I’m writing to you while laying on a motel-room bed in Suwannee, Florida, trying to focus while the TV drones in the background with the nation’s weather forecast. It’s dry in here. And the hot shower was sweet. Now, getting here was a different story.
We packed up this morning while the winds were still kicked up and blowing foam upon the grasses. Rain clouds were moving in and we wanted our gear to be packed and stowed while dry. We succeeded with that but started to get cold while we waited for the winds to slow, so we went ahead and launched.
No sooner did we launch than the rain began and visibility dropped. Rather than paddling straight across the bay to Shired Island, we hugged the shoreline and worked our way past rows of crab-pot buoys, weaving around the usual shallows and headlands, waves coming at us from the side. And then from behind us. And later from the other side. But thankfully never from the front. Paddling felt like a breeze, not having to fight a headwind.
The seawater felt warm. The rain though was cold. And my sunglasses so steamed up that I wore them on the tip of my nose so that I could peer over them. At the molten-lead colored water, lime-green grasses, forest-green trees beyond them, and the smeared grey-white of heavy sky.
At Shired Island we stopped at the County Park campground, hunkering over a picnic table while it poured, studying the tricky entrance into Suwannee on the chart.
The water at the Park is non-potable but we filled a 6 L water bag for emergency, figuring we can boil it if we end up camping before Suwannee.
But John and I were down to one liter of drinking water each. And we weren’t 100% certain the winds wouldn’t get unmanageable, or that a freak emergency wouldn’t come up, before we got to Suwannee. So we needed more drinking water.
I looked at the RVs but they looked all buttoned up, no doubt against the rain. And then I heard Spanish coming from a large group, busily cooking over barbecues under one of the community shelters, and I walked over. I happily came away with a free gallon of bottled drinking water. And left them to their Semana Santa celebration, held, as is tradition along a beach, but boy what miserable weather. They were so kind though. I really have a fondness for Mexican people.
The wind lessened and in no time John was putting to use his incredible navigational skills as we approached the jumble of creeks and islands that preceded Suwannee. John was born with a map in his head. Add to that his old-school years studying marine charts as a commercial fisherman in S.E. Alaska, and then also as a sea kayaker, and John’s navigational skills blow me away.
Suwannee was built, literally, out of a marsh. At the intersection of many creeks and the bigger Suwannee River. Developers dug canals and then built houses on top of the fill. Basically everyone has waterfront property. All 400 year-round residents and the additional 900 seasonal-use homes.
Bill’s Fish Camp and Motel is a simple, functional establishment.
We landed there 13.69 nautical miles after leaving Butler Island. All easy paddling except for the few miles paddling upstream during a rainstorm on the Suwannee River. It wasn’t as bad as paddling into a strong headwind. And it didn’t last very long. But it made me think.
And had to climb out of our boats along a steep bank into the weeds. And then John pulled our boats, fully loaded, straight up.
We unpacked, got out of our drenched paddling gear, took hot showers and went looking for food. Just a couple of rainy blocks away was the Salt Creek Shellfish Co. Restaurant.
But there we had a lovely visit with Leroy Harmon, Suwannee’s 85-year-old, CT Angel. Leroy makes it his business to look out for and remember every Florida CT paddler that passes through the area. He even drove out to Shired Island a night or two ago, and peered out through his binoculars across to Butler Island in case we were paddling over. In the trunk of his car was a five-gallon Igloo jug full of fresh water, for us if he saw us.
I too have a fondness for Leroy.
Now back at our motel room, we’re charging all of our devices. We’ll be leaving in the morning and continuing south, tucking around islands no doubt to stay out of the wind.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.