Tuesday, January 29, 2013

At Jolly Gator

To say I'm a little bumbed would be an understatement.  To come this far, and invest this much planning, time, and expense getting here only to have the trip fall apart is depressing and discouraging.  After giving the leg time to heal and trying a test run on the St. Johns at Palatka, I went back to give the trip another try.  The trip from Rt. 50 landing to Hatbill was great.  I was a bit surprised when I arrived at Hatbill to find a dozen airboats and about 30 people at the landing.  They had gotten together for a potluck and fishfry.  Their event was winding down, but they happened to have an ice-cold Corona that just fit my hand perfectly.  They left about 5 pm, leaving the camping area all to me.  The night was beautiful for camping with a brilliant moon, and it was peaceful and quiet.  A rainstorm came through, but was gone by morning. 

I had seen the landscape make several changes during the trip.  Today was another change with very low land, almost like a ten-mile wide flooded meadow.  There were very few lees to find shelter in as the wind began to crank up, so the day involved several bouts of heavy digging.  Puzzle Lake was one of the challenges I wanted to conquer.  Everyone I encountered wanted to check to make sure I was ready for it with my navigation.  One guy said, "Ya know there's a reason they call it Puzzle Lake.  It's a Puzzle alright." The waypoints I had searched from Google Earth were a great aid, but nothing prepares you for what you see from the seat of a canoe.  I was happy that I made only one wrong turn, but I had gone such a short distance before discovering my error, that the detour didn't even show on the SPOT track.  When I left Hatbill, the SPOT seemed to show that I went the wrong way around, but the shorter route was chocked by weed, making it impossible to get through.  Some of the route involved water so shallow that I could only immerse half the paddle blade.  A pontoon boat was having trouble, and seeing me, decided there must be water where I was and headed my way.  I tried to wave them off, but the last I saw of them, they were still trying to find a way out.  My reptile count ended at 281 gators and 5 snakes.

I finished at Jolly Gator with the satisfaction that I had done Puzzle Lake, Hell-N-Blazes, Sawgrass and the more notorious sections of the trip, but by the time I landed, my body was in full revolt.  The leg was acting up again, cramps and numbness, fighting the wind had brought my right shoulder back to the fore, and a couple other issues returned I won't go into.  Everyone says I should see a doctor, but the plain truth is old age is a terminal condition they can't do anything about.  As to where I go from here, I have no idea at this point.  I do have a lot of pictures to share with you when I get back, and hope you enjoy them.  My hat is off to Jean.  Making all the trips back and forth had her tallying almost a thousand shuttle-miles.  At least when she came to pick me up, she got a deviled crab dinner at Jolly Gator.

In all, the paddle today was 13.5 miles.  I had intentionally planned a short day in case I had any problems finding my way through.  The trip total just broke a hundred at 111.2 miles.  That's a third of what I had hope for, but...............  The three parts of a trip I enjoy equally are planning, photography, and navigation.  I'm quite satisfied in all three, but would have liked seeing the experience last a bit longer. 
Cheers, jim

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