommend enough. Things changed drastically however, when I passed south of the Homosassa river. The trail markers I’d been able to mindlessly follow suddenly disappeared along with the water. After taking two turns south of the Homosassa (convinced I was on the right route) I suddenly found myself temporally misplaced (I won’t say lost) in a broad maze of low featureless salt marsh islands. To make matters more interesting the already shallow water was rapidly receding with the outgoing tide turning the always shallow channels into mud flats.
The upper half of the trail had been so well marked I was convinced that I must have wondered off the course. So I backtracked a bit and fired up my GPS to verify my location. Sure enough I was still on track but, right when I could have used them most, the red and green trail markers were gone. I’m not sure why the top half of the route would be so well marked and not the bottom. Judging by the night and day difference between the two halves of the route I’m guessing the trail keepers might not want to admit to the lower half. In place of the beautiful palm covered islands were just featureless grass islands, oyster banks, and mud. With the tide out I found myself on foot dragging my loaded boat over oysters and mud.
There is no feeling like walking through an area like that with a rope over your shoulder, only -thinking- that you’re on the right path. I dragged through impossibly narrow channels that the route on my map indicated as the correct path but with no other indicator than faith that it indeed was.
running out of water
For a mile I continued on like this, sometimes dragging sometimes paddling, until the route finally widened and got deep enough to commit completely to paddling again. All along the way I watched my map and GPS closely until I finally came upon a rotten shell covered wooden stake stuck in the mud, then another, and another. Were these the channel markers or just long forgotten sign posts for lord knows what? I didn’t know. At any rate it was something, and I was convinced I was on the right path, so I was again able to relax and focus on the task of avoiding exposed oyster beds and crab traps in the still receding water. At last I came into the entrance of the Chassahowitzka river and turned inland for the last four mile run upstream to the river’s source.
Along the way the river got increasingly clearer and warmer and the plant life changed from salt marsh to freshwater palm and oak forest. As I came to within a mile of the rivers source I saw a sight more rare than any other on the water, not a dolphin doing back flips, not a shark leaping out of the water, not an osprey grabbing a fish off the surface of the water, not a cormorant swallowing a fish bigger than it’s head (which I did see today), not a flock of several hundred waterfowl (which I have also seen), even more rare than a manatee. After 15 days and over 300 miles of paddling the Florida coast, the very rare sight I saw when I rounded that bend was… OTHER KAYAKERS!
With an un-concealable feeling of excitement I paddled right up to the startled couple and asked them if I could take their picture. I didn’t want to miss the chance to preserve an image of such a rare occurrence. After taking their picture and getting their names, John and Maryann. I learned that they are…get this…from Kansas.
HEY FLORIDA PADDLERS ARE YOU OUT THERE!?
I know I’ve been paddling some of the most remote coast line in the state in during a streak of outright unpleasant paddling weather, which has to explain why I had yet to see one other kayak on the water since I left Alabama. I know that when the weather conditions improve and I get to more populated areas, Florida’s paddlers will come out of the woodwork to show me just what this state‘s paddling and paddlers are all about…right?
They actually pushed our boats with their shouts
John and Maryann were about to turn and head back upstream to the campground where they are also staying so they joined me on the paddle back to the boat landing. Along the way they took me into the small side bay where they know manatees like to hang out. Sure enough in a cove not much more than 50 yards across, and as much deep, a half dozen of the gentle beasts were hanging out. John and I approached gently and hovered next to one of the largest of the animals it‘s back (as is so often the case) scarred from numerous encounters with boats. It paid us not attention but before long the younger and smaller manatees came right up to us and started to gently nudge our boats.
I tickled the water with my fingers and one curious youngster came to the sound and stuck it’s snout out of the water and let me caress its head. It was incredible. We stayed in the cove for a half hour with one and sometimes two manatees at a time coming up to our boats to check us out and seemingly looking for a pet. After a while even the big scared back giant we first saw rose to the surface and came over to check us out. I can’t say if the weather had been better, if I would have made the time to take the inside route today or paddle all the way up this river. The big winds that put me here today are a true blessing. Sometimes it does pay to slow down and smell the roses.
Start: 7:00 AM- Shell Mound Campground (5 miles north of Cedar Key FL)
Finish: 4:40 PM - Shell Island (At the mouth of Crystal River FL)
Daily dist: 37 miles
Total dist: 1755 miles
Weather: NE wind about 10 mph clear and nice. Wind was only an issue for a few hours
Notes: Very happy to be at the start of an interior route to get out of the wind for a day.
Finally what I call a day with normal winds. By normal I mean blowing but not so hard that it’s blowing up white capped waves and laying streaks of foam across the surface of the water. It was just enough wind to make it interesting but not so much as to make it a force to be reckoned with. Besides the wind, there is another issue that one needs to deal with around here and that is low tide over shallow water. There was another very beautiful sunrise this morning but I didn’t dare pause long enough to take a picture. The tide was going out fast and I was a mile inside of a twisty backwater that turns into a mud flat at low tide. I needed every second to paddle myself out of there before it dried up. Luck was with me and I made it out without even rubbing bottom. If I’d slept another half hour it would have been a very different story.
After escaping the shallows my next navigational chore was to pick up on the channel markers that would take me to and past Cedar Key. The channel is marked with the same red and green navigational beacons/signs that I described on the Mississippi river. Red is on your right on the way back in to a port and green is on your left. Around here, because it’s so shallow (even miles from shore) finding and staying within the marked channels can save a kayaker a lot of aggravation. You wouldn’t think it for a boat that drafts only a few inches, but I need about six feet of water under my kayak to get top performance. When it’s too shallow (even though I’m not touching bottom) there is bottom turbulence from the boat passing above that causes the boat to slow. I don’t know the finite details of how or why it works. I just know that when I’m in water that’s too shallow my kayak doesn’t behave like it should. It doesn’t seem to glide and often feels like I’m dragging something behind me. In addition, when I try to turn it’s a slow lumbering process. All due to the drag caused by the bottom.
Because shallow water slows me down I often find myself running miles from shore to be sure that I’m in deep water. When I see a point of land or island ahead of me I turn and head off shore very early to avoid running into the shallow water around those features. Part of what has made dealing with the wind such an adventure is that in order to run close enough to get out of the roughest water I’ve had to run across shallow water that slows me in its own way. It’s become a trade off between cruising in calmer (but shallow) water with a constant feeling like I’ve got an extra forty pounds in my rear hatch verses running further out in deeper water but where the waves are big enough to give me a constant beating. That’s why finding and following a marked channel can be such a pleasure. It takes all the guess work out of finding your way around the shallows and keeps the kayak moving efficiently.
Following the marked channels around Cedar Key today was exceptionally important because much of the surrounding area is not only shallow but shallow with oyster beds. There is no sound worse than the screeeeeeeccch of a fiberglass hull coming to a stop against a clump of razor sharp oyster shells. I’ve had a couple run ins already but thankfully the Ikkuma came out not too much worse for wear. It’s always tempting to try to cut corners when I’m following a channel but I know the risks to my hull are not worth the few minutes of time I might save.
My goal for today was to try to get as close to the entrance to Crystal River as I could. There was one camp site on a dredge spoil island at about 30 miles from where I started which would be a normal day of paddling. Then there was this spot at 36 miles out which meant a long day if I was going to make it here. Thank goodness the weather cooperated and I was able to make it. What’s important about this spot is that it sits at the north end of over 20 miles of “interior” interlinked bays and rivers which means protection from the wind. The winds that are predicted for tomorrow aren’t bad but it’s Friday and Saturday I’m concerned about. I’m already planning Friday as a rest day, of which I’m over due, and Saturday looks like it may be a no go day as well. Getting to this spot puts another campground within a day’s paddle tomorrow which I hope will be a good place to stay for a couple days. After 11 consecutive days of hard paddling my body and mind need a rest.
Today also brought with it a sort of return to civilization. By the nature of the inaccessible coast line up here it has remained mostly undeveloped. Towns are small and far between and the shore line is mostly unbroken trees and marsh grass. It is quiet and remote with loads of waterfowl and other wildlife almost everywhere you look. When I rounded the point past Cedar Key my eyes detected the faint white shape on the horizon of the twin stacks of a nuclear power plant. While it was somewhat disappointing to be re-entering civilization again having a prominent feature on the horizon did make finding my location on the map much easier.
Start: 7:00 AM- Sink Creek Camp
Finish: 2:40 PM - Shell Mound Campground (5 miles north of Cedar Key FL)
Daily dist: 33 miles
Total dist: x miles
Weather: Calm for first two hours then 15 mph NW tail wind…ye ha!
Notes: Made incredible time with nice tail wind for a change. It was plenty rough by the time I reached the camp ground.
A calm morning for a change
When I woke up to the sound of a steady rain pattering against the roof of my tent I never would have dreamed that I’d finish the day swapping stories with a group of hunters while dining on a variety of local favorites. But that’s exactly where I ended up.
I don’t really have a process for choosing one camp site over another. I simply plot out where 25 or 30 miles of paddling will put me and make plans to spend the night at which ever site works the best. Sometimes there are no sites within that distance range so I have to do a shorter day or hunker down and put in a few more miles. Shell Mound happened to land right on the 32 mile mark which is perfect for my average eight hour day at four miles per hour. The math may work out but it’s still up to me to make it happen. Today began with a steady rain but dead calm which is how it remained for the first two hours. There was a cold front on the way so I knew it wouldn’t last but it sure was nice. Once the front did reach me the winds did build but for the first time in ten days I had a tail wind. It was with that 15 mph NW wind that I made incredible time and reached the Shell Mound Campground (32 miles from where I started) in less than eight hours.
Named after an Indian midden (pile of shells laid down by people over the centuries) the Shell Mound Campground is a county run affair and for just five dollars you gain access to excellent campsites and….HOT SHOWERS! Immediately after landing I took advantage of every minute of sunshine and wind to try to dry my gear after two days of hard use and rain. Once everything was hung up I checked in and then found my way to the shower house. I hadn’t had a shower since I stayed at the RV park in Destin and this shower was probably the best I’ve ever had. To say it felt good would be a gross understatement. It was heaven. There is no laundry facility at the campground so I once again used the dry bag trick and took advantage of the hot water to get my clothes freshened up. They’re far from totally clean but at least the smell is tolerable.
After I finished getting cleaned up and dried out I walked over to a camp site that was populated by huge pickup trucks and men wearing camouflage. I guessed deer hunters and was close…hogs and squirrels…my kind of people. I had asked the group where to go to register when I came in so they had seen me straight off the water in all my paddling clothes which is quite a sight to the unaccustomed eye. They had a few questions as to what exactly I was up to and when I told them about my trip they offered up a beer and food if I was interested. At this point in the trip I absolutely never pass up on the offer of food so as soon as the guys returned from this evening’s hunt I walked over to visit and see what was cooking…hey, they offered. The hunt had been successful and they brought back a couple squirrels and an Armadillo. One of the group had eaten one before and said it was great so the others were curious enough to give it a try. It was an ordeal watching them try to skin the armored beast but once they were finished it yielded quite a bit of meat. They seasoned the carcass, triple wrapped it in tin foil, and put it on the grill to roast.
In the mean time they offered me a steady flow of all manner of food, potato salad, smoked mullet, steak, and oyster stew. I ate until my stomach could take no more and while country music blared from one of the truck stereos, I listened to the guys talk. Oddly enough the main topic of conversation revolved around cooking. Judging by the amount and variety of food in that camp it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
I tried to hang on long enough to get a taste of the Armadillo but it was already late. When an electric space heater in one of their huge tents tripped a breaker and put the lights out I called it a sign that it was time to go. So I bid the gentlemen farewell and floated back to my tent clean, warm, dry, and with a very swollen belly. It felt good.