After a long week at work (>## hours) due to my involvement with our Environmental Film Festival, I looked forward to hanging out, coaching, and paddling.

Saturday the Symposium at Sweetwater Kayaks was rocking with so many new faces meandering around taking classes.

My roll and pleasure at the symposium was to co coach with Sean on Kayak camping/cooking.  We worked it in a “round-robin” style.  We began with showing a bivy sack, then hammock, to a small tent that needed to be staked, then transitioning to my favorite free standing tent (Mountain Hardware’s Skylight tent).  As one of us talked the other would pack the previously mentioned shelter and its coordinating sleeping bag and pad into a NDK Explorer.

We illustrated different types of camp lights, and cooked on several types of stoves.  Everyone also enjoyed eating our dishes.  And all of that even went into the kayak.  The guests were amazed at the ease to packing a kayak.  And I was amazed that the racks we used to support the kayak held up to the weight of all of the gear!

Sunday I co coached with Greg Stamer.  In the morning we did Greenland Open Water.  Greg asked me to do a put-across-bow-pry maneuver.  I have done it many times in my Chatham 17 and Russell’s Greenlander Pro to quickly turn the kayak up into the wind.  However, I was paddling a NDK Explorer for the first time.  I was a too aggressive with the paddle placement and flipped. LOL.  The water was refreshing and I rolled up on the opposite side of the kayak.

In the afternoon I taught bank-base Greenland rolling to two paddlers; whereas, Greg taught deep water Greenland rolling.  The two students I had never rolled with a Greenland paddle.  I have a few tricks in helping students and they both ended the class with a roll.

As the day concluded I was given the opportunity to paddle a canoe down the Suwannee River.  I have enjoyed the Suwannee every time I have hiked along its banks or paddled it.  So after negotiating a deal with my wife I joined the coaches and students for some 3 and 4 star canoe training.

Monday afternoon we drove to Stephen Foster State Park.  The traffic was thick and had a mind of its own.  At times I thought these metal beasts that clogged the asphalt river did not want to release its captive prey to enjoy the splendors of the river that we so desperately were trying to get to.

We finally arrived just before sunset and I then discovered how nice cabin # 4 was.  The cabin has a large screened in porch, rocking chairs, tables, a complete kitchen, and fire place.  We ate and sang, it was better than a night on the town.  We had two guitar players with us Russell Farrow and Nigel Foster.  Phil Hadley also graced us with song.

Tuesday after breakfast we explored Stephen Foster State Park, drove up to see Big Shoals, and then dropped off the automobiles at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (our take out point).

The rapids at Big Shoals were not dramatic. I saw a gopher tortoise burrow.  But that was not the biggest discovery of an endangered species.  We discovered a Skunk Ape. And he was happy to pose with Chad and me.  Usually Florida Skunk Apes are shy and elusive but he liked people who canoe on his river.  He was especially fond of one of our members.  We all had a good laugh when they exchanged hugs.

It was midday when we started to paddle from Stephen Foster to Woods Ferry River Camp.  It is a short paddle of 9 miles downriver to Woods Ferry.  With current I figured it would only be a two and a half to three hour trip.  I was wrong.  It was a leisurely five hour journey. We all played with edging, tested the efficiency of blending strokes, and tried each other’s canoes and paddles.  We had lunch on the river about 90 minutes into the trip.  I was originally concerned with paddling in a kneeling position; but, I was not experiencing numbness in my feet, knees, or low back.  It was almost five o’clock when we paddled through some rapids and arrived at Woods Ferry River Camp.

For dinner we ate STEAK! I have never eaten steak for dinner during a kayak trip.  We ate very well that night.  And were well hydrated.  There is an advantage to having all that storage in a paddle craft.  Yum – big boat, big tasty meal.

Then we gathered around a fire pit in front of a chickie (screened sleeping platform with electricity and ceiling fan).  Nigel has a great voice and knows some fun songs.  Phil was rocking.  And Russell played ‘until his fingers bled’. Who needs electric entertainment when you have an opportunity to paddle with cool people?

I slept well after my first day of paddling a canoe.

Wednesday after eating and breaking camp we paddled up river to refine some skills in the rapids.  Phil Hadley and Jen Kleck are excellent coaches.  We worked on moving the canoe up river, recovering in eddies, and what to do in the event of a capsize.

Standing up in a canoe and polling it up river was similar to my experience to punting on the river Cam along the banks of Cambridge University.  Well, not really.  The only thing similar was to remember to yank on the punt/poll if it got stuck and I had to remember not to lock my knees.  We also used the painters on the canoe to ferry it up through the rapids.  Then we practiced paddling up and spinning the canoe in the rapids.  I would like to say I was smooth like icing a cake.  But I now know what I need to do to improve.  We also had one volunteer to capsize a few times.  This gave us all the opportunity to safely practice some rescues.

After class we paddled to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  It was nice to get out of the canoe.  Kneeling for two days had started to feel more like penance than pleasure.

We collected our kits and headed to Paynes Prairie State Preserve.  We stayed at the campground for the evening and then drove to canoe up Silver River.  Sean and I have kayaked Silver so many times I think I could navigate it without a headlamp on a star free night.

My friends had never been on this river and the local wild life made it a wild morning.  And I will share all about it in a future post.

– Jeff

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