Don’t check your eyes everyone, you’re not seeing double, I really was just here almost yesterday. However, that trip was for fun, today I was “working”. Yesterday (Tuesday Day 87) the group we affectionately refer to as “The Brits” finally arrived at Russell’s place. You may recall that the reason I’m hanging out over here in St. Petersburg is to help guide a group down in the Everglades, this is that group. Part of the adventure planed for our friends from overseas includes seeing manatee on the famous Weeki Wachee river. After much miscommunication we missed the chance to include this group with our adventure on the river Monday. Tuesday the wind was blowing at well above twenty miles per hour with rain in the forecast, which is far from ideal conditions for paddling even on the river, so we put paddling off and used the day to re-group and get everyone’s gear sorted. A brisk wind was blowing again this morning and a rain shower had us scrambling was we loaded gear into vehicles. But, true to prediction, the grey sky that brought rain in the morning broke up leaving fluffy white clouds floating across a deep blue sky. So it was off to the river to see the famous manatee.
On the way up we stopped at a road side stand to purchase some boiled peanuts. The, very southern, drawl of the vendor had our group in stitches. After playing with their well practiced “Deliverance” movie lines, complete with pretty good “American Redneck” accents, they were nearly overwhelmed by meeting someone that REALLY talks like that. I only wish I had taken them to Wal-Mart with me last night where they would have been exposed to a real sampling of the local subculture complete with people smoking cigarettes in the isles of the grocery section.
This trip served as a bit of a shake down of gear and paddlers alike before we head down to the Glades. It’s nice to be sure all the boats and gear fit and function properly before committing to a three day wilderness trip. In addition, most of the boating these folks have done has been in whitewater boats in the UK. They adapted quickly marveling at the speed of these long boats and the extra effort it takes to get them to turn..
Today with more time and energy we paddled all the way to the top of the river where the trail, somewhat disappointingly, ends at a line of buoys stretched across the river and a sign saying “No Watercraft Beyond This Point”. Years and years ago the top of the spring was turned into a large tourist attraction complete with waterslides and the famous underwater mermaid show. Having loads of kayaks sharing the end of the river with women swimming around in mermaid costumes and kids zipping off of waterslides would undoubtedly cause chaos. Just the same the river does keep getting more beautiful as you go up and it is worth the effort especially when you’re rewarded with a relaxing float all the way back to your car parked downstream. We did see a bunch of manatee again, along with more Yellow Tail Jacks, a variety of herons, turtles, and even raccoons.
The group was a bit chilled after getting loaded up to leave so the mission on the way home was to find a Starbucks to get some coffee. After twenty miles of looking we settled on a Mc Donald’s where everyone procured their body warming drink of choice. Next we headed back to Russell’s house where his wife Claudia was once again mobbed with a huge group of house guests for the night. Tomorrow we all leave and she finally gets a taste of normalcy for at least a few days. I‘m sure it will be a welcome relief after dealing with a house full of symposium coaches for the last two weeks. After dinner I went out to pick up a few last minute supplies. By the time I returned the group had already turned in for the night. Apparently the river adventure had taken it out of them a bit and they wanted to be fresh for the first day in the Everglades tomorrow.
Our plan is to spend three days in the Glades then check out the gators in the Mayaka river on the way back up to St. Petersburg. I'll probably be out of cell (and internet) contact until Friday but I'll give you an update of our experiences then. This is a very fun group and the weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect so I'm sure there will be good stories to tell.