Paddling the Everglades (part 2)

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Day 5 – Briny fresh.

We woke up feeling grungy and stinky, but left post haste to catch the high tide. Getting stuck in the mud was funny, but once was enough. We managed to find Broad River but until we finally saw river marker #25, we still weren’t sure we were in the right place. All hail river marker #25!

There are three types of camp spots in the Everglades – beach sites (on the Gulf), ground sites (mostly early American Calusa shell mounds), and chickees (open-sided wooden platforms with a roof that is built over water) and they are generally spaced between 15 and 25 kilometres apart. If you take a wrong turn or miss the spot somehow, tying up to a mangrove root and sleeping in the canoe is the probable outcome. Tonight we made it to our planned ground spot. Yahoo!

We saw a huge alligator gliding down the river this evening. At least we think it was an alligator and not a crocodile. One way to tell the difference is that the fourth tooth of a crocodile overlaps it’s lip (if you are close enough to tell, you might already be in a spot of trouble). We took turns using the pail for a body and clothes wash. Briny fresh never felt so good.

Day 6 – Glass water and Gators

The water was like glass today. We paddled past many more alligators sunning themselves or swimming lazily and showing little to no interest in us. None came closer than 15 feet so there was no need to bonk any heads with the paddle. It was a marvellous ride and we arrived at Rogers River Chickee with energy to spare. We feasted on dry deli salami, blue cheese, jalapeño cheddar, and olives with crackers. I must say, Gord’s canoe camping edibles are far superior to my usual hiking fare.

We have only seen a couple of people so far but tonight we are sharing our chickee with two local fishermen, and if you ask Gord, they arrived in the nick of time. I had just caught the biggest, baddest six inch fish in the water wth a rod that didn’t reel in and I was hell bent that we were going to eat it, but Gord was less than eager. The fisherman guys told us that it was a loggerhead catfish and that catching one was locally considered to be a ‘negative one’ and that its quill was poisonous. At that moment its quill was imbedded in my leather glove. Fortunately, it didn’t reach my skin or they said I’d need medical attention. I threw it back in the water and sadly watched our supper swim away. The fishermen also offered us some of their 100% deet saying that “you glow for a couple of days, but it’s the only thing that works on the mosquitoes in the glades”. They slathered it on and probably thought our muscol was drinkable. To the mosquitoes, our muscol might as well have been lemonade.

Day 7 – Paddling scared

The myriad of twists and turns through the canals, islands, and rivers that we needed to cross today felt beyond my ability as chief navigator. And the technology I downloaded to help with navigation was useless, so I am using only the marine charts, a compass, and the odd river trial marker. In the end, I did ok, but we still ended up doing 27 kilometres instead of 20. At one point, we went clear across the wrong bay because a guy in a boat looked like a trail marker. Only once though, were we getting seriously stressed. I knew we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and found ourselves on the twistiest, turniest, littlest canal on an untraveled waterway. I kept praying that it would end in big water to our left. We would still be off course, but at least then, I would know where we were (according to the charts). But the canal just wasn’t ending. I was acutely aware at that point that no one knew where we were, there were no rangers, and we could reach no one. Images of our bones being found fifty years from now flashed through my mind. We figured we really might be in a bit of a predicament, when all of a sudden, the canal opened up to big water on the left. I gave a whoop of joy and we both breathed a big sigh of relief. Not today buzzards, not today.

Within minutes of our jubilant release into the big bay, 15 consecutive motor boats blasted past us, their wakes driving us sideways and almost swamping us. Maybe it was the pent up emotion of the last couple of hours, but for ages afterwards, I cursed them and raged against their mindless disregard.

We finally put in at Lostmans Bay ground site. Shortly afterwards, I slipped on a cross board and toasted my ankle. The pain is intense if I put weight on it. In any case, the fishermen told us that a bad electrical storm is blowing in tonight, so we are especially grateful to be safe in this sheltered spot and not sleeping in our aluminum canoe!

Stay tuned for the final segment tomorrow.

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