Nokomis to St. Petersburg

It’s been a few days since I last posted so I’m going to try my best to remember what has happened and where I’ve been. It’s been pretty chaotic these past few days. I’ve wanted to update my blog but exhaustion has kept me from doing so.

I left Nokomis a day sooner than I had expected because the weather cleared up. I ended up paddling about 15 miles to Edward Islands near Siesta Key. On the way, I stopped for a break at a really small but perfect park for lunch. The tide had pushed me up the ICW faster than I had expected so I spent a couple of hours there just relaxing and chatting with other park patrons.

Upon on approaching Edward Islands I noticed some other kayakers setting up camp. I paddled past them looking for another site so I didn’t crowd them. Unfortunately, they had the best part! So after going completely around the island I set up camp just past them on the west side of the isalnd. There was a deep channel running through that side and lots of boats passed by throughout the night. This usually doesn’t concern me but the was several signs that said “no camping.” I hid my tent and kayak the best I could and ended up sleeping very peacefully.

The next morning I woke up early and broke camp before the first wave of boaters. I enjoyed a cup of coffee while I waited for the tide to change. I needed to paddle about 18 miles that day in order to reach the north tip of Anna Marie Island. I wanted to sleep there so I could minimize the mileage because I had to cross Tampa Bay the next day. Sadly, there was no where to camp in Anna Marie. I ended up sleeping next to a bridge near a boat ramp five miles short of my goal. I was hidden under a buttonwood tree with low hanging branches. The wind picked up and it suddenly became very chilly. I had to put on my beanie cap and sweatshirt to stay warm that night.

The next morning there was still a steady 10 mph wind with gusts up to 14 mph blowing from the northwest. The water in the bay looked good so I launched and started towards Tampa Bay. As I rounded the north side of the island it all went to hell. The waves from the bay were about 3-4 foot there and bouncing off the seawall. I was being tossed up and down from all directions until I got past the seawall. At this point I was thinking crossing the bay wasn’t going to happen. In the distance I could see a very violent looking surf zone. The waves form the gulf were hitting a shallow sandbar and creating some impassable surf. I paddled closer to the crashing waves decreasing the distance between me and a small island about a mile offshore. I was still in three foot swells but decided to go for it. Normally I wouldn’t be so reckless but I really needed to get across Tampa Bay on that day. My son Killian was on a school trip to Disney World and I had a limited amount of time to meet him.

The paddle from Anna Marie Island to the little bird sanctuary was turbulent but not really dangerous. I rested on the sanctuary and scouted the next leg. I had to paddle about two miles or more to Egmont Key State Park. It didn’t look too much different from my point of view. Once I left the shallows of the small island, the waves became 5-6 feet in size. It was so bad, a large fishing trawler, and every other boat in the bay, headed towards the leeward side of Egmont Key. I attempted to do the same; just much slower!

As I bobbed up and down I spotted a huge sea turtle. I managed to get very close before he noticed me which was a real treat because those animals are very shy most of the time. There were several times my kayak would crest a wave and then then plunge several feet into the trough making a loud slapping sound. I was then scooped up by the following wave and hurled skyward. This went for over and hour. I had already made it halfway across the bay so turning back wasn’t an option. Camping on Egmont Key seemed like the logical thing to do if I made it there. I finally reached the calm safety of Egmont Key and it was only 10:30 in the morning. I checked my GPS and saw that Fort De Soto was only two miles away. Of course of was two miles of the biggest waves I’ve ever paddled in though. Regardless, I struck out motivated and paddled hard, sometimes becoming airborne for a second until my kayak melted into a huge swell. As I approached the main shipping channel the waves increased in size. They were probably eight feet in size now. The tide was still pushing fast into the bay. I needed to paddle around the eastern side of Fort De Soto in order to go through the Shell Key Pass. Every wave I crested I could see the giant green and red buoy markers getting closer. This was a bad sign. That meant I was being pushed west towards the southern beach of Fort De Soto. There was nothing I could do about it though. It took everything I had just to escape the shipping channel before a large vessel joined me.

Once I got within about 300 meters of the shoreline the water calmed down and I was able to rest. I looked back towards the eastern shore of the fort and realized there was absolutely no way to go that way. The surf was so gnarly it would have rolled me over and over. I called the campground to see if any sites were available and struck gold this time. There was one. I reserved it and the set out paddling the long way around. The campground was located about a mile north of the beach I was in front of. There wasn’t a suitable area to portage so I had to go around the west side and the paddle a couple of miles back towards the east and then portage the main road leading into Fort De Soto.

I had safely paddled across Tampa Bay and managed to get a campsite. I immediately set up camp, took a long shower (I hadn’t had one since Chokoloskee), and ordered a pizza. I then reserved my rental car with Enterprise. I figured they would deliver the car and I could load up the kayak and my gear and drive to Orlando. Well, they said Fort De Soto was too far away. It was 12 miles. So I checked to see if Uber came out to the campground. No luck. My only other option to was to send out a message on Facebook asking for a early morning ride to the car rental agency. I posted in a couple of kayaking groups but I never got a response from anyone. I’m still not sure where the 41 trail angels are for the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddle Trail are. Florida Bay Outfitters is the only trail angels so far that has been there for me when I needed some support. They have been fantastic! I sent out a request on my personal Facebook page to see if I had any friends in the Tampa Bay area. An old Marine Corps buddy, Mark Ross, that I haven’t seen in twenty years answered the call and said he could help me out. It was a lot to ask of someone but he didn’t mind. It was great catching up after all these years. He even let me store my kayak in his living room and fed me some of the best food in Tampa from his family’s restaurant. I need to be more involved with my friends form the military. It’s truly a brotherhood that lasts a lifetime. I can’t really thank Mark enough for helping me out. Getting to see my son was priceless.

Fort De Soto
Great diner in St. Petersburg

I picked up the car, dropped of the kayak and then drove to Orlando. It was late afternoon before I arrived so I stopped at a rest area between Lakeland and Disney World. Thanks the the $200 hold Enterprise put on my card, I only had enough money for one day at Disney World. So I decided to sleep at the rest area instead of paying the staggering hotel rates. I wanted to spend a full day with my kid so I bought a ticket for Sunday. I showered and did my laundry at a nearby truck stop so I wouldn’t smell like death at the theme park.

Killian was thrilled to see me and it was great getting to spend time with him. It had been nearly two months since I saw him last. We met up at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and I got the lowdown from his teacher/chaperone. We ending up riding everything except one ride. We simply ran out of time. We were really blown away by everything. It may cost a lot to visit Disney World but it after you experience it, it makes sense. There are so many talented performers there. The Avatar’s Pandora was breathtaking.

It was heartbreaking saying bye to Killian but I could only visit for the one day. So after I dropped him off at his hotel, I drove to the rest area and rested myself. I returned to Tampa the next and picked up the kayak and dropped it off at Fort De Soto and returned to car. I paddled out to Shell Key and camped on the gorgeous beach that night. I woke up, and leisurely paddled about 11 miles to an island near Treasure Island. It supposed to be windy tomorrow so I may only go four miles to another island but I won’t know for sure until I see what it’s like in the morning. I’m almost out of the populated urban areas. The coast line north of me looks a lot different as well. I think there’s only 450 miles left. That’s an approximation.

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