Who Ordered That Launch?!

VROOOOMMMM!!! What the……   I must have fallen asleep on the flight deck.  Roll-Roll-Roll…..  I have to get off this deck.  I hope the safety net catches me.  Yes!! I have fallen into it…… VROOOOMMMM!!!   Who ordered these launches and how did I miss it and fall asleep on the flight deck? Weird how our mind works when we are awakened suddenly.  Our senses are wide awake sending signals to our brain, but our brain is not fully awake for processing the incoming information.  As the rest of my brain finally woke up and got engaged I could realize that I wasn’t on the flight deck of a carrier.  I was in a tent off of a road in Georgia.  I hadn’t rolled off the flight deck into the safety net.  I had rolled into the side of my tent and almost rolled the tent in the process.  Oh, and those F-14 Tomcats being launched?  That was actually the logging trucks that started back running and were going full blast.  What seemed like a safe distance from the road last night now seemed way to close to the side of the road.  It was still dark and earlier than our planned wakeup time but getting to sleep with these trucks blasting by just wasn’t going to happen.  Time to get up and see how Rod was doing.  The trucks had woke him up too and when I called his name out I got the normal Rod response, “Yep, I am up.”  That’s a good sign.  Then it was time to get out of the tent.  Yesterday was a true test and measure of just how high Rod’s pain tolerance was.  This morning was a renewal of that test in a big way.  Even with the pain, he wasn’t going to stop.  I truly believe he would have crawed into Fargo if he couldn’t walk.  So the first action item for the morning was to doctoring Rod’s feet.  Cleaning wounds, draining blisters, applying antiseptics, and putting special pads on his feet.  My oldest daughter is a certified athletic trainer who has worked with various college sports teams and is presently working on her PhD at the University of Kentucky.  Prior to the UFC she had given me some tips on dealing with blisters and had given me some special pads that are similar to mole skin but much better.  I had never seen them but if she said they were good I was going to take them.  All through this, Rod was a trooper and just sucked it up and got through the pain.  Luckily his feet had not swelled up that much during the night and we were able to get his shoes on.  Next, get the boats packed, balanced, tied together and then back on the road.  Rod was actually walking pretty good.  Either the pads were working or he now had the energy to just mentally block the pain out.  As I looked up the road, I saw a familiar van coming.  It was Chief.  He had been tracking us on our SPOTS and was coming to welcome us to Fargo.  This is the video he took of our portage.  Oh, and he had some cold Cokes.  Ohhhh soooo good.


As you can tell from the video we made it into Fargo.   Guess what’s there?  A restaurant and it was breakfast time.  Let’s go eat!!!  Now, Chief is a pretty tough guy in his own right. The creator of the WaterTribe, designer of the Evergaldes Challenge, and the UFC.  He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, US. Marine Corp, and he sleeps in a van when he is managing the race.  So not a guy who expects the Hilton.  I share that with you to get a measure of just how bad Rod and I must have been for him to say what he said.  When we got into his van to go to the restaurant, his first comment was “Gee, you guys really stink!  Man I hope I can get this stink out of my van after you guys leave.”  I looked at Rod and I am thinking, I don’t smell anything.  I know we must have smelled but you would not have known it at the restaurant.  They served us a wonderful breakfast and our bodies needed it after what we had put them through on the portage.

The process of disassembling the carts and repacking and cleaning the boats was slower than both of us would have liked.  My hauling rig was bent and distorted from the load of pulling two boats which made disassemble difficult.  The condition of Rod’s feet made even the simplest task painful and a difficult one for him.  He definitely was a happy camper to get in the boat and get off his feet.  Prior to the start of the UFC and leading up to getting to the Suwannee River, everyone was worried there would not be enough water in the upper sections of the river to be able to paddle it.  I didn’t want a repeat of what we faced in the upper sections of the St. Mary’s.  Again, I think God was looking out for us because there was plenty of water in the river.  In fact, there was enough water that running the Big Shoals rapid would be a concern.  Well, we said good bye to Chief and we pushed off from Fargo.  It was nice to be on the river, to have no wind in our face, and the current going with us.  We spent the rest of the day
enjoying our paddle down the Suwannee River.  At each bend there were these beautiful sand banks that were perfect camp sites.  There was no problem finding a nice camp site and it was quiet.  That night as I sat in my tent I couldn’t help but think about the fact that we now only had two real stressful situations in front of us.  The first would be the rapids at Big Shoals and the next would be the big open water crossing  after Cedar Key.  Just hope Rod’s feet don’t pick up an infection.

Oh No!!!!! I Forgot to Pack My Running Shoes, Will My Merrill Amphibians Work ?????

Most of the gear that I used during the UFC I was very happy with and would use the same gear if I was doing the event again.  My portage cart, however, is one piece of gear that I would not use again.  Not that it isn’t a great cart.  It is very well constructed and can carry a heavy load.  It just requires a lot of assembly and that introduces a risk due to the potential of losing a nut or bolt and it requires a lot of time that I could have used sleeping. Knowing this, I decided to assemble my cart before I went to bed.  The other pain with this cart is the wheels.  They are bigger in diameter than most which is good, but the tube that the supplier used inside of the wheel severely limits what you can use to inflate the tube.  I was thankful that I tested what was the best way to inflate these tubes.  A bicycle pump wouldn’t work, a mountain bike tube pump wouldn’t work and an air compressor wouldn’t work.  It was the restricted space between the tube inflation connection and the wheel spokes.  The only thing that would work was a CO2 inflation device.   Before I left on the UFC I had tried to get a different tube with a longer and angled inflation connection but the bike shop didn’t come through for me on this.  Lesson learned?  Don’t rely on one shop to get you what you need and allow their problems of getting products to become your problem.  They swore up and down they would have the tube in plenty of time and I trusted that they would.  Well they didn’t and their response was, “Sorry.”  Sorry?!?!?!  Well sorry will not inflate my tube if I have a flat during the 40 mile portage.  So I ended up carrying three spare CO2 cartridges.  One to inflate my tires and two for spares in case of a flat.  So with my portage cart assembled and my special, top-secret hauling poles installed, I started to get my portage gear sorted out.  Light-weight, long sleeve shirt – check.  Light-weight hat – check.  Light-weight boardshorts – check.  Safety vest – check.  Two pairs of heavy-duty socks – check.  Powder for the feet – check.  Gorilla Tape for hot spots – check.  Body Glide to prevent rub spots – check.  Light-weight gloves – check.   Running shoes – ………………….. NO WAY!!!!!  I had packed my second set of Merrill Amphibian Water shoes instead of my running shoes.  I could not believe it.  Confirmation that my packing strategy for the checkpoints was flawed – CHECK!!  Oh, and these shoes were brand new.  Great, I am getting ready for a 40 mile portage in a pair of shoes that are built for being in the water, have hard bottom soles, very little cushion, lots of mesh for draining water and not broken in at all.  I couldn’t believe it but there was nothing I could do about it so I just sorted the rest of my stuff out and went to sleep.  Gee, what a major mistake!

What a treat it was to be able to get up in the morning and not have to get into wet paddle clothes.  It was a nice change of pace and packing was so much easier on land.  Both of us were pretty careful to pack our boats where they would be balanced on the portage carts.  With everything secured and packed up we started the portage to meet Chief at a restaurant in St. George called the K&C Oak Tree Cafe.  I was so looking forward to some fresh eggs, bacon and pancakes.  It was only a couple of miles to the cafe and it gave us a chance to see how our portage rigs were doing.  Since it was so early in the morning there was very little traffic so we kind of had the whole road to ourselves which was nice.  I was pretty pleased with my setup but I was also stressing over my shoes.  I just knew that I was going to have some serious problems with blisters.  Chief was there right on time and no one was in the cafe.  Well the K&C Cafe didn’t disappoint us.  The food was great, the servings were large and boy did I eat.  I didn’t care if I was going to feel stuffed.  I wasn’t running the portage.  I was going to be walking it and that was going to take a lot of energy, and it was supposed to be fairly hot today.  The folks at the cafe were great.  The owner of the cafe had really gotten into the race and was doing everything he could to help out the contestants.  To our surprise, as we were leaving, he came out with two care packages for us for our lunch.  A care package of barbeque ribs, bake beans, potatoes and bread.   Oh we will be eating good today!

The road that we were taking to Fargo is Georgia State Road 94 which turns into Florida State Road 2.  If you look on a map you will see that this road is a straight two lane road out in the middle of no where.  The main traffic on this road is big trucks hauling logs and I have a pretty good idea they get paid by the load because they move pretty fast.  Getting hit by one of these bad boys could really ruin your day.  What made it even more interesting was that there is not a big shoulder on this road.  So here are two crazy guys with canoes, walking on a road that is the main road for logging trucks, through a very unpopulated part of Georgia.  What Rod and I experienced while on this road was nothing but good ol’ country friendliness.  The logging trucks would talk to each other by CB letting the other truckers on the road know where we were.  Then they would get over long before getting to us and then blow their horns and wave.  In fact, one actually stopped and asked what were doing.  Instead of being mad we were on the road they were encouraging us.  Folks driving by would also slow down and wanted to know what we were doing.  Then the owner of the K&C Oak Tree Cafe pulled up when we were about 20 miles out of St. George and gave us a couple of cold water bottles.  The folks in this area were great!

The day turned out to be a hot one which made the road hot.  Rod and I had a strategy of stopping every hour to inspect our feet and to proactively put tape on if we were starting to experience any hot spots.  In addition to the tape, I was also using lots of foot powder and rotating my pair of socks to keep them dry.  Each time I took my socks off I was expecting to see some blisters but each time I didn’t find any.  I was shocked and figured God was looking out for me.  Rod, on the other hand, was starting to have some problems with blisters forming.  He was taping the hot spots but for some reason the blisters kept forming.  When we stopped for lunch (which was those awesome K&C Oak Tree Cafe care packages) Rod really worked on his feet.  Each hour that passed, things got worse and worse for Rod.  We had a long way to go and the rate the blisters were forming was problematic.  Now Rod is an extremely tough guy, and I will not go into graphic details of his feet, but I will say that there are only so many layers of skin on your feet before you start getting into nerves and blood vessels.  Our goal was to get the portage done in one day but that goal was in jeopardy.  As I watched Rod walk, I started to think about what could we do differently.  We could stop and get Rod off his feet, get a good night’s sleep and hope for the best tomorrow.  My concern with doing this was that his feet would swell, be more painful tomorrow and he would not be able to get on them.  I could continue on and this would be the end of our partnership on the UFC.  Yes, that was an option, but it wasn’t an option in my mind.  Rod had helped me and now was the time for me to help him.  That is what team work is all about.  The other option was maybe I could pull both boats and then the pressure on his feet would be less.  Could I pull both boats?  That would be about 300lbs on wheels and a length of 35 feet.  We had another 11 miles to get to Fargo.  Rod couldn’t take it any more and quite frankly, I couldn’t take seeing him suffering with each step.  He was in some terrible pain and for him to allow me to try and pull both boats was an indication of the the level of pain he was in.  So we tied the two boats together, did some readjusting of the loads on the boats to balance it out, and I started the pull.  I was surprised that it wasn’t that bad once I got the boats rolling.  Hey, we just might make it! We had been on the portage all day and we were starting to lose daylight.  I have always liked to operate at night and the night was a welcomed change.  The temperatures were cooler,  the logging trucks had shut down and the visual of looking at this road that seemed to go forever wasn’t there.  So it was just Rod and myself walking on this road going through the Okefenokee Swamp.  For me, when I am doing something like this, I mentally compartmentalize things such as any pain or uncomfortableness I am experiencing and try to focus all my mental energy into one thing.  That one thing was moving these boats forward one step at a time.

Our speed had dropped considerably but the first 4 miles seemed to go by pretty well. Then it changed.  Fargo is higher than the section of road we were on going through the swamp.  It is also a long, slow rise in elevation and that increased the level of difficulty of pulling the boats.  I was getting very tired but at the same time I was determined to get to Fargo tonight.  If we could do that, then we would be back in the canoes going down the Suwannee River.  Rod would be able to get off his feet thus giving them a chance to heal and we would be making some easy miles since we would be going down river.  The other thing that was of concern is that it started to rain so now my feet are wet and having my feet develop blisters now would be a death nail to our attempt.  Talk about a bummer to get this far in the UFC and then have to pull out because of some blistered feet.  Then through the black night my head lamp caught the flash of a road sign.  It was a sign saying how far it was to Fargo.  Yeah!  When you start seeing street signs with your destination, that is a sign you are getting close.  For me that was mentally uplifting.  Unfortunately for Rod, it was a sign of just how much farther he was going to have to suffer.  I knew we were in trouble when he started to get a head of me and his head lamp was scanning both sides of the road.  He couldn’t take it any more and quite frankly our speed was now down to a crawl.  We were only a couple of miles out of Fargo but it was also the first time I had seen Rod beat.  He couldn’t go on any more, his feet were a mess and the pain was just too much.  I do think I could have made it to Fargo, but at the same time I was also very beat, sore and tired so I agreed.  I still had the fear that Rod would not be able to get on his feet in the morning but I also knew he couldn’t go any more.  So we pitched our tents on this small drive way that was pretty close to the road.  There was no traffic on the road and we would be getting up early so it seemed ok.  In looking at my feet that night I still couldn’t believe it.  Not a single blister and just some minor hot spots that the guerrilla tape was addressing.  The only thing I could figure is that the hard soles of the Merrill shoes kept the heat from getting to my feet and the mesh design helped keep my feet dry.  I do think there was also some divine intervention going on.  Even though Rod was off his feet and asleep, he still moaned through the night.  I don’t know how he was able to sleep but I guess it just proves the point that if you are really tired you can sleep through just about anything.  Well, tomorrow is another day.

Upper St. Mary’s–It Is War!!!!!!

Man I slept great at this stop.  Nice shower with hot water, ice cream, snickers bars, cokes, and a great campsite.  How could I have not sleep great?  As I was packing the boat up I couldn’t help but think about the last time I paddled, if you can call it paddling because it felt more like hiking, the upper section of the St. Mary’s.  It wasn’t fun and it was extremely demanding physically. Although we had lots of water and a wide open river where we were I knew that the further up the St. Mary’s river you go, the more things can change.  As the river gets narrower the banks get higher and there are a lot of fallen trees.  The canoe guides in this area have tried to cut paths through the trees that have fallen but when the water is so low that multiple drag-overs occur, they just wait until the water level comes up.  No one wants to go on a trip, much less pay to go on a trip, that has lots of drag-overs. The day after my previous trip I was extremely sore, had multiple cuts and some very large bruises.  I was also tired from all the energy I had expended having to get in and out of the boat so many times.  In any event, as I packed I was hoping for the best but I also had in the back of my mind the fact that a group of Boy Scouts had attempted to come down river from St. George’s boat ramp and ended up turning around.  Since that very boat ramp was our goal, there would be no turning back for us.  I just hoped that there would be more water in the river and we would have better conditions than what the Boy Scouts had.  We at least knew that it was possible since Sandy Bottom and SOS (two UFC contestants) had made it through this section.

Through most of the UFC I had left my amas out to keep from having to store the rig inside the boat thus giving me more leg room and also giving me more stability.  I was also hoping that one day the wind would cooperate and let me sail.  With the potential of some tight situations I disassembled my amas and packed them inside the boat.  I decided to leave my cross tube and the lower section of the mast up.  In hindsight this was a very wise decision.  It not only gave me a place to hang my hat and sunglasses, but it saved my head from a very nasty whack that I will talk about later in this post.  With everything packed we pushed off and started up river.  As you can see from this picture it was dead calm, nice and wide and really very peaceful.  The only sounds were our paddles pushing though the water.  On this day, we not only had the goal of getting to the St. George boat ramp but we also needed to hit a checkpoint called Trader’s Hill.  I wished I had taken the time to read about all the history surrounding the St. Mary’s river and Trader’s Hill.  A lot happened at this place and it would have made it more interesting thinking about what must have been happening on the very spots we were paddling through.  I always find it interesting how a very small, quiet and unimportant place was at one time very important, very busy, and very colorful.  This was the checkpoint for Trader Hill.  We landed, hit the OK button for our SPOT, talked to the care taker, dumped some trash in the trash bin and were on our way.

In my previous trip it was about 15 miles from the boat ramp when the drag-overs from the sand bars and the fallen trees started to occur. Even though there was more water in the river than my previous trip, it was about at the 15 mile mark that Rod and I started to encounter them also.  First, we start encountering the fallen trees.  Since the water depth was pretty good, the banks were steep, and the trees that had fallen were fairly recent we were able to paddle under them.  The only thing to worry about in these situations were snakes laying on the trees. Having a snake drop into your boat adds a level of excitment to the day that neither of us were looking for.  For several miles this worked pretty well. This is a picture of Rod going under one.  The only problem is that after a while there were so many trees that had fallen and there are no fresh falls so now the trees were laying flat and partially submerged in the river. Great, you have to get out of your boat and drag it over the tree all the while remembering that the river will have dug a deep hole on the upriver side of the tree.  Meaning, if you don’t watch it and you slip off the tree you are pulling your boat over, you are going to drop into what could be some deep water that has submerged tree limbs in it.  Tree limbs you don’t want to get tangled up in and you don’t want the river current forcing you under.  The other obstacle that starts to appear are sand bars.  As there are more and more fallen trees, the river starts to change direction creating sand bars.  So now we find ourselves facing not only submerged trees, but large sand bars that you have to get out and drag your boat over.  At least with these you don’t have to worry about a deep hole to accidentally fall in to.  You just have to drag the entire weight of your boat over sand that can be any where from a yard or two to up to ten yards long.  Each time you are getting in and out of your boat you are burning energy and putting all sorts of trash, water and sand inside of your boat.  Bottom line–NO FUN!

Rod and I spent most of the afternoon and into the evening fighting through the upper St. Mary’s and it was becoming apparent that we would not make it to the boat ramp in the daylight hours.  We were only about 5 miles out which seemed so close.  If we were paddling, that would have been a one and a half hour paddle.  However, due to all the drag-overs, we would be lucky to cover the 5 miles in 3 hours which meant traveling some of the more difficult dragover sections in the dark.  Most Watertribers avoid doing this due to the dangers.  At least in the daytime you can see the deep holes, the snakes, and other creatures of the night.  I have yet to see an alligator on the St. Mary’s but they tell me they are there.  Two things came into play that caused us to keep going.  The first was Rod.  The man has been gifted with human night vision goggles.  His night vision is amazing.  It is so good that my head lamp was making it more difficult for him to see.  So I shut mine off thinking I could follow him.  Well that worked for about 15 minutes until I ran into something in a big way.  I had ran head on into a big branch that thankfully was dead.  This is where my “hat rack” came in handy.  The branch hit the mast section in my cross tube instead of my head.  That would have hurt big time.  As it was, all I was only dealing with was a couple of big spiders running all over me,  a bunch of spider webs, and dead branches all over the boat.  Once I got myself cleared and untangled from the branch, my head lamp was back on.  Sorry Rod!!  The second thing that kept us going was my anger at the St. Mary’s.  When I get mad I usually get quiet and get more resolved and stubborn in what I am doing.  I am not a screamer nor do I do a lot of cussing.  I get quiet and really focused.  I was angry at the St. Mary’s.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but I was NOT going to let this river beat me.  In some ways it is a good thing that I don’t scream and cuss to relieve my anger.  In other ways it is not a good thing on how I do deal with my anger.  I start throwing caution into the wind and don’t think clearly.  All the dangers that were present during the day were still there and even greater at night, but I didn’t care.  I was tired, beat-up, sore, hungry, the inside of the boat was in chaos, but I had declared war on the St. Mary’s.  I was going to get to that boat ramp or die trying.  Bring on deep holes, potential for drowning, potential for injury, alligators, moccasins, whatever, I am taking it on!!  In thinking about it now, not a real smart way to attack what were we doing.  The interesting thing that highlights the different paddling environments Rod and I were accustom to, is that Rod was having a great time.  He loved the challenge of navigating through this stuff in the dark.  He liked what we were doing much more than that open water stuff we had been in.  What a sick puppy!!!  Finally, after what seemed like hours, we heard a vehicle on a road just up ahead which meant we were close to the bridge and the boat ramp.  Then it came into view and I couldn’t have been a happier paddler.  We had one more obstacle and that was getting our gear and boats up the steep boat ramp.  But hey, after what we had been through, this was child’s play. As we were getting our stuff unloaded the still of the night was disrupted by the sounds and the lights of a van pulling up.  What do you know, it was Chief.  Oh, and he had a couple of cold cokes for us.  Man they tasted good and what a great way to finish off the evening.  We decided to just pitch our tents at the boat ramp and would meet Chief in the town of St. George in the morning. When I was preparing for the UFC, there were eight sections that I thought would be difficult or just gave me the heebie jeebies.  Of those, five were now complete.  Tampa Bay crossing-done.  Boca Grand Pass crossing-done.  Florida Bay crossing-done.  Biscayne Bay crossing-done.   And the St. Mary’s Upper Section-DONE-thankfully.  What was left was the 40 mile portage, Big Shoals rapids and the crossing from Cedar Key.  Tomorrow was the start of the portage.

St. Mary’s River… Here We Come!

Thankfully we had a nice pavilion to spread all our gear out and a freshwater hose to wash it off.  The disadvantage of the pavilion was the distance through a bunch of sand we had to haul our gear through.  Hey, the name of this event is the Florida CHALLENGE so why should anything be easy?  The first order of business was getting my tent and ground traps cleaned with fresh water and dried.  After that it was resupply time.  Lisa had brought over all my nicely marked stage bins of which I quickly ended up just dumping on the concrete floor.  Resupply by spreading the pile out and rummaging through it.  Not real efficient but much better than going through each bin trying to find certain items.  After I had finished I just scooped the unused supplies and stuffed them into a bin regardless of what was marked on it.  Now wasn’t the time to try to figure out a different way of organizing the stuff.

As I mentioned in my other post I was still loosing weight.  Lisa had brought over a couple of special things.  One was a waterproof radio to replace my trashed iPod and the other was a couple of new boardshorts for me that were a size smaller.  Now I could keep my pants on when I stood up. Thank goodness.  Rod was loosing some weight but nowhere near the amount I was losing.  I was eating constantly and eating high fat food but was still burning more energy than I was taking in.  This is a picture of me at this checkpoint.  I don’t look the best.  I just hoped that I had enough body fat to get me to the finish.  I kept thinking about a previous UFC where a contestant got all the way to the portage section and then had to pull out. That would be a major bummer.  Lisa had reserved a hotel room for the night and that was quite the treat.  I wonder what the front desk clerk thought when she saw me come through the lobby.  Glad no one knows me up there. Ahhhhhhh a hot shower, a comfortable bed, and air conditioning.  Rod, being the tough guy that he is, decided to camp out with the boats versus getting a hotel room.  That really made it nice since we could leave the boats on the beach versus loading and unloading them on a trailer.  We had an early morning departure in front of us.  Instead of a 6:00-6:30 departure it was going to be a 5:30 sharp departure.  This was the first time that we did set our schedule on the tides.  With the tides so strong here we really needed to hit the incoming tide to help counter the current of the St. Mary’s River.  Lots of thanks to Salty Frog for thinking through when the best time to leave would be because he hit it perfectly.

This departure was a hard one but not the hardest of the trip.  (That would be the one from Cedar Key.)  What made this one hard was it was dark, foggy, and Lisa was dropping me off.  With my cell phone trashed, not being able to talk to each other was starting to weigh in on both of us.  Knowing that it would be at least seven days before we could see each other brought a somber atmosphere to our departure.  My hope was that my phone would be covered under warranty and she would have a new one for me at Cedar Key. Navigating in the dark is tough enough but add fog to it and you have a real challenge on your hands.  Then add that you are a little boat, low to the water, crossing a large body of open water that is transited by US Navy submarines, (the charts has this warning listed:  “CAUTION:  BE AWARE OF LARGE WAKES CAUSED BY SUBMARINES IN THE AREA) and you have the makings of a very spooky situation.  Well I guess we could have hitched a ride like these guys but I don’t think the submarine Captain would have approved of that.This is the time I wished I had a radar signal generator onboard so at least we would be visible on the radar.  I guess what makes it so spooky is that you feel like you are paddling in an abis.  You can only see the front of your boat and the back of your boat but that is about it.  Then you hear these sounds that you don’t know how close the source of the sound is much less what it is and your mind starts playing tricks on you.  The only thing we had going for us was that there wasn’t a lot of wind and the sea state was dead calm.  This was one of those times that even Rod (aka Mr. Morning), had a hard time staying wake.  It is extremely boring paddling in a thick fog, in the dark, with nothing to do but follow the back-end of the boat in front of you.  I, on the other hand, with the task of navigating through this situation, had no problem being wide awake.  A navigation mistake now was not a good thing. Finally, the sun started to burn some of the fog off and we found ourselves paddling in the St. Mary’s with these high cliffs.  Who would have thought that in Florida you would have these? The further up river we went the prettier it became.  We were now river paddling and not open water paddling.  This was Rod’s environment and the change in scenery was very welcomed from my viewpoint.  I was surprised at how undeveloped a lot of sections of this part of the river were.  The St. Mary’s River is also the dividing line between Georgia and Florida and every time we crossed from one bank to the other bank my GPS would give a message with an audible signal that I had crossed a state line.  This got old very quickly so off with the audible feature.  I think the incoming tide stayed with us for about 25 miles which was a blessing because when it went slack we were now paddling upstream against the St. Mary’s current.  One of the big concerns for this year’s UFC was whether there would be enough rainfall to get the river levels up high enough to be paddled.  In one breath we all wanted it to rain so that we could paddle the river in another breath we didn’t want too much because we would be fighting a strong current as we paddled up the St. Mary’s. Thankfully, even though there had been some rain, we were not fighting a strong current but enough current to let us know it was there.

Prior to the start of the UFC I had gone up to the St. Mary’s on a training paddle.  I stayed at a fish camp that was at the halfway point of the river.  Since I spent a long weekend there I got to know the owner of the fish camp and a few of the locals that stayed there.  At first I think they thought I was some city slicker who had all this high-tech gear and who wouldn’t be able to handle the river.  I will never forget the comment the one guy had when I pulled my GPS out.  “Why do you need that?  Do you think you are going to get lost?  This is a river!  You can only go up river and down river.  It is not that complicated.”  Not that I disagreed with that thought process.  I just like to know my speed and distance but I didn’t say anything since he was already shaking his head as he looked at my boat and the paddling clothes I was putting on. After a long paddle, that they helped shuttle me to and one they consider to be a pretty tough section of the river, I seemed to gain a level of acceptance from them.  They even let me hang out with them in one of their rocking chairs one night.

Since Rod and I had started the day out pretty early it was starting to become a long day. We had lost daylight several hours earlier and it was getting past the normal time we would have been off the water.  I really wanted to try to make the fish camp.  I knew that the folks at the camp would still be up, the fish camp store would still be open, and we would have a great camp site.  I also wanted to cover as many miles as possible.  I knew from my past training paddles that the upper part of the St. Mary’s would be extremely tough.  Rod, being the type of person that he is, was ok with the push, trusting that I knew what I was talking about with this fish camp.  Well sure enough, even though it was close to 10:00 PM, the lights of the fish camp came into view.  The expression on those folks faces when Rod and I came through the front door was priceless.  I was two steps into the place when I called out for the owner and said hello to them using their nicknames.  I could tell they didn’t recognize me and they were shocked that I knew them by their nicknames. Thankfully that didn’t last long (we could have gotten our rears kicked big time) before they recognized me and then it was like a family reunion.  Cold cokes, ice cream bars, snicker bars, bathroom, shower and a nice camp site.  Good people.   Just proves the point you don’t judge a book by the cover.  They look rough on the outside but were great people on the inside.  Great to get the first half of the St. Mary’s done.  Now the second half, and the half I will probably always hate……

Check Point 3! Oh Man…… Food, Food, Food!!

When the alarm went off there wasn’t any problem getting up because I knew if we paddled well today we would be at Fort Clinch, checkpoint 3, by late afternoon.  I got right into my routine eating, doctoring my body, and packing my sleeping gear.  Packing camping gear can be ok or it can be something of a bummer.  Like when the gear that was exposed to the outside is dripping wet from the dew and sand collects on everything.  I carry a little brush to brush the sand off but the wetness is what it is.  So you end up stuffing all this wet gear into a compartment that is going to be sealed so it sure isn’t going to dry.  Well that is what was waiting for Rod and I when we got outside of our tents.  I am just thankful that I had bought a high quality tent that was both breathable and very waterproof.  Otherwise, the night would have been like sleeping in a light rain shower from the dew seeping through the rain fly.  Getting all my gear cleaned up was one more thing to add to the list of why it will be so great to get to the checkpoint.

We had two big crossings in front of us, the St John’s River and Nassau Sound.  The crossing of the St. John’s River was pretty non-eventful and was really kind of neat in that we paddled in front of a shipyard that had several large US Navy vessels in dry dock.  I was kind of surprised that we were able to get as close to them as we did.  I was fully expecting a security boat to be coming out of nowhere but it never happened.  After the crossing we entered a waterway called “Sisters Cr.”  I assumed that the Cr stands for creek but it is not what I would call a creek.  It is  a river and the current was flowing against us in a big way.  We had been so lucky hitting the tides and current but today was not starting out that way.  It was going to be one of those put your head down and just paddle hard.  Hey, at least the wind wasn’t in our face.

As I have stated in previous posts, most of my experience had been in open water and Rod’s experience has been in rivers.  Since most of the water we had been paddling in was open I had taken the lead in navigation.  No problem.  I had my GPS, my routes and my charts.  I also shared in my previous posts that the manner in which I had organized my resupply bins didn’t help and, in fact, created some chaos.  Well, no different on my charts.  I had all the charts marked with each stage that they would be needed and had carefully put them in each stage resupply bin.  I had just failed to put the chart that was the end of one stage and the beginning of the next stage in the proper bin.  So as we paddled through Sister Cr and off the chart for that section I didn’t have the chart to get us from Sister Cr to Fort Clinch.  That was sitting safely in my resupply bin at Fort Clinch.  Great.  Now up to this point in our journey I had not seen Rod pull a single chart out, change charts at the checkpoints, or even fire up his GPS.  I mean, why do that?  By keeping his safe and dry we had a spare GPS.  “Hey Rod, do you happen to have a Jacksonville to Brunswick Area chart?”  You know, because the guy with all the open water experience here doesn’t!  Rod looks at me and I could tell by the look on this face he was thinking, “What??”  Well Rod started digging through is stuff.  Some time passes and Rod is still digging through his stuff and then, “Hey!  Yeah I got it!”  Oh what a relief.

After getting my charts organized, the paddle up to Fort Clinch was a pretty one.  Passing through marshes, sea grass, Amelia City, and Fernandina Beach.  We even got a low-level fly over from a US Navy Blackhawk chopper.  I guess the pilot was bored, or as Rod and I decided, it was our welcoming committee.  Nice of the US Navy to do that for us.  The checkpoint at Fort Clinch was a large boat ramp just south of the park.  It is real easy to lose your space awareness when you are looking at a chart and then trying to compare the landscape that you are seeing to the chart.  That is why tacking a couple of fixes is so crucial to getting your bearings.  When you are excited about the destination, you are very susceptible to getting your bearings messed up.  Well that was happening to me as we approached the checkpoint.  I had to keep telling myself to trust the GPS and ignore the thoughts of, “Hey, the structure over there is it, no no no… not that structure, that structure there.  Hey, wait a minute, no that is not it, it is that structure over there.”  None of those structures that we were looking at were the boat ramp.  As we got closer and trusted the GPS the boat ramp came in to view and not only did the correct beach area come in to view, but there were people on the ramps structure waving and hollering at us.  Man it was a great feeling and the best part was Lisa was there.  This is a picture of us right after we had landed.  There is a reason why my hands are on my waist.   I am trying to keep my pants from falling off.  I had lost so much weight my pants would fall right off me when I stood up.  Lucky for me, or should I say lucky for the rest of the world, most of the time I was sitting.  As with the other checkpoints, Lisa had some great fresh food for us.  I know my body needed protein but fresh fruit (watermelon, grapes, apples, and oranges ) was what I couldn’t get enough of.  Oh and the cold cokes were wonderful.  Funny, at home I am not a big coke drinker, but on the UFC, a coke was my go-go juice.  Just as we were finishing up Salty Frog, who had come to greet us, started hollering about our boats.  Our boats were pulled up on the beach and were on the other side of the boat ramp so we really couldn’t see them.  Now in this part of the state, the tides are very strong and large so we had pulled our boats up a far way on to the beach.  As we went running down to the boats it became clear we had a problem.  My boat was still on the beach but Rod’s boat was floating away.  The tide had come in and floated it in just a few hours.  Thankfully Salty Frog had walked over to check on them because Rod’s boat wasn’t that far away.  So off I went paddling like a mad man to catch his boat.  After this incident our boats were not only pulled up a far distance, but they were tied to an anchor.  With all the excitement over, it was time to get to cleaning gear, repacking, and get some rest.  I hoped the rest of the evening would be non-eventful.

This is a video that Salty Frog made of Mosquito Magnet another UFC contestant ,Rod and myself at Ft Clinch. Thanks again Salty Frog for documenting this for us.


You Want To Sleep Here ???????

The campsite we were at was one of my top five most favorite of the UFC. It was quiet, I slept great, the boats were easy to unpack and pack, and no bugs.  Hey we were living the good life.  I really didn’t want to leave but I also knew that if we put in a long day today and covered our planned miles we would be able to make our next check point, Fort Clinch, the following day.  That would mean fresh food, a shower, and maybe a night in a hotel.  St. Augustine was the next big city that we would be coming up to.  My primary concern was that we would hit the tides right.  St. Augustine’s inlet is a large one which means the tides can be pretty strong which could make for a very long day if we had an incoming tide.  As I had mentioned in my earlier post, Rod and I didn’t spend too much time trying to figure out departures times relative to tide shifts.  We just stuck to a normal schedule and hoped for the best when it came to the tides.  There is also a school of thought that says you are going to fight the tide no matter what you do.  You either fight it approaching the inlet, and then run with it once you have passed, or you run with the tide to the inlet, and then fight it once you have passed the inlet.  As we started the morning out I noticed we had the tide with us. Sweet!  We were going to have the tide with us to St. Augustine.

As we approached the city of St. Augustine, I notice a boat with a young family in the shallow section of the river.  At first I thought they had purposely grounded their boat there and were enjoying a swim.  Then I noticed that they were waving at the passing powerboats.  They were in trouble.  They had run aground and the tide was going out.  I felt  bad for the Dad.  Here he was stuck with his wife and two young girls.  I was shocked at the number of power boats that just went right by them ignoring them.  How could they not see them waving.  At first I thought there wasn’t much Rod and I could do.  We don’t have an engine to pull them off and we couldn’t transport them to shore.  Then it hit me.  I saw a small power boat with two young guys heading our way and they were close. Maybe, just maybe, I could paddle close enough to get their attention and direct them to the family.  As luck would have it, these two young men knew the mariner’s rule of helping another mariner in distress.  Even though their boat was smaller than the one beached, they went over and got the young family’s boat off the beach.  Today was turning out to be a nice day.

Once we got within sight of the St. Augustine marina, Rod went into restaurant searching mode.  I mean how was he going to miss here in St. Augustine?  The place has numerous restaurants along the waterfront.  Tourism is one of the big draws to the city and what would it be without great food.  We pulled into the mariana, docked or boats, and hit the first restaurant right by the water.  What made it even better was there was a clean public rest room where I could wash up.  Sometimes that was as good as the fresh food.  Not quite as good as the cold cokes though.  As we were paddling to the docks both of us couldn’t help but notice that the tide was pretty low.  There were mud flats all over the place.  Hmmm, could it be that we had perfect timing?  Could it be that we had came in on an outgoing tide and could possibly pass the inlet and then have an incoming tide? No way!  That would be just too good to be true.  The meal itself was expensive.  It wasn’t the best of the trip but it sure beat a dehydrated meal and the cold cokes were outstanding.

As we got into our boats I noticed that the tide was running slack.  Hmmm, maybe we did hit it perfectly.  The more we paddled the more we realized that the tide was slack which would mean pretty shortly it would switch to an incoming tide.  We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly.  Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!  The crossing was very non-eventful and we headed into the Tomalto River.  The further north we paddled on the Tomalto River the narrower it became until we hit a section just north of Cook Landing.  If you look on a chart you will see that the ICW is pretty narrow  and very straight through this section.  On one side of the ICW is the Cabbage Swamp and on the other side are these beautiful waterfront houses in a subdivision called Palm Valley Landing.  I guess the folks that live here work in Jacksonville. There is one road in and out of this area and it is a very long road.  From the water it is really a very beautiful section of water to paddle in.

Up to this point Rod and I had been very lucky in finding camp sites.  We had always seemed to find one without a lot of time spent looking. We had passed several nice spots earlier in the day but it was too early to stop then.  We needed to get in as many miles as we could today to ensure being able to get to Fort Clinch in the day light hours tomorrow. So when it came time to look for a camp site for the night it was dark and the ICW banks had changed.  Instead of solid ground we were now looking at shorelines of grass and marshes.  We started working the shorelines and for those that have paddled at night they can tell you that things don’t look the same at night.  What appears to be a solid bank from a distance will end up being a line of grass when you get right up on it.  We kept passing one marsh and grass line after another and it was getting later and later into the night.  The only positive was that we were still making head way north but it was slow going.  I could tell that Rod was tired and ready to call it a night.   He headed to an island that was shown on the chart. The only problem was the  island was surrounded by 25 yards of this short weed grass in very shallow water (1-2 Inches).  This is when Rod stated, “Hey, this should work.  We can sleep inside our boats.”  I am saying to myself, “Do what???? You have got to be kidding!”  I know he was tired, and I was too, but there was no way I was going to get a good night’s sleep inside my boat.  Yes, I could get inside of it but it was wet and dirty. Just wasn’t going to happen.  I would rather spend another three hours paddling versus trying to sleep there.  This is where being easy to get along goes a long way.  Rod listened to my argument, agreed to continue paddling on, but closed with, “Ok, but you will have to find the spot because I am tired of looking.”  As I looked at the chart there was a lot of green showing on the banks in front of us, meaning nothing but marshes.  But there were a few spots of yellow.  Well we got lucky as one of the those yellow spots turned out to be a small beach big enough for both of us to set up our tents.  Ahhh, sleep at last!!!