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Trouble uploading the pic’s

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If the pictures continue to refuse to upload, I will post them later. 👍😊

Paddling the Florida Everglades (part one)

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We made it out! We have just emerged from our 11 days in the deep wilderness of the Florida Everglades 10,000 islands victorious and happy, but not unscathed. We are grubby, weary, itchy, stinky, wounded, infected, and scabbed. But we still have all our hands and toes firmly secured to our bodies, and what an adventure! I have decided to post it in three segments over the next few days. At the moment are off to visit family in Boca Raton. And God willing – take a shower!

Day 1 – Bliss

We made our first nights destination of Jewel Key. There were islands everywhere and they all looked the same but we eventually found ‘our island’ in the Gulf and felt very accomplished and proficient. Even with the heavy load, Gord’s aluminum canoe handled well. It suits us – it’s an old work horse with a back story and comes with a few bruises and dents.

Jewel key is beautiful and we have a view of the water on each side of the tent. But apparently our tiny island is also inhabited by many rats. We haven’t seen any but we’ve seen many raccoons and they look almost marsupial. It was a perfect first day on the water – dead calm and sunny, and an easy 8 kilometre paddle. For supper, Gord cooked steak on charcoal briquettes that we supplemented with pasta and Greek salad as we watched dozens of brown pelicans swoop and dive all around us.

Day 2. Paddling with Dolphins.

It was a longer, harder day today paddling across choppy water from Jewel Key to our next stop of Pavilion Key 17 kilometres away. When we started out, I said to Gord breezily that we would always keep land in sight. “Damn straight”, he replied back. Even though he’s an experienced canoeist, he’s no fan of big, open water. At times we were paddling through two-foot waves, which doesn’t sound like much, but it got the heart pumping. The highlight of the day was seeing a couple of sets of blue nosed dolphins beside us! Once, it was a mother and baby gliding in and out of the water. Such a beautiful and thrilling sight!

Pavilion Key has a gorgeous long beach and the island is all ours. The shells we are seeing are the quality of which you find in tourist shops and I’m loving collecting them in my white pail. Silly Gord – he said I could bring back all I wanted.

Day 3 – White caps, Black fins

We awoke to cold, cloudy skies. The wind was strong and neither of us slept well. And we had a 16 kilometre paddle ahead of us, half of which was across open water with no land in between (if you picture the letter c, our island was at the top end of the c and our destination island was at the bottom). It was the biggest, roughest water yet and we were happy we had worked into it gradually. We weren’t terrified but it definitely kept us acutely focused. Later Gord said that his heart was in his throat a couple of times when we were almost swamped. Sitting at the front, I couldn’t see the amount of water we took on – I just kept paddling hard. I was thirsty but intuitively knew I couldn’t stop paddling even for a moment. When we were able to let up a bit and expend the energy to talk, Gord said he was also thirsty but knew we couldn’t stop paddling in the roughest stuff. After four hours of fighting the tide and three foot swells, we arrived to the other side. A few hours after that we reached Turkey Key and found a sandy spot in the lee of the island where we were sheltered from the wind. It was a safe landing after a rough day. Ten minutes later we saw multiple large black fins with white bellies right in front of us zooming about in the water where we were just paddling. Wild! A successful day followed by a delicious dinner of roasted sausages on the fire. Really hoping for a good nights sleep and an easier day tomorrow..

Day 4. Caught in Riptides and Stuck in Mudflats

We are camped tonight at the edge of a bay that will lead us to Broad River where, tomorrow, we will turn inland into the everglades waterway. We overshot our destination camp today and ended up paddling 23 kilometres fighting riptides. That translates to paddling hard and making little to no progress. We were bone weary when we finally set in. And then we got stuck in a mud flat at low tide. Gord got out and immediately sunk up to his knees in gooey, cloying, stinky mud. And then he fell face first. Before it was all over, we were both knee deep and couldn’t stop laughing, even though we weren’t sure how we would get our canoe, our stuff, or us, out of the mud. We ended up having to wait for the tide to come in a bit before Gord could ferry our gear to shore and drag the canoe out. It was hilarious and awful depending on which of us you talk to. We are not in the prettiest spot in the world tonight but it will do. Nice sunset, nice fire.

We are happy to leave the sand and the Gulf in our (very small) wake. Gord has open blisters on his feet from salt and sand abrasion under the straps of his sandals. The sand has become pervasive and we are tired of eating it. And the Gulf is knocking the snot out of us. We later found out that the locals don’t go into the Gulf in the winter as it’s so unpredictable and the waves can get so high. Some fishermen we spoke to swamped their motor boat yesterday in the same big water, at the same time as what we were paddling through. Gord steered us well, we paddled smart. And we got lucky! But we are ready to move into the mosquitos-infested mangroves tomorrow. While Gord’s main concern about the trip was paddling in the Gulf, mine is navigating through the mangroves. Stay tuned to see how that goes.

It’s go time

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We are in Everglades City (think population about 300) at the Everglades National Park Visitor Center and it’s completely empty. Nothing is open and there are no rangers. We expected that, given the government shutdown, but it still feels surreal and vaguely apocalyptic. Its just us and the mosquitoes. We are sleeping in the truck tonight and will set out tomorrow morning from a small launch that is functional, but nondescript. Our canoe will be loaded with 55 gallons of water, food for 12 days, camping gear, fishing supplies, first aid kit, and an emergency flare. When we leave, we first need to paddle across a dauntingly large lake (it’s much bigger than it looked on the map) to find a small canal that will lead us to the Gulf of Mexico. In the cold light of day, we are feeling somewhat nervous and wish there was someone around who could answer few questions

It was a good drive down, with the exception of driving through whiteout conditions in Pennsylvania, and a little accident in Tampa in a MacDonald’s parking lot. Gord was backing up at the same time as a little red sports was was below his line of visibility. I didn’t even feel the hit (neither did Gord’s truck) but the little car got its door bashed in. The people were not happy. Fortunately, no one was hurt and by the time the accident report was filled out, they were friendly enough.

As I write, Gord is reading the local rag; a paper called ‘The Mullet Rapper’ about the coming full moon and local black widow spiders. Oh, goodie. The man from the accident also told us that all the super ginormous alligators found in Florida are trucked to the Everglades (he wasn’t kidding). I’m sure that all will be well… truly. But if we’re not out in a month – send help.

Night melded into morning and this a.m. a couple of kayakers were loading into the water at the launch site but they weren’t especially helpful. I took a picture of the launch site but didn’t want to leave our canoe loaded and unattended while we went into town to post this. See you on the flip side. 👍

Adventuring – In at the deep end

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Time for an adventure and Cuba doesn’t count. Cuba was a holiday – there’s a difference. On a holiday you know where you are sleeping at night and it generally involves a bed. My adventure this year is shorter and closer to home (because I am opening my blueberry u-pick this summer, there is too much to do to be away for long). I don’t know if my 2 ½ week foray into the wild will be relaxing or harrowing. Quite possibly both. I have started dating a friend named Gord Tennant, with whom I went to high school, and we are going to paddle a canoe through the Florida Everglades.

The Everglades Wilderness Waterway is a 99-mile-long trail that is a series of bays, channels and rivers that takes you through hundreds of mangrove islands, and along the route that early Native Americans travelled, while living off the bounty of the sea. I like the thought of living off of what we catch, but In case the sea doesn’t bequest it’s bounty to us, we are bringing enough food (and water) to carry us through the 12 days we will be unplugged and removed from civilization.

Yes, there are crocodiles, alligators, poisonous snakes and other creatures, but apparently the two biggest threats are, #1- navigating through the brackish, salty backwaters of the intersected canals (we have good navigational maps, a guide book, and a tide chart); and #2 – raccoons. Yep – regular old raccoons. They are so bold and clever that they will actually unzip the tent to get at any goodies inside. And they will decimate your food and water supply if proper precautions are not taken (Gord has an animal proof food barrel that we are bringing).

I am looking forward to this trip. With the exception of a two-day kayaking excursion that I took with my brother, I haven’t done any paddling in many years, so it’s a completely new adventure for me. Gord is an experienced paddler but hasn’t done the wilderness wandering that I have. So we are bringing different things to the table – literally – I think he’s bringing steak for us.

We have totally opposite travel styles. He has always pre-booked, reserved, and planned every minute of a trip, right down to where each meal will be eaten. I wander at will, make decisions as I go, see what comes, and eat whatever is available when I get there. The thought of travelling his way gives me hives, for real. And travelling my way is hell and gone outside of his comfort zone. It will be an interesting adventure on many levels. We aren’t making any reservations or hard fast plans but he is quietly plotting out our route and campsites. However, with the U.S. government shutdown, it means that there are no park rangers to register any backwater campsites with. But no matter, we’ll take it as it comes. We are both excited and eager. And curious.

We leave for Florida tomorrow evening (Jan 10th) in Gord’s truck with his canoe perched on top. Our plan is to drive straight through. When we arrive, we will take a day to rest and stock up before setting out from Everglades City in south Florida. From there, we will paddle down the Gulf of Mexico for a few days before cutting inland.

I won’t be able to keep you updated en route as there is no cell service. But I will try to write a short post along with a picture of the loaded canoe before we start. I have visions of it being weighed down so heavy that the top lip will be level with the alligator’s eyes. I hope the waves aren’t too high. I hope the wind is at our back. I hope we get along well. When we emerge back into the land of services and wifi, I will post pictures, and my journal entries. Let the adventure begin.

T’was the night before Christmas

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I love Christmas. I have always loved Christmas. When I was a kid growing up in the North West Territories we had only our immediate family and we became very close. We treasured our traditions. Christmas Eve always started with a bath, followed by new pjs. Then came an extra special family evening with a program, singing from our homemade song books, and fancy snacks. And of course the hanging of the stockings before bed. For us, Christmas Eve was every bit as anticipated as Christmas morning when gifts were opened, one by one, but only after our beds were made, our rooms cleaned, and breakfast was eaten together. We didn’t get many presents, but with five kids, there was always the ‘wow’ factor under the tree. I carried on those traditions with my kids and they added a few of their own. They made a pact that the first one up Christmas morning woke the other two kids, and then the three of them would scamper downstairs together. I was always awake in my bed and listened with pleasure for their excited squeals of delight and their ooohs and ahhhhs when they saw the gifts under the tree. They opened their stockings together before ‘waking’ the parental’s.

For me, Christmas represents heartwarming and cozy family time and I steadfastly refused to believe it would ever change. But my kids have grown up on me and are now living their own lives. Alberta first nabbed Sabrina and Ben, and recently she has also snatched away Colin (damn Alberta with her high wages and great job opportunities).

In truth, our traditions have been slowly evolving over the past couple of years, but I have not allowed them to transition gently. I have railed against the mutiny and clung to our rituals with the same childish ferocity with which a toddler clings to her favourite blankie. But this isn’t Neverland and even Peter Pan couldn’t fight the tides of change forever.

My family are all well this holiday season. Colin is working hard in Peace River, Alberta where, in October, he was hired as a truck and coach diesel mechanic. I recently had a wonderful visit from Sabrina and Ben. They are happy and loving the mountain life in Hinton and Jasper. Max, is in his fourth year at Bishops University, and is the only one with me this Christmas eve/day. It’s just the two of us. It seems I must finally allow our traditions to sail into the realm of cherished memories.

In a preemptive strike against sliding into melancholy this Christmas, I booked a last minute trip for Max and me to Cuba. So here we are. I am writing this post as I stare out on a turquoise sea. Sink or swim right! So we swim! We rest, we eat, we read, we eat some more. And think about how incredibly fortunate we are for wonderful memories, loving family and dear friends.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Here and Now

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Five times! Five times it rained over my house this season. On a few occasions I literally watched it rain all around me like I was trapped in some bizarre weather vortex, the glorious liquid sunshine just beyond the reach of my thirsty plants. My trusty well held steady (sometimes at the expense of personal hygiene) and my drip irrigation system earned its stripes. But given the Sahara-like conditions this past summer, at my place, if you were not a blueberry plant, you had no water allotment. My grass was brown, my flowers died and my garden was pathetic – but my blueberry plants grew back. There was even a smattering of blue goodness sprinkled throughout my field. But it was a hard race against the birds to harvest the precious berries. I didn’t get the netting infrastructure built. By the time I finished cutting back all the winter kill, my clay fire-baked ground was virtually impenetrable. Next spring I guess.

I just finished planting an additional 300 plants of two new varieties. After a few particularly laborious days I moaned to my son Colin that I was getting too old for this. “You were too old for it two years before you started”, he quipped back to me. Without any further ado I posted an add on kigigi.

“Need strong, physically fit individual to help plant blueberries on a blueberry farm. Hard work! $15.00 an hour cash. Room provided if needed“.

Travis responded back that afternoon. He was a strong, physically fit 35 year old electrician who was travelling across the country. I hired him on the phone and he drove to my place from Sudbury that night, pitched a tent and started work the next morning. I plied him with an abundance of food and we worked well together. However, after the first few days his work became slow and sporadic until he presented me with his wrists, vein side facing up. I stared at them in confusion. They are sore and swollen, he stated. That afternoon Travis moved on and I was back in the trenches planting solo again.

I am moving forward with plans for a soft opening next summer. By then I will have been at this crazy venture for six years and it will be time to earn my first dollar. I’m not sure if I will keep the name, “The Merry Blueberry” (which I adore) or go with “Balderson Blueberries” (which makes more sense in that it also says where I am). Feel free to weigh in with what you think. But one way or another, with a palpitating heart full of promise and the fervent hope that I will actually have some blueberries for sale, I will be open for business next season come rain, drought, hail or snow. Well, maybe not snow. Please, not snow.

Just keep Peddling

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On June 9th and 10th I was one of 4,500 riders who participated in the ride to conquer cancer. The 225 km bicycle ride from downtown Toronto to Hamilton to Niagara Falls was a challenge but it was great to be a part of something so worthwhile. I rode with the Wilmot Orchards team with Charles, Robbie, and Joseph, three fine men who have done it for the past 10 years. Over $18 million was raised for the Saint Margaret’s Cancer Research Centre, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. Deep heartfelt thanks for all of your support and sponsorship. It meant a lot to me.

My daughter, Sabrina, sent me a text the morning we left. It read “good luck, stay calm, ride steady and don’t fill your pockets with cookies”. Later that day I responded back, “pockets full, can’t help it, it’s a sickness”. I was probably the only person there who came home heavier than when I left.

Whether you are waging war with cancer, a sugar addiction, or whatever challenge life is currently throwing at you, the only thing to do is…just keep peddling. Preferabley forward.