Ocklawaha River


Feb 15 – Feb 23, 2013





Paddlers:  Dave, Phil, Ronnie, Sam, and Stew


Kayaks:  Current Designs Solstice GTS, Wilderness Systems Tsunami 165, Wilderness Systems Alto,

 QCC 500, Current Designs Solstice GT; same order as paddlers list.


This trip report is a compilation of Dave’s, Ronnie’s, and Phil’s writings about the trip. 




When we came up with a name for this trip, little did we know that the meaning would become so prevalent during the trip.  The little blurb we put on our website said:  “Adventure is determined by the person perceiving it.  It is “in the eye of the beholder” and what is challenging, adventurous or enjoyable for one person is not necessarily so for another.  Adventure is somewhat of an art and thus “The Art of Adventure Tour.””

Here is an excerpt from one of the paddler’s write-up about an all-night paddle we did:

“As I paddled, seemingly alone in the middle of a dark, cold, and wet abyss, I started thinking if this is what Hell might be like.”


Here is an excerpt from another paddler talking about the same portion of the trip:

“There were real risks involved in our night time adventure. I was loving every moment.”


Additional thoughts:

After the first-pass of writing this report, I noticed that I rarely mentioned the three Paddle Across Florida regulars, Dave, Sam, and Stew.  They are all so much part of this and involved in everything that happens.  They are the trip – it would not be a Paddle Across Florida experience without them.  The three are so much in tune with each other that they are one force that creates the experience.  I just can’t explain the connection – maybe kindred spirits?  Always together in thoughts and ready for adventure and to overcome adversity as a team.  I felt it worth mentioning.



Prep Day  Friday, Feb 15, 2013        Drive to Umatilla, FL;  shuttle a vehicle to Salt Springs, FL







We began our adventure at Nelson’s Outdoor Resort located at

19400 SE Hwy 42  Umatilla, FL 32784 (see “Start” at bottom of map)


Sam, Stew, and Dave who have done most of the Paddle Across Florida trips together, drove from south Florida and met Ronnie from Virginia and Phil from Eustis, FL for the first time.  This was the only time the group added “outsiders” to a trip - mostly because no one wanted to do the speed and mileage we normally do!  This trip was our lowest mileage ever but also very enjoyable.  Something we will consider for future trips.  Everyone fit in and we were all excited about the trip.


We paddled the entire Ocklawaha River and came back around via the St John’s River, into Lake George, and then into Salt Springs (see “End” close to center of map)







Nelson’s was a nice place to get started and has an excellent restaurant, (biker) bar, campground, boat ramp, and good people.  They were very nice to us and even let us leave our vehicles there while on our trip.  Dave and Ronnie shuttled Dave’s vehicle to Salt Springs and paid to leave it there for 8 days then returned to Nelson’s.  We met some “interesting” people at the bar and in the campground. 


We saw an eagle fly overhead which is always a treat to see.  There was some discussion about eagles vs osprey and how to tell the difference when we saw some of each.  That evening we ate at the restaurant (at Nelson’s) which has a fish fry every Friday.  Ronnie told us a story about a group he saw that did cover songs of the group the “Eagles.”  He couldn’t remember their name so we quickly asked if they were called the “Ospreys.”  That led to worse jokes on how to tell them apart, etc. and we all had some good laughs.


The camping was good even though it got down into the low 30s that night.  We awoke at 12:30 am when the bar seemed to open up for business again and started blaring the song “I am Ironman… Dah-da-dah-dah-da”!  There was a raucous crowd of drunken bikers there, partying until about 2 AM and they continued playing the music loudly.  We kind of enjoyed it!  The Ironman tune was repeated often by us during the trip.


Camping at Nelson’s Outdoor Resort





Day 1  Saturday, Feb 16, 2013        Launch Time!


We got up fairly leisurely and Stew calls out from his tent “How is it out there?” and Dave replies not bad.  They were referring to the cold.  It didn’t feel that bad and we made our way to the restaurant for breakfast around 6:30 AM.  Yum: coffee, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, juice – and it was inexpensive too.  Our last meal before roughing it.  We had staged the kayaks close to the water and packed them up.  Now we were ready to go.  A favorite part of our trips is when we finally start and we can get into kayak/camping mode.  The daily stress melts away and we are giddy with anticipation of what is to come.





The Ocklawaha River is pretty straight and fairly wide coming from Lake Griffin and going north.  Very pretty and pristine.  We saw more eagles and osprey as well as many other birds.  It was pretty cold and we saw an occasional small alligator – they tend to be scarce in colder weather but we know this area is known for some big ones.





Just paddling along and enjoying being outdoors and on an adventure.



When we passed a dock, well we just had to “shoot the pilings” as has become customary on all of our trips.  We always have to paddle through the posts that hold up signs.  This was even better with multiple posts!


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There is a lock (Moss Bluff) about 7 miles north of Nelson’s and it was a real treat for Ronnie and Phil as well as the others (we have gone through locks before).  Always a neat experience.  After we “rang” to alert the lockmaster (Tim) of our presence, these massive steel doors opened up and we obligingly paddled in.  Of course Dave did his “Luke!  Come to the other side” routine since we were locking to the “other side.”  The lock dropped us around 24 feet and made banging noises much like the episode on Star Wars when they were trapped in a ship’s trash compactor.


Phil pulling chain that engaged a siren

that sounded like an air-raid warning.                          Inside the lock as the water was being drained

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Just after we locked through, we stopped at a landing that was occupied by a bunch of boy scouts and they helped us out of our kayaks.  They were embarking on an overnight trip with canoes and were very excited.  From the lock going north, the river becomes more narrow and wilder.  The straight canal channel was gone and before us lay a winding twisting natural river.  It is a river that is very beautiful and interesting and rivals any other places we’ve seen.


We make it to our first campsite we found by using the canoe outfitter’s crude map and Google earth.  It is a rocky (small granite stones)/sandy landing/boat ramp that looked like nice sand on the satellite photos.  Still, a nice campsite and we knew it was going to be colder tonight.  Immediately Sam jumps out and starts fetching wood for a fire while the rest of us set up camp.  Sam is always great for his ability to get a fire ready/going first priority and then setting up his tent.  He taught us how valuable and enjoyable a good fire is for camping – especially on cold nights and mornings.  The weather prediction was for cold temperatures in the low 30’s (in the city) with a chance of frost.  Sam built us a nice fire; we had supper, and prepared for a cold night. Dave asked who would wake up at 1AM to sing one line of Iron Man. No one volunteered.




           Ronnie with a fish he caught.                                                       Stew and Sam at camp

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Sam enjoying the fire



Phil looked totally spent.  I think if he could have bailed at this point he may have but we were in the middle of nowhere.  He wrote “My arms were killing me and I feared I may give up! I did not.”  To his credit, he persevered and he now knows he can do what he didn’t think he was capable of before.  Of course, he had no choice!  Our trips tend to have a starting point and ending point with no places to “bug out” prematurely.


The campsite was on a trail that led to an electrified fence that was around 12 feet high.  We figured it was a game preserve for hunters and sure enough, that night we heard guns, dogs, and vehicles until the wee hours.  Gun shots are always comforting when you are in a nylon tent.  We were a little unnerved to hear the guns blaring and hoping none of the shot would come our way.  At one point around midnight, a large pickup drove up to the fence and had its lights shining our way. 


That night it got pretty cold – in the 20’s so we decided we would get up after sunrise since we only planned to go around 17 miles the next day.  On cold nights, it’s nice to get up a little later – after the sun comes up.




Day Two: Sunday, February 17, 2013


The plan was to paddle to the Silver River and up to Silver Springs then turn around and look for a campsite somewhere on the Ocklawaha River.  We made it to Ray’s Landing before noon, just a little up the Silver River off the Ocklawaha and asked some locals about the weather.  They said it was predicted to be colder tonight!  Ughh!


Our hands were cold and a little swollen from being cold.  Sam, Stew, and Dave had a bad experience with the cold a few years ago on the Suwannee River.  We decided it would not happen again.  Our feet also were a little numb from the cold.  Time to put on the booties and gloves.


We decided we would not do the 10 mile round trip to Silver Springs but push on to Gore’s Landing (10 miles) to get there by 3pm so we can prepare for a cold night.  The river was amazing and became narrower and somewhat shallow in places – not enough to affect us in our kayaks.  We absolutely were enjoying this.


We saw a coyote at Gore’s Landing and there is a restroom there.  I could get used to this kind of luxury.  The water piped in is sulfur water and when we’d flush a toilet, it would smell worse once the water started flowing.  Still, the restrooms provided warmth and protection from the elements when doing what bears do in the woods.  We fished a little and Sam caught a very pretty alligator gar – at least he wasn’t skunked like the rest of us.


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Gore’s Landing





Day Three: Monday, February 18, 2013


Cold.  Brrrrrr.  We had ice on our kayaks in the morning.  Again, we decided to wait until the sun came out before coming out of our tents.  Dave is up and Stew yells out from within his tent:  “How is it?” and Dave replies “Not bad.”  Stew then says “Liar!”  It was darn cold out!  The fire still had some hot embers and we got it going again.  Very nice.  Eat breakfast, pack up, and we’re off.  We were very glad that today the plan is for an easy 15 miles so we could stay in our tents until the sun came up..


Later we heard it may have got down to 19 degress in the early morning where we were!  Ronnie complained that he had on every piece of clothing he had brought with him.  Previously he was making fun of us Floridians for warning him about how cold it could get on the water.  I think he was convinced now… Dave called him an onion because all day he was peeling out of layer after layer of clothing.


The weather today was predicted to get into the 70’s and we all thawed out during the day.  Some of us had neoprene paddling gloves but they did not keep our hands warm.  They are meant to be in the water and if your hands stayed in the water, they worked due to the layer of water they need to create a warm insulation.  When out of the water, they only provided minimal protection from the cold.


The river was still very impressive and today it widened due to the Rodman Dam that created a large lake and flood zone.  I think we may have had about a 1 mph current giving us a little push.


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  Sam going under a branch                                                                     Small alligator

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                               Break time                                                     Ronnie determined to get a sunburn

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River began to open up and get wider as we approached the area affected by the Rodman Dam.

image052image055image057image058Scenery still spectacular


Our original plan was to camp on the west side of the river and when we got to where we thought it was, there was a large gathering of people in canoes there.  It was Outward Bound and the teens looked like they were enjoying themselves but now we had nowhere to camp!  Looking across the river we saw a boat ramp and paddled over to it.  There was a family fishing there and we asked about camping there.  They said “people camp here all the time” and that was enough for us.  They also told us about a store up the road that sold beer and other goodies.  We were psyched!


The man of the family also told us that there is a 400 pound bear that frequents the area and other bears too.  Apparently this was the drop off point for city bears that needed to be relocated in a more natural area.  He said not to worry and they are like large raccoons – you just need to shoo them away and if we had an emergency during the night, they lived a couple of houses in down the road.  That made me feel better!  So we set up camp and took off for the store.  We left Phil to protect our site.


The walk to the store was enjoyable and we did see some fairly large bear prints that appeared to be fresh.  We purchased hot dogs and buns, bottled water, adult beverages, ice, snacks, and a Styrofoam cooler.  Stew bought a pair of camouflaged sunglasses to replace the ones he knocked off his head (and lost in the water) on day one.  We were living large now. The lady behind the counter told us to be careful for bears and that they would usually head down to the river at about this time in the evening. We tried to imagine Phil up a tree, defending himself from the bears.  We found this hilarious and wondered how Phil was doing.  As we walked back to camp, we did see fresh bear tracks in the tracks we had left 15 minutes earlier on the way to the store. 


We got back to camp, Phil had no encounters, and we (mainly Sam) got a nice fire going.  The hot dogs were very good as was the beer and snacks.  We hoisted our food up into the trees just in case.


Our entertainment for the evening came from an unexpected source.  Four locals pulled up on a pontoon boat, completely intoxicated.  They were looking for a ride to the store to buy an 18 pack.  A kindly gentleman named “Swamper”, I swear I am not making that up, gave the guy a ride while the other gentleman helped one of the women stumble over to the bushes to pee.  After their beer run, they left headed back upstream.  We all agreed that we were glad not to be on the water with them.


We settled in by the warm fire and after several beers, Dave brought out his slingshot and a bag of Home Depot rocks he had brought along to protect us from bears.  The others did not feel very safe with him pointing a sling shot around while being in a similar state as the pontoon people.  He sang the only line he knew of our theme song, “I am Iron Man”.  It had been a very entertaining day.


Found a beautiful campsite

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Day Four:  Tuesday, February 19, 2013


No bears the night before and today is warmer but still nice to get the fire going in the morning.  We have around 17 miles again today but it includes portaging over Rodman Dam.  Beautiful scenery with the river getting ever wider.  At one point we saw hundreds if not thousands of coots (small black ducks with white bills) just floating in a never ending line in front of us.  Something out of National Geographic.  What a neat thing to see.


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Sam and Stew with hundreds of coots in front                  Phil encouraging the coots to take wing

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We paddled further on across the lake area. The vegetation areas got smaller and the open water areas got bigger. We were now on a full size lake. It was shallow and full of stumps, some sticking up out of the water and others lying just below the surface, waiting to bump our kayaks. The wind began to blow, often gusting at 12 to 15 MPH. The only good thing about the wind was that it was behind us. The paddle became a three hour adrenaline rush of wind, waves, and stumps.


Phil was having terrible time trying to steer his kayak without a rudder.  He was pulled to the right side of the lake into the wind so we paddled over to him.  None of us realized that he was in trouble and we kind of were just letting him struggle on his own – but we were keeping an eye on him (really!).  He was exhausted and praying out loud not to tip over.  For Stew, Sam and Dave, this was normal paddling because we were used to open water and windy conditions but for Phil, it felt life-threatening.  One thing I’ve learned as a paddler/endurance athlete is that what I may feel is easy to moderate may be too intimidating and/or dangerous for others.  Be careful when you egg your friends and family on to do something beyond their comfort level.  That said, I believe most people could do much more than they think if they would adjust their perceptions of themselves and only try.  We had confidence in Phil and he came through it all very well.


This is from his trip report:  “The wind was strong and to our backs, but the surface had whitecaps and I had no rudder. As hard as I paddled on my right, and only my right, my kayak would only go right while the other paddlers were able to hold the line and go straight ahead. Instead of wearing my PFD, I started this paddle with it lashed onto the rear deck behind me.”


“Once we got out into open water, I was scared that I would tip over. I was praying out loud and asking God to calm the waters and provide a clear path for me to get close to shore so I could put on my PFD. My path was clear of all stumps! I was able to get to the edge and don my life preserver. The gang paddled over towards where I was and we were able to stop for a lunch break.”  We had no idea…


Phil entering the area with strong winds and chop                      Choppy and windy

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We paddled to a private boat ramp on the east side of the lake where Phil had landed and took a break.  The Rodman Dam was only 3 miles away now and we could see it once we turned a corner after our rest.  Now we were in shallow choppy water and the area was filled with tree stumps (this was a forest until they built the dam) that we tried to avoid.  Seeing a structure 3 miles away can be disheartening especially in trying conditions because it seems like you paddle forever and are not getting much closer. 




We did finally make it to the dam and see that the shore is large jagged granite boulders – not the nice sand that it appeared to be on the satellite images.  The water is rough with two-foot chop and waves near shore.  Sam found some fallen trees on shore to pull his fiberglass kayak out on and Ronnie just man-handled his plastic kayak up over the rocks.  He took logs and quickly built a slide to haul his kayak up without dragging it on the rocks.  Then they got Phil’s plastic kayak out and helped Stew and Dave with their composite boats.  No injuries nor damage.  We were lucky, very lucky.


Take out at Rodman Dam                                                       Phil and Ronnie doing a victory pose

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Now we have over a quarter-mile portage to get our kayaks to the other side of Rodman Dam.  We carried the gear in shifts, not paying attention to whose gear was whose.  The trek took us up the bank, down a paved road across the dam, over or around a guardrail, down a concrete covered or gravel and dirt hill, across a narrow pedestrian bridge, and across two parking lots. As if that was not punishing enough, then we had to haul the kayaks, which were mostly empty, but still heavy enough to require two people to carry them. A special "Thanks" to Stew for leaving most of your water in your kayak!  Eat lunch, repacked, and we’re off.  2 hours to do this – not bad.  Ronnie was smiling and ready to help and do more the whole way.  He is an awesome guy.


All this in one kayak – Dave’s                                             Walking our stuff across the dam

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       Down the other side of the dam                                        Boat Ramp at Rodman Dam

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We are off to Davenport Landing – around 3 or 4 miles from the dam and it was getting late.  Dave’s GPS was spot on with all the points so far and he had planned the stops.  We get to the first decision point and go river right, perfect but then the next point (Davenport Landing – out campsite) shows up in the wrong direction.  We know it should be in front of us and keep paddling.  Of course, Dave forgot the maps to verify.  Oops.  It is getting late so we quickly decide not to keep paddling for fear of getting lost in the labyrinth of routes we see.  It is decided to paddle back to the dam and head out in the morning.   That was a great decision and actually turned out to be more fun than if we had found our campsite.


We camped just across from the dam in an area that had a well-used fire spot and camping area.  Again, we made a nice fire and had a nice area to set up the tents.  We know we are in bear territory and tie our food up in a tree, the sound of the water rushing through the dam made for an enjoyable night’s rest – just like those CDs you can buy.  Some of us discovered that lady bugs bite – we were seeing lots of them and thought it was neat to see them land on us – until they bit.  We were within walking distance to rest rooms and that again makes for nice camping.


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During the night, the most interesting thing happened.  A truck backed down the boat ramp and put a small boat in the water.  Two persons took the boat very fast down river, leaving the truck and trailer on the ramp in the water.  They had no lights on the boat, but appeared to know the river.  A few seconds later, we heard the boat slow to idle and the rev back up and it came right back.  They loaded the boat back on the trailer and then we noticed two trucks leave the area very quickly.  We all recalled seeing a little makeshift houseboat downstream and figured that these guys may have been making a drop or something at the boat. Were they drug runners? We could only speculate.



Day Five: Wednesday, February 20, 2013


It was a nice night with the sound of the rushing water.  In the morning, Ron and Dave head over to the rest rooms which were a little hike from where we camped.  They brought their fishing poles to try their luck and ran into a ranger.  He asked them if they were in the group camping over there.  They said “yes” and he informed them that camping is not allowed and pointed to a very large sign that was facing the road at the entrance.  Dave said “we didn’t see the sign because we came from the other side of the dam and walked down the embankment with our kayaks.”  The ranger then pointed out that it is a $250 fine for having an unauthorized fire in the park.  Oops again.  The ranger was a nice guy and understanding of our circumstances and we told him we would be on our way.


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Phil was determined to see what the guys in the boat were up to so he paddled ahead to snoop around at the little house boat, which had appeared abandoned when we first paddled by it yesterday on our search for the original camp site and then back to the dam.  As he approached, he noticed a dog on the bank and then could see the silhouette of a wiry haired man in the window.  He had a chair and fishing rods on the shore next to his boat, so Phil felt better about the previous night's activity. We imagined now that it was just his sons on a food resupply mission for their dad who was on an extended fishing trip


We paddled towards where we believed Davenport Landing is and find it just under a half-mile from where we turned around the day before.  We didn’t mind because it really was neat to camp near the dam and we wanted some extra paddling time anyway.  So we only paddled around 3 or 4 miles that day and set up camp.


    Davenport Landing Camping area

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At Davenport Landing a couple pulled up in a 4-wheel drive just as we were deciding on what area to camp in.  They took one of the ones we were considering so now we were set.  They were on their honeymoon and very nice.  Duncan and his bride – we didn’t quite catch her name.  They gave us beer and their extra food that they made.  What a treat! 


We set up camp at a leisurely pace and set out to explore the area, which included a steamboat landing and an Indian burial mound, and collected fire wood. Once we had a sizeable pile, we all went fishing to catch supper. It was a good thing that we brought food, no one got a nibble.


  Exploring near Davenport Landing and hiking looking for a bear and other animals

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Again, we hung our food in the trees since bears are in this area.  We decided to take a moon lit walk on the roads around camp, hoping to see a bear. We saw no wildlife, but saw bear tracks and huge piles of bear “scat” that looked like horse turds. The bears were there and they were large. They just didn’t want to be seen. We returned back to camp, threw a couple of logs on the fire, and chatted until time for bed.  We see bats and hear owls that night.  I think we heard owls every night but just now mentioned it.  Another good day.




Day Six: Thursday, February 21, 2013


This was our “Easy” day. We were camping here at Davenport Landing for two nights and were expecting a friend Jack to come by tonight for a visit. There has been talk of perhaps he will resupply us with cold refreshing adult beverages. 


Our day began slowly, nowhere to get to and no set plan for the day.  When Phil came out of his tent Dave asked Ronnie “I wonder if he saw his shadow” and they had a good laugh.  You had to be there to appreciate the camp humor.


Everyone made their breakfasts as they got hungry.  We visited with the honeymooners in the next site.  How’s this sound for a romantic honeymoon, 5 old guys in the next site farting and snoring all night and grunting and groaning every time they move around?  They were a very nice couple and we even mooched a beer or two off them.


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We hiked about 5 miles through the pine and palmetto forest along a fire control trail.  There wasn’t much to see but it was good to exercise our legs after spending the last three days seated in kayaks.  This was our warmest day yet and by the time we were back to camp, hot and sweaty, Dave, Sam, and Ronnie decided to go for a dip in the river.  Sam furnished the bar of soap and we turned it into a bath.


   Bear Proof our food                                                                            5 mile hike

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                         Ronnie, Sam, and Dave take a bath – very cold but nice to be clean!



The water was plenty cold but tolerable once you got past that certain depth that always causes men to cringe.  Ronnie wore swim goggles and swam a little, back and forth but not venturing far away from shore. We had seen gators in the area.


Dave and Sam went paddling down river to check our route for the next day.  Our buddy and fellow Paddle Across Florida member Jack, and his friend Kevin, showed up with a couple of cartons of beer and the best pulled pork barbecue ever.  They were staying at Salt Springs for their own 4-day kayak and camping trip. 


Jack watching Sam and Dave paddle in                                           Jack making us a great dinner

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We visited for a while and Jack gave us the weather forecast for the next day, our longest paddle on open water day, WINDY.  After Jack and Kevin left, we began to decide what time we wanted to begin our 25 mile paddle.  We would start at 6AM, no make that 5, no, 4.  What the hell let’s start at midnight and beat the wind completely.  Midnight it was.  We scurried off to bed at 7PM for a short nap.


Up at 11pm and pack up and get ready to launch!  Ready at midnight – right on time.



Day Seven: Friday, February 22, 2013 


All Night Paddle !!


Day seven actually began on day six with wake up at 11pm Thursday night.  We were all ready to launch by midnight.  Ronnie, Stew, and Dave push off and are waiting for Sam and Phil to launch.  It is really dark, but not too cold so Dave is wearing a long sleeve shirt and shorts.  He didn’t think that it gets colder as the night progresses and he wished later that he was dressed more appropriately.


There is a loud splash and we look to see that Phil went over while trying to launch.  In his words “As I shoved back and was sitting down, the kayak listed sharply to the right and water rushed into the cockpit.  "Was this really happening?"  I thought.  It was dark, and cold and now I am going in the river before we even get started.  I fell partially in but landed on my feet as I watched my kayak roll over beneath me.”  Then “I noticed that nobody seemed to be making too big a deal out of what just happened, so I put on my big boy pants and poured the several gallons of cold water from my cockpit, sponged it out, and got back on my horse.”


Phil launched again with being a little embarrassed and worried about the upcoming all night paddle but he was ready to paddle.  The rest of us laughed after we found out he was all right – all part of the trip.  In retrospect, we should have made sure Phil changed into dry clothes because it was going to be a long, cold night on the water.


         Midnight Run                                                                            We’re Off!

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Ronnie’s report:  “We started down the twisting river under the moon light.  You could see pretty good as long as the moon didn’t hide behind a cloud.  There were plenty of clouds and it went from bright to dark on a regular basis as we paddled along.  The air was still and the only noises other than our paddles were an occasional fish jumping out of the water or a disgruntled bird, usually a heron, squawking as he flew off to find a quieter nighttime perch. 


The river split into three forks, the right and left being smaller and the center fork being the larger channel.  Sam selected the right channel, but the rest of us felt the open channel would be our best bet.  The group stuck together and went down the center.  It wasn’t long before we were getting into a log strewn mess that rapidly became impassable.  Lost in the swamp again, I thought, would not be such great way to spend the night.”


Phil’s rendition:  “As we paddled down the selected trail, we had some serious tree obstructions and I noticed that none of them were cut to make a navigable path.  I became suddenly very uncomfortable and began to question myself as to what I was doing there.  Why had I agreed to this?  After seeing that this was clearly not the right path, Dave and Sam agreed to turn around and go the other way, Thank God!”


We back tracked and headed down Sam’s original choice.  Just around the first bend the river began to open up and we could tell we were on the right path.  We continued down the river for about 7 miles.  In the darkness it seemed like a jungle scene.  There were logs and stumps to avoid and large areas of plant life in every corner.  Sam and Dave led the way with Sam calling out “Log on right!” and Dave every now and then correcting “No! It’s on the left!”  We were maybe a little sleep deprived. 


The darkness made it much more exciting.  The occasional noises in the woods were an eerie addition to our paddling.  You could never see what had made the noise and we paddled on, barely speaking, all together, but everyone on their own.  Abruptly the river opened up into a much larger river.  We had made it to the Saint John’s River.


The Saint Johns River was wider than anywhere we had been before and we were paddling against a slight current as we headed upstream toward Lake George.  The moon had dipped lower toward the horizon and with heavy cloud cover; Ronnie was often following the other kayaks by sound more than by sight.  It was an eerie feeling to be out there in the middle of a wide expanse of water, in the dark, and for all practical purposes, alone.  Turning over out here would be devastating.  There were real risks involved in our night time adventure but we are not daredevils.  We consider the risks and take what Dave likes to call “calculated risks” that are not crazy (in our minds at least) but adds a little excitement to our trips and other adventures.


           Phil  in the dark abyss                                                                                Stew

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The river broadened and we entered Lake George at some nondescript point.  The moon dropped below the horizon and only the stars lit our way.  The shore was a small black band on either side and we were somewhere in the middle of the lake on water that looked like glass.  The cold had settled in and we paddled on, not speaking much, everyone intent on crossing to the other shore and the river leading to Salt Springs.  The miles passed in the darkness.  The cold air grew colder and colder.


Below is a classic report from Phil and worth reading because as was said before, what some think is fun, exciting, or even not that big of a deal can be huge to someone else and we all need to be cognizant of this when taking others for paddles and other adventures. 


Phil :  As I paddled, seemingly alone in the middle of a dark, cold, and wet abyss, I started thinking if this is what Hell might be like. I was very sore and very tired. I was not able to move from my seat, and my actions were monotonous. Right, left, right, left, right left, went the paddle blades into the water. The three faster paddles were far ahead and Ronnie was somewhere nearby, but I could not hear or see him. Dark and miserable solitude, this IS what Hell is like. I was in Hell, but knew that if I could survive, I would soon be in Heaven...on shore, eating, sleeping, warm, and dry. Paddle on. Paddle on.”


   What’s that?  Maybe a kayak!                                                Ronnie looking at the stars

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Ronnie and Phil were in the back of the pack.  Stew, Dave, and Sam were ahead and the only way Phil and Ronnie knew where they were was that Dave wore his head lamp backwards, using his red light.  Dave and Sam were both using their GPSs for guidance across the lake.  The edge of the lake looked like a black band with no indentations in the distance.  Ronnie:  “Finally, after chasing the other kayaks for an eternity, they came to a stop and Phil and I caught up.”  Per the GPS, the mouth of the river should be nearby.  Sam turned on his bright flashlight and it split the darkness.


There it was, as predicted, the sign for the river.  We had made it across Lake George in total darkness to the exact spot we needed to be, thanks to modern technology.  We paused for a short break on a beach and then began to paddle up river, anxious to end our self-induced night time ordeal.  We could tell daylight would soon be upon us.  There were small details along the bank and instead of total black outlines, we could begin to make out trees, reeds, and plant life that had been shielded by the dark and was now only masked by a light fog. Dawn was breaking.




We paddled for about 5 miles up the river and morning was upon us.  We saw lots of fish in the clear water and there was also some other movement just below the surface.  Manatees!  Sam was in front of us all and when he got over a pod of manatees they all of a sudden exploded into what can only describe as a stampede!  They broke the surface, causing Sam's kayak to become unstable and nearly tip over!  They fled in a thunderous rush of splashing water and charged ahead of our group in a matter of seconds.


The river seemed to end in a large pool.  We had made it to Salt Springs.  It is a very large pond with crystal clear water.  Phil made a mad dash to the finish and you could tell he was thankful to be done and on dry land once again.  We arrived just after sunrise at around 7:05 AM on Friday 2/22/2013.  As the rest pulled up there was yet another loud splash but followed by wild laughter.  We all looked to see that as Ronnie tried to get out of his kayak after an all-night paddle, he just fell flat into the water.  He was elated and thought it was too funny that he made it through the whole trip without a mishap until the very last instance.  He wrote  The two things I was sure of, it had been quite the adventure, and I had seen wild manatees. Wet or not, I was thrilled.”


           Take out at Salt Springs                                                        Phil:  I made it !!

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An otter appeared to see what all the commotion was about.  Then we walked up to our campsite where next door Jack and his friends were camping.  So we started talking loudly and Jack came out of his tent.  “I didn’t expect you until around noon!”  We had made great time in the night paddle.  Everyone seems to go faster at night.


Jack once again made us all a great meal for breakfast.  We set up camp and Phil sat down and looked totally spent but you know what?  He did it.  We all did – as a team.


We spent the morning shuttling cars from Nelson’s Outdoor Resort (our trip starting point) back to the camp, running errands, and napping.  Stew and Dave explored the springs in their now empty kayaks.  Later in the afternoon, Sam, Dave, and Stew bought a bottle of champagne and delivered it to the honeymooners we had met at our last campsite (Davenport Landing).  We thought it would be a nice gesture to bring it to them and it was only a short drive away by car.  Upon arriving back at the camp, we found their camp site to be still there (we knew they were staying until Sunday) but they were off somewhere in their Jeep.  Dave put a "Paddle Across Florida" contact card and the bottle of Cold Duck at the door of their tent, took a photo of it for his blog and we left.


Stew: traditional of burning of his trip underwear                     Exploring Salt Springs

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  Champagne left for the newlyweds                                        Have a wonderful marriage guys!

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Ronnie went down to the spring with snorkel and goggles and joined several other people swimming in the shallow water.  The manatees were there, eating the vegetation growing on the bottom.  As he swam, Ronnie collected small plant pieces floating on the surface and offered them with an out stretched hand.  A manatee swam over and ate from his hand.  


Dinner, again compliments of Jack, was an awesome Tortellini Soup.  Jack added so much to our trip with his making us dinner and just visiting with us.  He is a great guy and good friend.





Phil’s conclusion:  “After getting some rest, I pondered the week past.  I overcame some incredible challenges and believe I will look at adversity differently from here on out.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone and learned a lot about kayaking, camping, and myself.  I made some new and wonderful friends and plan to do this again and again.  What river lies ahead?  Only the future knows.”


Ronnie:  “My paddle adventure to Florida turned out to be much more than I had ever imagined.”


As for the Paddle Across Florida regulars – Sam, Stew, and Dave, that is what it’s all about and we are very glad we could share the experience with others and touch them in a way that will last forever.  Dave had told Phil’s wife who was in tears as he left home for the trip: “We will return him a changed man” and that we did.




Day Eight: Saturday, February 23, 2013


We had breakfast at a restaurant in town.  Very nice and good food – not that it could compete with Jack’s of course!  We then packed up and say our goodbyes.  Ronnie headed back to Virginia, Sam drove Phil back home and then on to his place in south Florida, our friends Jack, Kevin, and John were going for a sail/paddle today so Stew and Dave followed them to launch and watched them paddle away.


They were giving away puppies outside the restaurant!    Jack, John, Kevin readying for their day

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Stew and Dave had yet another adventure waiting for tomorrow.  They were running a half marathon with their wives in Tampa.  Dave’s daughter was also meeting them there.  Stew and Dave drove 2 hours to the west coast of Florida, to Tampa.  The Gasparilla Half-Marathon starts at 6am Sunday.  Dave had been wanting to do it for years but it always coincided with the kayak trip dates.  This time he said, “Heck, let’s just do it.”  Stew also was all for it.  It was crazy but well worth it – if only for the medal!




Sunday, February 24, 2013 Tampa, FL  Gasparilla half marathon


The race started at 6 am and had over 10,000 people participating.  Great weather for a run.  It was pretty cool to finally be doing this race.  Dave was excited because his daughter Laura was running her first half marathon.  During the race there were lots of people cheering them on and others entertaining the crowd.  One guy was doing reggae songs and when a slow runner hobbled by he sang out “You got to pick it up mon!”  That was funny.  We were glad we did the race and it meant more because we had our families with us and it was a little crazy to do it right after our trip.


      Stew, Diane, Dave, Darcy, Laura – Gasparilla Half-Marathon, Feb 24, 2013, Tampa, FL

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Gasparilla 2013 Half-Marathon Medal





This was yet another memorable trip with friends, new friends, and adventure.  We hope that reading this will encourage and enthuse you to push your limits and give to others in any way you can.






As always, we use Google Maps to scout areas, get ideas, and find places to stay.


Google Earth is used to retrieve GPS points (campsites, river mouth, turns, etc.) and to measure distances


Use Google search to find info and resources.


Our website:  paddleacrossflorida.com


Nelson’s Outdoor Resort:  http://www.nelsonsoutdoorresort.com/


Canoe Outpost:  http://www.outpostresort.com/  We didn’t stay here but used their online map as a resource

You can use them to rent/shuttle and as a place to camp/rent cabin.


Ocala National Forest:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/ocala/home

Within the website:


Ocklawaha River :  http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recreation/wateractivities/recarea/?recid=40317&actid=79


Rodman Dam:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recreation/recarea/?recid=40325


Davenport Landing: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=40240&actid=34


Salt Springs:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=32362&actid=29