Archive for the ‘Suwannee River’ Category

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

    Well, it seems we have come to the last and final post on our Suwannee River Expedition. I hope everyone has enjoyed reading & following along with our trip, from the beginnings of our planning to the actual descriptions of each day of our entire trip! If you have not read it all just go to the Expedition link on the side tab and go back to: Expedition Planning: Starts with a Thought! then read each one all the way to todays post.

    So on with Day 6 : Begins with about a 7:30 a.m. wake-up and a hot shower for me first thing. Jeff slowly arose himself and if memory serves me correct he also headed for a shower. We then got my trusty MSR Whisperlite stove fired up and boiled our water for some oatmeal for a quick breakfast. We slowly packed up our last camp, and reflected and talked about the entire trip and the fact that today was our last day of paddling and soon we would be back in civilization.

    Jeff and I got back on the water after saying our “goodbyes” and “Happy New Years” to the camp hosts & a Paddlers’ “Good Luck” to Spencer, the other paddler that was also getting ready to resume his trip to the Gulf; via the Suwannee. We started to paddle around 9:45 a.m. towards Branford and our take-out point at Ivey Park Boat Ramp.

    We only had about 12 miles left to do so we naturally paddled at a snails pace to enjoy our final miles on the river. We stopped at Troy Springs for a brief few minutes, a spring that is so close to my property I can ‘t believe my father never took us there as kids. I will be taking my sons there the next time we go to camp at the property!!!! BET THAT!! From there we paddled on about another 4 miles to Little River Springs which is a haunt we frequented alot as kids with my parents. It was very flooded with the high water and probably was dangerous to swim in at this stage of water height. Needless to say it did not have the characteristic AQUA BLUE waters I was used to!

    From there we paddled down enjoying the last 5 miles of our journey and not a word was spoken between Jeff and I as nothing needed to be said: We both knew this was the END- for Now.

    Finally the 349 bridge at Branford was spotted about 200 yards ahead of us as we rounded a bend in the river. Funny how you are so sad to be done, yet really glad to see the end. Does that even make sense? I guess only a paddler knows the feeling.

    We pulled into Ivey Park Boat ramp at around 1:oo p.m. and began to unload the kayaks. Once all gear was unloaded from yaks, we loaded it all back into my SUV; then loaded the kayaks themselves onto the roof racks. Jeff looked at the GPS which read 96.7 miles- I believe we did at least 100 miles if not more with the playing we did and occasional back tracking to see something we had passed by and noticed for a quick turnaround.

    After loading the kayaks and gear we headed to my property where we had planned on spending one more night- upon arriving there we did a quick inspection of the place and decided that with it being colder at 2:00 p.m. than it was at 7:30 a.m.; it was probably best to head home than stay and freeze for the night just to get in one more night. TOUGH DECISION! We must be getting OLD!! Ha Ha Ha . Anyways after locking my cattle gate to the land we turned the Honda south towards Pinellas County and headed home!!!!

    Well that is it THE END!! Till our next Expedition to paddle parts unknown: hint– Might be out of the state or country depending on the economy!! Who knows, The Boys at Liquid Rhythm Kayaking will keep you posted you can bet on that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    As Always Thank You for Reading & Keep Your Hair Dry & Your Paddle Wet!

                                         – Sea Turtle Sean

I Should Be Walk ‘in the Plank!! Sorry the day 5 posting is late- but you just can ‘t trust us River Pirates!!

    Day 5 begins with a somewhat late wake up time, at Peacock Slough River Camp; of around 8:30 a.m. or so. We awoke to a light drizzling rain and occasional breeze, and temps in the mid 50’s. To me it was the perfect New Years Eve Day. For as long as I can remember most New Years Eves have started with an overcast coldfront sort of day here in Florida. The WORLD just seemed to be in PERFECT ALIGNMENT.

    Jeff and I got the stove fired up and finished our last day of 2 fried eggs a piece and Corned Beef  Hash for breakfast. After breakfast around 10:00 a.m. we decided to slowly pack up our gear again today, as the rain was falling pretty steady outside of the “Holiday Festive Chickee”. Also could have been that Jeff and I felt really at home in the “Holiday Camp”.  We must have spent about another 2 hours packing up and just enjoying the area  zone we were in at that moment!!

    Wouldn ‘t you know it , the rain subsided just in time for us to re-pack our gear in the kayaks and get back on the river around 12:20 p.m. We had a pretty strong tail wind that was helping to push us along down river, as well as the 3 knot current. Not to complain but cold wind on your neck is almost as bad as it is in your face – I said Almost. We paddled past an old swing bridge that looked like the skeleton of some long dead prehistoric animal, only after carefully looking at it again; found out it had 3-4 Evergreen trees of some sort growing out of the middle section of it. AMAZING- out of Death comes LIFE!!!! Another paddling EPIPHANY!! Jeff and I, once again took this opportunity to play (ferry in and out of) in the eddie lines that the current was making around the pylon that supported the swing bridge!! Once again, my smile muscles were hurting!! We continued to paddle for 2-3 hours before stopping briefly at, if memory serves me correctly; at Convict Springs to snack on some cheese and trail mix around 3:30 p.m.

    We paddled on after this and within 2 hours were at Adams’ Tract River Camp around 5:30 p.m., all totaled about another15-16 miles on the river for day 5. Once at the river camp we introduced ourselves to the camp hosts and unloaded our gear and began to set up our LAST home on the Suwannee. We ran into another paddler named Spencer that had also been paddling for many days on the river, Jeff and I spent some time talking to him before dinner. 

    For dinner Jeff and I had Chinese Kung Pao Chicken from Mountain House and the traditional “Southern New Years Eve Good Luck Food”– Yes —- wait for it…………  Black Eyed Peas!! Jeff also ate his “Northern Traditional Good Luck Food”– Pittsburgh Pretzel!! After dinner we reflected on our family and friendships as we sat around our New Years Eve Campfire- the only fire we had the WHOLE TRIP! Both of us gazed up at the Blue Moon that we had this year on New Years- to my understanding a full moon on New Years Eve is called a Blue Moon and does ‘nt happen all that often- TOTALLY FITTING for our trip!

    At some point Jeff broke out some Ice Cream Sandwiches he had stashed for dessert, as we ate them and called home around 10:00 p.m. to check in, I noticed Jeff putting coins out in front of his tent and in front of the window of the tent. “Jeff”, I said. “What are you doing?”

    Jeff replied, “Putting some coins outside of my tent, for Good Luck and continued prosperity, and financial well being in the New Year!” Jeff went on to explain that this is an old Polish Tradition. 

    “Pretty Cool!”, I said.

    We spent the next hour or so outside by the fire talking and listening to our surroundings. At midnight I was startled by the sound of our cooking pots/pans being banged together in celebration of the New Year by; Yep, you guessed it Jeff! Seems this is another one of his “Traditions from Pittsburgh and Poland”- maybe not in that order.

    This was soon followed by fireworks and GUNSHOTS! Yes, I know. Are you sure? Yes, I’ m sure as I have been raised around firearms for most of my life. Jeff and I decided after about 15 minutes it was probably wise to go get low in the tents and hope a stray bullet did not find us. I’ m sure they(whoever that is) were probably firing into the ground or into somewhere safe. But it was still a little unnerving to say the least!! After this excitement we were pretty much done for the night, but we did make it to the New Year!!

    Check back again on Thursday for Day 6 and the final posting on our Suwannee River Expedition!             -Sea Turtle Sean

All Right, on to Day 4 of the Suwannee River Trip. Sorry, a little late due to the fact of being at the Sweetwater Symposium last weekend.

Day 4 begins with an early wake up at Dowling Park Camp at around 6:15 a.m. to go get a hot shower at the famous portable bathrooms . After that I milled around a little bit waiting for the Jeffster to awake from his needed beauty sleep. The morning was crisp and cold and there was a slight fog/haze in the air. Jeff finally made some movement around 8:15 a.m. As we sat there in the chickee we decided to take it slow as we only had about 15-18 miles to paddle to our next camp- Peacock Slough River Camp!  I crawled back in my Cats’ Meow sleeping bag for about another hour or so.

At around 9:30 a.m., Jeff and I got up and fired up the stove for breakfast. On this morning we ate GOOD!! We each had 2 fried eggs and a healthy helping of Corned Beef Hash. The oatmeal was good but after 3 days of it the change was very much welcomed! We took our time packing up the tents, sleeping bags and gear. Walked it all downstairs(remember chickee on stilts at this camp) to the cart and pulled it to the landing. We loaded the kayaks up and set off down river for the next camp at around 11:30 a.m.

The river actually started to narrow in a little bit in this section and was pretty scenic again in my opinion. We paddled for about 2 hours, stopping to take a few pictures and get a quick snack on some peanut butter & other assorted goodies Jeff had brought. We began paddling again and paddled for about another 31/2 hours till we saw Peacock Slough River Camp on the Left side of the riverbank. Jeff and I made really good time and couldn ‘t believe how effortless it was, possibly because we had help from the current or maybe because we were getting stronger after 3 days of paddling already, or maybe the kayaks were getting lighter as we ate the food!  Another theory is that we were clicking along because we knew the longest day was over! Whatever it was we were MOVING!!!!

After arriving at Peacock Slough River Camp at around 5:00 p.m., we met the camp hosts. A very nice couple that stays there for about 3-4 months a year. I cannot recall their names.(shame on me) This couple is awesome though– they had decorated each chickee with a Pine Cone Angel and sprigs of Florida Holly, along with a candle holder made from styrofoam and a toilet paper roll, complete with paper flame that was orange and red glitter covered. Also they had some sort of Christmas Decoration on the front of each chickee- ours was the “Christmas Stocking Chickee”! They also had the County Park bathroom type – inside a building. They had Holly sprigs in there too!!! They had even decorated a small evergreen tree next to the bathroom building with Christmas lights and ornaments. TOTALLY AWESOME! We were there a couple days after Christmas, but it was still very neat and Jeff and I thought that if anyone had been traveling on Christmas Eve and stayed there; HOW COOL IT MUST HAVE BEEN- Just like home.

Jeff and I unpacked AGAIN and set up our home for the night. We got the stove going and boiled our water to add to our Mountain House Dinner- Beef Stroganoff- Yummy!! Jeff also baked a flat bread to go along with it. After dinner Jeff surprised me, and we enjoyed a desert of Dehydrated Space Neopolitan Ice Cream. Amazing how little sweets can make all the difference in your moral. Jeff, WE SALUTE THEE!

The rest of the night was spent checking in with the wives and children, a few games of solitaire and showers by both Jeff and I. Jeff and I also stayed up to talk about the paddle so far and reflect on tomorrow being New Years Eve and the New Paddling Year that was racing up on us. All I can say is a definite time to reflect on things past and present. We agreed that the two of us; were & are TRULY BLESSED!

Hope those who are following along are still staying entertained, and I promise to get Day 5 done on Monday 03/08/10. Day 5 includes the New Years Eve Party, GunShots, pots and pans, some coins, and a Blue Moon!!

Thank You, Sea Turtle Sean.