Money, Money, Money…………

At 4:30 the trusted alarm went off which started the process of getting ready for the day. Gradually waking up, thinking about the day ahead, determining which muscles are screaming from the previous days paddle, taking in some food, and doctoring the body. Thankfully the change in how I was doctoring my leg was working, the wound was drying out and the red streaks were shrinking.  Still, l find it odd that even today I get a pain in that area when it is getting ready to rain.  I believe it has to be a mental thing and not something physical.

The one nice thing about being in the intracoastal was not having to worry so much about what the wind would be doing.  I don’t know about Rod, but I had my fill of wind blowing in my face 15 hours of the day.  Paddling in the early morning hours and in the evening are my most favorite times to paddle.  It is usually cooler, the boat traffic is almost non-existent and the weather is usually the calmest.  It was not different this morning.  The unique thing that was waiting for us this morning was paddling through in the early morning hours through so much money.  We were entering the West Palm Beach area and the money there blew my mind.  The yachts, the homes and the property were unbelievable.  The US Navy has a fleet and West Palm Beach has a fleet too.  Their fleet looks a lot nicer than what I remember of the vessels I was on in the Navy.  The question that was coming into my mind was where does all the money come from?  Oh, and with all that money comes security.  A kayak is supposed to have a white stern light on during the night hours.  The only problem is that it can mess your night vision up.  Rod has his light mounted on the stern but to one side so he can easily turn it on and off.  This lets him keep it off until he hears a boat coming and then he turns it on.  So here we are, 6:00 in the morning, cruising along the side of the channel, in the dark, with all this money around us, and you guessed it, a police boat pops out because Rod doesn’t have his stern light on.  I guess we looked harmless because the officer didn’t keep us long after Rod got his light working.  Ahhh, West Palm Beach is still safe and secure.  Most of this day was spent paddling through one group of condos after another.  One yacht marina after another.  Finally, I could tell that we were getting closer to the St. Lucie inlet when instead of yachts in the marinas, there were boats.  St. Lucie inlet was also where we were transitioning from the parts  of the intracoastal that were very narrowed and protected to the wide and exposed Indian River.  The crossing of the St. Lucie inlet was pretty non-eventful, which was a relief.  I had some concern about how strong the tide would be going through this area but we hit it just right.  The tide was minimal and we didn’t have any confused seas to paddle through.  Hey, maybe today is our day.  The Indian River is an interesting area to paddle in.  It is a wide body of water, not very deep (6 feet ), and lots of big tall bridges.  Rod used the phrase, “building of a bridge” while paddling through this area.  How true that is.  In a small boat moving at 3-4 knots you can just see the outline of the top of a big bridge 7 to 8 miles out.  The same is true at night when it is lit.  So there is your goal and it is kind of uplifting because you can see the end.  What you don’t think about is even at 4 knots it will take you two hours to get there.  Two hours is a long time.  So you see the top of the bridge and you put your head down and paddle, paddle, paddle, and then look up.  Now you can make out the top of the bridge and you can just start to make out the top of the piling for the bridge coming down.  So you put your head down again and paddle, paddle, paddle, and then look up.  Now you can make out the top of the bridge, you can see the pilings going down from the bridge to the water but the structure is pretty blurry and you really cannot see any details to the structure.  About this time you are getting the feeling this thing is a long way away and you have a lot more paddling in front of you.   But you can see the end so it has to be close.  Hint, hint, you still have about an hour of paddling in front of you. So you put your head down and paddle, paddle, paddle, and then look up. Ahhhhh mannnnn!!  Who keeps moving this bridge back?  Now you can see the bridge structure and the pilings in some detail but cannot see any cars.  Maybe a large truck but even that is questionable.  So you put your head down, paddle, paddle, paddle, and then look up.  Ok, this is really getting old.  We will never get to this bridge.  Just how far away is this thing?  So you put your head down and paddle, paddle, paddle, and then look up. Finally, you can start to see some cars and for sure large trucks.  This has been a killer getting to this bridge.  So you put your head down and paddle, paddle,paddle, and then look up.  The bridge has been built!  Cars and trucks are clearly visible, the details of the bridge are clear, you can see the rocks for the foundations of the bridge entrance and exit ramps and the bridge is coming at you in a way that it makes you think you’re paddling speed has doubled.  So for me, it was kind of an emotional roller coaster paddling through so many bridges on the Banana River.  Different Watertribers reward themselves differently for each bridge they paddle through. Our reward was seeing if we wanted to stop and do some stretching.  Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.  This is a picture of me at one of the bridges.  Nice outfit huh?  In case you were wondering, I wasn’t going for a men’s fashion award.

This day started off with us paddling through so much money, and then transitioned with us paddling through lots of open spaces going from one bridge to the next, and now the sun was starting to set.  Now Rod hadn’t had a restaurant fix so guess what paddling pattern was starting to emerge.  The only problem was we were in some wide open areas so there was going to be no paddling from side to side looking for a place to stop and eat.  It was going to be pick a side and see if something is there.  Sure enough, he finds a place.  A nice barbecue restaurant that not only had a lot of people in it but also hanging around at an outside bar.  Now you know what I looked like from the picture above and I do have my limitations.  There was no way i was going to walk into a restaurant looking like that.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  So we land at a beach a little down from the restaurant and lucky for me there are some trees and heavy brush close by.  I knew we could refill out water bottles from one of the outside water faucets at the restaurant so “Mr. Clean” does a quick field bath in the woods and changes into some relatively clean clothes.  I am so glad a lot of people don’t know me on the east coast.  Could have been real embarrassing.  As it is, probably most people thought I was another homeless person.  After getting into the restaurant and tasting a cold Coke and having some fresh cooked food, it was worth it.  I would do it again in a New York minute.  What made this stop even more important was that we were planning to paddle late into the night. We knew that the more miles we covered today, the less there would be to cover tomorrow.  That would in turn put us in striking distance of Sebastian Inlet which was (CP2).

We ended up paddling until 12:30AM that night and stopping at an island near the entrance to the channel to the Ft. Pierce Inlet.  The last half mile was touch and go due to the tide.  It was rushing in from the inlet and it was extremely strong.  We were already exhausted from the long day and it was a fight to get across the channel to the inlet.  In the end it was worth it.  The island had a nice beach, high ground and no one to mess with us. Ahhh, the simple things in life, a good night sleep.

So this is the Concrete Canyon

Where the Everglades were wild and remote, the section of the intercostal that we were heading into was very populated and built up.  In the Everglades it was hard to find a place to stop due to the lack of solid ground.  Now it was hard to find a place to stop because the sides were solid sea walls and private property.  We were entering what Watertribers call the “Concrete Canyon.”  Having now paddled this section of the course I do understand why they call it that.  There was one positive to it and that was there are a lot of speed zones.  Those boat captains who seemed to be either ignorant or indifferent to their wakes, now had to slow down.  In fact, we found ourselves leap-frogging these boats.  They would pass us and then have to wait for a bridge opening.  We would pass them and then when the bridge opened the whole process would start over again.  Wonder how it feels to be on a $2 million speed boat and have two small canoes pass you multiple times.  That was our revenge.  Especially when the bikinis on the deck point out to the captain that we were passing them again.  Ahhh, the simple victories of life.

The other positive to this section of the water was that I didn’t have to use my skirt and I could open up my cockpit to the sun and fresh open air.  This is what I needed to heal the wound I had been trying to manage since the first day of the UFC.  Since Key Largo I had been following a protocol of applying neosporin and changing the bandage frequently.  It seemed to stop the progress of the infection, but it wasn’t healing completely.  Bottom line, it wasn’t getting enough time to dry out.  The four to five hours at night wasn’t enough for nature to put its protective band-aid on it — you know — a scab.  With my amas out I could pretty much put my leg wherever I wanted.

As we were approaching a bridge, I heard and saw two male figures standing on the west bank of the intercostal.  They were pointing and waving at us.  Hey!!!  It was two folks I work with who work locally.  It was so great to see them and was such a moral boost.  This is a picture they took.  Notice the smile?  We didn’t stay long at that bridge, but the few minutes talking to them was priceless.  Thanks guys!

Now I think it was at this stage of the race that I started to understand just how serious Rod was about stopping at restaurants to eat.  Rod’s interchange with my fellow co-workers was something like, “Hey guys.  How are you doing?  We are doing Great.  Hey, where is the closest restaurant that is on the water and serves breakfast?”  Rod was on a mission and it was a tactic that got more and more interesting the longer we had gone without a bath.  My co-workers didn’t know of one but it wasn’t long after we passed under the bridge that Rod found a place.  The funny part is that when we got into the place, they couldn’t serve us because the county was doing some kind of inspection.  Glad the inspector didn’t see us. Don’t know which would have been worse, the kitchen or us.  I am sure (at least I hoped so) we were dirtier and stunk more.  We did buy a bunch of pastries and juices.  I needed to keep taking in as much high fat foods as I could.  I was still losing weight at an alarming rate.

The rest of the day was spent paddling through one concrete canyon after another, house after house.   And I mean huge, big houses.  Where does all the money come from?  It was pretty boring paddling, but it was progress.  It was starting to get close to dinner time when Rod started to get the urge again.  I could tell when he started to move from one side of the channel to the other.  The restaurant blood hound was on the hunt.  Hey, we have stopped once already today.  I know that it wasn’t a great meal stop, and it was early, but right now it was suppertime and Rod wanted a meal.  Oh, by the way, we were in one of the more expensive and exclusive parts of the east coast.  These people are rich and up-scale folks.  Now Rod was an aide to US Senator in a previous life, and had some time in politics, so he doesn’t meet a stranger.  I, on the other hand, am a lot more reserved and until I get to known you, I am perfectly ok with staying strangers.

I couldn’t believe it.  Rod has identified this restaurant that had a sign on the dock telling people if you needed docking assistance to call them.  Oh gee, I bet they have guys in white shorts, shirts, and deck shoes to run out and help tie you up.  Oh, and look at all the open air booths with folks sitting and drinking their martinis and fancy drinks with those little umbrellas.  Really?!  We are going to stop here?  Oh yeah!  We will dock our mega boats and really impress them by docking without calling for help.  The real trick is not the docking, but not falling in the water getting out.  Well I couldn’t believe it but Rod walked right up and asked for a table like he owned the place.  Now get this, they not only seat us, but they seat us right next to this well-dressed couple celebrating her birthday.  I was way out of my comfort zone, but the thought of a cold Coke and fresh food overcame my desire to talk Rod in to a take out order.  I am not sure they do that sort of thing at this restaurant but I figured they might have made an exception to get us to leave.  Well, by the time I got back from the bathroom — you know, the whole Mr. Clean thing — Rod has made friends with the couple.  The woman is taking pictures of us and is showing us pictures of her dogs on her cell phone.  She has  actually pulled her chair up to our table and the guy she is with is asking all sorts of questions.  Unbelievable, but as I found out during the race, this is not unusual with Rod.  He makes friends easily.  I must admit that Rod’s tactic of stopping and getting some fresh food was a good one.  I felt so recharged after those stops and I think they really helped in slowing down my weight loss.

Other than the start of the day, it really wasn’t a bad one.  We had reached our mileage target and then some, had pretty much avoided the wind, and had a good meal in us.  Now if we could find a good camp site.  We were in luck in that we were able to locate a spoil island called Fisherman Island in the West Palm Beach/Lake Worth area.  So we were paddling in high-end areas, and we might have been eating in high-end places, but for sure we were not sleeping in any high-end hotel.  Really couldn’t complain though.  The winds had picked up quite bit which made pitching the tent a challenge but it sure kept the bugs off.  The folks in this area either didn’t seem to trash their island or they had someone come out and clean the trash off of it.  Either way, it was clean.  Luckily it was an island not close to shore and that meant no worries of anyone hassling us.  It is always interesting to me how easy it is to locate something on the map, how close everything appears on the map, and how clear it looks on google earth versus how things and distances appear at night in real life.  Nothing is as close as it appears on the map and nothing is as clear-cut as on the map.  I guess that is the reason why so many people get lost even with a map.  Well, another day had come and gone and we were making progress.  Wonder what tomorrow will bring?……….

Please Sir, We are Tired………

As the headlights came closer we both could see that the truck was white.  Don’t know why most official trucks are white, but they usually are, and there was a symbol on the doors.  Yep, it was the “man” for the park that we had landed at.  We explained that we were in the UFC, had been paddling all day, and were looking for a place to stop for 5 hours of sleep.  We also explained that we were experienced campers and when we leave a site, there is no trace of us having been there.  He listened patiently and then said, “You know that overnight camping is not allowed here.”   BREAK – The details of what happened next have been classified as “SECRET.”  Not so much to protect national interest, but to protect the good-hearted, and as such will remain classified SECRET until 07/06/32.  BREAK

I slept great that night and wished I could have slept longer but we needed to be moving while it was still dark.  As we paddled up the intercoastal we could tell the wind was blowing pretty strong from the east but we had the protection of the intercoastal.  For once we were not fighting the wind.  We were making pretty good time and approaching a major port called Port Everglades. This port has a lot of ship traffic, both cargo and cruise line.  The ships are big with limited maneuverability which means little boats need to have their “A” game on and be prepared to take whatever actions you have to in order to stay out of their way.  “Rules of the Road” are the big guy has all the the rights. This is a picture of the port with north at the top. We were approaching from the south through the intercoastal.  As we got closer to the port I saw this huge cruise liner coming in.  The thing was so big that at first it looked like one of the condos that lined the beach.  A few important questions quickly came to mind…  Where is this Godzilla of cruise ships going to dock?  How do we stay out of its way?  And, how soon will it be before port security detects us?  Of course they will hold us for whatever questioning they feel necessary.  I mean think about it, from their viewpoint who, other than someone up to no good, is paddling this early in the morning, in the dark, in two small stealthy boats, in the middle of Port Everglades, next to a huge cruise ship?! Yeah, we are in for some serious interrogating so get the IDs ready.

Rod’s expertise is paddling rivers.  My expertise is the open water and I have experience dealing with ships.  So I am the one pushing Rod to stay as close to the eastern shoreline as possible.  I want to stay as far away as possible from this big boy and also see if we can get past port security.  The plan was that once the ship passed, we would pass behind its stern,  then shoot across the channel and pickup the intercoastal north of the channel.  I thought the ship was going to turn south and dock starboard side on the west side of the channel.  This would have the stern moving away from us and this would also have been the best maneuver for us to get past.  Unfortunately for us, it didn’t do that.  The ship came in, stopped, then started to twist the stern around and dock port side to.  Great!  We were already heading out into the channel and this ship is now twisting around and the stern is consuming real estate between us and it.  A little stressful.  Felt like a mouse playing in an elephant’s domain, but we were making progress.  Thankfully the ship stopped its twist and started angling the stern towards the dock and away from us.  Even though it was dark, I knew we were close to the middle of the channel because of the wave actions we were feeling.  We were uncovered and not getting the protection of the intercoastal.

Have you ever had the feeling someone was watching you?  Well I was getting that feeling big time as we were paddling.  I was really focused in on watching the cruise ship that was docking but it was the hair on the back of my neck that was giving me a creepy feeling.  I couldn’t ignore it and turned and looked out toward the entrance of the channel.  Oh my.  OH MY.  OOOHHHHH MY!!!   ROD, GO GO GO GO!!!!!!! ANGLE STRAIGHT ACROSS THE CHANNEL!!!!!!!!  I couldn’t believe it, I was staring at a massive dark bow of another cruise ship that was coming in behind the first one.

I couldn’t believe that we had not seen it. We were so focused on the other ship that we didn’t see this one coming in.  As I was paddling like a mad man, I couldn’t believe that the bearing on this ship was staying constant.  In the maritime world, a constant bearing means you are on a collision course.  I was both scared and really pissed.  Scared because I knew the probability that the Officer on Deck of that ship could see our little stern lights, was slim to none.  Especially with the lights of the other cruise ship as a back drop. Radar?!  Shoot, we would’t be a blip on his radar and he wouldn’t be looking at it anyway this far into the harbor.  The other thing that I knew was even if he saw us, he was in a confined space.  He couldn’t slow down any more or he would lose rudder control.   And if the decision was running us over, or ensuring his ship didn’t go on the rocks, I think we all know what he would decide.  That’s what I would have done.  I was really pissed off at myself for getting us into this situation.  I know better.  Who doesn’t?  You look both ways when you cross the street so wouldn’t you do that crossing a channel?  My situational awareness was flawed.  Keep paddling, keep paddling.  Put the anger to work paddling. Slowly but surely our bearing to the ship’s bow started to change.  We were making progress and could see the waves of the shallow area on the north side of the channel.  We were not going to be a bowsprit of the Love Boat!

After catching our breath, we started paddling to the northern intercoastal connection from the port channel.  Then we saw the blue lights of the port security boat coming for us.  Sure could have used those lights five minutes earlier.  I don’t know if we were in such shallow waters and paddling away from the channel that they let us go or that they just didn’t see us.  Either way, they passed by us and headed towards the second ship coming in.  Kayaks and canoes are hard to see at night because they are so low to the water and the little stern lights can be blocked by the paddler’s body.  So it didn’t totally surprise me that they didn’t see us.  I am glad they didn’t.  I’d had enough excitement for the day and there were a lot more hours left in it.

So, is Stage 6 of the UFC a fight?

Great, the UFC is tough enough without having to deal with some turkeys who wanted to mess with us!!!  I think there are different ways of dealing with confrontation.  Some guys feel that it is best to give a verbal warning.   Something like, “You mess with me and I will become your worst nightmare!”  They hope that the verbal warning will convince the aggressive party to back off.  Then there are some guys who are fairly large physically.   You know, like the Incredible Hulk type, and they can just show themselves to the aggressive party and that is all that is required.  Then there are some, such as myself, who are not as fortunate and don’t have an Incredible Hulk build, who take the strategy of walking softly and carrying a big stick.  Now by big stick, I don’t mean actually having a big stick, although that wouldn’t hurt.  I mean having a plan, which is the big stick, to deal with the aggressive party.  So once I heard the intention of our new party friends, I wasn’t trying to figure out what to say, but trying to figure out how to turn the tables on their intended fun.

Engaging a drunk has a positive and a negative.  The positive is that they are not very coordinated and you can land some good shots on them.  The negative is that they don’t feel pain and don’t have any fear.  So you better make the shots you land count.  So this unfortunately means shots that are debilitating.  My first assessment was they were drunk. Oh yeah, and I think one of them just learned a curse word because that was the word he used for every third word.  So how many?  Sounded like three.  I knew Rod had to be hearing them but I just assumed it would be a three on one fight until he got up.  Hmmm, I don’t have my contacts in so they have a visual advantage.  Hey, I have two bottles of foot powder that squirt out pretty good.  Great, that will cause visual and breathing problems for two of them and maybe a third.  I don’t have my shoes on.  Will just have to ignore any pain in my feet.  Hope there are not any sand spurs out there.  They will most likely be coming from the front of my tent but I have a back entrance.  Start opening the back tent flap.  If one or two of them do come around to the back side, they will be between me and the sea wall.  Not a problem.  Blast out of the tent, spray powder in their faces and push them off the sea wall into the water.  They’re drunk so their reaction time is going to be slow.  The more of them we can push off the sea wall and into the water the easier it will be to manage the situation.  Foot steps are coming……….. “Hey man, lets not do this.  What the $%#2&!!!!!  Really?!  Let’s go back to the boat.  Are you sure?  Oh $#@%$ you!!” Footsteps leaving.  Gee, for drunks they got smart all of a sudden and I am glad.  Rod sleeps with a paddle in his tent, he is built like a little tank, and is strong as all get out.  In the end I think the drunks would have gotten the worst of it if it had gotten physical.  Plus, my father used to always tell me that cursing indicates the imagination of a fourteen year old.  Maybe they were just young teenagers, I don’t know.  Lesson learned… if in an area you think you will get hassled, sleep with a paddle.

The rest of the night went without incident and my trusty 4:30 AM alarm signaled the start of another day.  I think both Rod and myself were anxious about the 12 miles of open water in front of us.  I did notice a slight wind but it was coming out of the east-south-east. Hey, we are heading north-east which means my big sail would work.  For once we will have the wind to our advantage.  If only it would stay slight and not increase in strength. We really didn’t want a bunch of big waves hitting us broadside on this crossing.  As we were getting ready, one of the many lessons I learned was administered to me.  I have always had a habit of pushing my boat into the water from the bow.  The rudder is up so what’s the big deal?  Well, the big deal is when it is dark, and you cannot see how far your rudder has been pulled up, and you are on a concrete ramp with grooves in it, your rudder might be just low enough to catch one of those grooves and then bend as you are pushing your boat down the ramp.  Yep, now I have a rudder with a 45 degree angle in it.  Great!!! Thankfully, my rudder is made out of soft aluminum so we were able to bend it back to about 15 degrees off-center.  The disadvantage of soft aluminum is we were risking that it would break when we were forcing it back into shape.  Lucky for me it didn’t.

As we headed out, Rod and I had agreed to stay together.  It would be safer and besides, we were enjoying each other’s company on this journey.  I would be faster with my big sail but there had been multiple times that Rod had been faster than myself and he had stayed with me.  This agreement was one that both of us honored throughout the UFC.  This 12 mile stretch of water was really a weird one.  We were a long ways from shore but even with that we would come across these very shallow areas where you could see the bottom very clearly and then we would cross over into these very deep cuts of water.  It just wasn’t a place for a small little watercraft to be for long.  If the weather turned nasty there was no bailout anywhere close by.   As we were approaching Miami we did see something very odd.  We saw these structures out in the water.  It was a place called Stiltsville.  Interesting history associated with these structures and I am amazed that the structures have survived all the hurricanes. This link will take you to a description of the place. http://www.nps.gov/bisc/historyculture/stiltsville.htm   I  know they had no trespassing signs on these structures but if it was real bad and that was the only bailout option, I am afraid we would have become temporarily illiterate.  I think both Rod and I were feeling better as the buildings of Miami started to get closer and closer.  I kept thinking all we had to do was get into Miami and we will have the protection of the inter coastal waterway (ICW).  We would have it made if we could just get into Miami. Especially since the winds were starting to pick up and the waves were also starting to get bigger.  It just seemed to go so slow which is how it is in a kayak or canoe.  You are moving at 4mph at best and you can see these structures for several miles out.  You think you will be there is 30 minutes when in reality it will be a couple of hours.

We started to get into the ICW but were we in for a surprise.  In doing the UFC, Rod and I got a feel for the different types of boaters in different areas.  Miami has to be right up there for having the most inconsiderate boaters in the state.  They could care less about their wakes.  It seems like the maritime rules of the road they follow are, “I have the biggest boat so I have the right to the water way and I can run my boat however and wherever I want.”  Oh, and then there were the boats that had so many people lip-locked and other various states of being spread out on the boat that I don’t know how the Captain could even see us.  Hey, they couldn’t see us, that’s why we had so many close calls.  What I thought was the most dangerous stretch of water, the open water of Biscayne Bay, was a cake walk compared to the waters of Miami.  Now I was wishing we were transiting these waters at night because the boat traffic would be down. We finally got through to Miami and stopped at a spoil island in the Miami Shores area.  We needed a break but this island seemed no different than what was happening on the boats.  It was party central with radios blaring, jets skis running all over the place throwing wakes up, and couples……..  They must sell a lot of lip balm and sunscreen in Miami to address all the lip-locking and to protect skin that doesn’t normally see sun light.  The sad part was all the trash on the island.  I guess they expect someone else to pick it up and that someone else never comes.

After a quick snack and some readjusting of gear, we were back on our way.  The further north we progressed up the ICW, the better protection we got from  the wind due to the narrowness of the ICW.  It was kind of odd paddling past these nice restaurants with these open docks that over look the water.  Couples would be having a candlelight dinner overlooking the water and then silently Rod and I would paddle by only a coupe of feet from them.  The looks that we got was priceless. The narrowness of the waterway was great but now that we were in a populated area we had another problem. Finding a camping site. There were no open stretches of land to stop and camp on.  After last night we wanted something secured that would give us some comfort that we would not be messed with ( either by the local police, condo security or the local homeless community). I thought we were going to have to paddle all night when Rod noticed a boat ramp that was part of a park. It was late, we were tired, sp the park it was. We pulled our boats up and started unloading our gear. The place looked ideal. There was fresh water available by a fish cleaning station, there were bathrooms that were open and a coke machine. The place wasn’t near any major roadways that we could see. The we saw the headlights of a truck coming. The truck was white and had a symbol on the side of it. Great…………..

Ok We Are Off Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Bay – Better Bring Your Navigation “A” Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm Now why do they they call it Graveyard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilderness Waterway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Do We Go, Or Do We Stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So You are Mr Clean !!!

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

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

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

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

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