Flamingo to Chokoloskee

I’m going to go ahead and apologize for this section of my trip. I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. The truth is, I don’t think you can capture the awe that is the Everglades. One would have to spend way more than five days to truly capture the amazing moments you experience. Many of these moments happen in the blink of an eye. Silently paddling along and having 6 foot tarpon breach right in front of you, stingrays leaping several feet out of the water, huge sea turtles poking their heads up feet away from you kayak, sharks finding their prey, and manatees come up for a breath of fresh air all happen in a blink of an eye.

I chose to paddle the outside route rather than the Wilderness Waterway. I wasn’t to thrilled about the bugs and chickees after my experience at Shark Point chickee. White sand beaches and a cool Gulf breeze sounded much more appealing to me. At the visitors center in Flamingo I decided to do 15 mile days rather than 20 miles so I could have my shelter up well before the mosquitoes and no-see-ums showed up to feast. This led me to Middle Cape Sable, Graveyard Creek, Hog Key and finally Pavillion Key.

Middle Cape Sable was a long stretch of white sand beach that went on for miles and miles. There were several campsites set up when I arrived so I didn’t really get prime real estate but it was still a nice breezy location. My neighbors where fisherman from all over the world. It was a Saturday so there were quite a few boats out and about. They would dip in and out the creeks and rivers flowing into the Everglades based on the tides. The fisherman reminded me of giant toddlers zipping around on their fast moving toys.

Graveyard Creek campsite was across the Ponce de Leon Bay. The wind was pushing me but the waves were big enough I decided to sneak down Shark River a ways and then cut north into a series of islands on the east side of the bay. This proved to the a good idea because the tide carried me in and then carried me out to the northern side of the bay and right into Graveyard Creek. This was a scenic site. I couldn’t find a graveyard but there were plenty of crabs and birds to look at. As the tide dropped, small sharks would appear scavenging for food. It was quiet and peaceful all alone out there at night. Each night the sky would come to life with billions of stars. You could even see the Milky Way since there was zero light pollution. That alone is worth the trip!

Hog Key was less glamorous. The campsite was marked in a little cove so I paddled around and around looking for it and finally settled somewhere in the middle. The wind died down but no bugs appeared until morning. I was grateful for that. At some point in the night, the high tide arrived and I was awoken by the sounds of very loud splashing by my kayak. I laid still listening and was convinced it was a large animal like a hog, hence Hog Key. I yelled out to scare it away but it just kept splashing. I didn’t know what this creature was but I needed to drive it away before I could go back to sleep. I grabbed my headlamp and knife and walked toward the ruckus. There was splashing but no animal! I walked in closer and realized it was the the ocean waves hitting a tree at a very odd angle making to the splashing sounds. It was not soothing! The next morning I had another surprise waiting for me, a tide so low it was nothing but mud a quarter mile out. I had to wait until around 10:15 am to launch.

On my way to Pavilion Key, I stopped for a break at Turkey Key. That was neat little campsite the way the water split it and high tide. As I was standing their looking around, a boater stopped by and warned me of incoming weather from the north. He didn’t really specify much but he seemed concerned. I thanked him for the heads up and jumped back in the kayak. As I rounded the island, the wind really picked up from the north and water started white capping. Pavilion Key was 6 miles away but through open water. I said to hell with it and went for it. Despite the swells and wind, I made good time and arrived at Pavilion Key safe and sound. The temperature dropped and the wind howled all night. During the evening a racer from the Everglades Challenge stopped for the night and anchored in the back cove. Neither of us knew how low the tide was going to drop with the wind blowing that hard. We awoke to mud surrounding the entire key. It was way out there too! He was in a sailboat and definitely marooned. Another couple in a tandem decided to just slide their fiberglass kayak across hundreds of shells for hundreds of yards to get to water. That was a bold move and too bold for me. So we sat there until almost 11 am before the tided was high enough. I hope I can avoid this in the future.

On the fifth day of paddling the Everglades I finally arrived in Chokoloskee. It was bittersweet but it was also nice to get a shower and a real meal. There’s not much on the tiny island but fisherman. The Havana Cafe is the only restaurant and it really is a wonderful place to eat breakfast and lunch. The Smallwood Store is a museum and general store from the 1800s. It is also the site where the murderous Ed Watson was finally gunned down by his neighbors. Ed Watson was known to have killed all of his employees rather than pay them. I’m sure there’s a lot more to that story and I’ll read about it eventually. Oddly enough some fishing and kayak guides found a human skull on Pavilion Key just the other. Judging from he pictures they took it look pretty old. It’s currently being studied by the national park service. The Everglades is a truly fascinating place! One needs to explore as I did to truly grasp it’s greatness.

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