Friday, June 03, 2005

Carpe Diem-ing

In north Florida in June, July, and August, when the weather forecast predicts a 50% chance of rain, we know that that may be the best we’ll see for awhile, so we take our chances with it. That seemed like low odds compared with the rest of the 10-day forecast ahead of us, so I decided to load up the yak and head to the Wakulla River. While the Wacissa is closer, there was also wind in the forecast and the Wacissa is wider and the wind tends to build up a good speed as it rushes down (or up) it. The Wakulla is narrower and twists and turns more, which tends to help things a bit.

I got to the river at 10:30, which is a new early record for me—I’m usually putting in closer to 12:30. During the 60-mile drive from my house to the boat ramp, I noticed that the pavement was wet almost all the way, and I drove under clear blue skies with a few white puffy clouds alternating with an overhead view of nothing but gray clouds layered over grayer clouds. No telling what the day was going to be like.

I was surprised to see 3 cars in the parking area of the boat ramp (it was looking decidedly rainy when I got there), as well as several cars in the parking lot of T-n-T, a canoe and kayak rental place that is directly adjacent to the public boat ramp. I chatted briefly with the owner of T-n-T, who told me that she had rented 5 canoes so far that morning. She also told me that the manatees were back in the river after having left following some sort of treatment that was applied to the water to kill some of the underwater growth (which could easily get out of hand).

I lucked out—I had sunshine all day. A couple of times I heard some distant thunder rumbling and dark gray clouds periodically scuttled across the sky on one side or the other of the river, but the sun managed to keep shining through. The river was gorgeous today, as usual.


And I did see three manatees.

The wind was a bit strong, though. It was coming from behind me as I went upstream. Not a constant wind, but when it gusted, it reached 10 mph (I know this because of my handy dandy anemometer—what a cute little gadget!). At times it pushed me upstream. The water level was very high. Between the help from the wind and the total lack of current, I made it to the top in 90 minutes instead of my usual two hours.

The birds were out on the river. This heron landed right beside me as I drifted downstream, so how could I not snap his picture?

I was on the river three and a half hours, which is 30 minutes short of my usual shortest paddle time. By the time I got to the boat ramp, the wind was constant and still strong and it was time to get out.

Since it was considerably earlier in the day than when I usually head for home, I decided to take a little side trip down to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to check out the boat ramp there. I have never paddled in saltwater and I’m not sure I have any interest in it, at least not alone, but I wanted to see how it looked. No real verdict on that—it was too windy to get any real sense of what it would be like to paddle there under calmer conditions. However! On the way to the lighthouse—oh, here’s a shot I took today from a hiking path alongside the water—


--anyway, I digress—on the way there, I saw a sign by the side of the road that said that boats were permitted in the pools from March 15 – October 15. Hang on a second—in the pools? Pools? What pools? Right after passing the sign, I passed one of the “pools,” which at this time of year was much more like a lake. The wind was whipping the water up pretty well and so again it was a little hard to know what it would be like on a more ideal paddling day, but this showed definite possibilities! A reasonably sized lake in the middle of a national wildlife refuge would almost have to have lots of great birds on or around it, wouldn’t you think? Photo ops galore. While investigating the Gulf paddling potential, I snapped these gulls by the saltwater boat ramp:

So this is the plan. If the weather continues as it has, I hope to get away on a short paddling trip down to the Homosassa River and Crystal River area of Florida next Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve never been on either of those rivers and I have been waiting for a chance to try them. But the next local trip will definitely be back to the St. Marks NWR to try a paddle in the pool. Access wasn’t great—there was a nice little ramp that was off the main road, with no place to park, making it somewhat useless. In the area set aside for parking by the pool (there is also a walking trail next to it), there is no ideal launch site, but that’s the beauty of a kayak, it seems we can always find a way into the water.

I’ll be back after the next paddling trip. Stand by.

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