It has been quite a while since my last post, mostly due to very poor signal. I’ve paddled 172 miles since you last heard from me. I have been pushing 20 plus miles a day for quite some time now. I wanted to finish before May 17 since I have a prior engagement in Kansas City. I’ve some some news, it’s not necessarily bad, but we’ll get to that part in a little bit.
After leaving Keaton Beach, I paddled up Spring Warrior Creek to a campsite. It was gorgeous back there on the bend. The locals call it the “gar hole” and for good reason. There must have been 50 Florida Gar in that one spot. I saw a couple of small gators near the mouth of the creek as well. On my way out the next morning I ran into a couple on their dock. They offered me some coffee and we chatted about sharks and the local area. I wish I would have gotten their names because they were very friendly. As I paddled north that was very common. It’s refreshing.
After saying farewell, I paddled 21 miles or more to Eco Fina State Park. This was another beautiful creek once you reached the hammock. There were lots of little alligators swimming around this area. The water was so tannic it was almost black. The Florida CT data book listed a campsite one mile up river past the state park boat ramp. There was a resort there as well and I made a quick run to their store before continuing on. I got lucky and was told I could camp at the resort for $7. I gladly paid and saved myself that extra mile.
The next I set out towards St. Marks Lighthouse and made it with enough time to explore the lighthouse. I then paddled up the St. Marks River two miles to a spoil island. It was a tall mound of rocks with trees on it. I got a message from John Pretzell warning me about a bad storm heading my way. He wasn’t exaggerating either! That night about midnight it arrived. Lightning struck so close, I could smell it afterwards. Then came the wind. I had everything tied down so I was good but it was no longer just the wind. Then tent starting bouncing back and forth so I braced the inside walls with my hands. Then a deafening roar started to pass overhead. At that moment I knew it was a water spout hopping the island. In these moments when you’re in this situation, there’s nothing you can do so you just have to bravely ride it out hoping for the best. In a couple of minutes it passed and I waited for the rain to stop before checking on my kayak. It was still there! Later I had found out there was about 10 water spouts reported that night. I got lucky.
The next day I had planned on paddling to Holiday Campground in Panacea, but when I called I found out they no longer offered tent camping. That meant I had to paddle across the inlet to Bald Point State Park to the Chaires Creek primitive campsite. That wasn’t a bad thing. It was a very nice site. On the way there the winds were not cooperative. I wanted to stop at the Wakulla County visitors center for some lunch and store run but it wasn’t going to happen with that wind. Plus I kept getting stuck on oyster bars. The next morning since had I had to paddle past Holiday Campground I stopped and went to the little gas station across the street and resupplied.
This is where I left the Gulf of Mexico and paddled up the Ochlocknee River to the Crooked River. I stopped at Ochlocknee State Park hoping to see the famous white squirrels I didn’t have any luck. I did meet two of the nicest park rangers in Florida though. I talked to them for sometime before paddling one. I was given lots of useful information and some chewy granola bars!
Once I turned onto the Crooked River the campsite I had marked on my map was immediately on the right. There was a tent there but still plenty of room. I setup camp on the edge of the clearing away from the other campers and heated up some ramen noodles. It wasn’t long before the campers returned in their little boat. It was a couple younger than me so I thought I might be ruining their privacy. I was correct. They left and then came back in a few minutes. The man walked over to me and informed me that he had reserved the whole campsite and “wasn’t looking to have company. My dogs want to roam.” I looked in the back of his truck with the caged dogs and decided there wasn’t an argument. I quickly packed up trying to beat the setting sun and raced to the next campsite 3.5 miles up stream. My pot of noodles riding on top of the kayak.
I paddled up and saw a big group of people in the pavilion and several small children at the boat. I suddenly realized this was my intended campsite and had mistakenly setup at the wrong one! The kids helped pull me ashore and greeted me with lots of interest. I was impressed with their manners! I introduced myself to the adults and asked if they were camping and if it was OK if I joined them. They were just cooking out and we started talking and hanging out. They offered me some food and drink and we had great evening. Once they left it just me except for the occasional truck that would come down and circle around and leave. It was mostly young kids but they were courteous of my camp and kept it pretty quiet.
I spent a two nights on the beautiful Crooked River. It was a nice change of scenery. I eventually ended up in Carrabelle and resupplied and had a delicious lunch. The woman working the register at the little diner was the wife of one of the men I met at Rock Landing on the Crooked River. That was the site where everyone was friendly. I guess her husband told her all about meeting me. Coincidentally, I saw him in town as well. He honked at me while driving by and yelled out the window. I hollered back and waved. It felt good to get recognized like that.
When leaving Carrabelle, I had a decision to make. I could either paddle to Apalachicola or go out the St. George Island. This decided my fate and I chose wrong. I thought the coastal route was much shorter than taking the ICW at Apalachicola. The winds looked favorable on WindFinder so I paddled 5 miles across the bay. St. George Island was absolutely beautiful! I needed to check-in at the ranger station but it was a few miles past the campsite I wanted to stay at. Since I had called them, I paddled up to the boat ramp they told me to go to. This was also the youth camp. I begrudgingly walked the mile or so to the ranger station. I was trying to hurry since I still needed to paddled 3 miles back to the campsite. To my surprise they said I could stay at the youth camp where I pulled up. They even gave me a ride back to my kayak! I was so happy at that moment. I took a nice cold shower, had an owl fly right in front of me at eye level too. Things were looking good.
The next morning I had started paddling towards West Pass. It was 21 miles away and I had a strong wind pushing me the whole way. The waves weren’t bad near the shore until I got within 3 miles from the pass. I managed to safely get around the point and land at my campsite. It was a huge beach and I had it all to myself. The stars looked amazing that night.
The next morning I woke up early to catch the outgoing tide. It was fast and I figured I could ride it pretty far going around St. Vincent Island. The forecast called for strong winds blowing west and 3 foot swells. This would work to my advantage as well. Well, about 5 miles into the paddle the waves were growing bigger. They were probably 5-6 feet at their maximum. I decided it was only going to get worse as I approached to cape and I made the call to quit at Indian Pass. As I paddled up the pass, the waves were started to break and they were pretty big at this point. I stayed out of the break looking for a way in. I couldn’t see any way in unless I paddled through about 300 meters of breaking waves. Out of desperation, I went for it. I was doing great timing myself between breaking waves and getting pushed in fast. Suddenly a wave broke on the back of my kayak and I could feel myself sinking. The bow raised up in the air and just rolled to the left. I made wet exit and flipped my kayak upright. The cockpit was full of water. It got flipped again by the breaking waves but I couldn’t lift the bow to dump the water. I was still pretty far out and wasn’t touching the bottom yet. I grabbed to pump and started pumping, but every wave just filled it back up again. I knew my bulkheads had bad seals so I needed to act fast before the storage compartments filled up with water. Keeping the kayak upright, I started swimming for shore towing the boat with me. I could see a large group of people on shore. Next time I saw them, I noticed they had left and walked far away. Strange. Eventually I pulled myself and the submerged kayak ashore. It was so heavy I couldn’t pull it out of the water far enough to stop more water from entering the cockpit. I managed to flip it over dumping the majority of the water and pulled it on the beach. I got everything settled and then portaged to a better launch. I quickly paddled across Indian Pass to the boat ramp and campground. I reserved a campsite for two nights and returned to my kayak to paddle it closer to my site. That large group of people I had seen on St. Vincent Island, the ones who walked away from me bobbing up and down in the gulf, were getting off the shuttle boat. One of the ladies ran up to me and said they saw me roll over and wondered if they should call for help. I just looked at her and said I handled it no problem and thanked her for here concern.
This is brings us to the present moment. I have decided to call it quits until October. My solar panel was ruined and I lost some gear. Plus, there’s no safe way to get to the ICW at this point. I took it as a sign to get off the trail until a later date and better conditions. The heat and bugs are bad now and hurricane season is starting early. I think it’s wise to fight another day. I have 168 miles left until I can say I finished the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. I’m certainly going to miss Florida and all of its beauty and excitement but I have big plans this summer back home. I’m looking forward to seeing my kids again and starting new adventures. I’ll be back, don’t worry.