Despite our love affair with Cedar Key and our staying up late (for us) to watch Return of the Jedi on tv, we got up at 6 a.m. and got going. It’s been so rare to have calm, beautiful, paddling days from first thing in the morning that we couldn’t pass it up. We were even half tempted to do the 17.5 nm open-water crossing towards the blinking lights of the distant power plant, saving ourselves a day’s paddle. But chose to be conservative because of our age. No need to take unnecessary risks. Paddling the shoreline is a safer alternative.
Leaving Cedar Key, we were escorted by dolphins as we made our way past a fence maze, made up of hundreds (if not thousands, says John) of white sticks jutting up out of the water. They reminded me of windmill farms. Floridians, do any of you know what these are for, in such numbers? We’ve seen them individually here and there, apparently marking shallows. But this concentration leads us to think it has to do with the local fishery.
The milky grey of the flat water merged with the milky grey of the sky as we paddled, with barely a streak for the horizon. But heat rays shone through. We sweated. And we drank. And we scanned the surface for hints of the land mines lurking below. Land mines as in barely submerged, sharp, oyster beds, ready to shred the bottom of a boat. We were 1/4 mile off shore, but it was low tide, and for every meter of exposed oyster bed there were a gazillion more just below the murky surface.
And then, scrunch!! One moment I was in deep water. And the next moment I heard thirty pieces of chalk scraped across a blackboard. Only it was oyster shells against Miss Pink. “Back up, back up, back up!” barked John right before he did the same. Thank God our boats are Carbon/Kevlar composite boats, so they flex instead of break and are incredibly strong. “Bulletproof vests are made of Kevlar,” says John. The hits sounded as bad as having been shot. But we didn’t fill with water. And we didn’t sink. We just moved slowly and picked our way across the sea. Like the dolphin that appeared, and whose fin never dropped beneath the shallow surface. We too held our breath as we skimmed along.
Bald eagles lingered on top of oysters. Two horizontal lines of white pelicans flew low, perfectly synchronized, each one of them the leader. And then they rose in a sweep, climbing up over the distant grasses and then the trees, until they formed a cyclone of pelicans swirling higher and higher, the sun bouncing off their white wings, until they merged into a cloud.
The tide rose and we broke past the oyster bed maze. A crab boat came by slowly, pulling up pots, emptying their catch onto a sorting table and tossing back out what they couldn’t keep, along with a newly-baited pot.
Our compass pointed East for basically all day. (It would’ve pointed SE if we’d attempted the open water crossing, negating all of today’s paddle.) We stayed at least 1/4 mile offshore most of today’s 13.8 nm paddle. Eating from our boats. Drinking from our boats.
And guess what, dear reader? Today I successfully worked out how to pee FROM my boat rather than in it. But it probably always will require dead calm waters. It went like this, in case you’re keen to know such details or might just need to know how to do it yourselves (the rest of you can close your eyes): John came alongside and steadied Miss Pink, while also keeping track of my paddle. I released my spray deck, scooted down horizontally in my cockpit so I could pull down my wetsuit pants (which was the hardest part of all), and then scooted back and up so that I was seated on my back deck. Then I just peed. And the pee ran off the deck into the not-so-deep sea. I then hit rewind (with pulling my wetsuit shorts up again being the most difficult part of the maneuver; the associated pulled hip muscle reminding me that trying new things quickly at my age can sometimes come with pain).
And, hooray, success! A pee-free me and Miss Pink!
But we were both ready to stretch our legs and get out of our boats, so we were happy to see the channel markers for the mouth of the Waccasassa River.
Navigator John, had spent some time studying his chart, as well as various maps and the campsite waypoints we’d downloaded onto Google Earth, so he knew which crazy little channel to turn off on after we’d entered the river mouth. The wind had come up, as well as the tide, both surprisingly in our favor, so we were practically flying up the river for a mile or so at 5 knots when John suddenly hung a left onto a smaller channel and I followed.
We passed under an Osprey and its nest and continued on up a narrowing meander. And then there on the right John came to a stop. It was camp. This time with plenty of kitchen furniture just like John likes.
What a memorable weekend! I must admit that the only Easter weekends I recall are the Good Fridays in Mass at my Catholic School and the wafts of incense, the priest chanting in Latin, and the frightening Statues of the Cross. For Easter, my memories are of our young son, Cliff, searching for colored plastic eggs along a Colorado or Utah riverbank, for it seems like it was often Spring Break and we were running a whitewater river.
This Easter weekend though, will be easy to remember: Paddling in the drenching, freezing rain of Good Friday and the Mexicans who gifted me a gallon of drinking water. And Easter; calm paddling under easter-egg blue skies and white puffy clouds towards Cedar Key, a cold beer and a live band singing Margaritaville. Dark to Light. Hiding eyes to Looking in wonder. Both days being gifted by strangers and receiving exactly what I needed.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.