Really, All I want is one good night sleep !!!!!!!

It was so nice and quiet when I got into my tent. I felt relaxed knowing that this was the last night out and that tomorrow we would be finished. I think only seconds passed from the time I got into my sleeping bag before I fell asleep. That sleep didn’t last long. I woke up to this loud duck like noise. It was not only loud but was continuous. How could this be? There was not a single duck anywhere in sight when we setup camp. Now there seemed to be thousands of them and they were all making this weird noise. It was like a mix between a chirp and a quack. The noise was so loud it felt like they were right outside my tent. I felt that if I pulled the tent fly back I would have all these ducks standing there looking at me.images I was hoping they would stop but after several minutes I gave up on that thought.  So I flung open the tent fly to see nothing but the ground. I couldn’t believe it. These noisy ducks weren’t on the island but out in the water. Maybe they were pissed off that Rod and I were on the island and they wanted to be. I could barely make out this dark-colored spot a coupe of yards out in the water that seemed to be the source of the noise. Still determine to silence these noisy things I found a small branch that had some weight to it and slung it out towards the spot. I heard it hit the water and a fraction of a second later the noise level in the area went up big time. It seemed like all heck was breaking loose. Bird, ducks, what ever they were took flight in a big way. They were screeching,quacking and joy joy flying right over the island. All I could think of was ” Take Cover  !! Incoming Bird Poop and lots of it. Don’t look up and don’t open your mouth “. I guess the branch hitting the water scared them enough because the rest of the night was quiet.  I slept right through until the alarm woke me up. No problem getting up this morning because in six hours we would be finishing.

There was no wind when we pushed off. It was still dark and the early in the morning. My hands had the normal two hours of burning pain but it just didn’t seem that difficult to deal with today. As we paddled south we entered waters that I have paddled in quite a bit so the sights were a welcome sign that we were almost finished. It was about two hours out from Ft Desoto that the winds picked up and guess what, they were right in our face. Why would we expect any different from this difficult challenge? We started with the winds in our face and now we must finished with the winds in our face. Luckily we could use the buildings in this area as some winds break. Rod was paddling very strong so I ended up just drafting off him in areas that we could not get into the lee of a building. The sight of the Don Caesar hotel was a biggie. The Don is a big pink hotel on the south side of St Petersburg Beach. This landmark is very close to the last big pass before getting to Ft Desoto. As we paddled around Pass-A-Grille we had a navigation choice to make. Go out into the Gulf Of Mexico through the North Channel Pass and then come back into Ft Desoto through Bounce Pass or, take the South Channel and work our way through the shallows around a place called Sawyer Island. The waters in this area are very shallow but are also very protected. Oh and this route would be shorter. The kicker on this route was would there be enough water depth for us to get through if the tide was going out. Nothing like being hard aground in the middle of a mud flat, within sight of the finish, and with people waiting for us. Sure enough the tide was going out but as we looked across the flats we didn’t see any mud, just water. The question we could not answer was how much. Ahhh heck with it let’s go for it ! As we entered the south channel we got lucky. There was a standup paddle boarder that had just come across from Ft Desoto. He pointed us to where the deepest water was to make it across the shallows. Great we have got this.

As we paddle to the finished beach Rod and I started to talk about whether anyone would be there to greet us. I know in past UFCs some of the finishers finished to just their love ones. Finishing the UFC is different from the Everglades Challenge where all the finishers wait until everyone is finished and then there is an awards ceremony. Just not practical to expect this for the UFC. I knew one person that would be there and that would be Lisa. I also figured that Chief would be there with his trusty video camera to document our finish. Other than that I didn’t know . As we got closer we could make out some bright colors on the  beach. Hmmmmmm what is that? Then we started to see some people, lots of people moving around. Hmmmm Then we saw some of the people waving at us. Heyyyyy those people are here to welcome us. This is a video of us coming in that Salty Frog took.

Even today I find it hard to describe the waves of emotions I started to experience at that moment. Those emotions didn’t stop when we landed out canoes on the beach at Ft Desoto. I was really over whelmed by who was at the beach that day. There was Chief. There were WaterTribes who have never done the UFC but who knew us and had travel long distances to be there. There were WaterTribers who were past finishers of the UFC who had also travel long distances to greet us. There were coworkers from the company that I work for who had taken time off from work to greet us. There were family members who had also taken time off from work. There was my wife, Lisa, who had been there through this entire UFC and who had her own adventure trying to provide support . All those folks greeting us drove home the fact that we were truly home. It made the finish so special and I will always be very grateful to all those folks for making that happen. I am not sure how you thank folks for doing something like that but for sure you can say “Thank You” ” Thank You” “Thank You.” Having experienced that feeling I know that I will always make it a priority to be there on that beach to greet future UFC finishers.

As I secured my canoe on the trailer and packed my gear into the truck it felt a little odd. My life for the past 28 days had been in this canoe and now it was coming to an end. It wasn’t a sad feeling just a little odd. Rod was packing his canoe on a friend’s vehicle and getting ready to leave. This was odd also. How do you say good-by to someone I hadIMG_0218 spent so much time with and had been through so much? I think for both of us we found it easier to just make it short. ” It has been great.”” Thanks for sharing this experience with me.””Travel safe going home “. After a quick shower I sat down at a bench that over looked the beach we had finished on and had some lunch. Lisa had brought some fried chicken, I love fired chicken, fresh fruit, and a cold coke. It was done. We had completed the UFC even with all the difficult weather. It was time for all of us that had been involved in this great adventure to relax, reflect and to heal.

Note : This is not my last blog entry. I have three more blog entries I am going to post on this great adventure: (1) Why I do these things and life after the UFC (2) Rod and (3) What worked and what didn’t work.

Now What?!?

Here I am again being awakened by a loud noise.   Some mechanical contraption that seems to be bent on running us over.  At least this time I wasn’t waking up thinking I was on the flight deck of some aircraft carrier.  As soon as I was awake, I knew what it was.  We had camped on this little island right next to the channel.  These were commercial fishingimages boats heading out to fish.  They seem to be flying through the channel and man did they have some loud diesel engines.  Hmmmm, I wonder how the canoes are fairing.  We pulled them up quite a distance and had tied them off to some large branches, but the prudent thing would be to check on them.  My options: (1) Crawl out of a nice warm sleeping bag, then crawl out of the tent, find some shoes and then walk over the rocks, tree branches, and sea grass hoping I don’t get my feet wet or sink into some mud or, (2) just roll over and go back to sleep and hope everything is ok.  Option 2 seemed like the preferred one but then I am stuck with thoughts of the canoes banging against the rocks until there was a hole in the hull and then filling up with water.  Wouldn’t that be a bummer to be two days from the finish and we both cannot finish because I didn’t want to get up and get my feet wet.  So off I photowent to inspect the canoes and lucky I did.  It was low tide when we had come in and the tide had come in to float the canoes and the wakes of the commercial fishing boats had them banging into each other.  That was better than banging against a bunch of rocks, but still not good.  So I quickly rearranged the canoe and jumped back into my tent for some sleep.  Throughout the rest of the early morning hours I would be briefly awakened by another commercial boat heading out but it didn’t take me long to fall back to sleep.

I found that waking up this morning was different from previous mornings on the UFC.  This morning, instead of waking up with the thought of what was facing us, I had the thought that if today was a good day as far as speed, I could be sleeping in my bed verses on some small island by a channel.  I knew that was a long shot because we had a lot of miles still to cover, but it was a possibility.  The other thought that was crossing my mind was all the big challenges had been tackled.  No Boca Grand Pass, no Florida Bay, no Biscayne Bay, no 40 Mile Portage, no Big Shoals rapids, no Upper St. Mary’s and no big water crossing South of Cedar Key.  I was getting into my home waters and by this afternoon we would be in the protected waters of the inter coastal.  So packing up this morning really wasn’t that bad.  What was bad was the pain in both of my wrists as I started to paddle away.  I was having problems with my wrist before we entered the St. Mary’s River and the pain was pretty manageable in the rivers.  In fact, it had decreased quite a bit.  I was not so lucky in the Gulf of Mexico.  I guess it was because this type of paddling was putting more pressure on my hands.  The first two hours of paddling were real bad.  Luckily, after about two hours, my hands just seemed to go numb.

The waters in this area are very shallow and for a long ways out.  For a big boat this is a problem but for us it made for some beautiful paddling.  We had no wind, flat calm seas, and the water was so clear we could see the bottom.  We could see fish, sponges, and fans.  Sure was more interesting versus paddling towards a landmark way off in the distance, which is what we had been doing.  Interestingly, our last major landmark was the Crystal River Nuclear power plant and now we are finding that our next vfiles9097major landmark is  the power plant at Tarpon Springs.  Tarpon Springs was a great site to get to since I had paddled here multiple times and it was just another sign that we were getting closer to home.  I also knew that there was a park called Fred Howard Park just south of the channel into Tarpon Springs.  I knew that they had done some remodeling of the park but in the past there were bathroom facilities and a place that sold hamburgers.  As we approached the island something hit me that wasn’t that apparent to me before but became apparent the closer we got.  People, and I mean lots of people were there.  From the time Rod and I had left the Daytona Beach area we really were not around a lot of people.  Small groups of 3 or 4 people but no where near the number of people were we seeing on the beach at Howard Park.  As soon as we landed folks were asking us questions.  It was great talking to them but I sure didn’t want to spend all day there.  The finish line was so close and maybe, just maybe, we could put in a really long day and finish tonight.  As I walked to the bathroom it felt really strange having so many people around me and wouldn’t you know it, the bathroom was packed with people waiting in line for the heads.  Unfortunately for both of us, the food prep facilities had been closed down, but there was a vendor that had cold Cokes and SNICKERS bars!!! Ahhhhh, may not be high-tech and probably not as good for you but for my body a Snickers bar is right up there.

I am not sure Rod and I were having the same feelings as we paddled further south.  For me, I felt like I was slowly being returned back to my normal life.  Each mile we paddled I saw more and more sights that I have seen multiple times both through my childhood and the times I have paddled in these waters.  People, boats, bridges, and the big hotels running along the beach.  It was getting close to evening and the Coke was just not enough to fuel Rod and I started to see him go into restaurant hunting mode.  There he goes paddling a zig zag pattern stopping people and asking them about any places close to the water where we could get food.  Oh gee, on the east coast I didn’t really care.  No one knew me so looking and smelling like some homeless person on the water was no big deal.  Here on the west coast and close to Tampa, different story.  Sure enough I get the wave to follow him.  He is paddling in the direction of this big yacht club and the closer I get the more I see these folks in coats and a parking attendant running around in white shorts and white shoes.  Oh no no no no, we are not going to stop there.  Rod kept right on paddling right past the club to the end of the marina where we stopped at aslider-2 place called “Olde Bay Cafe and Dunedan Fish Market.”  Thankfully, it had an outdoor section where we grabbed a table.  I looked around and didn’t see anyone familiar or who knew me.  Well, that didn’t last long with Mr. Social Butterfly.  Needless to say, we had a great meal there and left with a whole group of supporters.  I felt like some kind of movie star when we were leaving.  People were waving, toasting us and wishing us well from the restaurant’s railing.  Pretty amazing.

As I previously indicated, seeing lots of people was not something we had experienced over the last couple of weeks.  I guess it is normal though that with lots of people come some jerks.  Well, we encountered our first jerk as we paddled under the bridge to Clearwater Beach.  About the same time that we were coming under the bridge the pirate boat out of Clearwater Beach Marina was coming out of the channel leading to the marina and entering the channel we were in.  A big Sea Ray was also entering the channel.  I guess the captain of the Sea Ray thought it would be funny to throw up a big wake for both us and the pirateIMG_1345-vi boat.  So he changes speeds sufficiently to throw this huge wake up causing life to be a little uncomfortable for us but not near as uncomfortable for the poor captain of the pirate boat.  He immediately started to try to maneuver his vessel in a manner to minimize the impact of the huge wake on the partiers on his vessel.  As the Sea Ray sped off laughing and yelling, the captain of the pirate ship was doing all he could with his engines wide open to keep his vessel from being thrown out of the channel and into the shallows.  I really didn’t think he was going to make it but slowly he crept out of the shallows and got back into the channel.

It was starting to get dark and we still had at least 6 hours of paddling in front of us.  I didn’t want to keep pushing it and be finishing in the early morning hours.  We were not racing anyone at this point so why do that?  There was an island that looked like a good camp site coming up and we could get a good night sleep and finish tomorrow.  It didn’t take Rod and I aP3290063 whole lot of conversation to come to the conclusion which option we would choose.  The island had one tree on it which came in handy for Rod.  He could tie the top of his tent to it and finally get a night’s sleep with his tent supported.  Hey, what better way to spend your last night out on the UFC.  Lucky for me I hadn’t lost my tent poles and even though a couple of the pole couplings were split, they still worked.  Last night out. Tomorrow night we both will be sleeping in our own beds.P3290066

Winds South/Southwest 10-15 MPH…… REALLY?!?!?!

Funny how we take so much for granted.  Take it away for a while and you have a whole different viewpoint of the value of that simple thing. Things like a hot shower, air conditioning, a bed with clean sheets, and just being able to relax at a table.  These were the things I was really enjoying at this checkpoint. The hotel Lisa had gotten was right across the beach from the canoes so unloading and loading them was much easier. My wife doesn’t have a college degree. Her father died when she was fairly young which meant she had to go to work early and her family really did not have the resources to put her and her brother through college.  Although she doesn’t have a college degree she does have a PhD in common sense.  She saw the chaos my well thought out strategy with my resupply bins was causing and took it upon herself to get the bins organized in a way to make the resupply go easier.  Well she hit it out of the park.  The way she had organized the bins made this resupply go so much faster and really limited the chaos.  I really wished I had solicited her input on this subject before I started the UFC.  Would have made the three other resupply stages a whole lot easier.  So the night was turning into a good night and it got even better as I listened to the weather.  Winds were to be out of the north 10-15 MPH.  Great, we will be able to use our sails and get across the last big stressful body of water.  The 15 miles from Cedar Key to the islands marking the channel tophoto the Cross Florida Barge Canal concerned me because of how far we would be from land (4-6 miles) and for how long.  The water depth is not that great (9-10 feet) but you have no options other than ride it out if a storm catches you in this body of water.  We would have pretty good speed and reduce the amount of time we would be exposed. Ahh, the ground work for a good night’s sleep.

I think in every endurance event a participant has a low period where they just have had enough of the event.  I think that feeling had been building in me but it came to a peak when the alarm went off.  Here I was just couple of days from finishing the UFC and I felt like I just wanted to pack my stuff up and have Lisa drive us home.  What did I need to prove?  I was having a real mental battle and it didn’t get any easier when I listened to the weather report.  I felt like it was a sick joke the NOAA weather guys were playing on me. Winds out of the South/South West at 10-15 Mph.  REALLY?!?!?  Right in our face just like the majority of this whole stinking event.  Oh, and right in our face 5-6 miles off shore which means we will be fighting waves and making a slow speed.  This also meant we could be our there all day just tryinggrinch303 to make it back to land.  Oh, and now envision the worst — we get tired and cannot paddle any more and get blown out to into the Gulf of Mexico.  I went outside to see what I could feel and sure enough the winds were out of the south.  “The heck with this event! I am done with it!” was all I could think.  I went in and got some breakfast and just stewed.

After stewing for a while it came time to wake Rod.  I went over and talked to him and expressed my concerns about the wind.  Earlier in the UFC, Rod and I had a conversation about the pros and cons of the strategy of sitting on the beach waiting for the weather to get better versus the strategy of just launching and dealing with the weather.  We both had agreed that we thought the best strategy was to launch and deal with the weather.  That is, unless it was extremely bad.  Now I was having big-time second thoughts.  What would it hurt for us sitting it out today and waiting until tomorrow to see if the weather gets better?  We have a day or two buffer to meet the deadline of completing the UFC.  Today, I still don’t know if it was my mental battle that I was dealing with or the concern of the weather that had me wantingIMG_0625 to sit on the beach so badly but Rod wasn’t anywhere in that state of mind.  Rod listened to the weather report and went outside to feel the wind and felt we should launch. That was not what I wanted to hear.  We agreed to go ahead and pack the canoes and before launching reassess the weather.  What a mental battle it was to get into my wet paddling clothes, pack the dreamcatcher, on a sandy beach to boot, and know that I would be leaving Lisa again.  This is a picture of us that morning.  I was putting on a smile so that Lisa didn’t really know what was going on inside of me.  This was the lowest point mentally for me of the whole UFC.  I didn’t like the St. Mary’s but I was more angry and pissed off versus wanting to quit.  I didn’t like fighting the wind through the Everglades but it was more a managing pain versus wanting to quit.  I wanted to quit here and yet I was so close to the finish.  But I had made an agreement with Rod that if the winds did not increase we would launch.  I also felt an obligation to not leave him and have him doing the crossing alone.  The thought of not meeting my obligation and letting him down would be far worse than the thought of quitting.  So I kissed Lisa good-bye and pushed my canoe into the water.  I am so thankful she had a smile on her face and was waving us on versus crying when we launched.

As we paddled around Cedar Key and got out of the lee of Cedar Key, we started to feel the wind and the waves.  Yep, we had some but we were making time.  If it just wouldn’t get any worse this would be doable.  An then — SEA FOG!  Not a real dense sea fog but enough to make it seems like we were paddling in an abyss.  I don’t know if the sea fog was a good thing or a bad thing.  It masked the fact that we were so far from land and mentally made me focus on the GPS and the navigation.  After about two hours of paddling, a wonderful thing happened.  The wind and the waves died down.  There were two times in the UFC that I think Rod started to question whether my navigation was on target and both of those events occurred on this day.  We had been paddling for several hours and the fog had lifted so we should have started to see the cooling towers of the nuclear power plant.  Rod kept asking me what direction we should see the cooling220px-Crystal_river_NPP_afar_cropped towers and started to make a few comments that he still couldn’t see anything.  He even got to the point of asking me if I thought we were on the right course. Thankfully, off in the distance through the clouds, the cooling towers appeared.  They were a long way off but it was great to see them and was a big mental boost for both of us.  It would take several hours of paddling to get to the islands that were on the side of the channel into the power plant, but it was a lot easier paddling with that visual goal.

The rest of  the day was pretty nice paddling.  We were only a couple of miles off the coast line, the winds were light and even shifting to the west.  We were making good speed and in fact the winds shifted enough that we were able to use our small front sails.  Now we had a new problem confronting us.  This part of the coast of Florida has very shallow water out for a long distance from the shore.  In addition to this, the shoreline is very marshy so trying to find a campsite is a real challenge.  The best strategy is to find a channel and take that channel in to dry land.  We decided to target Hernando Beach since the channel was well marked.  The concern was navigating through all the shallow water, rocks and oyster beds that are in this area.  It was dark and late by the time we got to the approach of Hernando Beach.  I was most concerned with getting around the waters around Beacon Rocks and finding a series of channel markers that marks the way through a very shallow section of these waters.  Fortunately, the first channel marker to this channel is marked with a white light.  As we approached Beacon Rocks, Rod asked, “Bill, do you think you can get us through here?”  Hmmmm, loosing confidence…….. “Sure, if the chart is right.”  “Bill, is there a better way where the water may not be as shallow and not have rocks?” “Nope, this whole place is shallow, has rocks and oysters beds.”  As we cleared Beacon Rocks I saw in the distance a white light that lined up perfectly with the course to the entrance of Hernando Beach.  “Rod, see that light?  That is the entrance so just paddle to it.”  Things were going great but as we paddled closer to the light a strange thing started to happen.  Another white light that looked rectangle appeared.  Then another white light appeared.  Now we have three white lights all in the same area.  Hmmmm, this is weird. The course is right but the chart doesn’t show three white lights and I am not sure what that rectangle light is.  I don’t know who scared who, but before we knew it we were paddling right up to a thirty foot boat with two fisherman in it.  They were anchored right off the entrance to the channel.  Kind of funny now, them straining their eyes wondering what these two little white lights close to the water approaching them are and us straining our eyes to see what all these white lights are.  I can only imagine what they told their friends when out of the dark they heard, “Hey is that light for the entrance channel marker for Hernando Beach?”  This was the second time in the UFC I had asked a fisherman to confirm a navigation question. “Um, yeah that is it.”  “Great! Thanks!”  I do have to confess I was probably just as relieved as Rod to find that channel.

Our original plan was to take this channel all the way into Hernando Beach but on the way we passed a little piece of land called Coon island.  To me, it was a break water for the channel that had sand poured on it but it did have a sand cap about 6 feet wide.  That was enough for us to pitch our tents so we decided to call it a day.  We were going to spend the night on Coon Island and hope the tide didn’t come in too strong.