Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rest of the Kingsley Story

Another home of the same period, Orange Hall, c.1829, one of the
best examples of antebellum Greek architecture, located in nearby
St. Mary's City, GA.
The tour of the Kingsley Plantation cannot help but bring one around to a closely related subject.  Slavery was a complicated social system that is in no way honestly portrayed by today’s habit of painting such things with a plain, broad brush that is supposed to cover everything with a single stroke.  For example, Zephaniah was a merchant, planter, and a slave trader.  As a slave trader, while in Havana in 1806, he purchased a teenaged African princess from Senegal, whose name you will find written either as Anta Majigeen Nadiaye or Anna Madgigene Jai.  He gave her her freedom and married her in 1811.  That she was both intelligent and capable is evidenced by him making her co-manager of his plantation operations, and also their financial dealings, while he conducted other businesses.  To procure her own financial standing, the newly freed Anna purchased her own slaves.  Zephaniah, meanwhile, went from slave trader to one of the strongest advocates for protecting the civil and property rights of freed slaves, including trying to draft legislation to that end. 

Spanish society was very lenient and open on the subject of race relations.  When Florida was annexed into the U.S. in 1821, the new Florida territory agreed to respect the rights of freed slaves, but instead quickly began enacting harsh laws designed to severely restrict the rights of all persons of color.  By 1832, Zephaniah became so embittered, and so fearful for what might be the future of his wife and children on his death, he began searching for a place to move his family.  By 1837, this had been accomplished, and his wife, two sons, and 50 of his freed slaves were relocated to Haiti.  Their two daughters remained in Jacksonville and married white men of wealth.  Slaves that did not wish to move were allowed to buy their freedom at one-half their value, and were assured they could join his family at any time if they felt conditions in Florida became intolerable.   He prepared a very detailed and carefully worded will to protect their assets, but as soon as he died, other family members began a long series of attacks protesting the will until little of their lives’ work was left.  The most aggressive attackers of the will were Martha McNeill, Zephaniah’s sister, and her daughter, Anna McNeill Whistler.  An interesting footnote on history is Anna McNeill Whistler is known to all as the subject of the portrait “Whistler’s Mother”, being the mother of her artist son, James Abbott McNeill.  After the battle ended, Kingsley’s wife and family received a total of a mere $2,000 as their inheritance from all the considerable holdings in North Florida.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

Credit: petparrotsweb.com

This is another bird, but a good illustration of our green cheek conure, Cricket.  Jean started hand-feeding him the day after he was hatched, so she's quite emotionally attached to the little demon.  I feel bad for her, because of that, when he starts on yet another caper.  He's an extremely intelligent bird with a penchant for the devious and destructive.  In other words, he's too smart for his own good.  I call him Shoebox, which Jean doesn't appreciate, for what should be his next home--any time now.  Yesterday morning, within a couple minutes of when we set them out for the day, he ate the clothespin off his door, opened it, and let himself out.  We spent the entire day watching him flit from tree to tree, and became more sure as time passed, that we weren't getting him back.  The only light moment was when he tried some of the local cuisine, some green and barely formed cherries.  They must have really been sour, because they made him shudder from head to tail as he shook his head and spit them out.  He sat through a thunderstorm that passed along toward evening, but as it started to get dark, he began getting really hungry.  He came down and landed on Jean's leg as she stood holding his food dish.  She picked him up without any protest, and finally got him back in his cage.  All we had besides clothespins was some cord, so we tied the doors shut with that last night and again this morning, and within 15 minutes he had cut it off, so Jean sat by the cage while I went out looking for maleable wire to wire the doors shut.  Have you ever noticed that the one thing you need is the only thing the stores don't carry when you need it?  The doors have been secured, but he's out there now chewing on the wire. 

Little Talbot Island Paddle

Gus (L) and Dan at Huguenot Park
At Gus Bianchi’s instigation, Gus, Dan Makley, and I met at the campground ramp at Little Talbot Island State Park and launched our boats from there.  We paddled south through Myrtle Creek, Simpson Creek, under A1A (Heckscher Blvd.) to Huguenot State Park, north of Jacksonville.  There we landed for a rest and to wait for the current to go slack, while we had a snack and commiserated with a poor soul who had buried his car in the sand.  We gave a shove, but the car’s frame was now on the sand, and it was going to take a tow to get him moving.
Substantial digging had been done around and under the front of
the car.  It was in worse shape than the picture suggests.
Dan poses for photo-op.  No bikini-clad beauties were available.
Leaving there, we turned up Fort George River for a stop at the Kingsley Plantation, the oldest  surviving plantation home in Florida.  Zephaniah Kingsley obtained huge Spanish land grants in Northern Florida that became independent plantations specializing in various crops. Kingsley Plantation, at 1,000 acres and dating from 1798, was his primary home, but he and his wife also operated plantations that became local settlements in the Jacksonville area, such as Mandarin Plantation, Laurel Grove Plantation, which became Orange Park, Ashley and San Jose Plantations on the St. Johns River, and White Oak Plantation on the St. Mary’s River.

We pulled our boats onto a small beach a bit short of the plantation and walked up, as small riprap made it impossible to land directly in front of the home.  Our first discovery was of a gopher tortoise head-first in its hole and roped off to prevent passers-by from disturbing it.  We’d later see a second, but it was out sunning itself.  Being endangered, I’ve added pictures of both to give them their due.
We then visited the tabby barn, walked over to the kitchen garden, and walked around the house.  As you can see, it was customary for the kitchens to be separated from the house to keep from adding the heat, disruption, and most importantly, the risk of fire to the home.  The kitchen, also built of tabby, was fully laid out as if we had just arrived in time for lunch.  Once prepared, meals were carried to the house to be served. 

Kitchen in foreground, connected to house by covered walkway.  This
was also a meeting area and where they cleaned cotton and did other
similar tasks.
A double fireplace and chimney in the center allowed for two kitchens,
one on either side.

The house is fragile, being over two-centuries old, and has been closed for some time, but work is underway to strengthen and refurbish it.  Presently the house is empty of furnishings, and guided tours are possible only by reservation on weekends.  Even with scaffolds and construction crews around it, it is an amazing piece of history to see.

As an illustration of period design, notice that the bedrooms are on
the corners of the house and protruded so there are windows on at least
three walls of the bedroom for cross-ventilation.

We returned to our boats for a short slog against both a strong current and a building wind. Of course there’s a large area of subjectivity here according to who’s defining the strength of the wind and the length of the slog.   If you want to see the handling differences between canoes and kayaks, these are the conditions under which you want to make the comparison.  Gus and Dan paddled slowly against the wind and current, slowly but steadily pulling away from me, while I swung my 280cm. double solo canoe paddle as fast as a whirligig in a gale.

By the time we returned to the ramp at Little Talbot Island, we had only paddled 8.9 miles according to Google Earth, but had enjoyed a pleasant morning and afternoon on Florida waters, and shared our common interest.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tornado At Home

An EF-3 tornado damaged the water system in our home town, and destroyed the camping and recreational facilities at the local lake we use, as well as destroying homes in both Canton and Longdale.  The tornado cut a path up to 880 yds. wide and nine miles long.  Cars were found in the lake, and while fatalities are expected, the loss is unknown at this time. (Photo credit: Enid News)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tabby Sugar Mill

Jean did a pretty exhaustive history of North Florida, yet unpublished, and one of the historical figures that interested her was John Houston McIntosh.  He was born here in what is now McIntosh Co., GA, in 1773, and settled in East Florida as a young man.  He was the first to try to get Florida annexed into the United States during the War of 1812, to wrestle it away from Spain.  When his plan was crushed by the Spanish government, he returned to Georgia to start sugar cane cultivation on two plantations.   His sugar mill is just a couple miles from Crooked River State Park, so we made a visit this morning.  It is reported to be the largest tabby structure in the Southeastern United States, if not the entire country, and employed the first horizontal cane mill in the country powered by cattle.

The mill is 75 by 120 feet, and was two storied.  The ground level was divided into three large sections, and the west end is the grinding room, with many small windows for ventilation.  The middle section held the four large vats in the boiling room.  Outside of its wall are large square columns that supported the two large porch roofs.  As you look at the front of the mill, the
porch on the left held fire wood needed to keep the boiling vats going, and the one on the right held the cistern to hold the substantial quantities of needed water.  Cattle were led onto ramps from low wide openings in the base of the walls, and led up to the second floor where they powered the mill. 

This is looking from the curing room, through the boiling room
and into the milling room.  It clearly shows where the wood
pins were used to hold the form boards in place, and you can
even make out the different pouring layers.

Cane juice flowed through a gutter from the milling room into the boiling room.  The first vat it went into was the clarifier, where sediment settled from the juice.  It then was transferred to the boiling vat and reduced to granulating syrup, and then poured into the third vat, the cooling vat.  Finally it was placed in hogsheads (barrels) and moved to the east room.  The partial walls built in that room helped to support the tremendous weight of the stored barrels.  After curing in the barrels, it was poured on a sloping floor where the molasses separated from the granules and both were captured separately.
The curing room had hip walls to divide the room into thirds
and bear the massive weight of the stored barrels.  Pockets for
floor joists and a center bearing beam can be seen in the walls.
There are a half-dozen square columns that supported the
porch roofs on either side of the boiling room.  One side for
wood storage, the other side (shown here) for the water cistern.
The milling room was on the second floor.   Cane was undoubtedly
moved in and out on the ground floor, cattle were brought in and
taken up ramps to the milling floor, and the numerous tall windows
allowed ventilation from what had to be dusty work.
The tabby wall.

As for tabby, it is a story that started about 1,200 years ago.  Timucuan, Guale, and Mocama Indians accumulated huge oyster shell mounds or middens over the centuries.  Many Florida roads were built using the shells for road base material.  The shell was mixed with equal quantities of sand, lime and water to make a mortar called tabby.  Boards were set horizontally along the top of the previous pour and held in place by wood pegs.  After the mortar was packed and hardened, the boards were moved up for the next pour, and about two layers could be done per week.  When finished, since the tabby was very porous, the entire building was covered with stucco to make it waterproof.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cumberland Island, GA

One of the saving graces of the last two days was the incident Jean mentioned at the launch ramp.  Several canoes and double kayaks came in paddled by several twenty-somethings.  A couple climbed out of their boat and collapsed on the ramp, after paddling with a fair current for four hours.  I was starting out down river against the last two hours of a flood current so I could make a fair current in the Brickhill River and get into Brickhill Bluffs before dead low tide.  I left the Crooked River State Park ramp at 12:30, entered the Brickhill at 3 pm.  Two sailboats were anchored inside the mouth of the river, one from Kotzebue, Alaska, the other from Pittsburgh, PA.  The Cumberland Lady, a headboat being used as a ferry to take people to Cumberland Island, was waiting for people to board from the Plum Orchard Mansion for the return to St. Mary’s.  Plum Orchard is still occupied by members of the Carnegie family, but is open to the public on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

I arrived at Brickhill primitive camp site at 5 pm.  By the time I got in, my back wasn’t feeling too bad, but my right shoulder was killing me.  It was going to be a two-Advil night.  The paddle was neither more nor less than you’d expect, but the Brickhill was about to teach me a lesson.  I went first to the GPS position given for the camp, but it was all mud, seemed to have no clearing, and appeared less favorable than a couple positions only a few yards south, so I turned and paddled up current to a likely spot.  It was mid-tide, and every step had me sinking ankle-deep in sucking mud.  Leaving a shoe behind, I’d then have to reinsert a foot in the hole to find the shoe and pull it out.  Most of the gear had to be transferred ashore from the mud until the canoe was light enough to pull further up the shore.  At one point, while fishing for my shoe, I lost my balance, and my foot came down on the sharp edge of an oyster.  Expecting to find my shoe full of blood, I chose to ignore it until I got the work done.  I later used some drinking water to clean my right foot well enough to find that it was well scraped, but not cut.
The second section of shore was made up of thousands of fiddler crabs and sinking sand.  I’d step on sand, expecting it to be firm, only to have my foot sink six-inches in the soft under-layer.  The third section was the bluff, or eight-foot high cliffs.  Since the flood tide came all the way to the base of the bluffs, there was no possibility of leaving anything on the shore, so boat and all, it had to be thrown, shoved, and slid up onto the edge of the bluff.  Once I found a place to scale the cliff, everything had to be moved a fourth time to get everything away from the edge.  By the time I was done, I was exhausted, my shoulder complained of every movement, and my knees were joining in the chorus, but I still needed a couple hours to set up camp, prepare dinner, clean up, and try to find a way to wash.  The map showed a water pipe a short distance north of the site, but a three-quarter mile search revealed nothing, and a quarter mile in the other direction was just as fruitless.  I would have loved to remove some of the mud spread half-way to my knees and filling my shoes, but it was not to be.  The island, though, is beautiful, with thousands of live oaks strung with Spanish moss, and the sunlight filtering through the trees.

There is a population of about 200 wild horses on the island.  They are not fed, watered, or given veterinary care, but seem to maintain a stable population in their natural state.  I saw a few standing in the shade of some palms as I paddled along the shore, and a very pregnant mare came to visit while I was having breakfast.  As long as I didn’t try to get too close, she seemed quite unconcerned.

It’s easy to see how Mother Nature eats away at the island, as is evident by the way this huge pine was left standing on its roots.  It even tried to send roots ashore, but it was undoubtedly the salt water that finally did it in.  The crown, or base of the trunk, shows where solid earth used to be.

As I paddled down the Crooked River, I met this unusual barge being pushed by a pleasure boat.  A fisherman on the shore told me this bizarre arrangement with moving vans comes in twice a week this way.

Now to the serving of crow.  I was willing and ready to tackle a large project, my body was not.  It has let me know in no uncertain terms that I’m asking more of it than it can deliver.  The realization is humiliating, disappointing, and a bit depressing.  Some will undoubtedly ask why I’d tackle such a huge undertaking as the Paddle-to-the-Sea without some more experience under my belt, and the answer is simple.  At some point in life, most will face the reality that their chances to fulfill their dreams are slipping through their fingers, never to return in this lifetime.  The choice becomes one of accepting the challenge and giving it a go, or rolling over and admitting that life is marching on without you.  You may call it my Walter Mitty moment, but I was determined to invest the time and money to take my shot.  I did, and while I’m disappointed in the outcome, I have no regrets for the attempt.  The Paddle-to-the-Sea is still out there, but it will take someone twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years younger than me to pull it off.  My reality is I’m a recreational paddler, and I’ll have to leave the long-distance, endurance trips to the Jakes, Freyas, Verlens, Warrens, and other such luminaries of the world.  The attempt has given me the chance to meet some great people, see some interesting sites, and enjoy nature on its terms.  My deepest appreciation will forever be for those who encouraged and supported me, and were willing to share in the effort.  Thank you.

So, my situation was this.  My body was already complaining.  A second, third, fourth, or fifth day would just see it in a steady state of decline while I got into more remote areas where few roads would reach where I might be, and even fewer maps show where they are.  There was a hard decision to be made.  The morning saw me loading and paddling back the way I had come.  When I arrived back at Crooked River State Park, Jean said she was so happy I had turned back.  She has been having problems with her left wrist that has been causing excruciating pain, and while she didn’t want to say anything, she had doubts about her ability to continue handling the 80-pound tow assembly and torsion bars to hitch and unhitch the RV.  How romantic is that?  Becoming decrepit together.  Whoever utters the words, “I would love for us to grow old together,” should be shot through the head and left for the birds and ants to clean their bones.  Those have to be some of the stupidest words in our language.

There’s a valuable lesson here for those with no desire to repeat my errors.  This comes as a repeat of a post from March 21. Some of the saddest words I’ve ever heard (perhaps when I was saying them) were, “When I retire, I’m going to…..” If you hear yourself uttering these words, you might as well forget about retiring and plan on working until they carry you out of your cubicle. Retirement plans are hollow. Retirement almost never meets your expectations or plans. If you don’t find a way now to fill the deepest voids of your soul, you never will. Retirement should be nothing more than a continuation of what you’re already doing. The problem with planning for tomorrow is that it is like the carrot in front of the donkey. No matter how fast you run, it will always be tomorrow. As Lin and Larry Pardey wrote: “Go small. Go cheap. Go now!” They have lived their lives doing what they love, and what gives their lives meaning, and figured it out as they went along. They are like gods to sailors around the world. Why? Because they are only .00001% of the population with the guts to actually live their dreams. When your joints and muscles are no longer fit to carry you where you want to go, do you want to measure your life by how much you own, by how many check stubs are in the ledger, or by the dreams you’ve fulfilled and the experiences you’ve had? The greatest question to ponder, and the only one worth pondering, is whether we own our lives, or our lives own us.”  I realize we all have bills to pay and families to support, but I waited too long.  Don’t make the same mistake.  Construct a plan that allows you to do what matters now!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Whole New Ballgame

Jim left the boat ramp at Crooked River State Park, just north of St. Marys, GA at noon today.  Must admit I was concerned for him when I saw the amount of effort it took to paddle into the incoming tidal current.  It was about and hour and a half before slack water at high tide,  and he had to really work to make headway against that flow.  Just about two miles east of us, at the junction of the ICW, on the western side of Cumberland Island, the current splits, flowing both north and south.  Jim was able then to make much better time and distance over the ground, going north to Brickhill Bluff on that island.  The National Park Service maintains a primitive camp site there for those brave enough to kayak or canoe these waters.  As Jim was leaving the boat ramp here at noon, a group of about 8 double kayaks came into the ramp after a 4-hour paddle with the incoming current.  They were exhausted but excited to have made the trip.  I'm sure Jim is feeling the same way this beautiful night.  I've been watching wildlife all around our camp site.  There are numerous birds of all descriptions and we have a resident squirrel family which loves to investigate my birds' cages, hoping no doubt for some snack food.  One half-grown squirrel got brave enough to climb onto Cricket's cage and almost lost a toe when Cricket (*my green cheek conure) objected to the four-footed company. Four of our own birds are traveling with us on this journey, and they've adapted well.  They seem to attract wild birds to our site.   We've spied a summer tanager twice and a family of eastern bluebirds, lots of egrets, herons and ospreys.  There are also many tortoises living here - making their slow way through the park, munching on the greenery. Our two kitties like watching the birds too, from inside the travel trailer, but they don't know what to make of the tortoises.  Abby escaped one night while we were still at the Wakulla County, Newport Campground.  She was glad to be retrieved from the possum hole in the bottom of a large pine tree after what to her was a harrowing night "on the town."  Now she won't even go near the door!    I was relieved at 5:22 (or 1722 hours) today when Jim's SPOT message came in that he was safely ashore at Lat 30.89629, Long 81.44464.     Guess AT&T doesn't cover the island out there very well.  The ranger told us that Jim would have to climb the bluff to get any reception and that probably isn't going to happen after a long day of paddling.  Tomorrow he'll be heading across the Satilla River and then toward  Dover Bluff.  We send a hearty salute to all of you and wish you a good night.   Jean and Jim

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Crooked River and St. Mary's

We went down to St. Mary’s today to register for the two campsites on Cumberland Island, Sea Camp and Brickhill.  The ranger convinced me that I should start from Crooked River, since we’re already here.  The Sea Camp requires a landing on the west shore, and a portage across the island to the ocean side.  The boat must be left on the one side of the island, but at least a cart is provided to carry all the gear across the island.  At Brickhill, on the other hand, you simply pull out on the shore and camp right there.  This should mean a departure about noon tomorrow.  I’ll fight the current a couple hours, but then should find a fair current the rest of the way.
Piper tries to get a feel for the twisted channels
and cuts of the Georgia Coast.

Crooked River is a beautiful park which is well maintained, well laid out, and has a pleasant and helpful staff.  There are many trails for walking, biking, a nature education center, cottages, and sites for RV and primitive camping.

We walked around St. Mary’s, visited the National Park Service museum, made the obligatory  stop at the ice cream shop for double dips of rum raisin and black cherry in waffle cones, and drove around town admiring the historical-register homes from the mid-1800’s.  An added benefit was the 40-cent drop in the price of gas here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On The Georgia Coast

Sorry for being out of touch the last couple days.  We’ve been in an AT&T zero-G service area---no phone or air card access.  The lull, however, gave us the chance to visit two close friends we hadn't seen in about four years, Dave and Margie Hawkins, south of St. Augustine.   After leaving Newport, we stopped in Perry for a presentation to about thirty members of the Perry Rotary Club.  They held their meeting at the Rosehead Junction, at Jefferson and Green Streets.  They were all great folks, and if you want a nice buffet lunch, I posted a position on the SPOT map Tuesday to show club members how the SPOT works, and it gives you the exact location.
L-R, Debbie Bassett, of Capitol City Bank, Club President
and Jean and myself at the Rosehead Junction.

On Thursday, I did a previously scheduled phone interview with Radio 1620 in Pensacola.  If you’ve never done a live radio or television interview before, it is the ultimate “quickie”; three minutes and you’re on and gone.

I was lucky enough to speak with Danny Grissette at Altamaha Coastal Tours in Darien.  He was most gracious about taking the time to walk me up the coastal waters and point out a number of possible stopping locations.  Even while pointing out the ones that are illegal or restricted in usage, he still added a lot of possibilities that made me feel a lot more positive about this stretch of water.  He added that the Georgia Paddling Trail is new, and while it doesn’t have many camping sites, efforts are ongoing to make agreements with property owners that will add more.
Meanwhile, Michael, from Southeast Adventure Outfitters at Brunswick and on St. Simons Island, also responded with added positions for rest stops and campsites.  He even posted his on a Google Earth map.  Check his filming site below for some great pictures of the area. 
While all too many people are in business just to make money, there are still the few sterling examples of those who really work to benefit the community they serve, in this case, the paddling community.  If you wish to take a tour on the Georgia Coast, both of these gentlemen have shown they are willing to go the extra mile for you.  My sincere thanks to them both.
We are now at Crooked River State Park, just north of St. Mary’s, GA, and will launch from the town ramp there tomorrow for the start north.  This will save the balance of Florida until winter when conditions are more favorable and safer.  The object now is to get north ahead of what is predicted to be an active hurricane season. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Group Paddle on the Wakulla

Two joined me for a paddle of the Wakulla River on Sunday.  Fred Borg came over from Panama City, and we were joined by Doug Alderson, who is Florida’s Paddling Trails Coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails.  Doug is a talented and engaging writer with eight books to his credit as a naturalist, as well as dozens of magazine articles for a wide range of publications. Doug has been a great resource for support and information since we started researching the Florida Coasts, and it was great to have the opportunity to meet and paddle with him.  See dougalderson.net.  We had found one of Doug’s books, Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida’s Big Bend Coast, so besides getting information about a part of the coast of obvious interest to us, we were able to have him autograph it for us.
Doug Alderson
We started with a vehicle shuttle, and put in at the North Bridge, which is also where a large fence shuts off the river to prevent water access to Wakulla Springs State Park.  That gave us the current to ride all the way south to the junction with the St. Mark’s River at the city of St. Mark’s.  The weather was bad yesterday, and beautiful today, plus it was a Sunday, so as I told Fred, we can say we enjoyed the beautiful river, and so did the other 300 people we met.  There is a canoe livery at the US Rt. 98 (Coastal Highway) bridge, and all the rented canoes have to paddle north, so once we passed the bridge, the crowd thinned out to almost nothing.  The total distance was 6.7 miles.  It was just a nice, leisurely day on the water.
 Fred (left) and Doug on the Wakulla

Home of the Keebler elves.  Taken at site of the
Battle of Natural Bridge.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Doing Georgia

To keep everyone in the loop, here’s what is being worked on for the next couple weeks.  We are working on the Wakulla and St. Mark’s Rivers today and tomorrow.  We are scheduled to do a program for the Rotary Club in Perry, FL, on Tuesday for benefit of Save The Children, and will then make a stop in St. John’s Co.  We'll make a break from the Florida loop until next winter, when we return to complete the Florida peninsula.  We had hoped to be on the water here by no later than 15 January, but were a couple months late getting started due to problems beyond our control.  The best times to do Florida waters are from late fall, after the hurricane threat has diminished, through winter.  Not only is the climate better, but problems with wildlife, bugs, and excessive heat and humidity are also less.  So, we will start our trip up the East Coast from the City of St. Mary’s, GA, and finish Florida later.  
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom near St. Mark's Lighthouse.

There’s little information on real haulout camping sites along the Georgia paddling trail.  They vary from Cumberland Island, where campsites are up to a mile and a half inland, to parks several miles up branch tributaries off the main route.  That means up to eight miles of extra paddling or over 12 miles of portaging per day just to find a spot to sleep.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’d think anyone would know that’s not going to fly when you are trying to make miles in one direction, so I’d welcome any information any of you may have on stopping locations through Georgia.  They would be easiest to find if they were referenced to GPS positions or the mileposts plotted on the Georgia paddling trail maps found on line.  Any help there would be appreciated, and the company of anyone who’d like to come out and paddle with me would be welcome as well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

St. Mark's River

Paul and I were on the river next to the Newport Campground by 9:30, and continued upstream until a mile or so short of where the river goes underground into the aquifer at a place called The Rise.  The round trip was 10.4 miles.  We never saw anyone else on the river until on our return, and best of all, the only trash I saw was one plastic water bottle.  It’s probably the cleanest, prettiest and most natural river I’ve come across yet.  The health of the river was evidenced by thick beds of various grasses, clean sandy bottom, and a lot of fish of all sizes.  As a point of reference for those not familiar with it, Newport and Wakulla are due south of Tallahassee, Florida.
Paul in his new angler's edition of the Old Town Pack

Paul’s wife, Margaret, arrived about 2pm, and they introduced us to several local sights, including Wakulla Beach and the town of St. Mark’s.  We later had an early dinner at the Riverside CafĂ© in St. Mark’s.
Paul and Margaret at the Riverside Cafe, St. Mark's

The evidence of hurricanes along the coast is endless.  At Wakulla Beach we saw what was called the Third Wakulla Hotel, where the hurricane of September, 1928, left nothing but a foundation and several concrete columns.  Besides historical storms, the Gulf Coast also feels the effects of the gas prices, general economy, and the oil spill as exhibited by mostly empty campgrounds, closed businesses, and the absence of the crowds you’d expect this time of year.

Nothing left of the hotel but foundation and pieces of fluted columns.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Woohoo!  We got the radio today.  The replacement is installed and working great.  We got it on day NINE of the assured 3-5 day priority mail delivery.  Now, the rest of the story.  I’ve been at the post office window every day for the last five days looking for this parcel.  The parcel, meanwhile, was sitting quietly on the shelf in the post office since it had been checked in on the 4th.  There had been no attempt to deliver it, and they couldn’t find it until today, even though I was there asking for it in person---every day.  We’ve lost nearly a week out of our primary objectives due to this blunder.  Remember the pony express, when men would go out, come rain, snow, or dark of night, and bet their lives on getting the mail through?

We will get everything ready today to pull out early in the morning for the move to Wakulla to see how much paddling we can get done there.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Still Nothing

Nope, the radio failed to make an appearance again today---day eight of the 3-5 day priority delivery.  Yes, I know.  It should have been insured, signature required, have a tracking number, and all that, but there’s just something that rubs my fur the wrong way when someone wants me to pay extra to insure they do what they’re already getting paid to do.  The whole world has gone crazy.  It’s like when I went in for an eye exam.  The doctor could only examine one eye.  I’d have to make another  appointment to return so he could check the other eye.  I mean, I brought the two in together, and they sit right next to each other.

Well, I needed to get back on the water, if just to keep my muscles and joints working.  After haunting the post office and lunch, I threw Ibi overboard for a ten-mile paddle back down the Escambia.  It was a nice run, and I even took a few pictures for you.

I spent a good while trying to identify these for you.  The first is pickerel weed.   I couldn’t identify the second one.  Does anyone have an idea?   It has a white pentagon face with long feathers that extend from each point of the pentagon.
I was rounding one sharp bend and looked up to see the bow of a barge coming around in the opposite direction.    He would join this one, which was tied along the bank.
I’ve passed this cypress several times, and admired it each time.  I finally paused for a picture, but I fear it doesn’t do it justice.  Cypress often look spindly, but this is a healthy, mature tree full of feathery foliage from top to bottom.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

In a Holding Pattern

It’s clear paddling trips often involve things with absolutely nothing to do with paddling.  We made two trips to the post office and sat at the mailbox the best part of an hour waiting for the carrier, but still no radio, even though the delivery of the parcel mailed six days ago was a priority.  I learned long ago that it matters little how much importance you place on your affairs in any transaction, or how much money you invest in them.  What matters most is the sense of duty and commitment felt by the person you are investing your business with.  If something isn’t being completed as agreed, and you protest that it was understood to be a priority, watch the response.  If the words and countenance convey a “Yeah?  So?” attitude, your trust and money have been poorly spent.  This is the actual conversation I had with a clerk at our local post office when trying to decide how to send a parcel.  I asked, “How long would it take regular mail to reach that address?”  Answer—“Three to five days.”  “Okay, how long would it take if I paid for priority mail?”  Answer—“Three to five days.”   Now, to be open  and honest, I have to admit a certain simplemindedness  when it comes to the complex affairs of international trade, so I had to ask what appeared to me to be the obvious question.  “If the service time is the same, what’s the difference between regular mail and priority mail?”  Answer—“We charge more for priority mail.”  So here we sit to see what Monday brings.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Priority Is A Relative Term

We're waiting on the postal service.  We had two items mailed to us priority mail---our bills in one parcel, and a replacement radio in the other.  The one I wasn't really anxious to get, we received.  The one we needed, we didn't.  Both were mailed at the same time, but the post office says they are handled differently.  I'll try again tomorrow, but if it doesn't come again, we're stuck until Monday.  Once it gets here, we'll move east.  The hope was to put back in at Panama City and continue east.  We have to be in Wakulla on the 11th, so we'll have to see how much time is left when the radio gets here.

A Few Pictures

I did get a few pictures I can share.
While taking a breather in a protected cove, I couldn't take my eyes off these.  I already knew pretty much everyone in the developed world had more money than me, but Wow, this is absurd.

At the foot of a Chocktawhatchee Bay bridge is this boat storage building.  It is huge---undoubtedly large enough to contain six football fields, and covered completely in scenes of the ocean and whales.

This was my late evening camp site in the ICW near West Bay Creek.  This is where the alligator ran into the water right in front of my tent.

Probably of more immediate concern than the alligator was that the entire spoil flat was covered with long-spine cacti.  I really had to watch where I walked in my open Crocs.

Fred Borg and I, with Ibi loaded on the pickup, in front of his home in Panama City.  Fred's a really great host and paddling friend.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Man in the Arena

Your blog post today, and your current hardships, reminded me of the 'Man in the Arena' speech by Teddy Roodevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
You are certainly in the arena!!! Keep it up. We're praying for fair winds.
All right.  That's an e.mail from my son.  I'm sure he won't mind me sharing it with you.  Thanks, son, I needed that.

What I've Learned To Date

There’s general agreement between Mark Twain and several that have given suggestions about doing a blog that what most people find interesting is not great moments and accomplishments, but what people are thinking, feeling, and enduring at the moment.  So, at kind of a turning point, here’s what I’ve learned so far.  Caution: you may want young children to leave the room.

First, you’ve heard the expression that ‘age is just a number’.  What a crock!  That’s right up there with sixty is the new forty, pedophiles are most experienced with children and make the best babysitters, there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and so on.  It’s a number that can be ignored just as the IRS will condone you ignoring April 15th.  It’s true that you can still do most things, but paddling 20 miles a day is one thing, doing it again the next day is fine, but getting up and doing it every morning, day after day, is where reality catches up.   The body takes time to recover, and at near 70, it doesn’t recover like it used to.  A good night’s sleep is no longer the cure-all.  Even a good night’s sleep is elusive. (To be read---darned near impossible.) The body goes into a state of decline, and not all that gradually.  Aches don’t go away; wounds don’t heal; you awake in the morning to find you can’t make a fist or grip the paddle, a problem I hear others share; and the wrench in the right lower back keeps giving you a shot of pain.  While I’ve personally seen octogenarians running marathons, they are rare and usually come from a long history of experience and training.  That brings up another truth.

I entered this ill prepared.  Unless one can find a gym with a paddling machine, there’s no similar physical activity to prepare one for endurance paddling except a lot of paddling, and I’ve shown you pictures of what are labeled ‘rivers’ in Western Oklahoma.  I was honest with everyone about my training level, and said it would be an on-the-job training opportunity.  Where I was most ill-prepared was in facing the unending, inescapable, demon wind.  By all accounts, this has been an exceptionally windy spring.  Even the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, where you’ll find some of the most hardcore paddling athletes, found much of their fleet blown away this year.  There has not been a single day that I was not paddling head-long into winds in the mid-teens or more.  Even when I was in the ditch, the

winds funneled through at about 10 mph.  I have almost no pictures from the trip, because pausing to take a picture was of the lowest priority.  Even stopping to eat and drink was costly.  The bow would immediately blow off of the wind and I’d go sliding downwind like I was on ice.  Scenery I had worked hard to gain would blow past, and there was no cure but to drop what I was doing, pick up the paddle, and slog it out again.  It was unrelenting and demoralizing, not to mention often painful.  Except for the times I had the pleasure of company from Jim Parker and Fred Borg, I can honestly say I’ve not enjoyed a single day of it to date.  Most of the time I didn’t even see the passing landscape; my sights were only on the next point, or house on the opposite shore I was paddling toward in hopes of finding a lee.  It was a constant game of meeting the elements, watching for approaching breaking waves, watching the size of the bow wave to make sure I kept the pace up, and trying to blink the salt and sunscreen out of my eyes. But, I can tell you unequivocally what I have gained.  While I started with the deepest respect and admiration for the accomplishments of Jake, Verlen and the Kruger Team, and the WaterTribe athletes, after trying to paddle even these few miles in their wake, my admiration has grown exponentially beyond all bounds.

What does this all mean?  Well, it means I still have a lot to learn.  Am I giving up?  No, but it means my chances at being a long-distance endurance paddler are probably somewhere behind me. It means I will keep paddling, building miles, and working to generate some funds for the good work of Save The Children, but I won’t obsess over skipping one area that is dangerous or grueling in search of one a few miles further along that I may find some pleasure in.  I found it interesting that after discussing these revelations openly, I found responses from experienced paddlers with local knowledge that went like this, “We didn’t want to say anything, but that’s the right decision.  This is a dangerous and deadly coast.  Single paddlers, especially canoeists, have no business out there alone.  Two experienced kayakers were lost on that coast last year”.

Jean has done a great job of keeping you up-to-date, but I can add a few notes.  One, the total so far is 167.6 miles.  The fact that I go right to the mileage total reveals my obsessive-compulsive nature.  I’ve  had no personal encounters, and don’t seek one, but have had two exposures to gators.  When I camped just east of Four Mile Point, Choctawhatchee  Bay, two gaters lay on the beach where I had just taken out as they quarreled most of the night, and while camped in the ICW just east of West Bay Creek, one dove off the bank in front of my tent while running raised on all fours in pursuit of something.  He gave the water quite a thrashing.  Lastly, I spent most of the day in Choctawhatchee in two feet of water.  The bottom was golden brown with large patches of sea grass.  There were skates, schools of fish, and one blue crab large enough to fill a dinner plate.  It would be a great place to just drift with a glass-bottomed bucket, but I was unfortunately intent on making miles. Lastly, my deepest appreciation to Fred Borg for his hospitality while in Panama City.  I got a chance to meet a few of his paddling group, and joined them for dinner at The Place.  I was to paddle the next morning with one of the group, but got no sleep from spending the night listening to the wind howling outside.  When they posted Small Craft Advisories the next morning, and with me having no sleep, I threw in the towel for the day.  Eric, a determined racer, went anyhow, so my apologies to him.  My thanks to everyone who has been such a great part of the cohesive and supportive paddling community, and to the crew at Beck’s Fish Camp.  I offer no appreciation to the cowardly curs that stole Jean’s credit card off the wi-fi when she ordered flowers for her mother.  The charges were refused and the card cancelled, but just a warning that any information placed through wi-fi generally exposes it to the world and the minority of scum that infest our society like a plague of roaches.  Jim