December 31, 2012 Leave a comment
It’s December and the older and more arthritic I am getting, the less jazzed about cold weather I become. A trip to God’s Waiting Room, otherwise known as Florida, was in order. We arrived late in Naples to spend the night with Troy’s Mom. Naples is a ludicrously over-privileged enclave for trust fund larvae and retired old people. You can tell precisely how annoyingly pretentious the subdivision is by the size and number of fountains at the gatehouse. All subdivisions are gated. Troy’s Mom lives in Tiburon which is a Ritz Carlton resort and it is heinously pretentious. Once you get through the gates, you have to go through a second set of gates to get to the multi-million dollar homes on the golf course. I guess it’s important to keep the riff-raff at the Ritz our of your private street. I did enjoy parking in the garage with our kayaks. It went Mercedes, Mercedes, Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari, Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda. Guess which one was my car?
We decided that a run on Fisheating Creek might be called for. Creek is kind of misleading as a name for this waterway. This is the main flowing waterway that feeds Lake Okeechobee which in turn feeds the Everglades. It is a huge body of water moving through a swamp with one main channel. In high water, it actually runs fast which is a rarity in Florida. It’s certainly not whitewater, but it has a noticeable current. It consistently amazes me that given the sheer abundance of fantastic kayaking/canoeing locations in this state, there isn’t a single really awesome source of info for paddlers. We decided to do it based on the sole recommendation of a guy who drove us insane at the Turner River put in.
Let’s talk about the logistics of getting there. This is in southern Central Florida. This means that there isn’t a whole lot there. It runs roughly parallel with Ft. Meyers, but you are headed inland off I-75. The biggest town nearby is La Belle which has a whopping 4000 inhabitants. Plan accordingly. Once you are there, you have no choice but to go to the Fisheating Creek Outpost. This is the Fisheating Creek outpost:
As you can guess, this is a redneck paradise. Consider yourself warned. The people that man the outpost are not helpful, it’s packed and it’s mega-expensive. We called before we came to check water levels (always necessary) and were told it was runnable. It wasn’t really. They stated the water level was 1.5 and that below 2.0 feet, you have some low water levels where you will have to port your boat. We were told to expect it at the very end for maybe a couple of hundred feet. This seemed doable so we decided to go for it. However, what they thought we wanted was access to the river to put in. What we meant was we wanted portage to the top of the river 8 miles up. Part of the problem was a sheer lack of speaking the same language. When you want them to drive you to a start point and leave you to float back, the term they use is “livery”. You are duly advised to use this term. We called and asked for portage. They said no problem and $5. On arrival, after having waited in line in the shack for 30 minutes, we were handed a pass for $5 and told to drive through the gates. We asked who we needed to talk to for driving us to the put in and they looked at us like we were aliens. Once they realized what we wanted, then they said that there was no portage and we could just paddle upriver for $5 if we wanted. I did fear Troy was going to start the killin’. We finally managed to locate the very amiable owner of the campground who realized we had been lured by morons and he fixed it for us. He offered to take us to the put in and we took him up on it. We were charged $85 for the 6-mile drive. This is an all-time record for portage. The high cost may have something to do with the legal settlement between the State of Florida and the cattle ranching Lykes Brothers related to access, but it is very, very steep.
The creek itself is a ribbon of thick cypress forest in a sea of grass. Driving up on it looks like hills in the distance, but it’s just the tree tops. The put in requires a drive through several sets of padlocked gates so this is not something you can do on the sly. Also, there are cattle. The put in is very easy and you head straight into a waterway. We got in at Burnt Bridge which is an 8 mile paddle. You can also put in at Ingrams Crossing which is a 16 mile paddle. In high water, the 16 mile run would not be difficult. On arrival, it looked a lot like Okefenokee with clear, dark, tannin-stained waters and moss-draped cypress, but that’s only for a 1/4 mile or so. The grass carp were leaping out of the water everywhere which is very cool. There are signs marked with blue arrows that tell you which way to go and they can be confusing, so pay attention. The section near the beginning where the stream is only 6-8 feet wide and twists and turns was the best part. Sadly, I have no pics as I was busy trying not to run into alligators which are all over the place.
Unfortunately, the water levels turned out to be so low that we ended up slogging through the water on foot dragging the kayaks for hundreds of yards at a time. In several locations, it was completely impassable due to alligator flag (water plant) and we had to drag up the bank and through the woods. I was less than jazzed. The older I get, the harder it is to jump in and out of the kayaks and by the end, I was bitchy, sore and exhausted. Less than one-half mile from the end, the skies opened up and we had to get out once again and hide under a saw palmetto to wait it out. It rained hard enough that we had to dump the boats out. We got back soaked and cold.
Is it worth it? Absolutely, but only with water levels ideally above 2.5 feet. Less than that and you are going to hate your life in several places. The bugs are out and you will need serious bug spray and there are lots of really huge alligators for those that freak over that sort of thing. This is about as rural as it gets and you may very well have the entire run to yourself until the very end. It is the last remaining waterway feeding Lake Okeechobee and it is worth seeing for that reason alone. Also, not a strip mall in sight and Florida is overrun with them. Wildlife is plentiful and we even saw panther tracks when we stopped for lunch on a sand bar.
Since my pics suck, check out this video which shows what the run on Fisheating Creek looks like when the water is higher. Turn off the sound as it has a terrible soundtrack.