Ok We Are Off Again

Ahhhh Key Largo and the Courtyard Marriott.  A hot shower in a real bathroom followed by a great dinner at the local seafood restaurant where I can sit in a big comfortable chair.  After the dinner a nice walk with my wife catching up on the past week.  Then end the night with a deep 9 hours of sleep in a real bed.  Oh how I had earned this night. Earned, YES, but did it happen?  NO!

The weeks before the start of the UFC I had spent a considerable amount of time trying to get all my supplies organized for the different stage points.  I had given great thought to the amount of supplies I thought I would consume and the needed resupply at the stage points.  I had plastic bins marked for each stage.  This way, Lisa just had to grab the bins marked for each stage and bring them to the checkpoint.  I had a checklist in each of the bins with the supplies that were supposed to be in each of the bins.  I had a bin that was designated as a repair bin and it was filled with every repair part and tool I thought I needed.  So this stage was the first test of my bin strategy.  It was a success in that Lisa had all the bins I needed for this stage. The unsuccessful aspect was that I was way off in identifying both how much ,and what, I would consume during this first leg of the UFC. Some stuff I thought I would consume a lot of I didn’t and some stuff I thought I wouldn’t consume that much of I did.  So that was the start of a list of items that needed to be bought.

Then there was the stuff that need to be washed.  And boy did my stuff need washing.  Folks didn’t need to fear that there was a skunk ape running around the Everglades.  The skunk ape was at the Courtyard Marriott in Key Largo, and it was me!  In fact, Lisa didn’t even try to hide the fact that she was gagging.  On top of having to get stuff washed, there was my body.  My hands were starting to show the signs of the wear and tear of the hard paddling.  Blisters were numerous and I needed different band-aids and tape to doctor them up after draining them.  Then there was the open wound on my leg.  It was really starting to get bad and I need to find a better way of keeping moisture out of it and keep medicine on it.  I knew if I didn’t get control of this, it could cause me to have to pull out of the UFC.  The other thing that became apparent was that I was losing about a pound a day and if I didn’t get control of this, it could also cause me to have to drop out.  Rod had talked about how important it was to start  a race such as the UFC with some weight on.  I had some weight to lose but not 30lbs.  I needed some high fat food to eat.  So the list of items that needed to be bought got longer and longer.

So the night at the Marriott consisted of a hot shower (at least that happened) and Lisa and I working our tails off trying to get ready for tomorrow.  Lisa was focused in on getting my stuff washed and buying the items I needed.  I was focused on repacking my dry bags with the stuff I needed.  I was also trying to really eliminate as much as possible some of the extra backup items I had packed on the first leg.  Anything I could eliminate was less weight in the boat and with the wind constantly in our face, any weight reduction was a good thing.  Oh, and dinner?   Pizza and salad Lisa brought to the hotel room.  Special huh?  To top it all off, I  think we got a total of 4 hours sleep that night with all that we had to do.  Just wasn’t what I or Lisa had dreamed this stage point would be. Interestingly, the other ones were no different.  I will talk about that more in later posts.

The alarm went off at 4:30 AM which was the start of day one of the second leg of the UFC. We drove over to the boat and I started packing it up.  Several Watertribers were up and about.  This is a picture of me loading my boat. Some of them were asking if we were going to stay for the lunch and awards ceremony for the Everglades Challenge finishers.  Rod and I both knew that would mean spending about 6 hours here in Key Largo and both of us were concerned that we didn’t have a lot of buffer hours to do this. We still had a deadline of finishing the UFC in 30 days and we were behind our target schedule. So we decided to go ahead and launch.  I hated to leave in such a rush.  I wanted to spend time with the other Watertribers listening to the different experiences they each had doing the EC, but mostly I wanted to spend time with Lisa. We just didn’t have a whole lot of time to just sit down together and talk.  I went ahead and set up my amas.  I know people were wondering why I did this but the primary driver was to make more room inside the boat.  I know that they caused more wind resistance but at the same time they gave me more stability that allowed me to really lean into my paddle strokes.  I am still wondering about this tradeoff but the extra room alone was worth it to me.

It wasn’t a surprise that we had only been on the water for about an hour when the winds picked up.  Right in our face.  Hey, why should we think it would be any different from the past few days? Getting across Blackwater Sound was hard but not near as hard as getting across Barnes Sound. Then we had Card Sound which was even bigger than the other two Sounds.  Card Sound leads into Biscayne Bay where we had a decision to make.  Go on the west side of Biscayne Bay, or go on the east side.  With the way the winds were blowing it seemed to make more sense to go on the east side and try to get some protection from Elliot Key.  The disadvantage to this is that it would be committing us to a 12 mile open water crossing from Elliot Key to Miami.  There are a bunch of shallow areas in this stretch of water and you are very exposed to the elements.  It is one of those stretches of water that has a serious “pucker” factor for me.  With the wind blowing the way it was we decided to go for the east side and get some relief from the wind.

It was starting to get dark as we approached the last island before the open stretch of water of Biscayne Bay.  The last island is a place called Boca Chita Key, and what a place.  It has some interesting history that this link will take you to: http://ournationalparks.us/index.php/site/story_south_florida/boca_chita_key_popular_with_biscayne_park_visitors/  This island must be party central for the big boats out of Miami because that is exactly what we found there.  Huge boats and scores of people partying. We finally found a place to land our boats that gave us some distance between us and the party.  Rod and I had a strategy of trying to find islands to camp on to minimize the possibility of someone giving us a hard time.  This was the last island so we were either going to camp here or spend another 4 to 5 hours paddling in the dark across a dangerous stretch of water. Nope!  We were camping here and hoping people would leave us alone.  The bugs were not bad and we both were able to have a good meal and get our tents setup.  It felt good to get into my sleeping bag and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  As I was dozing off, I was awakened by, “Hey man, let’s go @#%$ with those guys camping over there.  Yeah man, %$#@ let’s do it!  It will be a #$@% blast!”…………….

Florida Bay – Better Bring Your Navigation “A” Game

It was great to get into Flamingo but Flamingo is also one of the filters for the EC and the UFC for those that go on the inside.  If you come on the inside like we did, you have to portage your canoe and gear around the dam that separates Buttonwood Canal from Florida Bay.  The distance of the portage is not that great which is a blessing and a curse.  A blessing in that it is only about a quarter of a mile if that.  A curse in that you have to spend a bunch of time unpacking all of your gear, assembling your portage cart and then portage it all to the  ramp where the whole process reverses itself.  The distance is so short that you first think oh I will just carry my boat over there.  The problem with that thought is that normally your muscles are already in a weak state from all the paddling you have been doing and you are really taking a chance of pulling a muscle. Can you imagine being an EC contestant and you pulled a muscle that caused you to DNF and you were only 30 miles from the finish?!  I would be one pissed off individual and I would have no one to be pissed off at except myself for taking that risk.

It seemed like everyone had decided to sleep for the night at a pavilion by the inside boat ramp and then portage everything over in the morning.  My wife calls me the ultimate boy scout because I am always trying to be prepared and I prepare for the worst.  I just couldn’t get to sleep thinking about the portage and I didn’t want to be rushing packing and unpacking in the morning.  Hey, I am not a banana so I don’t have to be one of the bunch.  I decided to do the portage that night.  This gave me the opportunity to do the portage at a leisurely pace and I was able to have my boat ready to go the way I wanted it to be.  Everything organized and everything in its place.  The disadvantage to this was that I would have to sleep by my boat near the outside boat ramp and there was no pavilion there.  It didn’t look like there was a chance for rain and I was pretty exhausted so sleeping on the ground without a tent wasn’t a real problem.  I at least picked some ground to sleep on.  Last year I saw Whitecaps sleeping at this ramp and he was sleeping on the concrete.  He is one tough individual.  So I got into my sleeping bag and  just rolled up in my pouch to keep the dew off me.

The 4:30am alarm came too soon.  I just rolled over and fell back to sleep.  Rod and Stripbulder had to do their portage and I knew they would wake me up when they got their boats over to the ramp.  Funny that they did the same thing I did when their alarms went off.  So we ended up launching two hours later than we had planned.  Why rush when the weather isn’t going to be great anyway?  Shoot, why even turn the weather report on.  I knew what it would be… “This is the National Weather Service.  The forecast today at Flamingo Bay and the surrounding Florida keys is winds 10-15 knots with gusts of 20 knots.  Winds will be out of whatever direction Rod, Bill and Stripbuilder are heading to.”  The sad part of this is that seemed to be the weather report for most of the UFC.  I guess God wanted this UFC to be a character builder for us.

This is a picture of us heading out into Florida Bay.  The interesting thing is that the water depth where we were was only about 18.”  That is what makes Florida Bay so challenging to navigate through.  It is very shallow and waves build very quickly.  You have all these very shallow banks that can prevent you from getting from one body of water to another.  There are very narrow passes through these shallow banks with names like Tin Can Pass, Twisty Mile, Crocodile Dragover, Jimmie Channel and Manatee Pass.

These passes are marked with these markers that local fishing guides put up.  These markers are very small and hard to locate if you are any distance from them.  Oh, and these shallow banks have an interesting characteristic to them.  If you run up on them and think you are going to get out and pull your boat over them, think again.

You will sink down to your waist in   thick muck.  It is like quick sand.  I know one Watertriber who takes snow shoes with him to be able to walk over these shallow banks.  Now he has a small sailboat that gives him  the room to carry them.  Not so for small kayaks and canoes.  I have heard Florida Bay called the arm pit of the keys because all the nasty stuff flows into the bay and settle out in it. Oh, and then there are the sharks that seem to be rather plentiful in the bay. Not that it is all bad in the bay.  Florida Bay is where the water starts to become very pretty and very clear. At least you can see the bottom when you are running up onto it.  With all that said, now you can also understand why most Watertribers do not try to cross Florida Bay at night. No one wants to spend the night out there.  Especially after hearing about the night two very seasoned veterans had when they tried and got stuck.

Sure enough, the wind ended up blowing right into our face.  But knowing that Key Largo was right there in front of us gave some extra energy to keep fighting.  If that hamburger at Flamingo tasted good, just think about what was waiting for us in Key Largo.  A hotel room with a soft bed, a great full course dinner, and for me, getting to see Lisa.  Being able to talk on the phone is great, but I am not much of a talker on the phone during one of these events.  Our phone conversations are usually pretty short.  “Hey, how are you doing?”  (That question is really kind of silly if you think about it  And she usually responds by saying, “No, how are YOU doing?”)  She knows I don’t want to spend a lot of time listening to what is going on so she just waits for the usual report and questions…  “What is the weather report?”  “These are my plans for the next two days.”  “I need you to bring me ——— at the next checkpoint.”  “Love You.”  “Bye.”  If the call lasts ten minutes that is pretty long.  It is not that I don’t want to connect with her.  I am just “in the zone” as she says. Glad she loves and understands me.  Seeing her in Key Largo would give us some quality time to catch up and I missed her.

In a group you really can only have one navigator.  You do need someone double checking but only one person can be giving the direction.  Going into Flamingo I had been filling that role, but there were not that many critical decisions to be made.  Once in the Joe River it was pretty easy navigation.  To get to Key Largo from Flamningo there are really two major routes–the upper one and the lower one.  We all had these routes loaded into our GPS’ and we decided to go the lower route.  This worked out pretty well since we were all following the same route.  Until we exited Crocodlie Dragover.  The next pass shown on the chart indicates that you should go kind of east-southeast once you exit the Dragover.  Well, Stripbuilder started to go down almost south and I didn’t understand why.  He was heading straight into the middle of Park Key bank.  This is a picture of what I was looking at on the chart.  I kept asking him what he was doing and he kept saying that there was a pass through it.  This would be great if there was because it was putting us on a more direct route to Key Largo, but I sure didn’t see it on my chart or on my electronic charts.  He was down right stubborn on this point.  I reached a point of thinking ok, what is the worst that can happen? We just get close to the islands near the shallow banks, hope the mud is solid, and we can drag our boats over the bank.  Or, we might have to paddle due south and somewhat out of our way to get around the bank.  Either way, there is a bailout option that is not that bad so I didn’t put up any more resistance to the route we were on. Well what I didn’t know is sly ole’ Stripbuilder had poured over the banks on google earth and had located a small pass that the locals must know about through this bank.  As we paddled up to the bank, sure enough there were these PVC poles stuck in the bank marking a pass through it.  A shallow pass but a pass nonetheless.  We were even able to get on to one of the islands and stretch our legs.  Man did that feel good.  We could see Key Largo, had another seven more miles to go and had plenty of daylight.

The paddle into Sunset Cove in Key Largo went by so slow.  Things look so close but in reality they are so far away and it seems to take for ever to make significant progress.  I mean seven miles sounds pretty close, but when you are doing 3.5 knots that means two solid hours of paddling.  It was great paddling into the cove.  Watertribers were on the dock cheering us on, I could see friends like Jarhead, Whitecaps, and heyyyyyyy, Jungle Jim was there to greet us too.  Jungle Jim and his posse of kayakers had somehow passed us again without us knowing.  It is a big ocean out there.  This is him arriving at Key Largo.  Nice, sleek, Epic kayak.

As I got through the crowd that was helping me  out of my Kruger and there was the person I was looking for the most. Lisa. I was nasty, dirty and I know I stunk to high heaven, but she didn’t hesitate hugging me and welcoming me to Key Largo.  I had reserved a room at the lodge at the finish but she had given it to Jungle Jim and Rod.  She had reserved a very nice room at the Marriott down the road and I think I set a record an all time record unloading my boat.  Rod and I had finished the first leg of the UFC!

Hmmmm Now why do they they call it Graveyard?

Other than it being so late at night, on top of being so tired, the paddle down to Graveyard was really not that bad.  The Gulf was like glass, the moon was out and we had enough subjects to talk about to pass the time and stay awake.  Even finding Graveyard wasn’t that bad.  Once we got to the mouth of Ponce De Leon Bay we just turned east at Shark’s Point.   We followed the shore line and every couple of minutes shined a light through the trees. The trick was finding the creek that led up to the campsite.  This is a picture of it during the daytime.

Not sure why they call it Graveyard other than there are a lot of downed trees in the surrounding woods.  Since the tide was high we were able to get our boats fairly close to the campsites which was nice.  Nothing worse than having to drag your boat through a bunch of mud to get to the campsite.

I have always tried to think through what process I would use to deal with a bug infested campsite and for this trip I had a new product to try out.  It is made by Off and is supposed to create an area around you that drives the bugs away.  What I liked about it is that I don’t have to spray anything on my skin.  This is a picture of this little device.  In talking to folks they used it they said it worked pretty good if there was no wind.  Well, as we were approaching “Graveyard,” I got the feeling that it was going to be a little buggy and was I right.  As soon as we landed it seemed like someone rang the dinner bell and the bugs jumped on us.  I quickly got my little new toy out and fired it up hoping that it would work.  Now Rod and Stripbuilder must have thought I was nuts.  They were in overdrive trying to get their tents setup so that they could dive in them to get away from the bugs.  I, on the other hand, was taking my time and going through my Mr. Clean process outside my tent.  Instead of being the main course for the bugs I was not even on the menu.  I even took time to cook and eat my dinner all the while watching a  local raccoon (a pretty bold one at that) try to get into our boats.  Hey, what more could a guy ask for?  I was clean, I had a nice dehydrated meal, and had some entertainment to boot.  Oh yeah, sleep would be good and that followed shortly after.

It seemed like I had just gotten to sleep when I heard this racket.  It sounded like something was running through the campsite and ran into one of the porta johns.  If I hadn’t have heard a bunch of talking I would have thought it was Bigfoot!  Then I heard a familiar voice.  It was Jungle Jim.  Apparently Salty Frog, Jungle Jim, GhostYaker, and Bustedrudder had decided to launch after we left Choloskee and had followed the same route we did.  Well someone was in a big hurry to get to the porta john and unfortunately all three of our boats were in the landing zone of the camp site and it didn’t make it easy.  Thankfully they made it and the Graveyard site could accommodate all of us.  If this had been one of the campsites that was a chickee, things would have gotten a little tight.  This is a picture of a chickee in the Everglades National Park.

The alarm went off at 4:30 AM and it seemed like I had just fallen asleep.  I really wanted to roll over and get a few more hours of sleep.  At the same time I wanted to get underway and get through Ponce De Leon Bay before the winds picked up.  This  bay is a wide and shallow bay which means no protection from the winds and waves.  This is how the bay looks on a chart.  In last year’s EC, I spent several hours battling through this bay and I didn’t want to do it again.  So Rod, Stripbuilder and myself packed up and got ready to launch.  Jungle Jim got up and wished us well. I was surprised he was up considering he was operating on less sleep than we were but sleep seems to be something he doesn’t need a lot of. He would probably say it is a hold over from his military days but I would say it is because he is younger than us.  I was glad we didn’t stay any longer at Graveyard.  The tide was going out and the creek out of the campsite was almost too shallow to paddle through.  In another 30 minutes it was going to be a mud crawl with your boat in tow to get out.

Even though the tide was against us there was only a light breeze blowing so the paddle across the bay really wasn’t that bad.  Now tides in the Everglades are extremely strong and will bring a grown man to tears, but personally I would rather fight a tide than a blowing wind.  On exiting the bay and entering the Little Shark River the tide was really starting to run hard so we had our work cut out for us to get to the Joe River.  This is where I got a true appreciation for how strong of a paddler Rod was.  He just motored through the tide like it was nothing.  Whereas I was  working my rear end off and I was getting to the point where I didn’t have a lot of rear end to lose.  Thankfully, Rod being the team player that he is, would stop at various bends and let me catch up to him.  About the time we entered the Joe River the wind really started to pickup and was coming out of the southeast.  We were lucky again.  Even though the wind was blowing right at us, the banks of the Joe River gave us some protection from the wind and kept the waves low.

One of the things that I have learned in doing these events is to be cautious of letting yourself get too excited about some perceived conditions you are hoping to find at a destination you are paddling to.  For the three of us I know we were falling into that trap when we were paddling across  some open bays that were between the exit of the Joe River and Tarpon Canal.  The winds had been building during the day and were now howling across these bays.  We all knew that Tarpon Canal was a very narrow canal and connected to Buttonwood Canal which lead right to Flamingo.  I think we were all feeling that if we could just get into Tarpon Canal we would be home free to Flamingo.  Ahhhh Flamingo.  Hot shower, restaurant with great burgers, and a store with cold drinks.   If you look at the chart you will see a bay called Coon Bay.  And there lied the problem.   We were not thinking about Coon Bay.  We were focused on getting into Tarpon Canal and the calm waters we would find leading to Flamingo. When we finally got into Tarpon Canal, all three of us were commenting on how rough the day had been and how good those hamburgers would be. That was until the canal exited into Coon Bay.  There were waves and waves with white caps on that bay and it seemed like the wind was blowing harder than it had all day.  I know it doesn’t help, but I was giving the wind a verbal tongue lashing. I am glad God is a forgiving God because I also said some things I really shouldn’t have.  It took forever to get  across that bay and at times I felt like I wasn’t making any headway at all.  I was just holding my ground and there was no other way to get across other than putting your head down and just paddle.  I really think it was the thought of all that was waiting for us in Flamingo that kept all of us fighting to get into Buttonwood Canal.  And what a relief It was to get into Buttonwood Canal.  There was no wind and no tide to deal with.  Just glassy smooth water with some pretty scenery and a few pontoon boats filled with tourists to deal with.  As we came into the dock at Flamingo I couldn’t believe it but there was Jungle Jim, GhostYaker, and Bustedruuder.  They had passed us just before we had gotten into the Joe River and had arrived a couple of hours before us.  Salty Frog came in about an hour after we had arrived so there was quite the Watertribe gathering at Flamingo.  The shower felt great and the hamburger and coke tasted heavenly.  What a day it had been.   And to think we were approximately 30 miles from Key Largo.  The only problem was those 30 miles were across Florida Bay and that bay has dished out more than a few nasty times for paddlers in the past.

Wilderness Waterway

The Wilderness Waterway is really a pretty neat route through the Everglades.  Navigation is fairly easy due to that fact that it is marked by the National Parks Service and most of the waterway is made up of rivers and small bays. The scenery is pretty and there are different things to see.  This is a picture of one of the rivers we were on. The other thing which makes the waterway a nice route is that there are camp spots that are either solid ground sites or chickees on the water at various locations.  These camp sites not only offer a spot to get out and stretch the legs but they also have potta johns on them.  Now there might be some bugs in porta johns but those bugs can be easily encouraged to find a better spot to hang out.  Which leaves you a nice place to take care of business versus a hole in the ground with nothing but a bunch of bushes to hide in.  The other thing about the camp sites is that they are usually located in some places with a lot of history.  I always find it interesting to be walking on some piece of ground and thinking about what was going on that piece of ground way back when.  The spooky part of this is that on some of these sites there were some not very pleasant things going on.  If you are ever going to visit the Everglades I would encourage you to read about the history of the place and some of the colorful people, like Watson, that lived there.  This is a picture of Rod at Darwin’s place. 

When I was in my early twenties I was invited on a fishing trip to the Everglades.  The trip was great and we stayed at a fish camp deep in the Everglades.  I remember getting completely lost as the guides drove their boat through the different rivers to get to the camp.  I remembered the owner talking about the fact that the camp was one of the few in the Everglades National Park and the federal government was trying to force him to surrender the camp.  He wasn’t giving in and was going to fight the government in court.  I have lost touch with the owner of the camp and never knew what happened to it.  Well, in one of the bays that we were paddling through, there it was — the camp I had stayed at in my twenties.  I couldn’t believe it.  It looked great.  I guess the owner had beat the government.  This is a picture of the camp.  You will not find a camp like this anywhere else in the Everglades National Park.

It was a good decision to take the waterway versus going on the outside.  The winds were really blowing and it made for some tough paddling in the bays but at least we were sheltered in the rivers.  It was on this leg of the trip that I had my first unpleasant wildlife encounter.  I have lived for most of my life in Florida and the majority of that time has been close to the water.  If you live in Florida, and near the water, you have been exposed to lots of encounters with alligators.  Due to that I had (I repeat, HAD) an attitude that alligators are more sacred of humans than we are of them and they generally want to get away from us. Crocs, different story.  They are mean, will stalk you, and you better keep your eye on them.  This is a picture of a narrow passage we were going through and I was leading.  I saw the gator in the middle of the passage but didn’t think anything of it.  They always sink or swim away so I just kept paddling and was planning on passing the gator since it was in the middle of the passage. Funny, or should I say, not so funny, the gator didn’t sink and that is when I heard Rod say the gator was puffing up.  I still didn’t think anything of it and since the gator wasn’t moving I just moved over a little thinking again it would sink when I got close.  Well the gator didn’t sink.   In fact, it started to come at me. Due to my amas being out I was not in a position to slap the gator with my paddle and once the gator’s head cleared my amas, he would have a clean shot at my side.  Rod, seeing what was happening, slapped his paddle on the surface making a sound like a gun shot.  The gator, on hearing the slap dove down, but to my surprise came up on the other side of my boat.  Now, I had my paddle between the gator’s head and my side and was able to paddle away.  Never, never, will I do that again.  I am going to assume all alligators are aggressive and if they don’t move will drive my bow right at them versus gliding pass them.  Glad Rod was watching and thinking.

It was starting to get dark and we had a decision to make as we entered Onion Key Bay. Keep following the Wildness Waterway or take Lostman’s River to the outside.  Lostman’s River had a very shallow entrance but if we could get through this shallow area we could have access to Highland’s Beach and some great camping sites.  If we stayed on the Wildness Waterway, we would have to go quite a distance to get to the next camp site. The winds had died down and we thought the tides looked good so Lostman’s River, here we come.

The trip down Lostman’s River was uneventful.  It was dark but with the moon we had, we could navigate pretty well.  In fact, we could see a green light way down a couple of miles down the river.  Odd, considering we were in the middle of the Everglades and there were  no markers or lights shown on the chart.  But sure enough, there was a green light.  That green light turned out to be a boat with two guys on it that was hard aground.  The tide was going out and these boys were stuck until the tide turned.  They didn’t seem too upset with their situation.  They had a bug net over the cockpit of their boat and I have a suspicion that they had some cold beer with them and lots of it.  Although they probably thought WE were the ones drinking.  Three guys in some very small boats, in the middle of the Everglades late at night, paddling toward the shallows of Lostman’s River entrance, with the tide going out and nothing but mud for a bottom.

We knew there was a winding narrow channel through the shallows and that the GPS was not accurate enough to use to follow it. This is how the channel looks on the chart.

To help locate the channel we decided to paddle three abreast trying to find this little channel.  As we paddled out we would all call out if our paddle hit the bottom and how much depth we had.  “Hey! I got 6 inches!”  “Hey! I got 12 inches!”  “Hey, @%^*&, I only got 3 inches!  If I don’t get over your way, I am going to be a late night mud slider!”  On top of this, as we are heading out, all of a sudden my boat is hit hard by some sea creature.  Not cool!  Oh, and it doesn’t just happen one time, it happens multiple times.  And sometimes it was multiple hits at the same time.  To this day I have no idea what it was, but we were all hitting whatever it was pretty hard, so there was a big school of something with big headaches.

Even thought the tide was going out we were successful in finding the channel and navigating it to deeper water.  It really was a pretty nice night out in the Gulf.  No wind and the water was smooth as glass.  Highlands Beach was right there but if we could paddle for a couple of more hours we could make it down to a campsite called Graveyard.  Nice name huh?  Hmmmm, why would we want to paddle to someplace called Graveyard when we could paddle up to a nice beach and camp there?  Highlands Beach was tempting, but by paddling to Graveyard we would have covered the last section on the outside.  Graveyard would give us a clean shot into the Joe River.  Suck it up time.  I wonder just how bad Graveyard is???????

So Do We Go, Or Do We Stay?

Since we got into CP2 so late we decided to sleep in a couple of hours.  Even though my tent was close to the main road into Chokoloskee I slept pretty good.  I guess you do have to look at what kind of night life there is in Chokoloskee.  Two words, “Not Much.”  Other than the bar by the airport it is very quiet and not a lot of late night traffic in these parts.

The extra sleep was nice but even with that no one seemed to be in much of a rush to get packed and launched.  Really two reasons for this.  The first was that Rod had heard that the store near the boat ramp had great breakfast sandwiches.  The food hawk had identified his prey but the shop didn’t open until 8:30.  The other reason was trying to decide what to do about the weather.  Seems like Watertribers fall into two groups on what strategy to pick to deal with the weather.  There is one group that looks at all the weather reports and then picks a launch time and route that minimizes the effect of the weather. Great strategy if the weather reports are correct.  If the weather reports are wrong, you might find that you have wasted a lot of time sitting on the beach and then end up launching in weather worse than what you were trying to avoid.  This is the strategy that Jungle Jim was following and why he was still at CP2.  That was kind of a let down.  I had a fleeting thought that we were keeping such a good speed we were keeping up with him. Wrong, he had been at CP2 almost 12 hours.  The second strategy is to listen to the weather reports and only adjust the route you go but not your launch time.  Sometimes this can result in a long hard day of paddling, but for those that follow this strategy the feeling is that every moment you are paddling is progress.  It might be very little progress but it is progress.  This was the strategy that Rod and I seemed to gravitate to.  That is unless fresh food is involved and delaying a launch seems like a good idea.

As I was planning my routes for the UFC I had a thought of doing the Wilderness Waterway (WW) through the Everglades versus going on the outside.  To date, no one has completed the UFC through the WW.  The primary reason for this is that the WW is longer and has some passages that slow you down and can be a little difficult.  One of the passages has the name “Nightmare” which gives you some idea of the difficulty of that passage.  In fact, GitUrDun and myself had tried to get through this passage on a fun trip and ended up having to turn around because of the downed trees across the passage.  So, in the comfort of my home, I dreamed about being the first person to do the UFC through the WW.  The problem with that now is that we were already behind schedule to hit the checkpoints by the required times and adding more miles and time was not a great option. The weather forecast didn’t sound very good at all.  Winds 15-20 from the south until mid afternoon when they would die down.  Great, right in our face!  Do we delay our launch? What happens if the weather reports are wrong?  Even though it is longer, do we start out in the WW that will provide more protection from the wind and then cut over to the outside?  Do we go on the outside and island hop?  Oh man, when does this shop open? Do we….?  What about this…..?  Of course you have the dynamic where everyone has an opinion but no one has enough confidence in their opinion to boldly state a course of action.  “Hey lets eat first and then make a decision.”

This is a picture of us deliberating over our decision.  I don’t know if the sandwiches we got were in actuality that good, but at the time, I thought it was the best egg sandwich I had ever had.  And the orange juice was of out of this world.  As we were eating, Jungle Jim, Salty Frog, GhostYaker, and BustedRudder came wandering in.  They were following the same strategy as us.  Not making a decision  on an empty stomach.  With our fuel tanks topped off we headed down to the boats.  We were going to launch and start off taking the Wilderness Waterway hoping this would give us some protection from the weather.

This is a picture of us getting ready to launch.  Notice the mud.

This is a picture of Stripbuilder.  Hmmm, wonder where he got his tribe name from.
Kayakslike his are a work of art and not for guys like me that are pretty hard on their gear.  I think it belongs on a wall versus out on the water.  He built his paddles too.  Both beautiful and impressive.

This is Rod and doesn’t he look ready to go?  Note his PAS on the deck.  Nice thought, but he didn’t get to use it.

So damn the winds we were off and following the Wildness Waterway.  At least we had a good breakfast!

So You are Mr Clean !!!

In a previous post I mentioned that Rod got about a hour to an hour and a half more sleep than I did each day.  In that post I said I would explain why.  Well, in short the explanation comes down to me wanting to be “Mr. Clean.”  Hey, we all have our quirks and mine is that I like to clean up and doctor up before getting into my sleeping bag.  I think the arrival procedure for most Watertribers  consists of stripping off their paddle clothes, putting some dry clothes on, eating a meal and then diving into their sleeping bag for some much needed ZZZZZZZs.   Not so much with me.  It is not that getting dirty is something I will not do or haven’t done.  In fact, I have spent my share of time sleeping in clothes several days old and dirty.  It is just that if I have the option, I am going to get cleaned up.  I just feel that time spent getting clean and doctoring is the least I can do for my body that has gotten me through the day and hopefully will get me through the next few days of physical abuse.  Now you are probably wondering how I get cleaned up out in the middle of no man’s land.  Do I seek out showers the way Rod seeks out restaurants?  I wish it was that easy, but no.

The fact is that showers are not usually readily available and if you do find a fresh water spigot, the water is going to be cold.  Using previous fresh water that you are carrying is not an option either.  Who wants to be carrying that much extra weight just to be able to clean up?  No one, not even me.  What I carry is product that is considered a bath in a bag.  This is a picture of the ones you can buy from stores.  The ones I carry I get at a military base and are a little more heavy-duty.  They really are essentially big baby wipes.  Ok, let the laughter begin.  Yes, I use stuff that is targeted for babies.  It is the kinder, gentler side of me.  Right!!  I use the stuff because it works the best.  So my arrival procedure consists of first setting up my tent, then stripping down.  Yes, I am naked as a jay bird.  Not sure how naked a jay bird is, but that seems to be the term we used as kids.   Cleaning up with a bath in a bag and then putting on my dry clothes.  If it is real cold I will do this inside my tent but usually I try to do it outside my tent so that I can keep my wet paddle clothes outside.  After I am cleaned up and have dry clothes on, I cook my meal for the night.

There are really two reasons why I feel spending the time to do this is worth it.  First, I think the quality of my sleep is better.  I feel much better when I am clean and have a meal.  This in turn lets me fall asleep quicker and I think into a deeper sleep.  Second, it gives me a clean foundation to start doctoring my injuries.  For the Everglades Challenge, I have usually been able to get to the finish with any injures I have sustained and then did any serious doctoring after the race.  For the UFC, I felt that wouldn’t be an option and I had to do everything possible to start the doctoring on any injury as soon as possible.  This would be very important on any open wounds that can be the most difficult to heal and the most worrisome for infection.  I have seen some pretty tough Watertribers forced out of races because of open wound problems.

So what do I mean by doctoring up? For the UFC, there were two doctoring up sessions.  The first was just before going to sleep.  Blisters were drained and cleaned.  Rashes were cleaned and Desitin applied.  I know, I know, there I go again using a baby product.  Look at it this way, if the stuff can counter a diaper rash, what’s a little salt water rash.  Open wounds were cleaned and neosporin was applied with a dressing for protection.  For any sun burn areas aloe was applied and any dried area baby oil was applied.  Lastly, baby powder was applied to my feet to help dry them out.  The second doctoring up session was in the morning.  I would apply neosporin to any blister areas  and then wrapped the areas with both water proof bandages and tape.  On open wounds, I would clean them again, re-apply neosporin, and put a new protective dressing on them, hoping that the protective dressing would stay on for a couple of hours.  Sun screen and lip balm were put on and  Body Glide was applied to all areas that were potential hot spots for rubbing. Finally, I would be ready to  put my paddle clothes on.  Quite the process, huh?  Now you see why Rod was sleeping longer than me.  He really didn’t do much of this.  He never got a bad rash and the only real bad blisters he got was on the bottom of his feet during the 40 mile portage.  On that part of the UFC, he was not getting that extra hour of sleep.  His blisters were so bad it took both of us to doctor him up.

All the above worked great but I did indicate in a previous post that I had suffered a pretty nasty open wound to my right leg during the first day of the race.  Sure enough, this became a problem for me.  I have a scar and a pain that shows up on rainy days to remind me of it.  Why rainy days I don’t know, but it does.  The only explanation I have for it is that it is a mental thing and I need to get over it.  I knew I had a problem with this wound when one morning the redness was spreading considerably and starting to move up my leg and Rod said ………..

And Now we are Three !!!

I couldn’t believe it.  Here we were in the middle of the Ten Thousand Islands using a route very few people use and we run into another Watertriber.  Stripbuilder had started on the outside like us and after fighting the winds, decided to attempt getting to CP2 on the inside.  He made that decision without the benefit of a chart, with a route marked on it like mine.  Talk about guts.  I think he was just as glad to see us as we were to see him.  I mean if we were going to end up lost, at least it would be a little easier to handle having company.  Getting lost in a bunch of mangroves, in the middle of the night, a long way from civilization, can be a little unsettling.  Having another human to talk to and help in the problem solving helps keep the panic in check.  If I lived closer to the Ten Thousand Islands, I think I would have a training evolution that consisted of someone taking me while I am blind folded and dropping me and my kayak off at undisclosed location.  All I would have is a chart, compass, and my camping gear.  Essentially, I would be lost and my goal would be to find my way back to the pickup point.  The more you practice being lost, the more confident you become that you can get yourself out of it.

Everytime I have paddled alone through the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades I have found it to be quite a spiritual experience.  For whatever reason, I feel very close to God during those times and am just taken back by the beauty of the place.  Lots of time to reflect on things… How I am living my life?  Who I am as a person.  Now all those feelings and thoughts happen during the daytime.  Night in the Ten Thousand Islands and the Everglades is a whole other world.  First, the place is dark, and I mean real dark.  If you don’t have much of a moon it can be so dark you cannot make out the horizon, shapes and objects.  You better have a good head lamp or bow light if you don’t want to run into something or feel like you are paddling in a black abyss.  Second, there are not a lot of good objects you can take navigation bearings off of.  One clump of mangroves looks just like another clump of mangroves so you hope you can see the stars.  You also have problems getting an idea of distance.  Basically, your spacial awareness and situational awareness goes to pot.  Third, there is not a lot of places you can stop and just wait until the morning.  Lots of mangroves, but not a lot of solid ground that is accessible, so you are confined to your boat.  I know one Watertriber who, after seeing too many green flying monkies, (basically so tired he is hallucinating!) drove his bow into the mangroves and then weaved his arms and paddle into them to keep him from flipping while he slept.  Worked for him but probably not for most.  Especially with all the talk of pythons.  Who wants to wake up thinking that the squeeze feeling they are experiencing is not a hug from someone, but a big ol’ snake!

So, it was great to have another boat with us and the other great thing was that we had a full moon with no overcast clouds.  No clouds means I can see stars and stars mean I now have some navigation references.  As we started paddling through the mangroves, I was still worried about the outgoing tide and concerned that we would have enough water to make it to CP2.  It would really stink to be stuck on a mud bank at night waiting for a tide shift.  Just ring the dinner bell for the mosquitoes.  Shoot, they would have a smorgasbord to choose from.  Hmmm, Riverslayer didn’t taste too good, let’s try Whale!  Oh, and then there is Stripbuilder for dessert.  The first hour was a little stressful but with time I started to get more confidence in the route itself and my ability to navigate it.  There were only two areas where the water got real skinny so it seemed like we had hit the top part of an outgoing tide versus the bottom part.  It was a great feeling to start seeing the light from the airport beacon at Everglades City flash across the night sky.  With each stroke it got closer and closer and we knew we were closer to being at CP2.

Getting to CP2 is an event in itself.  Everytime I have come into this checkpoint I have to force the thought out of my mind that the airport is the finish.  When I am coming into this checkpoint I am usually very tired after a long day and I want the day to be done.  The airport is the first sign of civilization and usually the bar next to the airport is rocking so there is music, laughter and the smell of food in the air.  The problem is that the check point is another 2.5 miles south at the island of Chokoloskee.  The other problem with this checkpoint is that it has a big mud flat in front of it.  You come in at a low tide and you have about 200 yards of mud crawling to get to the lockbox with the check-in sheet.  Oh, by the way, you not only have to get  your body through the mud, but you also have to get your boat through it.  It is nasty and good luck if you try to walk in it.  We got lucky.  Since we were arriving at the top half of the out going tide the mud flat was not that large.  We had arrived at CP2 !!!

As I looked at the checkin sheet in the lock box I noticed that Jungle Jim had made it too but Salty Frog had not.  Then I saw Jungle Jim’s kayak.  That shocked me!  As I had indicated before, both these guys are very fast and they had left CP1 eight hours earlier than us.  I was able to get a little cell service and called Lisa.  It was good to hear her voice.  I always feel better after talking to her.  She either makes me laugh, helps me see that something is not as bad as I think, and/or re-charges my confidence that I will be successful.  She indicated that Jungle Jim was still at CP2 and had a hotel room, a fresh cooked hamburger, a cold coke, and fries for me.  Man did that sound good and my mouth was watering.  A cold coke– ahhhhhhhhhh.   But there was a problem.  What would I tell my two new paddling partners who were setting their tents up next to the road and getting ready to cook some dehydrated meals?  “Hey guys, sorry the bugs are biting but I am going to go get a nice hot shower, bunk in an air conditioned hotel room, and have a great meal.  Sucks to be you!”  Nope, just couldn’t do that.  I found some flat ground somewhat off the road, fixed a dehydrated meal and got that meal in Jim’s room out of my head.  Now that meal didn’t go to waste.  Salty Fog came in a little later than us and Jungle Jim gave it to him.  All things work out in the end.