Feb 24 –
(If you are planning a
this trip as Moderate/Difficult due to our daily mileage. If we didn’t cover so much distance this
would be Moderate only due to areas of low and fast moving water and the
portage at Big Shoals. The
Paddlers: Stew 51, Tom 58, Craig 31, Dave 48
Note: Tom drove down from
Kayaks: Current Designs Solstice GTS, QCC 700, Current Designs Storm, Current Designs Solstice GTS same order as paddlers list.
the trip we looked at maps, marked what looked like good places to camp, read
everything we could on kayaking/canoeing the
Quote from his email to me “You are making a big mistake trying to set a darn speed record. WHY the heck would you want to do that? You won’t have time to enjoy the trip. You’re making it a hard working chore. Take your time and do it right, and smell the roses Youngman. You should want to be able to say, “Damn that was really a fun trip, need to do it again sometime,” Not “That was way too much, sure don’t want to do THAT again.” Paddle leisurely, don’t burn up your paddles and you’ll be glad you did. NOT swift!”
Canoe Outpost came right out and said “I don’t think you will make it” when I
told him what we were going to do.
Finally, Wednesday before we left (our trip was to start that
Saturday) I emailed Wendell at the White Springs outfitter (American Canoe
Adventures) and he said “We did a trip from
I drive in my car to Suwannee Canoe Outpost located in The Spirit of the
1-800-428-4147, website www.canoeoutpost.com
Craig left a few hours earlier and Tom was already there.
We get there around and say “Hi” to everyone. I decide not to set up my tent because I was being lazy and try to sleep in my car. Craig also slept in his car but was bundled up pretty good and his seats reclined. Stew set up his tent, Tom is in his truck in luxury on a sleeping pad. It gets to 37 degrees and I am absolutely freezing. I had a terrible night with being extremely cold and uncomfortable in my cramped car but that was my fault. I should have set up my tent, used my sleeping bag, and dressed for the weather. I was too lazy to get up and put on warmer clothes but I did around since I was so cold. Stew also said he had a bad night due to the cold. The outfitters told us the next day that 37 degrees in the campground is a lot colder than 37 degrees elsewhere. They were right.
Day 1 Saturday, Feb 24, 2007 28.7 miles
(the owner) and David (one of the guides) from the outfitters show up right
on time – we requested a sharp shuttle to
We get to
It is cold out – all of us are wearing warm clothes and layering. The water is shallow as expected and we cautiously begin our paddle while looking out for rocks and fallen trees in the river. The river in this area is very pristine and has numerous turns and bends with little to no signs that anyone has come this way for some time. It is absolutely fantastic – better than I had imagined it would be and I’ll bet it is as good as just about any other river out there.
At one point someone yells “rapids!” and sure enough there was rushing water ahead. I was very nervous because I’ve never been in a kayak – let alone a fully loaded kayak - in rapids before and I sure as heck didn’t want to tip over. So, I got behind Tom who is experienced with rapids and he also has a brand new kayak that he doesn’t want to scrape up! Tom picks his way through and I follow his path. It was exhilarating and made the paddle all that more exciting and enjoyable. We went through several more rapids and/or fast moving water areas that day.
until and find a nice level-looking sandy area to set up
All of us go to sleep practically right after dinner – tired from paddling but more sleepy from a restless previous night. I woke up around with a splitting headache and had to stand up looking at the stars for around an hour and a half until my headache subsided with the help of 3 aspirins. Don’t know why but I always seem to get a headache on day one of a long trip – maybe eye strain and dehydration…
Day 2 Sunday, February 25, 2007 23.1 miles
Rise and shine! we get up, make hot water for coffee and oatmeal, have breakfast and pack up. Very slow – especially me – I’m brain dead and can’t think straight or move fast. We launch around . We’ll have to work on that.
Another excellent paddling day – warmer today we don’t need the extra layer of clothes. Great views and still more rapids/swift water to contend with to make us smile. Low water so we have to watch out for rocks and trees in the water. This also lets us see a lot of limestone croppings on the river banks that are normally below water. The banks of the river are majestic with rock formations, trees and their roots exposed and pristine white sandbars. Stew says it looks a lot like the scenery from the movie Deliverance. Partially overcast keeps things a little cooler but very comfortable for paddling. Making good time – current maybe 1 mph and finally we make it to Big Shoals – this is where the fun stops for a while.
Big Shoals is a class 3 rapid during higher water and it is not advisable to run them unless you know what you are doing. Definitely don’t run them in a loaded boat. They weren’t passable with our kayaks anyway – Tom said if he had a smaller plastic kayak he would have attempted them. We portage the kayaks and find that the shorter quarter-mile portage is not doable due to the low water so we go further – just under a half-mile to find a place that is just terrible to launch from but we have no other options. After thinking about it and talking it over, the portage was probably close to or just under a quarter mile although it seemed further at the time!
Tom brought a kayak cart just for this and I was glad he did. We strap a kayak to the cart and pull and push it our roots, rocks and assorted bumps to the top of a cliff where we will later have to carry the kayaks down over rocks and very slippery clay-like mud. Tom’s kayak was the worse due to its weight. I’ll bet it weighed more than 250 lbs without Tom in it! Anyway, it took us 2.5 hours to get through the portage and we made it through without any mishaps except for Tom slipping and falling 4 times – ouch! If he had slipped while we were carrying one of the kayaks, it would have been all over for him and the kayak – nothing but hard, sharp rocks.
We end up covering 23.1 miles that day and decide to stop at a boat ramp that belongs to an RV/campground called The Suwannee Valley Campground. It was a very nice place with a laundry area, (very) small store, bathrooms, showers, and nice residents. The only drawback being a 70-stair climb to the top of the river bank. Of course I forgot several items in my kayak several times and had to make 2 or 3 extra trips up and down those stairs – that’s why I know there are 70 exactly.
wanted pizza for dinner and asked the girl at the store if she knew of a
pizza place where we could order one for delivery. Her response and a quote we used many times
for the rest our trip was “This is White Springs. We ain’t got nothing in White
Springs.” No pizza so we made our own
dinners but that night they had a root beer float social at the clubhouse and
everyone was invited. It was very
nice. We called Tom’s brother Jeff (in
Day 3 Monday, February 26, 2007 29.9 miles
Up at , make breakfast and coffee and
we’re on our way. Today we shove off
around – still slow but with the stairs and still getting used
to the routine - it was acceptable.
Another sunny, warm day that leads us through many more turns, bends
and fantastic sights. More small
rapids and shallow shoals keeps things interesting and now we get some high
rock walls to add to our viewing pleasure.
We stopped at the outfitters (who shuttled us) in the Spirit of the
No sign of anyone at the shop – we wanted to let them know our progress so we move on. We paddle for around 2 hours and Tom has calculated that we have 5 or 6 more miles to go to get to our next destination Holton River Camp which would put us on schedule. We were feeling pretty tired – it was a long day with all the sharp turns and winding river - when all of a sudden around yet another bend we see the Holton River Camp – around mile 140 on the Suwannee River map of launch sites. What a pleasant surprise that was! Here we thought we had more than an hour to go and we were already there after kayaking 29.9 miles that day. This was a very nice set up – the state did a great job putting this together except for an almost impossible place to store your kayaks/canoes/etc – way up the steep bank – but this was due to the extremely low water. We just pulled our kayaks far up on the bank and left them there. In retrospect, we should have tied a rope to them and also to a firm tree – Craig did but the rest of us didn’t. The camp is I think 5 wood structures big enough to house 6 people each with a roof, electricity, and night lights that have motion detectors. Picnic and campfire areas and bathrooms with showers are also provided. The camp hosts were also very nice and knowledgeable. We all slept in the shelters on the wood floors and heard owls and things scurrying in the bushes. Some of us saw armadillos foraging. A very pleasant night.
Day 4 Tuesday, February 27, 2007 37.3 miles
shine at make breakfast, coffee, pack the yaks and what’s
this? We’re off in the dark just after
. Finally I think
we got our morning rhythm going.
Pretty neat paddling in the dark.
I launch into a dead tree in the middle of the river with minimal
impact but it got me to be real cautious while paddling. Around a few bends (actually 4 miles now
that I looked at a map) we pass where the
Again, as with the entire trip, we are blessed with terrific scenery with interesting trees and rocks along the banks not to mention the water having boils from time to time from springs spewing out absolutely clean, clear, water. The river still looks like we are in the middle of nowhere but we start seeing more and more signs of civilization by way of bridges and stairways coming down to the river. Dave sees all sorts of animals along the banks that keep turning out to be rocks, sticks, logs, and other non-animal things. Several times he is yelling at Tom – “Look, look at that!” or “Tom, over there – it’s an alligator!” Finally Tom goes over and picks up a stick Dave was pointing to and brings it to him and says “Here’s your alligator.” Obviously, Dave needs glasses for distance. He doesn’t wear them much but maybe he should.
We end up having our longest day at 37.3 miles and camp at Lafayette Springs around mile 103 from the Gulf on the river map. It was another nice campground – only complaint is that the camping area was pretty far away from the river. We left our kayaks under the trees and walked our camping gear to the campground area. The ranger said they couldn’t allow us to camp outside the campground – next to our kayaks as we requested. That was okay – we understand they have to follow rules. Nice showers and another nice night. Again we hear owls and what I thought were numerous raccoons talking with each other. Still not sure that was raccoons but it sure sounded like them.
Day 5 Wednesday, February 28, 2007 37 miles
Launching at was a great idea and this day was particularly cool because it was very foggy out. It was an eerie and magical experience being in the water before daylight and in the fog. It became even more majestic as the sun rose and slowly burned off the fog. Our goal was to make it to the Cove restaurant where there is a campground and the restaurant is known for its food. The scenery was still great with the river getting a little wider the further south we went. We pass abandoned, broken down bridges, an old railroad bridge that used to rotate to allow big boats to pass and signs of other structures worn down by nature over many years. The sky turned overcast and a few bursts of lightning came a little too close although they were pretty far off. It just makes you edgy knowing you are pretty much stuck should a storm catch you out on the river with no place to hide. Some windy conditions but I still wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else at the time.
several stops we saw signs with warnings about big jumping fish – we thought it
was a joke at first but then remembered reading about them. People have been hit while motor boating
and jet skiing in the
On one of our breaks we saw some people at a boat ramp and asked how far to the Cove restaurant. They said it was only open Thursday through Sunday (today is Wednesday!) and our hearts sank. We finally make it to the restaurant around and sure enough it was closed (open Friday thru Sunday only) and no signs of people or campers. We decide to push on until 4 or and see where we end up. As luck would have it, we find a boat ramp with a very nice area for camping next to it. Some locals say people camp there all the time so we feel good about this spot. It is around mile 67 on the river map. Another 37-mile day under our belts and for the first time we now know that we will be able to complete our trip on time with the extra miles from the last two days.
wanted pizza and some nice local couple coming back from a boat trip gave us
their phone number and we called them after they got home
for the local pizza take-out number.
As luck would have it, the pizza place closed some time ago. Oh well, crank up the stoves and make our
camp dinners. A very nice, friendly
local man comes up to us and starts talking to us while we are fixing our
dinners. His name is George and he
pulls up his chair. He tells us a
story about a memorial about 60 feet from our campsites. There was a stone that read something about
a “Chief Leroy” so I had asked George about it. He said the guy was driving at a high rate
of speed and he hit a tree so hard “it split his feet.” I didn’t ask him to explain… Anyway the road is straight and around 7
miles long and ends at the
That evening pickup trucks arrive and everyone gets out and drinks a beer or two and talks. Pretty neat – like an informal social that I’m sure they do all the time. They stay maybe an hour and a half and then leave. We have the place to ourselves except for a van that drives quickly through the grass at around . Another great place to camp – we were extremely fortunate at all of our campsites this trip.
Day 6 Thursday, March 1, 2007 32 miles
Our early routine has become just that – all of us are up at preparing and eating breakfast and packing and ready to launch at . Another nice day – at first. The river is wider in this area but the scenery is still fantastic. We preferred the more narrow parts of the northern half of the river but this was also beautiful. The winds picked up and seemed to always be in our faces at around 15 to 25 mph, even with the river winding all the time. There were times when we were too close to lightning and couldn’t decide whether it was better to be out in the middle of the river or near the sides with the tall trees. We all separated somewhat (better that only one of us gets hit than the whole group!) and paddled fast to get out from under the edge of the storm where the bulk of the lightning was. Mostly overcast day with occasional showers and we were getting tired of the wind although we were still making very good time per my GPS at over 4 mph.
Craig was having problems with blisters and especially the wind since he was the only one in a plastic kayak and it had things strapped all over the top. When a gust came down the river – and it really blew hard when it got between the banks due to a venturi effect - you could see him slow down and even get pushed sideways at times. Boy was I glad I was in my Solstice. I too had blisters and was trying to ignore them and hoped they wouldn’t get infected – they didn’t and they actually became hard by the end of our trip. The wind was irritating all of us but having the GPS made us feel better because we could monitor how fast we were going and it still was in the 4 mph range.
We finally arrive at Fanning
Springs. It has a nice campground but
again, you have to carry the kayaks a bit to the camping area – but not too
far. When we went to pay for the camp
site the rangers and everyone in the office started telling us how we were
under severe weather warnings with the possibility of tornadoes. They even showed us an on-line weather map
where the worst weather shown in multiple red squares was over our area. It even had two red squares overlapping
right over us. Just great – we are all
tired with our tents set up under giant 100-year old oak trees. Well, Fanning Springs is located in an
actual town so we walked across the street and ate at a barbeque place. We ordered too much to eat and all of us
ate a little too much but it was good to have “real” food for a change. On the way back from the restaurant, Dave
found a snake by the water – either a baby moccasin or a brown water
snake. Of course he picked it up with
a stick and did his best Steve Irwin imitation. Tom being from
When we got back to the campground the winds were picking up and the sky didn’t look so good. We spent some time walking around the springs and sat at a shelter at the end of a boardwalk. Dave went to the river to look for Indian arrow heads because he promised his wife he would – didn’t find any. The good part was that while down by the river Dave picked up a stick and was able to reach Tom’s legs about 12 feet above him. Tom screamed and Dave laughed harder than he had in a long time. It was funny but Dave was well aware that Tom also is good at practical jokes and was wary the rest of the trip although Tom never went for the revenge.
As night approached, we decided to move our tents to a big solid-looking outdoor stage that was made of wood and had a roof. Everyone was glad they did and the rangers even said it was okay due to the storm threat. It was a good idea and we were happy because it was very windy and rained on and off throughout the night. The next morning we were dry. Tornadoes did hit just north of us and I think a few people were killed in the storms so we were very lucky.
Day 7 Friday, March 2, 2007 30 miles
raining when we get up at – great timing. Quick breakfast and we wait out the storm –
no hurry today because we only need to do 30 miles to get to the city of
stopped at Manatee Springs and carefully got out on a floating, metal boat
dock. Here is where we really caught a
chill – very rainy, windy, and cold – but no lightning. We explore the park a little and Dave is
stopped by a guy (we later nickname “Scary Guy” who insists that we need to
we leave Manatee Springs – I say finally because we were all getting pretty
cold with not paddling. As we leave we
paddle toward the springs and over around 5 baby manatees which scary guy
pointed out to us earlier. We passed
under the boardwalk which had buzzards lined up along the rails – not such a
good omen. Scary Guy watches us pass
by. He was also helpful because he
told us of a place to stay when we get to the city of
way we pass a house boat with two women on board. We wave and start talking with them. They knew about us because they read about
our trip in the paper as well as our trip last year. Their names were Amy and Carol and one was from
make it to
We ate at a restaurant just down the street – Sarah’s I think. It was an excellent meal and a celebration that we had actually made it! The night was uneventful and we were glad we stayed in the fish house because it rained and there were biting gnats outside.
Day 8 Saturday, March 2, 2007 7 miles
We get up around and go to the restaurant again
for breakfast which was also great and then got in our kayaks for the grand
finale. We paddled around 3 1/2 miles
We loaded our kayaks on their trailer and Tom decided to load his while still fully packed which turned out to be a not-so-good decision. His kayak got some nasty dings in it from the long, bumpy ride. What made it worse was his kayak was a brand new QCC 700. He took it back to the factory for repair since he lives around 100 miles from them. They are very nice, talented people and did a fantastic job repairing the kayak – looks good as new.
The next hour we prepare our vehicles and load our kayaks and other stuff for the ride home. A little melancholy in the air knowing our adventure has come to an end. We didn’t want it to end. We all caravan and eat dinner at a Cracker Barrel along the highway and then say our good byes and head home.
Wow. What a great trip! 225 miles of kayaking with awesome experiences with friends, people we met, and lots of individual time alone paddling as desired/needed. A big challenge with rich rewards of accomplishment but mainly fond memories. I’m ready for our next trip!
The best advice I can give is to plan a trip and JUST DO IT! - our trip was awesome and something I never thought I could or would do just a few years ago. The trip was over too soon and each commented that they would gladly do it again.
A MUST: Call Suwannee River Water Management District 800 226-1066 and request several “Boat Ramps and Canoe Launches” maps of the river (these have mile markers on them every mile and places of interest like potential camp sites. Ask for any other brochures they have that may help for your trip planning – a good one is Suwannee River Wilderness Trail brochure. The people there are very nice and helpful.
Get the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail brochure from Suwannee River Wilderness Trail
800 868-9914 and on the web www.SuwanneeRiver.com There is a National Geographic Destination Map of the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail too that is pretty good. Not sure which organization sent that to us – ask for it.
very happy with The Canoe Outpost in the Spirit of the
800-428-4147 (800 number not listed on their website). They have a website too www.canoeoutpost.com/Suwannee/outpost.htm
these web resources and Google the
www.aca1.com - American Canoe Adventures in White Springs – Wendell was very
helpful and knowledgeable and they also offer shuttle service. His positive email two days before our trip
sealed our resolve to start in
http://paddleacrossflorida.home.att.net Our website for more photos (not sure how long it will be up)
www.canoe-suwannee.com – Bill Logan’s site
used maps.google.com to get a better idea of the terrain and research as well
as just plugging in “