Puking in the panhandle: norovirus fun

I don’t often get to take vacations these days. I left on Friday for a quick four-day trip to the panhandle of Florida to do some paddling I have long wanted to do. By Friday night on arrival, I was ready to vomit. I thought it was exhaustion coupled with the idea I might have to go to breakfast in the morning but, as it turned out, no, I really wanted to vomit. Troy did not take my threat seriously. I collapsed at 1 a.m.

At 8 a.m., Troy was insisting that I get up to go eat breakfast with his Mom before she left to go home. It seemed rude not to go considering she owns the beach house where we were staying, but she offered up a place to eat known as the “Donut Hole” and I wanted to vomit. I got in the car because civility trumps common sense and reason. Within ten minutes of arrival, I excused myself to head to the bathroom. There are very few things that will make me lay down on the nice cool tile floor of a public bathroom. One of those things apparently is the well-placed fear that I will spew in public in a packed restaurant on a Saturday morning. I must say that the Donut Hole on Highway 98 has one very clean bathroom. As soon as I realized I was about to pass out on the tile floor of a public restroom, I pulled myself up and staggered back to the table. Troy’s Mom took one look at me and we went out the door to go home. I think she stills harbors hopes that Troy and I will spawn and that was morning sickness, but at my age, I think she should have been thinking less about pregnancy and more about contagious issues. Troy and his Mom left me to sleep which I did until around early afternoon.

This was a trip in which we were supposed to paddle both Ecofina Creek and the Wakulla River. I was very determined to do this. So I got up and convinced Troy I was OK because I am a moron. We drove to Econfina Creek and thank God the livery service that picks you up to return you to your car refused to take us since it was after one. We returned home. And that’s when the fun started. I will confess to you that at my age, the thought that I might puke on myself without being able to dash to the bathroom never occurred to me. Nonetheless, over the course of the next 18 hours, I think I threw up on myself no less than three times. I can now say without question that if I ever get too ill and will require someone’s round the clock care, I will simply swallow enough pills to make my sleep permanent. There is no reason to live if you are pretty sure you want to die, but can’t guarantee you will.

Because I am incredibly stubborn and stupid, I went paddling the next day and managed with the aid of medicine in combination with severe dehydration to paddle 7 miles of Ecofina Creek. Here is Emerald Spring in all it’s loveliness:

emerald springs

I will talk in detail about this run later for those paddlers that care, but I can tell you that I did not puke once in the two hours it took to paddle this run. I saved that fun for later. Never one to let a virus completely kill off my plans, I went ahead and toured the Gulf Shores National Seashore while Troy shot inspirational and beautiful shots of dunes and oat grass with crystal clear waters and spectacular sunsets. While he took awesome photographs, I puked in the sand. And thus ended the last night of the vacation, with me on my knees, on a deserted beach with my husband, while I puked. As an fyi, there is zero romance to anything with sand for those who expect some romance. Sand sticks to everything. Find a nice sand-free spot for romance. Also puking. You’re welcome.

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I have now toured every bathroom from Perdido Key to Rosemary Beach along Highway 98 and am contemplating posting a field guide to bathrooms to puke in or developing an app. Troy does not think this will be a big seller, but I beg to differ. This was crucial knowledge I would have paid to have had.

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Fisheating Creek in Florida: dragging the yaks

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:

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.

Ambling along the boardwalk in Blue Springs State Park, Florida

I have been out with major dental surgery for the past two weeks, culminating in an unplanned visit to the oral surgeon to address an infection in the jawbone. This sucked epicly, as the pain level was remarkably high. I am not a wuss as I walked around with a broken neck for three weeks in exquisite pain before it was surgically repaired. So when they asked me “How would you describe the pain on a scale of 1 to 10” my response was pretty simple: “That would be a 10” with an unspoken “thanks for asking Captain Obvious”” tacked on the end. Fortunately for me and those forced to be near me, someone totally awesome invented Percocet. I have decided Percocet doesn’t really dull the pain – it just makes you not give a damn that you are in pain. This post is dedicated to you, Mr. Unknown-I-invented-Percocet-guy. Without your invention, I would have either gone mad or killed my husband, and it was even money on which way I would have gone. I am on the mend, but I am pretty sure in my last life I must have killed a slew of dentists to end up in their chairs so much over the past two weeks.  Karmic vengeance to be sure.

So kids, here’s your pretty for the week while I live in a haze of oxycodone bliss. These pictures are from Blue Springs State Park just north of Orlando, Florida. This is just off the St. Johns River and during the winter, it is a major manatee hangout where they come by the hundreds as the temperature of the water is steady 72 degrees year round. The spring is enchanting, and for those who like to dive, you can get certified to dive here as the spring is 140 feet deep at the source.  There is a boardwalk along the river for those who want to stroll along the water and you can swim here unless the manatees are present, at which point, it’s off limits. For those of the kayaking bent, forget it. The main spring and run down the 3/4 miles to the convergence with the St. Johns River are closed to kayakers. The water is spectacular and the wildlife viewing is great if you want to see manatees in huge numbers. This park is famous for huge crowds during the season, so call before you come because they do close it off when the crowds are high. There is a $5 entrance fee, and for a quick stop, it’s a nice place to see.

Blue Springs State Park: it's just that pretty

 

Where the Blue Springs run converges with the St Johns River. This is all manatee preserve and it's off limits to people from November to March.

 

Spectacular scenery.

 

Scuba diving at the main spring. The divers disappear into a dark blue crack below the water. It's pretty cool to see.

The magic of bears: Wekiwa Springs, Florida

Florida is one giant strip mall in many respects and you never have to go more than 2 miles in any direction to find a Panera Bread. It’s also oddly like God’s waiting room, full of old people on their last leg. Surprisingly, it also has some outstanding natural areas that are truly wild, even in urban areas. Exhibit A: Orlando. Nothing is worse than Orlando. Tons of tourists spending their last dollar to entertain their hopeful children whose fantasies will be crashed on the shores of reality. (Note: my parents never took me to Disney World, so I am still bitter about this). Endless shopping malls and outlets where you can buy crap you never knew existed or that anyone would ever want. Concrete, traffic, noise and people everywhere. It’s loud and there’s no headset in the world that can drown out the incessant hum of tourist noise. All this is to say I was shocked by Wekiwa Springs.

The main pool of Wekiwa Springs.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located smack in the middle of Apopka, Florida, a northern suburb of Orlando. On hot days, the spring fed pool is packed with screaming children splashing everywhere. We arrived on a Tuesday and stared at what seemed at first to be our worst nightmare come true. We hate crowds and we hate noise and there was a lot of both on display. I had heard of the fabled clear waters of Wekiwa Springs which hook up to St. John’s River and I had always wanted to kayak the area. On arrival, we parked in an asphalt parking lot and looked down on this pool which the State of Florida has thoughtfully rocked in around the sides. The manicured feel to the main attraction did not engender much hope in me that this was going to be something I wanted to do after all the hype. There is nothing natural about this pool. It’s nature that’s been made safe for the masses. It is of course, beautiful. The water is crystal clear and the scenery is drop dead gorgeous.

The water is really this clear.

As luck would have it, the launch for kayaking the river is at the bottom of about a 1/4 mile fairly steep trail. There is zero car access so this means kayaks and gear have to be carried down and what goes down, must come back up later.  The State of Florida has a park concession here that rents cheap kayaks, canoes and these ridiculous “exercise” boats you pedal and sit up in.  It didn’t seem to be very expensive for those so inclined, and I confess part of me wanted to just rent gear rather than haul it down and back up. This is because I am a whining sissy.

The majority of people who hit the river stick pretty close to the launch area. About a mile down the river is a commercial marina/bar just outside the park boundaries where drunk college students lay in the sun and occasionally, launch boats to go into the park to annoy older, more sober people. Once you get past this, it’s pretty quiet and you won’t see much except a lot of wildlife in the form of birds, fish, turtles, and the occasional alligator. The current is moderately strong going down the river which makes the paddle seem much easier than it will be on return. The water is very clear. You will see tons of dead trees in the water which I hope were left there to capsize drunken morons who high center their canoes on them. It pays to paddle in the middle of the river to avoid all the deadfall in the water, but you will have to work hard to avoid the incompetent masses paddling out of control.

Taking a left about 2/3 of mile down stream will take you to the Rock Springs Run, which is an 8-mile, narrow, winding and fast-flowing, spring-fed stream with amazing scenery. It is very frequently impassable after 2 -3  miles upriver as the water is very, very shallow. The current is strong and you will be fighting to go upstream against it. On the plus side, you will make record time on the return. Most of the crowds will disappear after a quarter-mile in and if you are quiet, you will see amazing amounts of wildlife.

Rock Springs Run in Wekiwa Springs State Park

This is the very best part of the park. Because I am lazy and wanted to turn around 1 1/2 miles in (paddling against the current is hard, kids), I sent Troy onward and told him I would meet him at the launch. Three minutes later, I got the absolute thrill of a lifetime. Because the current was strong, I was able to practically just rudder to get back without paddling and I was making no noise. With no one near and the only sound being the water and birds calling, I rounded a bend and came face to face with a beautiful cinnamon bear who was at the water’s edge. The moment was surreal and I paddled back to keep myself stationary in the water which was no more than 12 inches deep.  We sat there, the bear and I, five feet apart for five minutes or so, just watching each other. He was curious, but wary and I was mesmerized.  Finally, something startled him and he ambled off into the forest and I watched the sun sparkle on his wet fur. Naturally, the moment was rapidly ruined by drunken frat boys who saw him heading into the forest, but I got my golden moment with just me and the bear and it was fucking awesome. Suck it Disney World. You can’t compete with a bear.

Troy went on to this campsite on Rock Springs run about 2 miles upriver. Sadly, he had the camera when I had my magic bear moment. It's lovely, but it's no cinnamon bear picture.

Also, just because it amuses me, I snapped this quick shot of an actual douche canoe on the river. Seriously, the people in the canoe were BOTH on their cell phones.

Hang up your fucking cell phone. I did not come out here to say "Can you hear me, now? Good."

Nine Mile Pond: vultures and cat vomit

Day 1 in Everglades National Park.

We decided to camp in Flamingo which is a campground at the very southern tip of Florida in Everglades National Park. Any further South and you are swimming to get to Key West. As a veteran of many national parks, I can say that Everglades National Park is the red-headed step child of the park system if the visitor’s center is anything to go by. As an actual red-headed step child, I have street cred to make these statements.

Sadly, this crime against architecture survived Hurricane Wilma

On a totally unrelated side note, should you find yourself at Flamingo and in need of something to eat, do NOT dine at the Buttonwood Cafe in the visitor’s center unless you like terrible food served at a glacially-slow pace at astronomical prices. Instead, go to the marina shop and gorge on overpriced frozen candy bars.  Nothing is more delicious or nutritious than a frozen Snickers washed down with a diet Red Bull for breakfast. I do so hope to grace the cover of a cereal box someday, but I think I should lobby Red Bull to make room for my face on their can:

I think this has serious marketing potential if Red Bull is trying to market to 40 somethings who are constantly sleep-deprived in semi-dangerous situations.

We decided to kayak Nine Mile Pond, which is actually not nine miles long or a pond, but more like just shy of six miles of trail through a series of ponds, mangroves and open sawgrass prairies. The parking area is populated by vultures. These vultures want to destroy your car. Seriously. They are addicted to rubber and will strip your car in no time if you don’t take precautions. I tried to take a picture of a Japanese tourist taking a picture of a car being attacked by vultures, but Troy wouldn’t let me. Probably because he had deduced the vultures wanted to eat that car and not ours.  Even so, we diligently wrapped windshield wipers and kayak cradles in towels to keep the damned vultures at bay.

They are waiting for you to leave so they can strip your car. It's nature's version of Camden NJ.

Everyone (not native to Southern Florida) has an idea of what they think the Everglades looks like.  The terrain varies based on elevation, but at the farthest southern portions, you can expect a lot of wet sawgrass for miles and mangrove stands.

The start (and end) to Nine Mile Pond

We got into the water and headed across the first pond to the mangroves.  The trail is marked by numbered PVC pipes which is a good thing because pretty much everything looks exactly the same.  This area has crocs and alligators, although we saw neither this time.

Side by side in Nine Mile Pond

The middle portion of the trail is pretty much mangrove islands and sawgrass areas where the alligators and crocodiles like to lounge.  Alas, no reptiles to speak of.

Sawgrass on the left, mangroves to the right.

The portion of the trail furthest from the starting point is riddled with some type of reed that made the paddling exceedingly tedious. Each stroke would bring up rotted wet cattails to slap you in the face.  The water here is no more than one foot deep.

Rotting cattail things in the water

Close up, they greatly resemble cat vomit. It is noteworthy that I managed to get three of these things down the front of my shirt while paddling. Cat vomit in the cleavage.

Attractive, isn't it?

Troy realized after we made the turn back that we managed to miss poles 60-79. If it was more of this, I can’t say I’m too sorry. Paddling through stagnant cat vomit loses its charm rapidly when you are already expending energy fighting the wind and shallow water.

If you are in Everglades National Park, the Nine Mile Pond trail falls on the must-do list.  Overall, Troy and I managed to do it with a minimum of strife, no capsizing and it was a nice paddle.  Personal pain rating: 5 out of 10, for cat vomit in the cleavage and a blister on the right hand.

Haiku:

Sawgrass and mangroves

Wind sings across the water

Cat vomit in hair

 

 

 

Captain Nemo

I capsized today in the swamp. Mega embarrassing.  I got stuck on deadfall and tried to push out of it and went over. Jesus. I know they say reptiles never attack lawyers out of professional courtesy, but I was very motivated to get out of the water as there were alligators 20 feet back.  When you have only 5 feet of space available and you are standing in 5 feet of cold, smelly water, getting the water out of your kayak and you back into it is a challenge, particularly when your sandals are being sucked off your feet by swamp mud.

Pretty and evil.

I smelled like a wookie all day. My skin is stained brown from all the tannin in the water. Perhaps someone will mistake it for a tan. Tomorrow, no mangroves. All sawgrass and open water. Thank God. Pain rating for the day: 8 out of 10. Definitely time for drugs that end in the letters “-cet”.

Haiku of the day:

Brown, swampy water

Smells like ass and tastes much worse

Mangroves are evil

 

Big Cypress: Kayaking in the Wind and Battling with Spiders

People use the word “hate” too casually. Some people hate raisins. Some people hate Republicans. I hate kayaking against a strong wind.  I mean, I really really hate wind in the same way I hate people who drive 15 miles below the speed limit in the left lane.   It is windy in southern Florida today. Strong east winds blowing at a steady 25 mph. We almost bagged the day, but we decided to kayak Halfway Creek in Big Cypress today. The logic was that it was (allegedly) protected from the wind and that it would make paddling tolerable. Big fucking mistake as it turned out.

Since my existence as an actual person has recently been questioned, I present the following picture. Be warned that the glare off my legs may blind you.

Yes, my legs ARE as white as my shirt.

Halfway Creek is a nice paddle with manatees in the creek and a lot of lakes and mangrove tunnels in between. The total mileage is around 8+ miles from start to finish. I knew on the way out it was going to suck on the way back in. The wind was to our back and we were paddling with the tide.  It was too easy. 2 miles in and we hit the mangrove tunnels. Mangrove tunnels are kind of awesome.

A mangrove tunnel on Halfway Creek

What we didn’t count on were the spiders. Millions and millions of spiders. They build webs across the mangrove tunnels to capture bugs. Also kayakers.

Millions of the bastards everywhere

I ducked, I tried to avoid them, and still, spiders in my hair and my cleavage, spiders on the kayak and in the kayak. I fucking hate spiders. Finally, one of them bit Troy, leaving a welt. I doubted they were poisonous, but we turned back anyway. You can never tell when you are going to have an allergic reaction to something and 4 miles back in a swamp is not the place to discover you are going into shock.  Unless you are trying to kill your spouse.  I am waiting to see if Troy develops any awesome superpowers.

This meant we had to turn around and paddle into the wind. The wind sucks. Epicly. By the time we made it back to the launch, I was crippled.  3+ miles against the tide and a strong 25 mph wind. Tomorrow should be interesting since I can’t lift my arms to even put on a bra.  I will say that the sunset was beautiful, but most anything is when you take percocet.