It was so much fun spending time with Gary and Jim. They grew up on this river and seemed to have the same enthusiasm for it that they probably had has kids. It really taught me that this river gets into your blood. It's a way of life–a way of life that is being threatened by not enough flow and these men were out there celebrating its beauty and paddling to save it.
Then there was John Moran, the student from Stanford, who was paddling this river as part of his research for his dissertation. I was so impressed. This is really connecting with your subject matter and not just studying through books, though of course I am an avid reader. Though my tagline is Connect, Create, Communicate, John Moran seemed to get it quicker than I ever did, and he had fun too!
I know I keep going on about Jim, but he really did embody the spirit of the river and the valley for me–and of course he provided the coffee that kept me going. I wish I had read his book before I went on the river, but reading it afterwards has helped me to relive every day. Though I probably wouldn't hunt squirrels, even if my life depended on it, his writing really puts into perspective how people live off the land around here. With the decimation of the river's ecosystems that way of life is being threatened, and there aren't many places left in this country where people can exist in this kind of relationship with the wilderness. Though I am a pescatarian and rarely eat meat and even have trouble with fish sometimes, I realize that hunting for your food instead of raising it and slaughtering it is way more fair and permits creatures to live free until they are skillfully hunted instead of trapped and slaughtered.
Of course the search for the perfect floating house continued. Amazingly enough, until the last night when we camped in the forest at Owl Creek, we didn't encounter any biting insects. In Micanopy in the summer, mosquitoes seem to morph into the size of B52s (my friend Brian once described it this way and this image has never left my mind). I was so relieved to be out on the river and have nothing bite me. I really was ready to move into one of these dwellings until the cold weather comes. Each one had such character.
This day was through the forest and there were lots of structures like this with hunting dogs. In the morning, someone would come to pick them up. I felt a bit sorry for them all caged up, but I really don't know much about hunting dogs or whether they are happy or not. They did seem to bark quite a bit when we passed by, but the my dog does that every time someone walks down the street. Hopefully, they are treated well.
The first sandbar we passed had this piece of driftwood covering the entire shoreline. I don't think I have ever seen such a large piece of driftwood–a full tree with roots and all. It was quite impressive.
Max was the coolest kid ever (if my children read this, sorry–and you probably were this cool once only I forget). Here he is holding the laminated map–always the intrepid explorer. He scrambled up sand mountain, which offers a great view but is actually formed from all the sand the Army Corps of Engineers dredged from the river. This was not good for the health of the river. It caused the water to flow too quickly, destroyed the health of the riparian banks, and prevented the water from reaching the floodplain. Though I should have objected on all counts and theoretically do, it did provide a fantastic view.
When I got to the top of Sand Mountain, I was actually afraid to walk around. The ground was covered with all these incredible, textured plants and ecosystems. It was so interesting to see what vegetation was able to take purchase and thrive here, even though the mountain itself was not a naturally occurring feature of the landscape. Nowhere along the river did I see such interesting plants.
Riverkeeper Dan had meetings on this day, so Lily was our support group and she and Captain Gill kept a watchful eye over us to make sure we got to our destination. This vantage point shows how steep the mountain was.
When I came across this image while processing my photographs, I was pretty impressed with how sprightly and happy the gang looked after paddling for 3-1/2 days–especially since we were averaging 22 miles a day. It just shows you what a great time we were having and how being on such a wild and beautiful river was actually energizing despite all the energy we had to exert. Writing this, I realize how much I miss my fellow trekkers. The camaraderie that comes from going on a journey like this, especially when it requires getting there from your own momentum, was unlike anything I have experienced. Perhaps that is because I generally kayak and travel alone. I have to say this was a lot more fun!
Here are a couple more photographs showing just what a unique feature Sand Mountain is, even though how it got here is not son wonderful.
Though the river was apparently much higher than it was the previous year, and many of the sandbars they camped at then were underwater, this image shows that the water levels are still very low. It was crazy seeing so many exposed roots and though it made for an interesting composition, I am fairly cerain these roots would rather have been coated by soil.
This is a rare photograph. It is of Tommy Thompson, the owner of the Florida Kayak School. Tommy has kayaked on four continents and is quite the adventurer and incredibly strong. He must have been holding back to be social. What an interesting person he is, with so many wonderful stories. I am looking forward to taking a lesson with him so I don't drown when I go to the Falklands in the spring.
This was a fantastic floating house–decrepit in a very romantic and back to nature way. Perhaps it is a bit too run down for my top ten list of floating houses to purchase, but it is near the top of the ones I appreciated.
Who can't love a Redneck Yacht. I fell in love with this one from the name immediately. Then I noticed it was pretty tricked out. Later Tom Herzog, a fellow paddler who was even faster than Tommy, told me that many an outrageous party was held here. I am quite sure they were very interesting.
As we neared Owl Creek, in the Apalachicola National Forest, we passed by several creeks that beckoned diversions. Brushy Creek was particularly lovely, and I decided to just be late for dinner.
The deeper I got in Brushy Creek, the more stagnant the water became. The trees also arched across the expanse of water, creating the feeling of a tunnel into some primitive land. The late afternoon light was softly illuminating the treetops in the distance and I felt such serenity.
Not only were we treated to delicious venison stew prepared by volunteers, we got to hear some great local music.
Boats at the End of the Day
I knew it was going to be a great sunset, so I walked down to where the boats were moored. Right away, I felt nostalgic since i knew this was the last time we were camping on the river. The next night I would be in a bed in a hotel room in Apalachicoola, no doubt more comfortable physically but I doubted psychically. I spent every moment I could taking in the reflections and the serenity of my surroundings. If you ever have a chance to spend a few days on this river, please do because I am sure afterwards you will join me in helping to protect this national treasure.