This morning began in a mud bog full of bugs. The tides have been high and the land is low. And when the wind disappears n the evening, and the sun sets or rises, the bugs come out to say hello.
For the first time on this trip, we had to take our shoes off in order to get through the mud and into our boats.
We paddled a gorgeous 12.38 nm today, through mangrove islands and islets, past oyster bars and reefs. And even at one point, dead ending, and backtracking the way we’d gone in.
Egrets and cormorants roosting. White pelicans entertaining. Bald eagles and ospreys hunting. Wading birds and shorebirds picking their way through the mud and the oyster bars.
At one point, during a 2.5 nm crossing, my paddle stroke was accompanied by an explosion underneath. I screamed. John laughed. And whatever large creature I surprised (John’s guessing it was a sleeping manatee) splashed its tail and dove deep, leaving a whirlpool of water in its wake. I swear my heart went through my throat (or however that saying goes), and burned up a shitload of calories in one second flat.
The sun beat down and the wind picked up just as we started a 4.5 nm crossing across really choppy water. We chose to play it safe and turned in towards the mainland where we found calmer water behind oyster reefs. Scouting the higher elevation islands, we began searching for a camp, abandoning our earlier goal of reaching the trail’s spoil island campsite.
The campsite we found was really nice. Open and level, with an easy landing and launch.
A group of small fish arrived with the high tide and swam practically out of the water, squirming and twisting over each other as they nudged into the plants and the mud and each other. Dear reader, do you know what they were doing? It seemed too feverish to just be feeding. Could they have been laying eggs? Mating?
And on a tree, a dark, lone, lizard.
We sat in the shade and the cooling breeze, drinking and eating and eating and drinking.
It is Day 50. We have paddled 386 nautical miles (453 Statute Miles according to the Trail Guide), camped at 26 different campsites and slept in 9 different beds.
The large blue and white circle is our current location. The blue and white pin to the northwest is where we started in Orange Beach, Alabama, where my 90-year-old dad and his wife Sara live. Fifty days ago. The blue and white pin to the south of us is Key West, our original destination for this winter. With our month-late start due to freezing night temperatures, and our slower-than-fantasized pace, I should now just remove that pin from this map. Instead, I leave the pin for those of you who’ve been tracking us from the start. But it’s no longer our goal for this season.
How far are we going to go then, if not as far as Key West this year? Until the heat and the bugs become insufferable. Then next year we’ll pick up the trail again at wherever this year we’ll have left off, and continue on around to the Georgia border. We’re almost 1/3 of the way to Georgia now!
At least that’s our crazy-ass plan.
Because, you know what? It’s kinda hard: Hunting for campsites every day, and soon again dealing with private property issues, worrying hourly about wind and tide and rain and sun and bugs and cold and heat, going without bathrooms and without showers when you’re drenched in salty sweat, eating the same non-refrigerated food over and over and over again. Not to mention paddling! Climbing in and out of the tent and into and out of the boats. Loading and unloading. Washing dishes while bent over, in cold, murky, living salt water. Packing and unpacking the same bags over and over and over again. Stuffing and unstuffing the sleeping bag. Rolling and unrolling the sleeping pad.
Need I go on?
But right now, it’s the perfect temperature. We’re in our tent and most of the bugs are outside. We hear crickets, lapping waves, a bird, and a manatee breathing. I’m with the one I love. And I’m feeling strong and agile and the good kind of tired that means I’ll easily sleep. Life is about as simple as it gets. And there is no place I’d rather be.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.