Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Florida - where things are getting worse and worse

Before you read all this I want to emphasize that I really ENJOYED this trip. It may not sound like it, but we had a lot of fun..... So what happened? Basically anything that can possibly happen to you on a canoe trip happened.

We headed back out into the Everglades and actually had a very nice half day. Ok, the mosquitoes were coming out and all the dead fish were unnerving, but it was quite nice. The next day the wind came up. First we thought that this would not be a big deal because we were paddling on inland bays, but little did we know. We ended up paddling 10 hours straight to make 18 miles and were pretty much dead at the end of the day. That day brought us through alligator creek and true to its name there were loads of alligators on the river banks. Of course this is when Birdnut wanted to take a picture. And of course his camera has no zoom (so he claims at least) and we had to get close. And then he stopped steering and we more or less ran into the damn alligator - which just disappeared under water: maybe due to my screaming or maybe due to nearly being run over. At least we survived it.....At night we learnt how to tie in a tent onto a chickee (which is a freestanding tent platform on the water) so the whole thing does not get blown away, but of course that wind cannot last several days???

Little did we know: Next morning the wind was stronger than ever and we had to make another 18 miles. I should mention at that point that Birdnut has been in the military. Luckily he still remembered those military cadences they used for drills, so whenever the wind got really bad he just yelled at me "repeat after me" and we were paddling across the bay singing happily:

Two old maidens lay in bed
One turns over to the other and says:
I wanna live a life of danger\
I wanna be an airborne ranger...

I want to mention at this point that I am a pacifist and Birdnut used to be a paratrooper... But as his drill sergeant used to say: You have to practise to be miserable. Our sufferings where not over yet.

Note the channel marker
At the very end of this day with still 6 miles to go we had to go across a channel where the wind was especially bad and we would just not move at all no matter how hard we paddled. We just wanted to rest for a second and stopped paddling when it happened: We drifted backwards in the strong current, ran into a channel marker - and capsized!!!!! Everything seemed to be in slow motion when I went into the water head forward - together with Birdnut. Luckily the water was not deep and we could stand up. Our boat was still there but about to sink. We quickly dragged it ashore and tried to save what was possible. We only lost one bucket of water and our bailing bucket. We dropped everything onto the mucky shore, turned the boat around to drain the water and took a deep breath - I mean you do not capsize every day!!! I was soaking wet, but luckily all my valuables and camera where waterproofed and did not suffer.

But one thing was clear now: We would not make it to our appointed and reserved campsite that night, so we decided to paddle to the next chickee and hoped whoever stayed there would let us stay as well. We were lucky: It was a double chickee and only one party was staying there.... But the wind was so strong that we actually had to use our canoe as a wind break in order to set up our tents - but it also dried our clothes in no time.

Next day we were back on schedule - and were turning back. And with us the wind turned again, so that we had to paddle into a headwind again. Isn't that lucky? But we had a very funny incident that night. We had a lot of drinking water left and decided to take a little camp shower with it. In order not to get our feet mucky we showered on top of the picnic table. Of course it was just my luck that when it was my turn to shower and I was standing on top to the picnic bench stark naked a sightseeing tour boat passed by.... Birdnut was laughing his socks off and happily waved to the captain (who probably has some story to tell to his customers now about that particular campsite....) At night the stench of decaying fish became overpowering. Plus myriads of mosquitoes.... We retired to bed early.

Dead manatee
Next day we just wanted to get away from that smell..... We decided to stay our last night on a key (which is a little island in the ocean). Nice pleasant last day with an easy paddle - at least that is what we thought. Of course everything went a totally different way. As soon as we got out to the ocean we had to fight the tide (which of course came against us). In the small channels between the islands which worked like bottle necks it took us 15 minutes to proceed 200 meters. And things went worse: Waves came up - really bad waves. I was shit scared and we were even considering turning back. Maybe having capsized a couple of days before had not really help our confidence.... After fighting for 2 hours we finally made it to our little key. I could hardly sleep that night because I thought we would never made it away from that island again.

Luckily next morning the sea was as smooth as a baby's butt - but of course the tide was against us. Birdnut said that during the whole trip we had the tide or current WITH us for only a single time....

But as I have mentioned at the beginning of this entry: We really enjoyed that trip!!!!! We suffered record cold, were marooned for 2 days, capsized and got nearly eaten by an alligator - but we loved that trip.

And tomorrow I will start my Florida Trail thruhike - I have already heard that I section hiker has died out there because of hypothermia, Big Cypress is wet and the water up to the waist - but I am sure that I will enjoy that trip as well....


aussie al said...

Hey there you intrepid paddler, I'm polishing the kayaks for when you arrive.....we'll start with a quick warm up paddle to the Mote Bello Islands, don't stree, it's only a 90Km open sea crossing, you've got the experience now. Thank Birdnut for breaking you in eh........... Al
PS Take care xxx

Suwannee Refugee said...

I've just found your blog. Great stories. I'm rooting for you to finish it. There have been two folks that I know of that haven't finished the trail this year because of the abnormal amounts of rain and cold weather. But you're almost there. Keep it up!!