I’ve always been a big fan of sea kayaking, and this past winter really cemented that love for me when I went on a 10 day sea kayaking tour of Southern Florida (the Everglades, The Ten Thousand Islands, etc.). I’d never been on more than a day trip before, and I was the only participant on the trip (with the Johns Hopkins University Outdoor Pursuits club) that wasn’t a certified outdoors leader. But none of that stopped me, and luckily it didn’t, because it really was a fantastic adventure.We were led by the good (and extremely knowledgeable) men (Russel and Lamar) of Sweetwater Kayaking (http://sweetwaterkayaks.wordpress.com/). And here’s where we paddled:
1. Withlacoochee South River: The first place we paddled after landing in Tampa in late January was the Withlacoochee (try saying that five times fast, it’s pretty fun), which originates in Central Florida’s Green Swamp. From what I’ve researched, the name of the river means “little big water” in the Creek language. Of course on our first day paddling we were destined to be rained on, forcing us to perform not one but two lightning drills on the stretch of land we decided to stop for lunch. It poured for a little bit, but the rain let up and we got back in our boats. The river was especially fast that first day, thanks to the rain, and the four or five miles we paddled got us comfortable in our boats. And, the best part of all were of course, the manatees. Manatees, or sea cows, will flock to warmer waters during the winter, which means inland. They are beautiful and docile and gigantic creatures. We were lucky enough to paddle right up next to them, close enough to touch!
2. Myakka River– Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to actually paddle the Myakka River, which Russel so kindly informed us had the highest alligator population in all of Florida (which is really saying something). The water level was too low for us to safely pass through, but we did get to explore along its banks. The Myakka was designated a “Wild and Scenic River” in 1985 by Florida Legislature and you can really see why when you get a closer look at its wildlife. When we sat at a distance from Deep Hole as Russel called it, we were able to see giant alligators sunning themselves on the rocks, massive vultures on tree branches straight out of the Lion King, and actual wild boars running amok. I swear I could see the alligators swimming closer to us, their beady little eyes poking out from the water’s surface. Sandhill cranes and sandpipers wade through the shallows while Bald Eagles and Osprey hunt from above. The vegetation is beautiful as well, as the lower Myakka River is host to myriad oak branches covered in Spanish Moss and sabal palm trees. As the river widens, mangroves and manatees are more likely to be spotted.
3. Ten Thousand Islands 4 day Paddling Trip: After visiting a few scenic locations driving south through Florida, we embarked on the true test of our adventure: the four day paddling trip through the Ten Thousand Islands, camping every night with the supplies we carried in our boats. My mom and I were talking the other day about the interesting shift a kayak can take, from a means of recreation to a means of transportation and survival. On this trip, my kayak really became an extension of myself: the body that hosted my food, water, and clothes as well as the one that transported me across miles of Florida waters. The boats were definitely heavier this way and I know I wasn’t the only one to come out of this venture with significantly stronger forearms.
This map of the Ten Thousand Islands helps to show some of the sites we saw, including the Pumpkin River and Pumpkin Bay (in which we were lucky enough to see beautiful mangroves as well as the oldest Indian Burial Ground in America). We rode the tides perfectly so that the water wasn’t too shallow to lead us out of the Pumpkin River, something very important to paddlers interested in the area. If you don’t time it right, you’ll find yourself almost literally cemented in the shallows until the tide comes back in. We also camped on Cape Romano, one of the most magnificent islands I’ve seen where a dolphin family jumped right next to my boat and I got to witness the ruins of a wealthy man’s palace on the island and climb them. (I’ll definitely be writing a longer post about Cape Romano, and I’ll include a poem I wrote about it.) During our time paddling the Ten Thousand Islands I got a nice PFD tan, lost my Vibrams Five Fingers to the sea, saw a sea turtle, nearly touched a dolphin, sat and ruminated in an ancient Indian burial ground, joked with my fellow paddlers, paddled across the gulf of Mexico, swam in the ocean in January, and learned a lot about technique, those around me, and the environment around me. I’ll be sure to write more posts about it, and plan to take my paddling to even more exotic locations as soon as I am able. Thanks for reading, and I hope my information was helpful to those interested in paddling!