This mid-March morning it was colder at our Florida campsite (near Panacea) than in Seattle or the two Colorado towns where we used to live or the one where our grown son lives.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, where we live when we’re not paddling or camper camping, seems to have the best temps of them all!
This is what I slept in: 2 pairs of socks, underwear, long stretch pants, fleece tank top, paddling rash guard shirt, sweatshirt with hood, fleece hat, two sleeping bag liners (I gave up my pillow) and my summer-weight sleeping bag. Oh, and my neck buff. Had I not sent my wool gloves and long underwear back with my brother Rick in Carrabelle, I would’ve worn them too.
Remember, this is Florida.
John made coffee and we stayed bundled up in the tent until the sun rose. Which of course wasted the better part of the paddling day. But once the sun was casting its rays on us, we were on it!
The tide had dropped and was back to being a tidal creek like when we arrived yesterday, so we lined the boats out the same way we’d brought them in, past all the feeding shorebirds and resting skimmers.
We were so happy to see the calm seas around the corner since we had a long, exposed crossing from where my finger’s pointing, at Mashes Sands County Park where we’d camped, across Apalachee Bay to Fog Island, just past St. Mark’s Lighthouse.
Do you see that which looks like a long skinny island just to the upper right of my finger? Since the tide was low, we expected to see it as we paddled past. But it remained all below us, rough shallows out in the middle of the sea.
The change in water color is the main way we could tell we were in shallows. And as the wind picked up and the waves built, it felt odd to be battling waves hitting us on the surface and wave rebound that seemed to be hitting us from underneath.
We aimed for Shell Point, located north of that “underwater island” I was pointed out, to get out of our boats and snack. It was a calm 6.5 nautical mile crossing until right before we landed. The wind (yes, our dear friend the wind) came whipping up to say hello. And a very cold hello at that. We made a surf landing on the beach at the park.
And I proceeded to shiver in the biting wind. Wet wetsuit shorts. Wet wetsuit booties. Wet paddling shirt and paddling jacket.
And the park facilities were under renovation. There was no place to sit but on the ground and no place to sit out of the wind. And a dump truck was dumping sand. And I was shivering some more, and watching the waves build into whitecaps. And we still had another big crossing to get to our next camp.
I put on another layer (the fleece tank top I’d also slept in). We could’ve used our dry suits, the ones we left in our truck in Alabama because who uses dry suits for paddling in Florida, right? We only need them in the Pacific Northwest, right? (Along with our down sleeping bags, right?)
The winds built to 15-20 mph, out of the south. Paddling north, the wind was at our back. Paddling east, the wind and waves were at our side.
We thought it’d be safer to hug the coastline. But we quickly saw that the oyster bar shallows extend for miles offshore. So what exactly does it mean to hug the coastline, when you can run aground a mile before you could set foot on firm ground?
Imagine pictures of the oyster bars and the miles upon miles of reed marshes. Imagine a flock of white pelicans. Imagine flotillas of seabirds easily mistaken for the whitecaps. Imagine John and I paddling side by side, in case of an upset. And I can tell you that I was imagining being flipped, swimming, and pulling myself up into the reeds and coming face to face with an alligator!
We paddled, dear reader, another 7.5 miles like that, across Apalachee Bay. Until suddenly there were trees, just like an oasis! At first without access though, just reeds and trees. Like candy that you just can’t reach.
And then there was our rocky, spoil island! And a sliver of a place to pull out. And a bank and a clearing. Rocks? In Florida? How odd. But Alleluia, it was camp!
We pulled the boats up the bank and John set up a clothesline to hang our dripping paddling clothes and gear which were sodden. And we were bitterly cold. We had to change clothes immediately.
And then John used an existing, oversized fire ring as a wind shield for the stove and brewed us some tea before dinner.
The NOAA weather radio forecaster said today’s low was 20 degrees below normal. And that tomorrow it should start warming.
And what a beautiful campsite! On a tiny rock island surrounded by water and marshes as far as the eye can see. No human habitation. Only a few fishing boats (and what are they doing out in this cold?!).
Saint Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. A fabulous place for God’s marsh-loving, sea-loving, non-two-legged creations. Whew, it’s great to be out of the human congestion of the Florida panhandle at last! I don’t hear a single car, or military aircraft, or barking dog, or barge or dredge or boat.
And there will now just be more and more of this fabulous wilderness as we make our way to Florida’s Big Bend and turn south.
Internet, consequently, will no doubt get sketchy. But I’ll keep writing my posts every day and then will post them as I can.
Thanks for following, dear reader. I carry you along in my heart.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.