300
mile +/- of kayaking starting just outside the Okefenokee Swamp on
the Suwannee River, then down the entire length of the River to the
Gulf of Mexico. Then down the Gulf to Bayport, FL, a coastal town in
the county where we grew up.

Gear/provisions:
10 days of food (1 cooked meal per day); alcohol stove, 1 pot, 2
spoons; tent, 2 sleeping pads and a piece of plastic; 1 extra pants,
shirt and socks each; camp suds, cell phone, pocket mail, GPS, maps,
and med kit. We only had access to a pay phone every 3-5 days to send
this journal out.

March
9th. Our trip started at the Visitor Center/ Canoe Put-In in Fargo,
Georgia. Our friends, Bill and Betty Holburn and Tim Gregg paddled
the first day with us to start our voyage off. Ardie’s mom, David,
and 4 month old nephew Wyatt met us at the river to see us off and
drive our van to their home.

We
put on the River at 3:05 PM. It was cloudy and cold, but not raining
so we were happy. Ardie and I were paddling a 22 foot sea kayak. (We
purchased the sea kayak 5 years ago when planning this trip, but year
after year something came up that prevented us from going.) Our first
night we camped on the only dry land we could find next to a swampy
area.

The
water level was high and most sandy beach campsites were underwater.
We made a huge campfire, kicking it off with some pine lighter wood
that Bill brought. I made a Jello instant cheesecake to celebrate the
start of our trip. You just mix the instant milk, cheesecake mix and
water in a plastic baggie, top with cherries. It was great. (6
miles)

March
10th. After watching our friends cook a big breakfast and hogging a
little of it, we were on the river paddling by 9 AM. Bill, Betty and
Tim paddled to Highway 6 with us. We saw 7 alligators today. 2 were
swimming and 4 were sunning along the bank. Ardie rescued a highway
orange traffic barrel that had washed into a group of trees and Bill
paddled it out. It was a sight on the back of his canoe. Tim found
the perfect piece of driftwood for his wife’s goldfish pond and
paddled it out.

We
have done 4 expedition paddling trips with Bill and Tim in Canada and
turn into “juveniles” according to Betty when the four of
us get together (if she only knew how much worse we are when she’s
not around). After waving goodbye to our good friends, Ardie paddled
about 5 more miles. I’m not paddling this section of the river to try
to give my hand some rest so Ardie is captain and crew of the kayak
and I’m along for the wild ride. Along the way to our campsite, we
saw a hawk (on foot) chasing a snake down the river bank. The snake
slipped into the water at the last moment of escape. We found a
pleasant camp. (21 miles, 16 to Hwy 6, then 5 more)

March
11th. We were up with daybreak and ate a breakfast of bagels and
dried fruit as we floated down the river. It’s a beautiful, sunny day
but we had a head wind most of the morning. Just before we left our
van on Wednesday I grabbed a fleece jacket that I had not planned on
taking. Good thing, I haven’t taken it off yet. We made good time and
were at Big Shoals about 10:30 AM.

After
scouting down the bank, we decided to portage these class III rapids.
We were worried that the rocks might catch the boat and poke a hole.
Maybe later in the trip, but now we couldn’t risk the boat. There was
a 4 foot wave all the way across the river. It took us 30 minutes and
3 trips to tote our gear and kayak around the rapids. This is one of
the prettiest places in FL. There is park land on both sides of the
river.

A
quick paddle for 6 miles to the town of White Springs, and we were
eating at the Suwannee River Cafe by 12:30. Yummmmm. $5.99 buffet and
that includes drink and dessert. The sun heated us up this afternoon
and I finally took off my fleece — Ardie was down to shorts — no
shirt.

We
saw 6 alligators, 2 ospreys, 8 turtles and one really nice guy at the
Visitor’s Center today. The excellent river level let us drift down
this afternoon with very little effort. Our camp that night was under
3 big live oak trees, 4 feet from and 15 feet above the water. A
breeze kept the bugs away. We had to dry out our tent and bags which
we packed up wet that morning from the dew before setting up camp, so
we stopped early at 5 PM. This gave us time to take a while on the
Florida Trail.

Ardie
noticed some strange tracks in the sand — they were too large for
deer. As we hiked around a bend we scared up 4 wild hogs, 2 were just
babies but the other 2 were huge. They ran off. As we continued
hiking, we ran across them again. This time one of the boars let out
a loud snort.

The
Florida Trail looks well maintained and follows the Suwannee for a
long way. But it will have to wait for another trip. (32 miles)

March
12th. Even though we were in the middle of the wilderness, the
constant buzz of I-75 traffic kept us from sound sleep last night.
There were also several loud splashes that made me jump up during the
night. We were on the river by 7:30 AM.

The
maple trees were in bloom and the moss looked like Christmas tinsel
on these bright red trees. Another head wind this morning, but not a
cloud in the sky so we weren’t complaining. We stopped at Suwannee
Spring House, a rock wall protruded into the river surrounding the
springs, which was built in the 1920s when the springs were thought
to cure illness. There is a park now where once stood 4 grand
hotels.

There
were a lot of fishermen on the river today so we got in some practice
with waves. We stopped at Suwannee River State Park and showered in
the campground then hit the river again for another mile before
camping. We were planning on camping at the park but our tent didn’t
fit in with the Rvs.

The
wind was steady today and Ardie got a good workout. We parked our
kayak in a little cove then hiked our gear up to camp on a ridge in
some trees. Just before we went to bed there were several deer about
25 feet from our tent. They couldn’t see us so they were stomping and
snorting at our tent. (30 miles)

March
13th. An owl hooted us to sleep. Until our deer friends returned
twice last night, around 10 PM and 12 AM, stomping and snorting for a
long time. Around 2 AM, a raccoon decided to check out our camp and
Ardie shook the tent making a loud noise to scare it away. It could
probably smell our food in the dry bags.

At
6 AM we started packing up our camp to get an early start before the
wind started. There was a cold, eerie fog on the water this morning
before the sun came up. We decided to eat snacks for breakfast and
have our cereal at lunch. I love the food on these trips.

Following
our GPS, we paddled up a side stream to two rock quarry lakes and did
a little exploring. We stopped at Charles Spring for lunch. This
usually clear spring was flooded by the river. At one time a ferry
boat ran here to provide the only river passage from Tallahassee to
St. Augustine. We watched some local boys’ race dirt bikes while
eating our instant mashed potatoes.

Even
with the wind against us, Ardie paddled 20 miles by lunch. Next we
stopped at stopped at Blue Springs County Park. I had hoped to get
water here and use a payphone to send my journal by e-mail.
Unfortunately, the park was closed for repairs from the recent
floods. These 3 clear springs were beautiful but endangered as a
muskrat is chewing down all the beautiful cypress trees surrounding
the springs. Since the park is closed, the county may not know of
this destruction.

There
were several more springs that we stopped at along the way. If they
were beside the river, they were flooded out. If they were more than
15 feet from the river, they ran crystal clear. A lot of divers come
to this part of the river as there are underground caves that go for
miles.

It
was sunny all afternoon and we had a tail wind for a couple of hours.
We camped on a ledge between the river and a cypress swamp.
Beautiful, but noisy with frogs and bugs all night long. We parked
our kayak in the swamp safe from river traffic. We stopped before 5
PM so we had time to go for a long hike through a forest which we
thought was remote until we came across signs “To Homestead”
and “To River”. The only thing we could deduce is that we
were on a large hunting tract. There were wild boar tracks all along
the paths.

March
14th. Rain woke us up around 5 AM. I looked at the stopwatch timer
instead of the time on my watch, which read 7:11, and made Ardie get
up. It wasn’t until we had the boat loaded that we realized it was
only 6:15 AM. Oh well, an early start never hurts. It was overcast
and drizzling off and on. We still stopped to check out Running
Springs and Little River Springs. There are really nice new parks
built around them.

11
Turkeys flew across the river and landed in some bushes just in front
of us. They stood cautiously still as we paddled 2 feet away from
them on the river. Only 1 gobbler and 11 hens. I guess turkeys are
Mormon. We paddled past an old revolving bridge in the middle of the
river. They cranked it to go across the river when needed, they
cranked it back so ferry boats could pass.

We
made it to the town of Branford just before noon. 20 miles goes by
quickly when the captain is missing a real meal. Branford had
everything we needed, Nell’s Buffet serving hot food since 1970
(Ardie swears they have best fried chicken ever), a payphone to send
e-mails, and an inspection station that let us get water.

It
rained during the 2 hours (almost) we were in the restaurant but quit
as soon as we were done (convenient). Still overcast and 10 more
miles to the confluence of the Santa Fe River, where we hoped to
camp. We set out at 2 PM.

The
river is more populated in this section and the campsites are fewer.
We looked for vacant for-sale property or farm land. That night we
camped on the backside of a hay field about a mile past where the
Santa Fe River flows in. The wind was much better this afternoon and
we were able to drift some and still set up camp before 5 PM. Got to
love these long days. We went for a hike along a recently cleared
power line.

We
passed two Outward Bound groups in the past 4 days. They put 4 people
and a ton of gear in each canoe. They are definitely not going
light!!

March
15th. About 4 AM, a couple of raccoons woke me up. They came running
towards our tent and then stopped and sniffed. Ardie let out a yell
to scare them again off.

It’s
overcast again this morning. There were lots of Gar and Mullet
jumping around our boat. We paddled past more turkeys, deer and wild
hogs in some of the swampy areas. We past a guy (about our age) truck
camping on the river this morning. He yelled out inquiring about our
trip, and you could see in his eyes that if he had a canoe, he’d
probably come along.

About
8 miles into the day, we paddled under Rock Bluff Bridge and to our
delight there was general store with hot coffee and donuts. 2 mature
ladies were running the store, restaurant, video rental, etc. You
name it, they sold it.

Ardie
heard wild hogs fighting in a swamp so we pulled ashore to see if we
could find them, instead found thousands of Easter lilies growing
around a cypress forest. Our kayak then displayed a huge bouquet.

It
stayed overcast all afternoon. We stopped at several more springs.
The biggest was Hart Springs at a State Park. They had an elaborate
walkway system that ran through the springs and swamp area. The park
was closed for the season. We headed for Fanning Springs and a hot
shower I hope.

Turkeys
were everywhere along the river. I think hunting season had started,
but they didn’t know it.

We
were disappointed that the only shower at Fanning Springs State Park
was cold and outside beside the swimming area. The Lighthouse
Restaurant’s grouper special lifted our spirits until we found out it
was going to

rain
for the next three days. We were hoping to set up camp under a picnic
pavilion that night at the park to keep our stuff dry. Our kayak was
tied to a dock in Fannin Springs — one of the clearest springs
along the Suwannee. We were planning on hiking the Florida Nature
Coast Trail that night, but didn’t want to fight the rain so we just
spent more time inside at the restaurant.

March
16th. It was not raining this morning so we walked into town and had
breakfast at Huckleberry’s BBQ. You can’t beat biscuits and pork to
start your day. The waitress and music were as country as it gets. It
started raining as soon as we got into the kayak and rained all day.

We
paddled 9 miles to Manatee Springs State Park. The spring run was
closed so we had to park the kayak out on the river and hike in. We
were going to camp there but I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping that
far away from our vessel.

The
springs were first explored in 1774 by William Bartram in a canoe he
borrowed from the Indians. He wrote that the Indians enjoyed eating
the sea cows that swam up into the springs.

We
paddled on in the rain to Yellow Jacket Campground. The sun came out
as soon as we docked, so we headed back out again. 10 minutes later
the rain came again. As we started to turn a wide corner, we saw a
guy yelling storm on his boat dock, as soon as we made the turn we
were headed into stiff winds and you could see a black cloud coming
right towards us with heavy rain and thunder.

With
some strong paddling Ardie turned the boat away from the storm and
paddled into the guy that was yelling at the boat dock. He let us
come in his house for a while and check the weather on the internet.
The storm passed in about 20 minutes and we were back to paddling in
the constant drizzle.

We
saw 3 gators that afternoon. One was huge and slipped into the water
before our boat. There were hundreds of buzzards perched along the
riverbank. There was more swamp and less real estate towards the end
of the Suwannee.

We
rode 2-3 foot waves for about the last mile of our paddle into the
town of Suwannee. All day the wind had been in our face, but the last
mile we could feel the force on our backs. We paddled into the dock
at the Suwannee Motel and got a room for the night. Boat docking is
free with the room rental.

The
couple running the motel was great and even drove us into town that
night! We were going to walk back; it’s only 3 miles. The next day we
would have to find out the weather for our Gulf paddle, wash clothes
and restock, etc…. Next report to come from Gulf paddle.

March
17th. Rest and recovery day was spent in the town of Suwannee washing
clothes, sampling the local restaurants (both of them), and checking
on the weather for our Gulf paddle. The 30 mph winds we waited out on
the boat dock on Wednesday had taken out the local cable, so weather
information was hard to come by. It rained all day. We did a lot of
walking around town. I’m nervous about our Gulf paddle, but Ardie is
confident.

March
18th. The sky was still gray and it was cold as we loaded the kayak
at 6:30 AM. We decided to paddle back up the Suwannee River about a
mile to take the East Pass out to the Gulf, as it is windy and this
route is more protected. We saw 2 bald eagles on this route.

When
we cleared the river, a sudden fear came over me. I didn’t like the
feeling of nothing on my right side, so Ardie and I negotiated a
route that kept me within 2 miles on the left side. I soon calmed
down since I realized we were only in 3-5 feet of water. Ardie even
had to get out a few times to pull the boat back into the water.

We
had a tail wind and outgoing tide to push us 5-6 miles an hour most
of the way to Cedar Key. Ardie was using the kayak’s rudder to steer
and he set a 160 degree bearing towards Cedar Key. Our Top Spot Map
had been easy to follow, but I was still reconfirming each mile or so
with our GPS.

We
had paddled the 26 miles to Cedar Key by noon and took out our kayak
on a city beach. We needed a full day for our next leg across
Wasacassa Bay so we were killing time exploring Cedar Key. We planned
to camp on an island across from Cedar Key and get an early start.

There
were no more towns on our paddle along the coast and to reach
civilization we’d have to paddle up a river. So Journals will be
slower coming. We would have to journey up some rivers as we could
not filter salt water. We needed to make some time the next 2 days as
a storm was predicted by Monday and we may have to wait it out
wherever we camped.

March
18th continued. Cedar Key is the world’s largest producer of
commercially grown clams. Ardie tried them at Frog’s and said they
were great. Cedar Key was established as a lumber town, but now is an
artsy place with beach access. There were dolphins in the bay and
bald eagles on the island.

The
sky finally cleared and we got our first glimpse of sun since Monday
after lunch today. We decided to camp on Atsena Otie Key Island
across from Cedar Key. It was once the site of a pencil mill and 297
residents in the 1850s; now all that remains is a grave yard, hiking
trail and nature preserve. When the mill was wiped out by a
hurricane, the town couldn’t survive.

We
had some reservations about camping here as there are so many
raccoons on the island that they have worn out paths on the beach.
Their footprints were everywhere and we saw 5 before we set up camp
when we hiked the nature trails. There were hundreds of horse crab
shells along the beach and we wondered if the raccoons eat them.

We
had to wait until dark to set up our tent since Otie Key
“technically” closes at dark. It was high tide so we felt
comfortable setting up within 4 feet of the waterline. We could hear
raccoons walking the beach all night, but none came over to our kayak
or tent. The waves rocked us to sleep on the soft sand.

March
19th. When we woke it was low tide and the kayak and all our gear
were now about a quarter mile from the water. This was our first
experience with low tide. We knew we needed to hurry this morning as
today would be a tough, long day but just couldn’t get in gear and
didn’t leave the island until 8 AM.

It
was a beautiful clear morning. The wind was 5-10 miles an hour and we
were either riding the waves or fighting the waves all day. We could
see the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant as soon as we started out
this morning. It’s our target for the next two days.

More
dolphins greeted us. They seem oblivious to the kayak. We have seen
thousands of birds, including sea gulls, ospreys, bald eagles,
egrets, blue heron, pelicans, kingfisher, water turkeys, buzzards,
etc.

We
were kayaking across Wacassaca Bay which is 100% salt marsh. There
was no place you can get out of the boat. We had first planned to
camp on the Wacassaca River but there were no places at the mouth (20
miles from Cedar Key). Next we headed for the first public boat ramp
— Vassey Creek Boat Ramp. Our map said we could dock there, but 3
drunken cowboys said the Bonita Fishing Club now owned it and we
couldn’t camp there.

They
were a little scary and it was already dark so we left quickly (now
over 40 miles from Cedar Key). At about 7:30 PM, we came to Judd
Island which had 3 “No Trespassing” signs and battery
operated sidewalk lamps (which were lit). The wind was picking up so
we decided we had no choice but to trespass and hope that the owners
of Judd Island didn’t show up for some late night mullet fishing.

March
20th. I woke Ardie up at 5 AM because I couldn’t sleep and wanted to
depart the island before the owners could arrive. Unfortunately, it
was low tide again and we had to trudge the boat while sinking in mud
to get out in open water.

By
7 AM, we were at Port Inglis which we were originally planning to
camp at Sunday night (had we not had to paddle so late on Saturday).
As it was low tide, we had to walk our kayak into the boat ramp then
paddle up the Withalacoochee River a little ways. For our friends
that raced in C2C 2004, this was CP2/TA1. Guys driving big trucks
pulling big boats looked a little bewildered when we pulled into the
boat ramp.

We
took our time cooking rice & gravy and coffee. We also had a pack
of olives — they come in plastic baggies now — ideal for camping.
What you eat depends more on convenience than the time of day. I was
able to get cell phone coverage (for the first time in the trip) at
the park here and sent out my e-mail journals.

Next
we paddled up the river to pass back to the Gulf. There was a lot of
Sunday boat traffic and our kayak rocked as we paddled across the
waves. It was sunny and warm enough for us to go without our spray
shirts. Ah freedom from the cockpit. But with the sun came the biting
gnats and they were relentless. Ardie and I were now covered with bug
spray.

We
paddled past the cross-Florida barge canal and the intake canal for
the nuclear plant. Since we were ahead of schedule, we explored an
island and Ardie found two sand dollars — that makes 6 for my
collection this trip. There were also raccoons on this deserted
island and we wondered — how do they get fresh drinking water?

When
we left Suwannee the weather predictions were bleak for
Monday/Tuesday so we decided to paddle up the Crystal River to gather
more information (the Day’s Inn/Denny’s combo did help sway this
decision). Boat traffic was fierce through the channel up the river
and we were almost swamped a couple of times.

We
also watched a live episode of the boat version of “COPS”
as the Citrus County Sheriff’s Dept. pulled over a speeding boat
right in front of us. The paddle was a 7 mile one way detour but well
worth it as I sat typing from room 231 and it was starting to rain.

March
21st. We were up at 6 AM at the hotel. Weather forecasters were all
over the board with predictions of bad weather so we decided to take
the Nature Coast Canoe Trail instead of the Gulf today. It starts
just off the Crystal River and runs for 20 or so miles through a
series of creeks, bays and rivers. I called the guy at the Marine
Headquarters and he said the trail is passable even at low tide,
which is good as the tide was 0.0′ when we left.

The
canoe trail is well marked, somewhat shallow but beautiful through
salt marshes, grass flats and palm trees. There is very little boat
traffic through the canoe trail. It didn’t start raining until after
lunch, which we ate on the Homassassa River.

Just
as we reached the Chassahowitzka River, a storm came in fast.
Lightening, blowing wind and blinding rain. We made our way to an
island with a weekend getaway place on it. Two guys were there and
let us stand under their house.

When
the rain and wind eased up, we paddled about a mile up the river to a
rest area, which was our Oasis from the weather. It had a dock,
picnic shelter and port-a-pot AND a big no camping sign. Oh well, we
moved one of the picnic tables off into the grass flats and set up
the tent on the wooden deck lodging our tent pegs between the boards.
It was a good thing as we had several more storm bursts come through
during the night. We knew it was our last night for cooking so we had
both hot chocolate and mashed potatoes. Just enough fuel left for one
more heating.

March
22nd. Our last day started with sunshine but a strong northwest wind.
We were having to work for every inch. Our last 14 miles took us
through a series of islands. We were having to pick our route choices
to avoid grounding on oyster shells. We left a lot of white paint in
the Gulf that day.

When
we reach Pine Island we called Ardie’s Mom and told her to meet us at
Bay Port at 1 PM. It’s only 3-4 more miles. Bay Port was a welcome
site. We clapped paddles together to celebrate our trip. – The End

By
Ardie and Sherry Olson, Cumming, Georgia
From
The Eddy Line, May & June 2005