Get your butt over to the...
Get your butt over to the Canoe Outpost and get out on the Peace River! If you don't have you own canoe, you can rent them and even if you do, they provide transport with your vessel up river. More info a at: www.canoeoutpost.com There’s nothing quite like the sight of a blue heron swooping across, as you glide through the glass like water before you. It was the second day of my Peace River kayak excursion. My partner had raced ahead with other things in mind and I was finally left alone, a rare occurrence on this river on a Saturday in March. It was finally living up to its name. The river was running two and a half feet lower than normal, but that didn’t take away from its beauty. Ficus formed islands off to the side and palms jutted out horizontally as if to block my path. Fish were plentiful and ‘gators apparent. Vultures dominated the sky, but egrets, hawks, and wild turkeys were also in attendance. Blue herons are shier than in Everglades National Park, but no less awe inspiring, taking on the appearance of prehistoric flying reptiles that majestically glide before you. Although the banks of the river are privately owned, most are parts of ranches and offer little evidence of development. At times, it truly seems a wilderness.
The trip had begun in a more hectic fashion the day before. We ate lunch while the group from our bus packed their canoes and set off. But as we packed our gear later we were swamped by a frantic group of school kids coming in, many tipping their vessels in the process! We put our gear in hastily and paddled away so quickly that we passed our bus companions in no time. Surprisingly, the river was empty after that and we enjoyed a leisurely paddle when the water level permitted it. Had to get out and pull a few times and constantly had to watch the flow of the river to stay in the deepest part, but the serenity was well worth the effort and we were rewarded with a scenic and secluded campsite. Though we had to fling some cow dung (later realizing we had camped on private land, a ranch!) to set up the tent, it was a nice flat open meadow, which was slightly raised to give a view over the river. It was a great section too. Deep enough for a swim, but shallow and clear enough to see ‘gators if one happened by. We dined on Dinty Moore and made ourselves ready for the onslaught of mosquitoes that one expects when camping in Florida, only to be pleasantly protected by a swarm of dragonflies that vigilantly guarded the area. Even when it got dark and they’d left, all that remained were some harmless small moths around the lantern, which was extinguished to enjoy the clear starry sky. This was my first excursion of this type with my friend Ronnie Regal. Actually, the first time I’d done anything like this with any guy. Without beer to fuel an all night discussion, we managed to ramble on for hours and avoid going into the tent too early. It actually cooled down enough for me to get into my bag at one point and I’d never done that camping in Florida either. I slept better than I had in ages, a magical dream filled sleep, aided by hooting owls and bahing sheep. Or was that just from counting . . .I’m still not sure. Unfortunately, Ronnie didn’t fare so well. He’d found the ground hard and the air stifling in the tent. Still, it was a great morning and the river sure was peaceful. After a power packed oatmeal breakfast, we crammed what seemed like more gear than we started with back in the boats and set off for another day of paddling. We had talked about covering a lot more ground that day and Ronnie joked that we could finish it. At least I thought it was a joke. It was twenty-eight miles after all, but the way he took off that morning I knew it would be a long hard day. I didn’t even try to catch him. Hell, I wanted to camp again. We hauled all this gear out here and had plenty of food. A soft bed could wait. Besides there was so much to see and appreciate, and the Blue Heron that started this story was just around the bend. I saw a few the day before, but they were just fishing, flying off on our approach. This was different. It’s one of those moments that only nature can bestow, part timing, part luck. I’ll never forget the golden eagle that flew along my path in Montana a few years back, so close I felt like I could touch it. It’s not just a visual, but also something inside that you feel, making you stop for a moment to finally feel a part of something that’s been here forever, but is only concerned with the present. This was one of those times, the reason I go on these adventures. The rest of the trip really didn’t matter so much; it all seemed great after that. Colors were more vibrant, sounds more intense. I started to enjoy the idiosyncratic motion that is paddling a kayak, an amazing vessel if there ever was one. Ronnie had joked earlier that to read the water, you had to “be the river,” and that’s just how it started to feel.
Of course we met up at one point and then pushed on, hoping to camp at the last organized campground, which would give us twenty-three miles for the day. We started to pass people who started the day before us or were on day trips from further down river. The serenity was over and it became more of a race. We got to the campground fairly early and it didn’t look all that great, so we decided to finish it off and get back to civilization. It was a tough five miles, mostly into the wind. Had to stop and tow a kid who couldn’t keep the nose of his canoe straight! But we made it, my right hand swollen from gripping the paddle for so long. A couple of high fives and we packed our gear onto the truck and drove back across state. Ronnie was happy to be headed home and I was happy to know I wouldn’t have to paddle the next day. My hand was killing me!
The next morning it was time for me to head home, albeit a day earlier than planned. Ironically, I hadn’t slept so well. It’s tough to beat a spot like we had the night before. I guess if you could put a bed in the tent . . . maybe. Packed my car and said goodbye and as I pulled away, I was sad not only to be leaving a friend I might not see for some time, but fully knowing the Blue Heron would not swoop before me that morning.