By all
accounts, the Rendezvous was a great success! 100 paddlers registered
for the event and we were able to raise $5000 for Team River Runner
(TRR) (www.teamriverrunner.org). Folks came down from as far as Ohio
, New York City , North Carolina , South Carolina and Louisiana .
Unfortunately, several folks were unable to make it to the Rendezvous
because of the record breaking winter storm that hit the East coast.
TRR staffer, Dana Alexander, and 4 vets from DC were excited about
joining us, but the 4 feet of snow on the roads prevented them from
leaving the DC area. We did have 3 vets from the Wounded Warrior
Project in Jacksonville , Florida and 3 vets and family from the
Tampa TRR join us. All in all, we had 75 of the 100 registered
paddlers brave the horrible weather and join us for the weekend.

The
weekend began bright and early Friday morning and about 20 hearty
souls braved the 40 degree, rainy weather and paddled the Ocklawaha.
Despite the dreary day, everyone had a great time and toward the end
of the paddle the rain stopped and the Ocklawaha took on a foggy,
mysterious feel. Later that evening the river rat volunteer crew
prepared a dinner of dogs and burgers and local author/paddler Doug
Alderson gave a great presentation about his paddling expedition down
the Kissimmee River in central Florida .

While much of Georgia
was experiencing frigid temperatures and snow, the rest of the
weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) Ocala was sunny and reached
into the upper 50’s/lower 60’s during the day. The nights were
chilly (into the 30s), but most of the river rats chose to sleep in
the heated bunk house.

Saturday and Sunday night we feasted
on a catered meal and were entertained by the New Radio Ramblers
while weary paddlers warmed up around the fireplace. Each day we
awoke to a hot, catered meal and groups would divide up to head
toward the various rivers. Everyone commented on what a good time
they were having.
 
Camp Kiwanis was a great property and
despite some issues with the hot water (which we quickly rectified),
it was the perfect venue for the Rendezvous. Every morning at Camp
Kiwanis four threatened and rare Sandhill Cranes would hangout along
the shore of the small lake and provided a picturesque setting for
breakfast.

On Sunday night, we raffled off donated items from
Confluence Watersports (mother company of Dagger, Wilderness System,
AT Paddlers, Harmony, etc.), Kokotat and Astral. GCA member, Katie
O’Neill, was the recipient of an AT touring paddle that is valued
at $459.

Besides the Ocklawaha, we paddled the Alexander
Springs Creek, Juniper Creek and the Silver River. Truly, the rivers
of the Ocala National Forest were the highlight of the trip for most
folks. River rats reported seeing eagles, osprey, raccoons, beavers,
alligators otters, all sorts of water fowl and of course the monkeys
of Silver River . I had the pleasure of paddling with one of the
vets, Larry, on the Silver River where we were entertained by monkeys
swinging around in the trees. Larry counted 8 alligators on Silver
River . I paddled Juniper with the Tampa TRR vets (Dan, Doug and
Doug’s wife Deborah) as well as several other folks. As always,
Juniper was tropically, breath taking. We had the misfortune of
getting in amongst a bunch of kids in rented tandem canoes. I found
it amusing to watch the kids struggle with their long boats. Juniper
was up because of all the rain and actually had a little rapid.

Steve Cramer and Vincent Payne promptly surfed one of the
little waves. The last day of the Rendezvous on Monday morning, I
paddled a short out and back paddle on Alexander Springs Creek with
Buddy Goolsby, Jean Brown, Jean’s son-in-law Kenneth and four
delightful ladies from South Carolina (Nancy, Gail, Susan and
Suzanne). We saw a gator that was at least a 14 footer and we ate
lunch at the spectacular Alexander Springs . It was a perfect ending
to a wonderful weekend of paddling and friendship.

The TRR
vets and Wounded Warrior vets had an outstanding time. It was very
satisfying to see them so happy and carefree especially knowing what
all they had been through. Their presence at the Rendezvous really
brought the weekend to home and reminded us of the healing power of
paddling. These vets were living proof of the good work of TRR.

We
were also honored to have both of Belton’s sons (Eric and Dave
Dykes) with us for the weekend. They honored their father’s memory
by paddling his beloved boats. Though Belton is no longer with us,
his spirit lives on in the campfire stories, colorful memories and a
life spent pursuing adventure.

The Rendezvous couldn’t have
been done without the hard work and determination of the volunteers
(Kate, Karla, Lamar, Buddy, Becca, Jean, Mary, Karen, Lisa, Keith,
Hobie, Robert, Gina, Haynes, Jim, Vincent, Kelly, Don, and Dick).
Most of these folks are not only friends of Belton, but GCA members
and deserve a round of applause for all their efforts. A special
thanks goes out to Lamar Phillips because he did most of the lion
share of the work, to Don Parker for helping with the sponsorships,
to Becca Brown for organizing the entertainment, to Kate Wilkerson
for designing the website and t-shirts and Karla Vinnacombe for
designing the logo and the river rat signs.
 
It was a
long, hard journey to pull off the Rendezvous, but it was worth it to
honor and celebrate the life of our friend Belton and to raise funds
for such a worthy organization in Team River Runner. I know Belton
would be proud!
 
Jamie
Higgins
Yaksrule2008@yahoo.com

February 2010