This morning we were on a lovely boat, drinking coffee under a comforter in front of a fireplace. Now we are under a rain tarp, eating cold fried chicken leftover from our grocery store run yesterday and drinking hot tea. I will have you know I’m wearing my down jacket and yes, we are still in Florida.
We are also camped shy of our original destination, Piney Point, by around 6 nm. As it was, we paddled 10 nm today in probably the hardest, and consistently hardest, conditions yet on this trip.
The wind picked up as soon as we dragged ourselves off of the boat around 9:30 am. Yes, in retrospect we could’ve started paddling earlier. But we’d gotten complacent on the boat and believed the weather forecast we’d heard the day before – that the winds were expected Thursday, not today, Wednesday. And dang that boat was just too nice! But we paid for it.
The wind blew in our face or on our side at 15 knots, with gust greater than that. We paddled past tugs and a ship tied up to a concrete pier where the clapitus (the watery chaos created by incoming waves meeting waves rebounding from the seawall) was challenging. I was glad for my two dozen years of paddling whitewater. And focused my mental attention on the song “Doe, a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun” while my body focused on its athletic memory to keep me upright. John said he had to throw a few braces to keep upright and that at one point he could swear he went airborne.
The water is so warm here, upper 60s, and we were so close to shore (thus the clapitus) that it wasn’t scary. In fact, I thought it was a tremendous amount of fun. But it does take a lot out of you, physically and mentally.
We paddled like that, in waves that were spraying us in the face, and in John’s case running down the inside of his spraydeck, for four and a half hours. We felt strong. We felt rested. But still, you don’t want to push your luck and you don’t want to get so tired you make mistakes.
We took two breaks when we found protection from the wind. And meanwhile, all day long there was a constant roar overhead courtesy of (according to John, who apparently knows more than I ever need to know about military aircraft) F-15s, F-22s, F-16s and F-5s practicing their maneuvers in and around the Tyndell Air Force base.
We actually have been hearing and seeing military aircraft for almost the entire trip so far. Between the F-18s and the training jets at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the C-130s and a C-5 Galaxy at the Elgin Air Force base around Fort Walton and Destin, and now these radar-deflecting babies here at Panama City’s Tyndell Air force base, John’s been rambling on about stealth technology, the seagulls have been shooting up in surprise and I’ve been fantasizing about quiet camping.
But here we are, close enough to hear the 5:00 pm bugle call. But we’re out of the wind and rain and in a cozy, albeit noisy, camp for the night.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.