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.

Kayaking the Buffalo River in Tennessee: an exercise in humility

I was supposed to spend the weekend of the 8th in the Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountain National Park so I could finally see the synchronized fireflies that are unique to just this one small part of the national park and nowhere else in the world.  So it would of course figure that the early heat we have had meant the damned fireflies were done three days before we were supposed to get there. This meant I had to find something else to do. I decided we would drive to an area just past Hohenwald, Tennessee, to kayak a stretch of the Buffalo River. Hohenwald, Tennessee, is world-famous for an elephant sanctuary that you can’t visit.

Troy left me to plan the trip which meant no matter what I did, it would be inadequate planning. So I said fuck it and called a canoeing company for information. Of course no one answered, so I printed out what little information I could find on line, directions off of Google maps and we hit the road at 8. A few words to our friends at Google, your directions suck balls. Ditto to the Sprint phone GPS. Note to those who don’t know: avoid the Natchez Trace Parkway at all costs unless you are old and like to drive 50 the whole way. ** For those inclined, directions are below. You’re welcome.

Since I didn’t really plan for much, we showed up at Buffalo Canoeing which bills itself as ‘Christian Canoeing’.  Not sure how you canoe ‘Christian’ as opposed to Jewish canoeing, or Buddhist canoeing, but OK. Since it was a Friday, the place was largely deserted and a very nice man walked out on the porch. He had almost zero information on the river, runs, etc., but he told us we should run the Texas Bottoms run, which was about seven miles long. He offered to port our boats and us to the put in and allow us to leave our cars at the campsite, which is an unheard of luxury. (See previous descriptions of ignominious put ins). We took him up on the offer and we quickly found ourselves in the back seat of a Christian Ford Econoline.

This is the first time in recorded history my heathen self has been anywhere near a church van of any denomination. Miraculously, lightning did not strike.

The driver told us he was a school teacher and we made polite chit chat.  He told us he liked to sew but that he “wasn’t gay or nothin’.” Seriously. I assured him his manhood was not in question and that I merely marveled at anyone who could sew as I am prone to doing things like stapling buttons on my pants when they fall off. (Note: this does not work well). I have created a Google map for accurate directions to the put in so you won’t suffer finding it like we did.  Paddlers, you’re welcome.

This is where you put in.

We were told that it would take us three hours to do the run and that we needed to “watch for a fallen down bridge ” and that we needed to get out and portage the boats over it. That was all the instruction we got. In retrospect, a few more words to the wise would have been helpful. About 100 yards in, there’s a series of falls. Sadly, I had no idea they were coming and getting over them sucked. The water level was low and I high-centered it several times which sucked. Advice to the wise: go right in low water – it sucks less. In higher water, this is a Class II run.

The Buffalo River. There are no buffalo. There are buffalo fish. I think they should rename the river Buffalo Fish River. Buffalo River creates unrealistic expectations of buffalo.  There are cows. You will see lots of them on the banks and in some places, in the river.

Once we passed the first set of falls, we came across this gem:

Somewhere, an Indian is crying.

The problem with Tennessee is that apparently everyone feels free to use the rivers as their own personal landfill. It’s a lovely river, but it’s packed with trash. I quit counting tires after ten. Note to Tennesseans: when you don’t need something anymore, don’t throw it in the river. You will see a lot of blue herons, ducks, cows, gar, bass, etc. If you are very, very lucky, this stretch is reported to have it’s very own Sasquatch. My quest to see Bigfoot continues, alas, no ‘Squatch for Jean this trip.

Troy is ahead of me. This is so I can watch him eat it before I attempt rapids. I am good like that.

The river moves fairly fast and most of this stretch is rapids punctuated by flat still water stretches. This is awesome because I enjoy having a current move my carcass without much effort from me. On the down side, this creates the possibility of decapitation from strainers.  The Buffalo River is chock full of deadfall and strainers. Deadfall is paddling shorthand for dead trees and crap in the water that you hit in your boat which is bad. Strainers are things that allow water to pass but not kayakers, in my case, typically tree branches low over the water that I run into.  Since this river moves fairly fast and has lots of turns with strainers at the end, this is not a great river for novices.  Some people would call it foreshadowing with all the talk about strainers and deadfall, but it was inevitable that I was going to take a hit and dunking in the river. My Waterloo on the Buffalo came in the form of a series of drops with a quick hard turn to the left and a big tree sticking out to decapitate me. I saw it coming, and I could not paddle hard enough to avoid it.  As a wise man once said: “Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way … turn.”  I kind of missed the turn part.

I hit this hard. It sucked. I went over and out into the water. That also sucked. Especially since Troy made it through and I didn’t.

Several large bruises and a tattered ego later, I crawled out of the river with boat in hand and had to pump water out. Troy managed to maintain a straight face for 30 seconds before he began making comments that will likely get him killed in his sleep.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Just after we passed under a large bridge, we came upon the ‘fallen bridge’ mentioned by the porter. He’s right – it’s best to get out of the boat and portage over the bridge. If you try to go over it, it’s not going to go well.

The water was way too low to try to go over this.

The other side of the fallen bridge. This is the halfway point.

The river flattens out a bit and you get to see nice pretty blue water. You will paddle past pastoral scenes of bucolic countryside. Cows may visit you. Rednecks may also suddenly appear unexpectedly around a bend of the river. They like to sit in chairs in the water and drink beer. By July, this river is reportedly packed with hordes of drunken fishermen. Be prepared.

Bluffs and blue water – almost to the end of the run

Troy and I saw two canoes and two middle-aged women arguing in the middle of the river on chairs and that was it, but it was a Friday. Do not expect to get this river to yourself, but it’s not as crowded as other middle Tennessee rivers.  There is no cell signal in this area, so try to avoid having an emergency.  Services are non-existent outside of Hohenwald so plan accordingly. Also, if you are looking for a nice remote place to bury your smart-assed husband’s body, this area has potential.  It’s hilly, heavily wooded and sparsely populated.

The end of the paddle at the Buffalo Canoeing.

**For those who want to know how to get to this place, at Exit 46 on I-65, head west toward Columbia.  Stay on this highway (Hwy 99 – a/k/a Bear Creek Road) until you get to Hampshire Pike and exit left, then stay on that all the way to Hohenwald (28 miles or so), take a left at Park Street (you have to look for the Hwy 99 sign as the street is not marked) take a quick jog left at E. 4th Ave (also unmarked, but follow the signs for Hwy 20) then take a quick right at Buffalo Road, otherwise known as Hwy 99 and stay on this road until you see a sign marked “Buffalo Canoeing” – you will know it when you see it. Ignore any other prompting from your GPS or Mapquest. You have been warned.

For paddlers who want more information, the Buffalo Canoeing owner is the son of the original owner and he works three jobs. This means he does not answer his phone much. Leave a message. Portage is available for $5 a person. Take them up on it.

The hazards of kayaking in Tennessee: ticks, sunburns and rednecks

It’s been a while since the Harrison household hit the water for a variety of reasons. Baxter’s death took the wind out of my sails to some extent and Troy’s continuing rotator cuff injury meant that there was little point in getting the kayaks out. This weekend, though, we decreed it was time. We mulled over a number of possibilities and decided to do a stretch of the Piney River in Hickman County, Tennessee, about an hour west of Nashville. We consulted the oracle, otherwise known as a paddling book for the Middle Tennessee area, and set upon a 6.9 mile run from the old Piney River bridge to the Walter Nunnelly bridge. The book indicates that you will arrive at an area where you can park next to the bridge and then descend a short embankment to put in to the river. After Troy and I skirmished over whether the area we found was indeed northwest of the bridge (thankyouverymuchTroyIwasright), we parked and did a quick recon. The book euphemistically refers to the put in area at the end as a “slide”. This translates to very difficult and steep muddy bank for those not in the know. We lugged the boats down. Then Troy changed his mind and we lugged the boats back up the hill. I complained. After another skirmish about violating someone’s property rights and entering on the east side of the river, we turned back and went back down with the boats to the edge of the river. We were greeted by an Australian cattle dog that gave us the “are you seriously going down there?” look. We went down there. Again.

Crawling down a steep bank with waist-high flora is guaranteed to get you two things: poison ivy and ticks. I marinated myself in Deet, but as it turned out, the ticks laughed at my feeble attempts to keep them at bay. One of them was later discovered lodged in my side where the sports bra was. I am reasonably confident I avoided the poison ivy, but it’s a bit early to say for certain. However, the end of the bank and my less than graceful entrance into the water pretty much guarantee that I washed off any sap I may have touched as we pretty much took headers into the river. Troy’s shoe got stuck deep in mud and there were some choice words that rhyme with brother trucker and similar words that came out of his mouth.

Had we paid $5 each, we could have ported to the private spot across the river.

After our ignominious start, we ambled down the river. For those who read this and actually want to know what the river is like, note that this was a warm, dry day in May after several days without rain. A good bit of the first part of the river is inches deep and there was some portage involved. Also cursing. Expect a fair bit of grinding over shallow rocky bars in the middle of the river in places and if you have a fiberglass kayak, I’m so sorry.  For novice kayakers, there are parts of this river that run at class IV+ to Class V and this is not a river to fuck with in high water or in specific stretches. Leave that to the pros and stick to the area between Piney River Road and the Piney River Campground and you really can’t hurt yourself without effort.

The start of the run next to the wreckage of the Old Piney River Bridge

In May of 2010, the middle Tennessee area was hit with catastrophic flooding and this river still shows the effects. Huge trees are down along the entirety of the river and there is a great deal of deadfall and some strainers.  At the beginning of the run, you can see the wreckage of the old bridge which was destroyed by the floodwaters. Also, the picture above gives you a good idea of just how shallow the river can get in places. Look ahead for the blue water to avoid getting high centered on a gravel bar. Also, this avoids hearing taunting comments from one’s husband who did not get high-centered on the gravel bar.

Shallow and wide at the beginning, punctuated with little rapid runs.

The Piney River drops at about 8 feet a mile so there are some nice little rapids you will have to contend with. Post-flood, there is a ton of debris you have to avoid and in higher water, this could be challenging and easily a class III run.  Most of this is in the class II category which is easy enough, but for the novice, you may find yourself tipped over multiple times. Fortunately, unless you knock yourself senseless, you won’t drown because these rapids aren’t more than a foot deep in most places.

The water is clear and moves along at a good 100 cfm. There are places to fish for those inclined and there are a lot of trout. Also, there are a lot of beer cans, which indicates redneck fishermen. Be prepared.

This river is lovely, but it’s also trashy. 99% of the people you will meet on the water are going to be beer-swilling rednecks with extended families carrying fishing gear, and smoking and drinking. Apparently, they simply heave their trash wherever they happen to be which is quite unfortunate. On the plus side, the old sewer plant no longer takes water in here.  Less than two miles from the end of the run, you will come upon what is clearly a Redneck Riviera. As you round a bend, you will see a campground on the right packed in good weather with the unwashed masses swimming in the river, drinking beer, smoking and engaging in redneck mating rituals. Paddle harder and get past this. Resist the urge to look as you might need therapy.

Troy lagging behind just past the Highway 48 bridge

On this run you will pass under three bridges. The first at Pinewood Road, the second at Highway 48 and the final one at the end which is Highway 230 where you have hopefully had the foresight to park your car or arrange for portage. Once you hit the Highway 48 bridge, you are roughly halfway done and the river gets wider and deeper, still punctuated by occasional rapids with steep turns and things you want to avoid.

Once you see these, you are in the home stretch.

You will know your run is at an end because you will see another bridge, but this one is packed with redneck kids. They like to jump off the bridge. This is Darwinism in action, but make sure you look up before you go under the bridge to get out on the left side. There are dumb kids up there and they might not realize you are coming underneath. No sense dying with them.

Walter Nunnelly bridge and home to jumping redneck kids

You will want to exit here as we are told the debris from the flood has made much of the rest of the trip to Vernon Bridge (2+ more miles down the river) largely impassable.  On your exit, you will immediately note the poor condition of the bridge while mentally wondering if you have to drive over it. The good news is, no, you do not have to drive over this bridge which looks like it’s at risk of imminent collapse from below.

“Big Guns vs Hot Rod FOREVER”. I have no idea what this means. Note the kids preparing to jump up above.

I was told by one of the kids that before the flood of 2010, you could just walk right up to spray paint the bridge, but now, they have to hang off the bridge to do it. Today’s youth, tomorrow’s convenience store clerks.

I am not a nice person.

At the end of the day, what I have is three ticks, one serious sunburn, majorly sore muscles and a new appreciation for urban dwellers.

I am not sure how to explain the line of sunburn demarcation.

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