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The Peaceful Canoe Trip That Wasn’t: Day 1

Let’s get somethings straight from the get go:

1. Once I found out I had a week off of work for spring break, 2ish weeks ago, I immediately called my friend Weber, whom I had met on my first lone camping trip in The Alligator That Smiled At Me. I asked him if he would like to join me because I was going, and it was either alone or with him. If he hadn’t come with me, man oh man, stay tuned.

2. I expected a nice, calm canoe trip: Expectations are futile in life. Use this story as an example.

3. I was on a juice fast. To spare the details and wonder, a juice fast consists of only drinking juice, preferably organic and freshly squeezed. The juice should be mostly non sweet vegetables and fruits if possible as they have the most vitamins combined, but that is debatable. 30% of the energy you use is in digesting. If there is no digestion, the enzymes supposedly turn their attention to your body and clear out toxins that may have been there for years as well as current sicknesses even. We are, after all, the only mammals that don’t auto fast when sick. Yes, the ONLY ones, or so I hear.

Other uses of such a fast are spiritual as most historical figures that have done such gain immense insight as well as many, MANY more benefits. The starting Monday of this expedition was my 21st day on this fast. I bought 4 huge bottles of bottled organic fruit juice for energy and nutrients, and that is all (besides water). Sweet fruit juices last longer unrefrigerated.

4. Weber lives his life in a very minimalist way. Especially when camping. That means he brings barely anything. This adds to challenge of survival as well as keeps things simple and easy if you are ok with a lil additional suffering (depends on how you see it). He wasn’t going to bring a tent due to me bringing mine and he didn’t bring more than a couple sets of clothes and no sleeping bag. I brought the water. He brought some vegetables and trail mix his mom had made.

poor Everglade camp site map
The map we had. Obviously crap for navigation but I didn’t know. The red was the planned trip. The purple is where we ended up staying, including the ocean.

5. I purposely did not plan too much into this canoe trip even though it was my first and Weber’s first. I did not do what was suggested due to my drive for want of challenge. I was not going to stop my juice fast. I had lost my final toe nail a couple days before due to the marathon I ran, which was very tender and susceptible to infection due to the depth of where the side of the nail goes.

I did not pack well for any cold weather, bringing only one pair of sport pants and a last second sweatshirt. I did have a few shorts and t-shirts and a hoodie, which ended up being vital.

I did not pack well enough for wet weather, stubbornly only brining about 4 trash bags when the one advice I had read was to never think trash bags will keep anything dry on a canoe trip (touché here as you will see). I did not get a nautical chart. I did not have no-seeums covering for my body to keep crazy invisible bugs from using me as a buffet. I did little research into anything like tide, wind direction, and safety (besides the basics I already knew).

Everglades map camps sites
An actual map of the Everglades. In comparing the two maps, you will see what we missed in our limited planning as well as what we had to face. We would not suggest anyone doing what we did.

I did not bring a map that was more than some connect the dots from camp site to camp site with no land forms defined. And we did not bring any GPS. On retrospect this was a very VERY big mistake since phones do not typically work out in the Glades.

The map I printed out was near pointless and showed no land outline, making me think it was a very simple route from here to there and so on. All I knew was that if we stayed left, we would make our route in a huge 4-5 day circle, assuming we would just pass the campsites with no problem (wrong). I run alot so 10 miles didn’t seem like it would be hard to follow or see every day. But in the end, it was nearly impossible. Luckily, many chance happenings changed that.

I woke up at 5:50. My alarm was supposed to go off at 5:20 and I was supposed to be at Weber’s house by now so we could get to the Flamingo Visitors Center in the Everglades by opening to get out on the water as early as possible. Strike 1. We still made good time though. On the way, I gave Weber a bit of information of the few things I had planned regarding the trip, allowing him to decide which route we took. He had not had time to do any research much because he had been spending the past forever studying for his MCAT (the test that gets you into Medical school).

We arrived an hour later at the Flamingo Visitors Center. We registered with the ranger, whom gave some advice on tide and campsites while looking at us as crazy noobs. With some heavy suggestion, he convinced us that we would not get back on Thursday and that we should change our plan and plan on another night because it was not feasible that we could make the distance we had arrogantly planned. So we agreed. I then asked if he had any advice he could give pertaining to the trip of ours. He looked outside, with the huge winds blowing all of the surrounding trees and weird weather predictions of the week, and replied: “Don’t go out.”

At the canoe rental, we unloaded our gear, rented the canoe for 4 nights and 5 days, loaded it and got in. With the advice of the canoe guy, I, being much bigger and heavier, got into the back. The canoe guy also said I should have the longer paddle for the longer, stronger paddle stroke with the front guy steering. Check (this latter advice would come to haunt us). And we are off.

Starting the trip, we had the light wind behind us. It was peaceful, clear and sunny, while we got our bearings in how to paddle, as it seemed that Weber, being in front with the shorter paddles and arms, would have to go twice the speed as I to keep us straight. Seemed fun and easy.

Within 30 minutes a hawk flew down to our canoe, literally about 4 feet by Weber’s head. Very strange but very cool. We continued on the straightaway that lead to the bigger waterway, cinching slowly until we reached it. Our directions were clear: stay left always and we would, like the map shows, get to each campsite easy. As we lefted into the main waterway, we both noticed a Bald Eagle fly overhead. The first one I had seen in the wild. The relaxing and peaceful canoe trip had begun!

It had begun but it also was about to end. First of all, the water way was HUGE. We could barely make out the surrounding landscape of the opposite shore, confusing us to why our map seemed so small. We might as well be on a humongous lake that kept going and going. As we were speeding along, we were noticing that the further we got out into the open, the higher the waves were. No worries, we would just hug the land, staying left.

As we entered through a new passage way, we tried to cut off some land by cutting straight to the next point we could see, instead of following the land on the left as it bowed inward like a ‘U’. This would be the first of what seemed like hundreds of these (note it).

When we got to around the middle we noticed that the wind had changed. It was no longer behind us, but seemed to be coming more and more at us. The waves were rising, and far in the distance ahead, there were darker and darker clouds. A bit of a challenge at day 1 was fine by me, so we continued. Then the wind picked up even more on top of the current. It didn’t strike me until around this time that the course we were taking is up river. Don’t know if that was wise.

Further ahead we trudged against the wind and some light rain started. I suddenly had perma-grin on as our relaxing canoe trip had become a bit more interesting. The rain came and went within about 5 minutes, and the sun peaked back out and the wind died down a bit. We continued.

As we passed the next point of U land, the wind had picked up yet a bit more. Weber grabbed his poncho and I removed my t-shirt and we decided to try and cut the land again from point to point. The wind kept picking up so we started to paddle heavy to get through there. This was maybe a few hours after we had cast off and we were going to need to refuel soon with food, water, and… ahem… juice.

Once we were about midway across, the wind REALLY picked up. Weber saw some wildlife he wanted to take pictures of, while I fearingly watched a very dark cloud up ahead with what looked like rain hitting the water getting closer by the second. While Weber was digging around to get his camera out of the zip lock bag, and then out of its case, and then take a picture, I was barely able to keep the canoe straight. Then the wind blew even more that it turned the canoe sideways in the opposite directions.

This was not the first time this happened with the camera delay in addition to the small camera not being able to zoom close enough to catch most of the wildlife anyways as whatever passed us by instantaneously. But hey, we were in no rush; if he wanted to take pictures, I was all for it, just as long as we weren’t losing ground because a small hurricane was blowing by. Which it did.

Out of nowhere, that storm up ahead became the storm above our heads. We were hit and hit hard by huge winds, and stinging “sideways rain”. I had never felt rain that felt like BB’s on my skin before. The water was waving everywhere, and we were paddling frivolously to stay straight. As I looked around, I noticed I could not see any land around us except a small tree area up to the left. All of the rest was foggy rain pouring and splashing in grays. It looked like any storm in any movie with boats.

At that moment I realized my cheeks were cramping; I had perma-grin on and I was having the time of my life. All of a sudden, I saw some land behind us, and… it was getting closer! We had somehow created a CANOE MOONWALK for the past past hour, killing ourselves with BB rain, going as hard as we can to move forward, when the only forward we had gone was backward. We were further back! See, it was hard to tell if you are not moving, especially without land around to gauge against and with waves flying by like we were going 30 miles an hour. A lil serious action had started. We were tiring and were about to get slammed into the mangrove trees and roots. We did NOT want to get flipped at all costs.

As we washed up to tree shore, slamming against the tree roots, Weber and I were exhausted and showing frustration. I go into order action solution mode and that is not the best thing to do to others in such a state of potential danger. They are also being tested with the random potential of getting hurt in such circumstances. But the canoe was filled with alot of rain water, and it needed to be pumped out ASAP. We did it and decided to try and pull our way around the shoreline, hand by hand, tree by tree, until either the storm stops, or we get to our destination. This continued for a very long time and we got nowhere, but the storm passed.

Once that was done, things seemed to clear out but it remained cloudy. We got off the trees and continued forward and left. The wind laughs at us as it only stopped long enough for us to get back out toward open water, wondering where the passageway up ahead is, us seeing only tree shoreline all around us at that point. Every area that seems to vear left ends up not going left at all, staying with the consistency of mangrove trees.

The wind was picking up again and it’s cold; we were going nowhere only this time we could see it. With no clearing ahead, we ultimately decide on Weber’s persistence that we are clueless and the only clearing we see is miles to our right. The only safety net we had was in our comfortable ‘stay left’ navigation, but after what we had just endured and are enduring, it seemed that left this time, was in fact, right. Boy were we wrong. BUT, because of this decision, we reached our destination.

Paddling perpendicular with the waves was beneficial because we could make progress. They were not huge waves by any means; they did not splash up and get us wet or fill the canoe or anything. We do this kind of paddling for a long time.

Then another challenge becomes apparent: the clearing in the distance we were heading towards, the ‘right’ instead of ‘left’, was now nowhere to be seen. It had disappeared. Where on earth were we? We were right in line with an approaching fishing boat, that’s where.

On retrospect, if we had not gone right at that moment, we would have had 2 options: A) rope up to the trees and stay the night there all wet and cold with no dry clothes, or B) let the wind push us all of the way back to where we had begun, rethinking our entire trip. By choosing right, we were actually heading off into the extremely random areas of the Everglades, with paths that twist and turn and go nowhere, or continuously lead to places much farther than any canoe can reach, let alone get out of. Luckily, when we did decide to go right, we happened to pass a boat of nice men whom offered to tow us to the South Joe River Chickee.

A chickee is a Seminole Indian house built on stilts, with open sides and a roof, and a Johnny on the Spot. Who knew? Felt weird to use it.. There were a couple of relieved dudes in the canoe at that time. Especially when we saw had we should have stayed left and how far it actually was to get to the site. Every time we seemed to be approaching a dead end, it would open up, reminding me of the movie Labyrinth, when she was lost in the beginning but stepped a bit further and saw the opening:

When we were finally dropped off at the site, we thanked the guys for the tow and advice. One of them showed us how to use the paddle like a rudder to steer more effectively. Bonus! They had saved the day, more than one way, more than they could ever know. At the end of the trip we found out that the canoe rescuers had actually gone out that evening to gather 3 different canoe parties and take them back to base. This might have been us, assuming our phones worked.

The end of Day 1 concluded with us meeting a nice couple from South Carolina that had stayed the previous night and, even with their motor canoe, would not dare going into the water with that storm and wind. It had, in fact, torn their tent earlier, about when we were canoe moonwalking. They helped us set up in the still hard blowing and cold wind.

Just shortly before that, I had realized I had somehow forgotten my own tent back at the house. Ironically, Weber was not originally going to bring a tent but did due to me warning him my tent was small. WOOOOOO!!!! We tied all of our stuff to the tent, hoping some of it would dry by morning. Luckily our present clothes had dried enough from just being in this strong wind.

Dusk had overtaken and night was approaching. I got into my sleeping bag, feeling bad for Weber and his lack of anything to warm him up, and fell asleep. Day 1 was over. I awoke in the middle of the night to the relentlessly cold wind. I had never been so cold at night in my life, but it was only my face and head.

Weber had slowly added more dry clothes throughout the night to his outfit. Each time I awoke, he had something different on, surprising me every time. He was freezing all night and didn’t sleep much til morning. The last time I awoke before dawn, the wind had ceased for the most part, and there was a full moon reflecting on the open river, beautiful as it was calming. Of course, the full moon meant one thing.


The Never Everglades Serenades
Part 1: The Alligator That Smiled At Me

Part 2: The Peaceful Canoe Trip That Wasn’t: Day 1

Part 3: The Peaceful Canoe Trip That Wasn’t: Day 2

Published in Adventure


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