A month or so ago, Chris planted the idea of taking a weekend kayaking/camping trip. He had mapped it out, and the plan was to kayak from Tomoka State Park up to Gamble Rogers State Park, camp overnight, kayak part of the way back down, and visit Bulow Creek State Park and Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park along the way. Or something like that. Sounds like a lot, right? Especially when the mileage...powered by the current and one's own arms...was somewhere between 15-20 miles round trip. I think. Needless to say, I felt overwhelmed at the thought and immediately decided against the trip. Rob and I had several serious conversations on the matter, and my interest eventually grew into a full-fledged desire to make the weekend happen. Only, there was a problem: the weekend in question included Memorial Day, and all the campsites at Gamble Rogers were booked.
Well, one great thing about being in Florida is not having a shortage of bodies of water. We just found a different river. Enter....Campayakarama 2010!!
Our adventure began bright and early on Sunday. We loaded a tandem kayak, borrowed from my dad, onto the roof of my trusty little Jeep. It really looked at home there:
We then headed to Ray Wayside Park in Ocala. Waiting for us were Chris, his friend Chris M., and one of Rob and Chris's coworkers, Randy. We unloaded kayaks and gear, and then Rob and the Chrisses drove the vehicles about a half-hour down the road to our planned take out point. There, they were met by another coworker, Erika, who drove everyone back to Ray Wayside where I was waiting with Olivia and Randy. And from there? We launched!
Our plan, orchestrated by Chris, was simple. We were going to paddle upstream on the Silver River, just far enough into Silver River State Park to possibly find a geocache hidden on the river and also to see the monkeys that live in the trees there. Yes, monkeys. We got probably a quarter- to a half-mile upstream when our plans kind of changed. See, I am somewhat phobic about water. And here I was, in a tandem kayak with Erika, and started to have a panic attack. I was having a hard time dealing with the movements of another person in the kayak, and I kept feeling like I was going to tip. Plus, the Silver River, being spring-fed, is crystal clear, and I don't want to know what's in the water.
I sure picked the right hobby, huh?
And so, we pulled up alongside a fallen tree, where I managed to get up from my seat, switch directions, and get into a single kayak. Chris had stepped out onto the tree...where, by the way, a snake was sunning itself...held things steady for me, and then stepped over into my empty seat in the tandem. I calmed down immediately, and I really appreciate Chris's patience and help with that situation. It would really have sucked to abandon the weekend that soon into it. This was, however, pretty much when we decided to abort the plan to continue upstream. It sure was pretty on the Silver River, though...even if I am afraid of the things I can see:
From the Silver River, we paddled downstream and met up with the Ocklawaha River. The water here is brown, tannen-rich due to cypress tree run-off. The current is decent, and once we got away from the launch area of Ray Wayside we didn't see too much boat traffic. One thing I learned, though, is that I really don't care for jet skis:
Onward, we paddled. Chris and Erika were in a tandem, Rob and Olivia were in a tandem, and the rest of us were in single kayaks. We looked for wildlife, moved around, chatted, spread out, and just enjoyed ourselves. There were turtles out everywhere. I had seen one alligator at the launch, and there was one other sighting on that first day. Rob took pictures for awhile and then passed the camera to me. A few highlights:
After awhile we found a nice little beach and stopped for lunch. We had all packed some snacks, but Erika provided an awesome PB&J spread. So, we sat around feasting while enjoying a little swim. Chris even caught a minnow for Olivia, which we (thankfully) talked her into releasing before we moved on.
After our little siesta, we got back to work. Our plan was to continue paddling until we reached a good place to camp for the night, hopefully about halfway or a little further. The great thing about the Ocklawaha River is that the banks are state property, and camping...with fire...is allowed. We also knew of an actual campsite with facilities, Gore's Landing, and were really hoping to find a spot there.
Our afternoon paddling was relaxed but had purpose. Still, we all managed to enjoy ourselves and the Mother Nature's beauty surrounding us. Randy stopped to fish several times (though he didn't catch anything), and Chris M. even jumped into the river and trailed his kayak for a little while. Olivia...somehow...actually managed a nap:
Some other afternoon photo highlights:
Soon after this we came upon Gore's Landing Park. There were sites available and...after paying the $5 fee...we set up camp for the night. We hung out, relaxed, got to know a few of our neighbors, and reflected on the day. According to Chris's GPS, we paddled about 12 miles. I had an immediate sense of accomplishment, even though our trip wasn't completed. Here I was, afraid of my surroundings, in awe of them at the same time, and I was happy.
Our evening was spent around the campfire, eating, talking, trying...and failing...to avoid the bugs. The next morning we had breakfast, broke camp, and continued on down the river. We knew it was going to be a shorter journey, only about 6 or 7 miles this time. If there was a way for us to be more relaxed, we discovered it. We weren't in a hurry and really spent the day taking in the scenery. Chris even enjoyed a rope swing:
A few other highlights:
Soon after this, we were done. Rounding a curve in the river, there was our take out spot. We had been on the water about 4 hours, adding about 6 miles to our first day's journey. We paddled roughly 18 miles in two days. It was an amazing trip. I got to know Florida in a way I never had before, and I couldn't be more grateful.
I'll leave you with this thought: Imagine, if you will, that Florida is a living, breathing entity. What draws you in first is our beautiful skin, our beaches. We accessorize ourselves with theme parks and nightclubs and cities that love to party. The sweet breath of our tropical breezes keep you enchanted. But far beneath the beautiful, seductive exterior is our vast heartbeat, the great Florida aquifer. From that pumps our life's blood, the springs and lakes where you come for enjoyment. And finally, our veins...the rich rivers which flow throughout this great state and tie us all together.
That is the Florida I got to know. And I can't believe I waited until now to really start living in it.