The past two days and mornings on the Suwannee had been pretty nice.  This morning, not so much.  The alarm went off at 4:30 and my muscles were stiff, it was dark outside and the river was starting to mist.  I carefully got out of my tent so that I would not lose my balance and fall into the river.  I don’t know if it was because I was sleeping on an aluminum dock versus a nice sand bar or it was the difficulty of packing the boat off a steep bank which meant I had to get into the river to pack the boat.  Maybe it was the fact that I had to put on my cold wet paddling clothes.  The mist off the river wasn’t that bad but the clothes didn’t dry one bit during the night.  Maybe it was just an accumulation of things but for the first time the thought hit me… “I am getting tired of this.”  I was finding myself longing for the day when I would be waking up in a nice warm bed, in warm dry clothes, knowing a nice cup of hot tea waited for me in the kitchen.  Ahhhhhh, the comforts of home.  Enough of that, it was time to get underway.

Rod’s feet were doing pretty well which was a relief.  No infection and they were healing. As daylight came about, we saw that we were approaching a park called Ivey Memorial Park.  At this park I found this sign which was a moral boost because it showed that we were close enough to the Gulf of Mexico for them to list the distance to it.  Yes, it is 70 miles, but the fact that the Gulf Of Mexico is showing up on signs means progress.  In addition to this sign there were some nice outhouses and oh, did I mention some convenience stores?  Who knows, maybe a breakfast sandwich would be possible.  I have never thought of those package sandwiches at the convenience store food as being very good and, in fact, I figured they were a sure path to a very upset stomach.  Well, at this stage if the trip I had a whole different prospective on them and that was they looked delicious.  I even went for the tuna and egg salad ones.  Were they out of date?  Couldn’t tell you because I didn’t look.  Oh, and they had coffee, payday candy bars, Snickers, and orange juice.  We were eating good.  The stop and the fresh food were what I need to get out of my grumpy mood and enjoy the rest of the day paddling on the river.  This part of the river we were paddling was very pretty and the time did pass fairly quickly.  We were making good speed over ground thanks to the current.

As evening was approaching we were also approaching a town called Fanning Springs. This is the sign that is on the bridge at Fanning Springs.  Both of us were low on water so we decided to stop at a local park that was near the bridge.  We were in luck as the bathrooms were open and not only provided a water source but provided another missed luxury.  A toilet!  With our water containers filled and our personal needs taken care of, the only thing that would make life better would be a nice dinner.  Was it worth the risk of a short walk to see if there was a restaurant?  Rod said his feet were up to it and after several days of dehydrated meals a fresh cooked meal would be good.  Well luck was with us and we found a local restaurant right on the main road.  At first I thought it was closed because no one was in the place.  Not only was it open but there was a salad bar with fresh fruit.  The waitress was great.  In fact, everyone we met in small towns was fantastic.  This waitress even let us use her cell phone to call home.  I have often wondered what people said about us after we left the restaurants we visited. Both of us looked like a homeless person and we ate like we hadn’t eaten in weeks but they were always nice to us.  Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

After our meal it was back into the canoes with the goal of going three more hours.  The banks of the river were changing again.  Now they were going from steep banks to flat areas that were marshy and had a lot of tree roots.  Not a great places to try to pitch a tent. The aluminum dock was rough but tree roots would be another whole level of roughness.  I was afraid it was going to be another tough night finding a camp site.  As we rounded a bend we saw some small sailboats anchored on the side of the river and a fire going on the bank.  I wonder how much bank is over there.  Well luck was with us big time today as we were able to find a spot about a quarter of a mile away from the other boats.  Even though the start of the day was kind of bummer it was finishing off pretty  nice.  The camp site was a nice one and the sleep was going to be a good one.  Little did I know how much I would need that sleep for the upcoming day.

Hey! I know that guy!!!

As I woke up I was reminded again that I could really get used to this river paddling.  The  camp site was so nice which results in some deep sleep.  It was also nice to wake up to no blowing wind, crashing waves, flying teeth and worry about the tides.  Today was starting off to be a good one and guess what, Rod’s feet were healing and doing much better.  If only the rest of the UFC could be like the past couple of days.  We packed our boats fairly quickly and pushed off — WITH the current — another pleasant aspect of this stage of the UFC.  Up to this point in the UFC we had only had one bad encounter with wildlife and that was really my fault.  It was the incident with the alligator in the Everglades.  I wasn’t expecting a problem on the Suwannee River, but I didn’t know about the jumping sturgeon.  A sturgeon is a fish that looks like something from the dinosaur age.  There have been so many folks hurt from collisions with these fish that there are signs warning boaters about them.  No one we came across knew why they jump but they do jump.  We would be peacefully paddling along, the river would be calm, and then all of a sudden this massive fish would come shooting out of the water.  I don’t know how deep they are in the river but they must be pretty deep to have the power to jump as high as they do.  That was all we needed, to have one of these things jump out of the water and land on one of us.  We must have seen no less than 30 jumps from these massive fish.  Thankfully the sturgeon decided not to use us as hurdles.  Other than the jumping sturgeon, the paddle down river was very pleasant.  As we approached a turn in the river we could hear folks and figured it was a local boat ramp.  As we came around the bend I noticed a Sea Wind canoe.  Since Sea Winds are built by Kruger Canoes in Michigan there are not a lot of them around in this neck of the woods.  As we got closer I realized I knew the owner.  It was a fellow WaterTriber who goes by the tribe name “Jarhead.”  He had come up from Tampa and put his canoe in to cheer us on.  It was great to see him and catchup on things.  Interesting how an interaction with a friend can lift your spirits because Jarhead’s visit was definitely a moral boost.  This ia a video he took of us.

As you can tell from the video, the day was beautiful and it stayed this way for the rest of the day.  As with most rivers, the Suwannee changes as you go further down stream.  In the upper sections it was windy, low river banks with lots of nice sand bars to camp on.  In the mid sections the river becomes wide and the river banks become steep which limited the number of camp sites.  As night approached we were in our search for a good camp site.  The luck we had on the two previous days in finding a site seemed to have left us.  As the day light was leaving we found an aluminum dock that was a landing for a local park. The park was closed and we would be gone before it open so aluminum dock it was. Gee, an aluminum dock on the river that was just wide enough for our tents.  Nothing like going from sleeping on a nice sand bar to an aluminum dock that of course had the surface roughed up so no one slipped on it.  Oh, and as far as being quiet, not possible on aluminum.  The biggest thing I was worried about was waking up in the middle of the night and not remembering to be careful how far I step from the tent opening or that I would lose my balance.  Either situation would have resulted in a quick dip in the river.  Talk about a wake up call.  As I was sitting in my tent I could not stop thinking about the fact that in two more days we would be at the last checkpoint and I would see Lisa.  Those nightly phone calls, even thought they were short, help in taking the edge off of not seeing her.  Since my cellphone had died on the east coast  I had not talked to her since Fargo and I was finding myself missing her greatly. Hopefully the next two days would be easy ones.  But then that would NOT be characteristic of the 2012 UFC.

Big Shoals Here We Come!!!

Instead of waking up thinking I was asleep on an aircraft carrier, I woke up thinking how pleasant and peaceful it was to be in the woods camping by the Suwannee river.  The campsite was extremely nice.  Firm sand, no roots pushing into my back, no bugs, no wet fog, and an air temperature that wasn’t too cool, but cool enough to make it very comfortable inside the sleeping bag.  As I crawled out of my tent I had to smile.  No wind in the face, the current was flowing in the direction we were going and it was so quiet.  That was until Rod woke up or should I say until Rod tried to get out of his tent.  OUCH!!! Moan!!!  OUCH!!!  Moan!!!  Oh no, I am falling!!!  Bam.  Even though Rod was able to be off his feet for part of the previous day his feet were still pretty messed up.  Rod, being the problem solver that he is, got his paddle and started using it as a crutch.  It worked pretty well for him.  I am glad that Rod has the sense of humor he does because he sounded and looked like an 80-year-old man when he tried to walk and I would start laughing.  Thankfully, he would laugh too.  He was being a real trooper and I knew with each day his feet would get better if he could keep them from getting infected.  As we pushed off I started to think about the fact that we would be facing Big and Little Shoals rapids today.  In planning for the UFC, there was so much concern about the water levels being low that I figured I was going to have to drag my boat over the rocks at Big Shoals.  I really had not thought that much about running the rapids.  Now with so much water in the river that was the big question of the day.  But that decision was several hours away and why ruin the early morning calm and beauty worrying about that.  The river was so peaceful and the scenery was so beautiful.  I started to realize why Rod likes river paddling so much.  You don’t have to worry that much about navigation, if the weather gets messy you just head to the river bank, no waves, and lots to look at.  I could get used to this.  So for several hours we just enjoyed the river.  About an hour out from Big Shoals Rod started to talk about running Big Shoals.  For Rod, he had done it before and felt very confident he could.  For me, not so much.  I knew I could control my boat down the face of a large wave, but rapids?  Hmmmm I didn’t know.  I mean what makes rapids is big rocks underwater which means more than controlling your boat down a wave.  All I could think about was  flipping, losing gear, busting my rudder or getting a hole in my boat or even worse, hitting my head on a rock. We had come this far, why risk having an event that would knock us out of the race.  There was a portage path around the rapids that was about a quarter of a mile in length.  To me that was the path to go.  Rod, on the other hand, was so confident in running the rapids and this would save a couple of hours of time and keep him off his feet.  Up to this point we had alway came to a pretty quick decision on a course of action.  Not this time.  In fact, we were still in disagreement up to about a quarter of a mile from the take out for the portage.  Here we came across a group of kayakers that of course Rod had to talk to.  You know, Mr. social butterfly.  Well, in that discussion we learned about a guy who had gotten hurt the day before trying to run them.  The individual sharing this information ended the conversation with a strong word of caution and a warning that we better have helmets if we are going to run the rapids. That was all I needed to hear. We might have hard heads but neither of us have helmets.  “Rod, if you want to run them, go ahead.  I  am doing the portage and I will catch up with you later.  Decision made for me.” Reluctantly Rod decided not to run the rapids and deal with the pain and uncomfort of the portage.  In looking back on this, I still think we made the right decision, but the portage was tough.  What made it tough was the steep bank we had to drag our boats up, and then down, then dragging our boats over this trail with tree roots, in the middle of a thunderstorm, through a bunch of tall pine tress, and then having to make multiple trips to move our gear that had to be unpacked and repacked into the boats.

I never thought of this section of the river as dangerous but I guess that was a mis-perception for me.  I say this because as Rod and I were moving our gear from the take out point of the portage, a couple in a canoe pulled up.  They were also going to do the portage.  At one point, Rod says to me, “Hey, did you notice the pistol that guy has around his waist?”  Well on my way back I passed them at the halfway point of the portage and sure enough the guy had a .45 cal automatic pistol in a holster around his waist.  Hmmm, don’t think we will be hanging around here any longer than necessary. Lightening, .45 cal pistols, rapids with big rocks……. what an adventure. We completed the portage and were off to face little shoals.  Thankfully these were not that bad and I just followed the line Rod set through them.  The rest of the day was pretty non eventful and very enjoyable.  We ended up camping on another sand bank.  It had the same characteristics of the campsite we were at the night before.  As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t help but think that river paddling is pretty nice.  That is, if you don’t have any rapids to deal with.