Florida Paddling Adventures





Sea Kayaking the Suwannee River

from the Okefenokee Swamp to Suwannee River State Park

120 Mile Trip

Johnny with Mark Carroll and Frank
Carroll fixing to embark from Stephen C. Foster State Park

It was late March when the three hombres from previous
sea kayaking adventures took off from the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia,
and began a 120 mile, 5 day trek down the Suwannee River for Sea Kayaker
magazine.  The weather was ideal, with warm days and cool nights.
We bit off a lot of miles, having to average 24 per day, but we wanted
to start the river at its source, and see the big gators for which the
Okefenokee is known.  We weren’t disappointed either, at Billys
Lake.  They were big!!!


Frank plies Billys Lake
Paddling the Suwannee River Narrows

Billys Lake led to the Suwannee River Narrows, where a
swift current twisted and dodged amid big trees, then led past the
Suwannee River Sill, an old dam, and headed for Fargo, GA.  We
camped on a low rise of land, amid pines and oaks.


Frank and Mark in burgundy shallows
Waterfall on the Suwannee River

 

The river than led us through giant tupelo and cypress
trees growing forth from the middle of the river.  It was quite
scenic and it kept us on our toes.  A hard day of paddling brought
us to Florida, where we camped atop a giant sandbar shaded by a live
oak.

Campsite on giant sandbar above
Suwannee River

The spring greens, live oaks, and Spanish moss,
combined with crystalline white sandbars, dark water, occasional
waterfalls from side streams created a scenic mosaic that we beheld.

The portage at Big Shoals went well, and we camped at
the shoals, being serenaded by Florida’s biggest rapid overnight.

Johnny-eye view of Big Shoals portage

Despite the river being low and slow, we progressed
down the river, passing White Springs, a river town.  Speaking of
springs, we saw many clear and sulphuric springs on the river’s edge,
which added an extra touch.  At Suwannee Spring, we pulled over to
explore the old springhouse. We did back to back long days of 29 and 34 miles
respectively.

Needless to say, we relaxed a lot at camp! The
final night we camped back in the woods, well back from the river, just
for a change of pace.

All too soon we were pulling into Suwannee River State
Park, where we had left my jeep.  I shuttled Mark and Frank back up
to their car in Georgia, another adventure under our belts.


Paddling Around Cape Sable

Let’s face it the Everglades are a great
paddling destination.  And this trip was no
exception.  Steve “Devo” Grayson and Johnny left
Flamingo and swung out to the Gulf to camp on Cape
Sable, paddling a 17 foot Old Town Penobscot.  They
first stopped at East Cape on a clear day, and watched
the sun set.

     

Shell beach on Cape Sable
Dusk at Northwest Cape

They worked their way up the cape
paddling, fishing and hanging out on the beach, glad to
be in South Florida while the Southern Appalachians were
freezin’.

Everglades campsite at Highland Beach

They crossed Ponce De Leon Bay and stayed
a buggy night at Graveyard Creek, before continuing
north to Highland Beach, a great place to camp and enjoy
the Everglades, but the skeeters were pretty bad, as the
weather was warm and the winds still.  North of
Highland Beach they turned inland and bega working their
way back south toward Flamingo stopping at the inland
chickees, such as Oyster Bay.

Devo Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

Johnny prepared to depart Gulf beach

They concluded their trip after 10 days,
another Glades adventure under their belts.

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Suwannee River Trip

 Four Nighter From Fargo to White
Springs

    With my friends Hans
and Jeff, the fabulous South Florida firemen, and Denny,
we set out on Florida’s greatest of rivers.  We
were supposed to go to the Everglades but a cold front
swooped down with insane winds.  We did the next
best thing, and headed north.  But it was COLD
here, and wintry looking.  We left about 2 p.m. and
found a good campsite, as the sun slanted low.

The crew at the first campsite.
Hans insists on wearing short pants, despite the low
temps.

Next day was windy and still cold.
I wore two pairs of socks in the boat all day.  The
fishing was killed by the front.  But the day was
clear and sunny.

Denny steers Jeff on the river.
Jeff has trouble keeping boats straight.

We found a beautiful campsite on a bluff
overlooking a gum swamp, just south of the GA-FL border.
Hans cooked us Philly cheese steak sandwiches before we
huddled around the fire on another subfreezing night.

           

Bluffside camp
Sun gets low near camp

The cold did not relent, however, the
river showed us its high bluffs. We found a sheltered
campsite after getting pushed around by the wind all
day.  Tonite it went down to 27 degrees.

                               

Johnny listens to weather radio
Cold foggy morn on the Suwannee

The last full day finally warmed up and
we camped about a half-mile above Big Shoals.  That
night we all listened to Tennessee beat Florida in
basketball.  The fire seemed extra fine that night.
next day we portaged around Big Shoals and took it on in
to White Springs.

        

Denny hates portaging Big Shoals
Hans steers through the froth below Big Shoals

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Blackwater River State Forest Canoe and Backpack

Two
for One Florida Adventure

   

     Spanning
Alligator Creek on bridge
Trail shelter

Sometimes you can’t just
decide whether to go hiking or paddling.  In that case just do both!  There are
many such places where – with careful planning — you can paddle your boat down
a river, then return by foot with your backpack – or in our case, hike upriver
then return via boat.  Our adventure took place in Florida’s Blackwater River
State Forest, located in the northwest tip of the Sunshine State, near the
Alabama line.

My friend John Cox and I
met at Blackwater River State Park, where we headed north on the Juniper Creek
Trail, roughly paralleling Juniper Creek, a canoeable feeder stream of the
Blackwater, and took it 6.5 miles to a trail shelter located atop a piney
bluff.  A front had blown through and the stars were phenomenal, but the mercury
went below freezing overnight.

      

Taking a break
Second camp on the river

We resumed our march,
joining the northeast bound Jackson Red Ground Trail.  We rolled over longleaf
pine woods on a long day, mostly spent in the Blackwater River State Forest,
which adjoins the state park.  The shadows were long by the time we hit the
Wiregrass Trail.  This trail, like the others, are part of the greater Florida
Trail system, and the north branch of the FT we were following is what long
distance hikers use to follow the entire Eastern Continental Divide.  After 20
miles, we tiredly made camp on the banks of the Blackwater River and were soon
asleep.

          

Jackson Red Ground Trail
Sandy Path

Next day, we walked through
lush bottomland woods to reach Kennedy Bridge.  I went up to nearby Hurricane
Lake campground and brought the canoe down, then returned my car to the
campground.  We loaded the Old Town Penobscot and relievingly let the river do
the work for us.  The skies were dark so we shortly made camp in the woods
behind a sugar white sandbar and battened down the hatches.  The rains came, but
not until long after we were fast asleep.

 

Johnny with bass
John up front near bluff

The river hadn’t rose any
the following morning.  We packed up the boat and floated those dark waters that
resemble tea as they flow over sandy shallows.  John and I each caught a few
fish but mostly just enjoyed the wooded and wild scenery.  A tall bluff fronted
by a wide sandbar proved too alluring and we stopped for the night.  While
gathering firewood I stepped into an ant nest and dashed into the river knocking
the biting pests off as fast as I could.  My leg swelled up good.  The night was
quite pleasant nonetheless as the fire crackled and the owls hooted in the woods
beyond our camp.

 

      

Nighttime under the tarp
Sandbar camp

A heavy fog covered the
river as we pushed off on our final full day.  The river was quite fast here and
the banks lowered, giving a swampier appearance, and made finding a campsite
quite challenging.  However, we found a camp below Bryant Bridge on a bank
barely above the water.  The night was quite mild and a few mosquitoes buzzed
us.  We reflected on how we had hiked approximately 30 miles and paddled the
same distance on one adventure.  It took some planning but there are many places
I have canoe/backpacked, including Black Creek of Southern Mississippi and Big
South Fork in Tennessee.  There were more places to engage such a trip in
Florida, such as the Suwannee River near Suwannee River State Park.            

Our
final morning was sunny and all too soon we were back at our starting point,
Deaton Bridge in Blackwater River State Park.  We had completed our adventure
and looked forward to more ahead.

 


Sea Kayaking in the
Southern Everglades

Johnny’s latest adventure took place at
Everglades National Park, which Johnny visits on a regular basis, having written
A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park.  On this particular trip,
Johnny was joined by Frank and Mark Carroll, who came down from Nashville to go
sea kayaking.  Mark took photographs for an ensuing article that Johnny wrote
for Sea Kayaker magazine. The weather started cold and blustery as we left
Flamingo and made 7 hard miles to Clubhouse Beach.  A chilly night followed.
Next day, the three of us cut north through Lake Ingraham and up Little Sable
Creek, emerging onto the rocking and rolling Gulf, where we camped on Northwest
Cape, one of the finest campsites in the Everglades.

Shells on the beach at Cape Sable

Next day, the winds had calmed and we headed
south along the cape, enjoying the fine weather and camped beneath some cocoanut
palms.  We left the mainland, then headed south into Florida Bay for Carl Ross
Key, an island paradise of a campsite.  Bird life was abundant near Carl Ross.
That evening was blustery and we were concerned about crossing so much open
water, but it ended up being a mere inconvenience as a headwind slowed our
progress back to Flamingo.

Johnny with Frank Carroll at
Northwest Cape

We saw a lot of wildlife, sea turtles,
dolphins, birds galore, rays, sharks and also the minute beauty of the Glades.
It was a great trip.


Paddling the St. Marys River

John Cox joined me for this latest adventure, paddling 77 miles on the St. Marys
River, which forms the border between Georgia and Florida for much of its
distance.  We started near Moniac, where the St. Marys leaves the Okefenokee
Swamp and started floating the narrow creek-like waterway.  The water was
surprisingly swift and adept paddling was required to work around the gum and
cypress trees growing in the middle of the stream.  The banks were high and the
setting felt remote.  Spring was just beginning to burst forth and it seemed the
trees were budding out as we passed them.  The cold of winter wasn’t through
however.  The temperature dropped to 35 the first night.  With the inflow of the
Middle Prong St. Marys the river widened and we were more able to fish, catching
a few bream and bass, rather than constantly navigate the swift river.  A little
rain came the second night, but we were prepared.  The chill really came the
third night, after a raw and dark day, when the mercury dipped to 31.  A big
moon was out that night and shone brightly on the sandbar where we camped.

The St. Marys has sandbars aplenty

By
this point we were behind the 8-ball, having floated instead of paddled, and had
to make up for lost ground.  Overhead, thick clouds of eerie looking smoke
floated our way from a fire in the nearby Osceola National Forest.

Smoke over the St. Marys River

We
stroked the blades and made it downriver to an excellent campsite, where a
wooded flat rose forth from an easy landing sandbar.  We roamed the nearby
woods, stretching our legs.

The final full day was also a paddlefest, as we were still making
up for lost time.  The weather was mild and sunny.  Azaleas were blooming in
profusion along the banks of the river.  After one http://www.cialispharmaciefr24.com/cialis-classe-therapeutique/ last night on the lower
river, which feels the force of tides, we headed into St. Marys Fish Camp near
US 1.  The 6 day trip was complete.  Our biggest problem had been whether to
camp on the Georgia side of the river or the Florida side of the river, since we
are big University of Tennessee fans and can’t stand the Gators or the
Bulldogs!


Writing A Guidebook to Everglades National Park

Johnny at Northwest Cape
Everglades National Park, Florida
Another adventure was a two month stint in the Everglades National Park, from January 5-March 5, 1999. I was down there writing A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park, for the University Press of Florida. In the two month period, I paddled 55 out of 60 days. Needless, to say I was sore at first, but the paddling was made easier by Perception. They provided me with a couple of sea kayaks, allowing me to switch from canoe to sea kayak between trips.
It was certainly an interesting experience writing the book. By day, I paddled, taking notes on a microcassette recorder, and at night I transcribed the notes and typed them up into a laptop computer. The laptop was stored in a dry bag in another dry bag. A portable power source designed to charge car batteries, connected to a power inverter, kept the computer going. Thankfully there were no incidents of flipping the boat. It took a lot of effort gathering the information on that computer!Overall, the weather was good, though a continuous hot period really brought out the salt marsh mosquitoes. I had to wear a headnet at campsites and was in the tent by dusk, watching those fantastic Everglades sunsets through mesh netting. The heat relented toward the end, leaving cool nights and ideal days around 75 degrees, with enough wind to make the swamp angels no problem.

Paddling
the Length of Florida

Johnny paddles a spring run on the
Suwannee River, Florida 
What an adventure, traveling the length of Florida by boat! I just paddled a canoe from the Okefenokee Swamp, headwaters of Florida’s most famous river, the Suwannee, to the Gulf of Mexico. From the Gulf, now in a sea kayak, I paddled south beyond Tampa Bay into the Everglades. From the Everglades I continued south to the Keys to end in the Atlantic Ocean at Long Key.
I met a lot of interesting people during the two-month adventure, which started just after the New Year. The first couple of weeks on the Suwannee were cold, with subfreezing nights and windy days. But this chilly weather made the river my own, as there were deer swimming across the waters, woodpeckers in the woods and quiet, clear springs bubbling up from the ground.Once on the ocean, the Nature Coast did not disappoint. The shallow, clear waters were alive with below me. Shell mounds at the mouths of rivers were my nighttime camps. Below Tarpon Springs, spoil islands became my campsites as the coastlines were heavily settled. Farther down, in warmer weather, I saw the horror and beauty of high rises strung along the coast until the one and only Everglades. We should all be ultra grateful this swath of South Florida was preserved.The jewels of the Keys dotted Florida Bay and its famously colorful waters. It was with a mixture of sadness, disbelief and relief at reaching the Atlantic Ocean and the end of the adventure at Long Key.My second adventure story book, From the Swamp to the Keys: A Paddle Through Florida History, will be a recount of the adventure, to be published in Fall, 2002 by the University Press of Florida.History, both human and natural, is a primary focus of the book, for the story of the Florida is much the story of interaction with the land and the waters around it, and attempts to explore it, conquer it, only ultimately to coexist with and preserve it.

Canoeing the Withlacoochee

Johnny’s latest adventure took place in south
central Florida where he paddled the Withlacoochee River.  Along with Holly
Berman, who took her sea kayak, Johnny started at County Road 575 near Lacoochee,
and rolled over the gentle rocky shoals and twists and turns and fallen logs
where turtles lay in the sun into the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Johnny admiring large cypress knees that grow amid the rocks on
the Withlacoochee River

There they enjoyed the rustic scenery of a cypress swamp and
occasional high bluffs.  The weather was warm and the mosquitoes came out
that night.  Johnny fished and caught a fair number of bass and bream,
especially in the area near Hog Island.

Bream on the With’ acheter en ligne viagra near Hog Island

The river is becoming increasingly
developed, which is why the section through the state forest is preferred.
After taking out in Nobleton, another river was on the agenda, as Johnny is
rewriting A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Florida.  At one
point, he had floated 11 rivers in 12 days!


Paddling The Santa Fe River near Gainesville

It was a dark and
stormy night … just kidding.  It was actually a cool and windy day when Aaron
Marable and I set off from High Springs, Florida on the Santa Fe River, a
tributary of the Suwannee River in north central Florida.  Interestingly, the
Santa Fe flows for several miles before going underground, only to rise 3 miles
above High Springs.  We set out on the dark waters and floated over the
occasional limestone shoals, which discouraged motorboats.

Wildflowers on the
Santa Fe riverbank

 

The brisk when was at our back, making the
paddling easy as spring was busting out all around us.  We found a camp on
Suwannee River Water Management District Lands.  Around us were many
wildflowers.  That night we stayed near the fire, as it went down to 40 degrees,
cold by Florida standards.

Aaron checks out a whirlpool where the Santa Fe loses water
to the ground below

Next day warmed up much quicker, the fishing was still
subpar, as the river was flooded and backed up even more by the really high
Suwannee.  Many houses along the river took away a bit from the wildness of the
trip, but the many springs we visited were made the trip worthwhile.  The second
night we camped at the confluence of Ichetucknee River, a super clear waterway
where you could look into the water and appreciate all the fish and other
creatures.  Overall, we had a good time, except Aaron’s lips were so terribly
chapped that he used butter to moisten them!

Aaron with his emergency treatment for chapped lips!


The 100 Mile Ocala Trip

Johnny and fellow outdoorsman Aaron Marable engaged in a trip Johnny
had long wanted to do.  They started at Silver River State Park in Florida,
portaged their gear .7 mile to the Silver River and canoed to the Ocklawaha
River.  From their they traveled through the beautiful swamps and bluffs of
the Ocklawaha to
Lake Rodman.  Here, they floated to Rodman Dam, portaged Rodman dam and
continued down the Ocklawaha.  Below the dam the river breaks into numerous
channels and it was challenging to pick the correct channel, and to find a
campsite where there was little dry land.

Aaron steers across Lake Rodman

Johnny near pond on Salt Springs Spur Trail

They made it to the St. Johns
River  where they paddled south to Lake George.  From here, they
paddled up Salt Springs Run to the headspring of Salt Springs.  It was cold but they were
glad because it was time to start backpacking.  They donned backpacks and joined the Salt
Springs Spur Trail to reach the Florida Trail, and began a 40 mile trek to
Clearwater Lake in the Ocala’s south end.  The adventure took 8 days.
One hiking day was 20 miles.

Aaron made it through the long day, however.
That’s ’cause he’s tough.  The day after the 20 miler seemed longer than the 12 miles they covered but the
accomplishment of realizing the “dream” of the 100 mile trip made the aches seem
a little less.

Johnny on fallen live oak on Lake George

Longleaf  pine forest along the Florida Trail

Lake George

Boardwalk across wetland

Buzzards on Lake Rodman