WHERE WERE YOU GUYS? Three people had called and said there would be six boats and ten people on this overnight canoe camping trip on Central Florida’s Withlacoochee River. I arrived at the appointed time, 10:00 a.m. at the Canoe Outpost in Nobelton. I waited an hour and no one showed up. Maybe the rain in Atlanta discouraged them. My brother had already folded because his girlfriend was in town. Should I go back home? What about the GCA three canoe rule? I’ve never paddled by myself. Could I manage a sixteen mile trek alone? I had to find out.
Obviously this was now a non-sanctioned GCA trip. The outfitter dropped me off at SR 50 right at 12:00 p.m. and I loaded up. I was off in a matter of minutes. Boy was it ever hot! I had plenty of water and soft drinks, so thirst wasn’t a problem. I had brought a lunchable, but opted to enjoy some turkey jerky that I got at R.E.I. That way I could eat and keep paddling. A kingfisher played in front of me as I continued downstream. It was the first time I had seen one actually catch a fish and fly to a branch to consume it and then quickly return to catch another.
I had no idea how to time myself, as I hadn’t done this solo bit before. I inquired of some people fishing on the bank how much further it was to the River Junction camping area. One said, “four hours,” another said, ” more than two more miles.” I decided that it really didn’t matter. However, I was relieved when I arrived at the campground at 3:00 p.m.
I beached my canoe and walked through the campground to look for a site. The canal behind the campsites was blocked by a fallen tree. I decided to paddle back up river to find an entrance above the campground. There wasn’t one. I returned to the fallen tree to study if it was at all passable. The thought of making multiple long trips to carry gear is strong motivation.
I figured I could sneak through some branches. It took some maneuvering but I managed to get through with only a boat full of debris from the tree. It sure beat carrying gear the extra distance. The only problem was that I had to walk through another campsite from the boat to get to mine. After the third trip back and forth a camper ask me, “How big is that boat your in?”
Faced with setting up camp, I looked around for my stove and cooking utensils. I had left them in my car. What to do? I had a salad, cut-up cantaloupe, a bagel and lunchable, plus a bag of “Tootsie Pops” I had intended to share with my paddling partners. I opted to fashion a branch into fork tines and ate the salad for dinner.
With a full moon and a sky full of stars I walked down the pathway to the entrance to Silver Lake. As I walked the path I encountered a couple who warned me of their kids who were in the woods waiting to scare them in the dark. They missed scaring their parents, but I nearly jumped out of my sandals when they sprang from the dark into the path. I returned to camp and went to sleep with the moon shining through the top of my tent.
When I arose the next morning I was determined to get out of there early so that I could paddle in the cool of the morning. I put in at 8:00 a.m. and entered the transition from the river to the lake, marked by a dead tree that was the roost for about 22 buzzards. Silver Lake is a lazy one-half mile trek, then under I-75 to return to the river.
The river soon becomes covered by an archway of cypress trees with knees on both banks. It’s actually quite dark in there, resulting in a scare when you round a 260 degree curve and see a sand hill crane or wood ibis. I only saw a few turtles, but I heard a bunch drop from downed trees as I came near. Hawks are abundant throughout the river.
As I neared the first sign of civilization, a house, I knew I had about 40 minutes left to paddle to the take-out at the outpost. They’re real nice people. They washed out my canoe and helped me load it. The Nobleton Canoe Outpost shuttles you for $15.00 and provides a secure parking area. Their phone number is 352-796-4343.
By the way. Who needs an “AB Shaper”? I lost about a half inch of my waist on the left side. Must be some type of repetitive motion syndrome.
by Morris Friedman
September 28-29, 1996