After two or three times of waking up at a certain time my body usually starts to wake itself up before the alarm goes off. That didn’t happen during the UFC — not once. Every morning it took the alarm going off to get me up and even then it took some discipline to not just turn it off and go back to sleep. My body was screaming it was tired and wanted a break. As I laid in the tent in nice dry fleece and a warm sleeping bag, I couldn’t help but think about how far we had come and that this adventure could be over in three or four days and I was ready for it. We still had the big challenge of getting across that large body of water just south of Cedar Key and the challenge of navigating into Cedar Key. Hopefully the winds would be with us and get us there before dark. I finally got the fortitude to get up, stop thinking about things, and start the process of getting ready for another day of paddling. Doctoring the hands up had become pretty routine but oh man getting into those wet, cold and STINKY paddling clothes would never be routine.
Rod gave his normal “I’m awake” when I called over to him ……….. Oh to be a morning person. Since his feet were doing better he was getting even more cheery in the morning. In reality, his cheeriness in the morning really made it better. Some of the stuff he would say I would just have to laugh versus being grumpy. Each morning as I would pack I would make sure that I would have the maps packed in the cockpit that we ould need that day. As we were packing this morning I couldn’t believe what I discovered. I had made the same error on this stage that I had made on stage 3. I had not packed the map from the mouth of the Suwannee River to Cedar Key. That map was sitting safe and sound in a resupply storage bin Lisa was bringing to Cedar Key. Great!!! I was hoping Rod had this chart like he did at Ft. Clinch but he didn’t. Oh, but I have a fancy new Garmin GPS with charts loaded on it. Oh no I don’t! I had given my nice new fancy Garmin GPS units to Lisa at Ft. Clinch to see if she could get a friend to clean the battery compartment and contacts because of all the rust that had taken place in it. I just had my older Garmin GPS unit that had some charts in it but they were the inland river charts. The only saving grace was that it did have the route to Cedar Key loaded into it. Now I was really grumpy no matter what Rod said. I was upset that I had made the same stupid mistake. Being upset wasn’t going to change anything so I needed to get over it and get over it quickly. So we pushed off and started down the river. Hey, the bright side was that until we get to the mouth of the Suwannee it would be hard for us to get lost and go the wrong direction.
The rest of the morning was pretty nice paddling. The sun had come up the temperature was nice and we were getting into some civilization. It was that time of day and if we were lucky we could stop and get some breakfast. Low and behold I think we hit the last bit of civilization before the mouth of the Suwannee and we found a place right on the river called “River Rats Boat Rental.” Interesting name, the bathroom was an outhouse but they did make a mean breakfast sandwich. They also had cold orange juice and they didn’t care that we stunk. What really shocked me was they had no charts for the mouth of the Suwannee. Hmmm, boat rentals with no charts for folks when they rent a boat?
With our fuel tanks topped off we pushed off heading for the mouth of the river. The goal for us was to find the East Pass versus going out the main channel for the Suwannee. This would save us about 4 miles which in paddle terms was about an hour of paddling. As we got closer to where we thought the East Pass was, we saw an older man anchored and fishing. Talk about ironic — here you have two guys who have paddled and navigated almost completely around the state and we are paddling up to this guy asking for navigation directions. This will not be the last time we pull up to some fisherman double checking some navigation information. In any event, we were correct that the entrance to the East Pass was at the next bend in the river. I guess this pass is used by a lot of boaters because as we got closer to the entrance we saw a couple of flats boats turning into the entrance.
One of the things that I had enjoyed about paddling in the rivers was the ability to duck the wind. It seemed the whole time that we were paddling in the intercostal and the Gulf Of Mexico, the wind was in our face and it was hard paddling. Well, as we approached the Gulf of Mexico, it became apparent that we were going to have to deal with very similar conditions. Oh why did out last days have to be hard? I guess that is why it is called a challenge but at this point I was tired of it. The wind could have really been demoralizing but I knew that Lisa would be waiting in Cedar Key with a great meal and a hotel room with a hot shower. It was dig deep and dig hard paddle time. Everyone I have talked to about Cedar Key talked about all the oyster beds that surround Cedar Key and the navigation challenges those beds create for you. Well we didn’t have charts, I did have a GPS with the route on it, but best of all we had boaters who were coming and going from Cedar Key. We figured if a boat Capitan would run their boat at full throttle over a body of water then we for sure can cross that body of water. Those boats really helped us cut some time off of having to go out and hit the main channel coming into Cedar Key. As we got closer Rod and I both were getting pretty excited. We rounded a point and saw in the distance the beach that we would land on. Rod kept looking but didn’t see anyone on the beach. Was it the right beach? Yes it is the right beach. Then Rod said, “Hey, maybe no one came to see us in.” At all the other checkpoints there was a group of folks we could see waving us in. The beach was too far away to really tell if anyone was there but my response to Rod was, “I don’t know about anyone else, but Lisa will be there. I know her and I can guarantee that she will be there.” As we got closer to the beach sure enough, Lisa was on the beach waving us in and then another watertriber, “Tyro” Mr. Joe Mullen, appeared to check us in. It was good to reach Cedar Key and see some friendly faces. Lisa had come through again and had fresh food, fruit, and a hotel room for us. Ahhhhh, the comforts of home.