Friday, February 17, 2012

Florida Keys Challenge - 6

Credit for all the maps I've used to write on goes to  Icon 1
marks our departure from Curry Hammock State Park.  The route shows us going into
Vaca Bight and closer to shore. In practice, we paddled the rhumb line from point to point.
No. 2 is our lunch stop at Sombrero Beach, and 3 is our landing at Knights Key.

Our lunch stop on Sombrero Beach.

Today brought us a 3.7 mile open water crossing of Vaca Bight and past the Marathon Airport. The open area brought us mostly 2-ft rolling waves with occasional 3-ft. breakers. We got a break once we rounded the point inside of East Sister Rock. It was a total distance of 7.7 miles to our lunch stop at Treasure Island’s Sombrero Beach. In this case the tide worked to our benefit. We needed a higher tide for our landing at Knights Key Campground, so this was a case of man waiting for time and tide as we took a long lunch and stretched out on the ground to rest and nap.

Once we cleared the beach, we headed up Sister’s Creek and turned west through Boot Key Harbor. At Knights Key, we made a difficult landing on rough, slippery limestone rock. We had laundry facilities, hot showers, and a large open primitive camping area that gave us the chance to spread out.  the total distance for the day was 11.0 miles.

View of the Seven Mile Bridge from the Sunset Grill at Knights Key.
There's no land out there!  The hump in mid-screen is an elevated bridge to
allow transit of the channel by larger vessels.

Once we got our tents set up and showered, Carl and I went exploring, and found our way to the Sunset Grill. While we enjoyed Happy Hour, a snowbird from Illinois commented that what we were doing looked like great exercise. I smiled and said, “We passed exercise some time back. We’re now into endurance.” We were slowly becoming the aged and infirm. My back and right shoulder were complaining. One paddler wrenched his back while manhandling his boat and was enduring muscle spasms. While getting over the slippery limestone with his boat, Carl had fallen twice, bruised his right hip on the rocks, and ended up stiff and sore. The interesting thing that I would discover later was that this was the low point. From here we began to settle into the routine, and I began to feel stronger. By the trip’s end, I’d be feeling better than when I started. If I could have taken a lay day for laundry and rest at the end, I would have been ready to go another hundred miles.

After worrying so much about keeping pace with the kayakers, this evening I had a really nice bit of affirmation. One of the more experienced kayakers said, “It amazes me how you’re able to drive that canoe as hard as you are.” That was great, and was just the little “atta-boy” I needed. By the end, two others would make similar comments, so maybe I was doing okay. Still, I will stick to my recommendation that matching your boat to most or at least some others in the fleet would make the effort a lot easier.

Credit: Amazon and Bill & Mary Burnham

After dinner, we enjoyed a presentation by Bill and Mary Burnham. They are the authors of the “Burnham Guides: Florida Keys Paddling Atlas.” If you are considering a similar trip, all concerned seemed to agree that this is the best guide available, and Bill Richards added it was used by him for most of the planning of the Keys Challenge. It was also the winner of the 2008 National Outdoor Book Award.

One of the most critical ingredients in making a successful trip is the people making up the party. Just as we were blessed by great weather, and we were even more blessed by a wonderful group of paddlers. They very quickly transformed themselves from a crowd of individuals to a cohesive team. There were no slackers, and no greedy or self-serving members. Whether it was helping move boats, helping people land or get off the beach, or helping move bags in and out of the truck, everyone was equally willing to jump in and lend a hand. If something was needed that wasn’t in the first aid kit, a tent peg hammer was needed, whatever, there was always someone ready to jump in with what was lacking.
Gladys is ready to go.

Michigan was at the forefront for organizing a group of 16 paddlers for the trip to Florida and the Keys Challenge. Laurinda Bedingfield, of Boston, perhaps feeling uncertain about how the trip would go, called herself the chicken lady, and brought Gladys as her boat’s figurehead. Gladys was great fun for everyone, and several times Laurinda returned to her boat to find that Gladys had laid a hard-boiled egg, and once a granola bar. But my hero in the group was Sally. From Vermont, she had lived and camped in Alaska, backpacked in Labrador, and at 79, was tireless and independent, and a strong paddler. As soon as she got in the boat, she was off and gone. Between her, her son John and daughter-in-law Ann, it was interesting to watch them as they experimented with different sail rigs and took turns among their three boats.


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