Sunday, May 4, 2014

Suwannee River Overnight Paddle

State Parks visited:  78

The last time we were on the Suwannee River was New Years' Day a few years ago, and it was high time for a return visit.  Chris suggested an overnight paddle trip, and so we planned it for the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Olivia ended up staying with my parents for the weekend, so it was just Chris, Xandra, Rob, and me. 
We used the shuttle service provided by Canoe Outpost Suwannee River, with me and Chris leaving our cars at Suwannee River State Park and taking the shuttle back to our launch spot, Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.  But first, a yummy beer to start the journey!
The scenery was immediately the star of the show.  From the tannin-browned water to the limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches and twisted, moss-covered oaks, this was unlike anywhere we had paddled before:

Pretty soon we also began seeing small caves in the limestone, and even a freshwater spring.  Of course, we had to explore!
Not sure if you can see the orange blaze in the background there, but that's a section of the Florida Trail.

It was the first of several magical stops!
We paddled onward, enjoying the fall colors.  Northern friends, don't laugh!  This is our Florida-style fall color!

Pretty soon I saw something that sent my dirty mind running.  I pointed it out to everyone, and of course we had to stop for pictures.  One picture in particular had us all dying with laughter, and it has actually found its way around the internet.  Enjoy!
Just out of curiosity, have you ever seen a tree with testicles? 
Okay, so back to the river.  Our destination was the Holton Creek River Camp, which is a stop along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.  Eventually we rounded a curve and found the stairs and signs and knew our day on the river was done.  Xandra ran up and found the campground hosts, securing us one of the (free!) screened enclosures for the night.  We unpacked boats, secured them, and deposited our stuff at camp, and got some firewood.  While our weather had been pleasant and warm during the first day, the night was going to be cold.  And then, exploration and dinner.

The hosts insisted this was the largest cypress tree in the world.

There was even a full double bath house.
Sunday morning was cold and windy.  We had a long paddle ahead of us, and we knew we needed to be on the water early.  And did I mention it was cold?  Much, much more than Saturday.  Brrr!
The guys loaded up our gear while Xandra and I cleaned up our site. Once we launched, it wasn't long before we realized we would paddling into and fighting the wind all day.  It was a complete turnaround from the day before.  But, it was also not long before we came across the first of several springs that feed into the river.  And, like the day before, we explored.

Nothing like a fossilized sea biscuit to remind you that Florida used to be underwater!

The day went on like this.  Caves, springs, wind, hard paddling.  Hard, hard, hard paddling.  Our journey was beautiful, though!

The final bright spot of our journey was another spring.  We looked over and saw caves like in the last picture.  Further exploration revealed clear water flowing out of it...a freshwater spring flowing out of the cave.  It was amazing!  We parked the boats, took off whatever shoes and socks we were wearing, hiked up our pants, and climbed in to get a better look.  The outside cave led into another chamber.  You could see where there had been a cave-in, and sunlight was streaming in on some plants that grew in the protected environment.  It was, in a word, magical.

Soon after this, the boat ramp at Suwannee River State Park appeared.  Our journey was over.  And let me tell you, it was the most difficult journey I've ever loved.