Friday, March 30, 2007

Going up the Creeks

The Google image above shows the Chassahowitzka River on Florida's west coast and one of my paddling routes.

It's a spring-fed river, meaning that each of the little tributaries begins at a spring where clear, warm water bubbles up from the ground from a crack or hole seen in the picture to the left. Often the volume of the flow is enough to create considerable current requiring one to continue paddling just to maintain one's position at the spring itself.

The green area on the right of the map image is forest covered with a variety of tropical trees and other plants. It is thick and lush, not the kind of place a person would want to try walking through. It is too thick, wet and swampy. Paddling the side creeks, however is easy and filled with an incredible variety of flora and fauna both in the water and on . I paddled several of them more than once and each time saw something new and, to me, unexpected.

The brown areas on the left side of the map image is grass. The transition is abrupt and total. Suddenly there is an open horizon with waterways leading in many directions. It is no place to wander without a good map and compass! It is also an area where a paddling trail exists so that one can move along the coast from place to place. The trail is not marked on the ground, but it is shown on the map I had as a dotted line. Again the marsh grasses are teeming with wildlife including alligators, snakes and a variety of wading birds with manatees feeding in the waters. Large fish can often be seen rolling on the surface or jumping in the air.

The Chassahowitzka area is a 'nature preserve' which is slowly being developed for visitors. The picture above is of a small picnic area containing a dock, a covered area and a solar powered toilet. Over-nighting is not permitted, but I suspect it has been used in the past... All in all, the area is a fascinating one which is best explored by a small boat like a kayak which can peek into the many little side creeks without disturbing much of anything.

There is a third environment in this area, the mangrove islands. These form the outermost islands before one is on the open Gulf of Mexico. I didn't explore these this year, but they too are well worth the effort it takes to visit. It's always nice to leave a little something for 'next time', wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Filming and Paddling

One of my paddling goals this year is to work out a system of making hi-res videos a bit like those pioneered by Justine Curvegen. Her deck mounted camera has enabled many of us to, in effect, paddle her kayak and be there on her various adventures. While I have no commercial interests, I am interested in preserving my trips and share them with fellow bloggers and friends.

So while in Florida recently, I used a deck mounted Sticky Pod platform to mount a Viosport waterproof lens which was connected to my Canon videocam. I used both the standard 4 inch Sticky Pod extension pole as well as an option 12 inch extension to mount the lens. Other lengths are also available as well as a gooseneck, but I began with these. One of the advantages of the longer length is a more realistic viewpoint. Lens mounted too close to the deck level give the impression the boat is traveling faster than it is and, let's face it, none of us paddles with our chins on the foredeck if we can avoid it.

I'm working on editing the film now, but it will be a while before posting anything. The huge video files made it necessary to get an external hard drive for storage purposes! I think the working rule is about 200 mb per minute of video and I have lots of exposed film!

The only potentially serious difficulty that reared its head during the filming process was the need for a better waterproof container for my video camera and the lens' batteries which allows me easy access. I had hoped as well to be able to operate the whole apparatus using the camera's remote, but that didn't work out with my camera. These problems prevented me from filming in rougher conditions, but it was suitable for rivers and many coastal areas when it was calm. I'll be working on these areas in the coming months. Feel free to provide any advice if you'd like!

Aside: if you are reading this blog from Sarnia, Ontario, could you please send me a note? I have a question for you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Paddle to Cayo Costa

Click on map to see route more clearly.

The Calusa Paddling trail in Florida's Ft Myers - Sanibel Island area is one of the sections of Florida's coastal paddling trail which has been best developed. Another section of the Trail can be found further south in the Estero Bay area. There are a variety of put-in sites to chose from and once you are on the water, there are signs along the way to help the visiting paddler, especially those with little experience or who don't really know where they would like to go or what there is to see. There are maps which enable one to follow set routes from sign post to sign post in a numerical sequence designed to take you past the various archeological sites of the Calusa Indian people who once lived in the area.

I put-in at once such site on the northwest end of Pine Island. My intention was to spend the day paddling out to Cayo Costa, a state park offshore island still untouched by the building spree going on along this coast of Florida.

It was a hot sunny day with little wind as I headed out. There being a series of low lying mangrove bordered islands along the way, each one far enough away, I was glad to have a map and compass on the foredeck, especially as I had chosen not to follow the Calusa route.

While there were buoyed deep water channels used by a large number of weekend power boaters and fishermen, much of my passage was over shallow water, often only a meter of less deep, a mile or more offshore.

I arrived at the park entrance around noon and realised I ought to have made arrangements to camp over-night prior to my departure from Pine Island. I spoke with several visitors and all agreed a stay on the outer island was well worth the time. As it was, I paddled northward around the coast, through the passage out into the Gulf of Mexico where I was hoping to find some more interesting paddling water than I had found so far in the sheltered bay. Alas, the Gulf was nearly calm, with barely a swell. Only the large number of boat wakes coming from a variety of directions provided any excitement.

It was time to turn around and head back to Pine Island. I was surprised to see only a single dolphin during the day. In previous years, there were frequent sightings, but perhaps the high density of recreational power boats discouraged them. Would I go back to this area? Yes! I'd arrange to camp on Cayo Costa and I'd also check out the southern section of the Trail, especially the nature reserve on Sanibel Island. It's not really 'wilderness' paddling by any stretch, but interesting none the less, especially for anyone interested in safe paddling in warm waters in what can frequently be 'natural' settings out of sight of built-up areas.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Snowy Fields and Warm Hearts

Heading northwards after a month of warm, sunny weather, paddling in the natural wonderland I discovered in my journey along Florida's west coast was not something I was looking forward to. Not unexpectedly I ran into occasional patches of snow which slowly grew into fields of white. By the time I got to southern Vermont, it was raining and a dismal landscape began unfolding in front of the car.

Still the sudden appearance of people speaking French on the radio stations and the talk of the election being held in the province of Québec all reminded me of the warmth that existed at home. I found myself pushing the gas pedal just a bit harder. I suddenly wanted to be home with my family regardless of the weather. At the border, the custom's man only seemed to want to talk about my paddling experiences. My car, full of a month's worth of 'fun in the sun' smells was not something he wanted to get outside to check. He waved me on and I was home in Canada once again.

The drive from Florida was sprinkled with little diamonds, visits with wonderful, remarkable people, who generously took the time to meet me and let me peek into their lives. I can't thank them enough. It turned a long drive into a very warm and human experience. Thank you all so much!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bearing All and Hating It

Now that I'm on my way home, I've had a chance to zip down the list of bloggers you see in the sidebar - as well as a few others not listed - to see what's been going on in the world while I've been offline. Let me say I've enjoyed reading the news, the fabulous WaterTribe adventures and the interesting opinions expressed.

In a couple of cases however, I find myself reading a few lines and very quickly I start to fade out. There's not much to sustain my interest. Introspective navel gazing, seductively vague hints and dark soul-searching isn't my kind of paddling. Nor is sex for the solo paddler and the never-ending search for the perfect paddling partner. Is this what paddling has become for some people?

Have I been away too long, living and paddling in the real world, cheating on winter, escaping, soaking up the joy of exploring new water? Maybe I'm not ready for this cyber-world... Maybe that's okay, I've had a great month in the sun, met some incredible people and I have some fun stories to tell!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Springing Northwards

The Sun has moved across the equator and it's again time for me to get out from under the palm leaves, stow my tent and move along as well. With a bit of luck and the kindness of strangers, I will try meeting a number of fellow kayak bloggers along my route. We're a new and exciting breed, us cyber-kayakers, and I look forward to sharing the new Spring together!

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Long Walk Home

Coming through the mountains of northern Georgia I stopped in at a little roadside parking lot. There were a few other cars in the lot, but no one was around. I wasn't surprised. It was mid afternoon and any serious hiker would be well out on the trail at that time of day. What trail, you ask? Why the Appalachian Trail, naturally. Georgia is the starting point for 'thru-hikers', those intending to reach trail end in northern Maine before freeze-up in the fall.

It's truly a remarkable concept to think about given the physical shape many people are in these days. That there is a means of walking away just about any ill that you might have, that it begins here and that it's ready and waiting for anyone to take is very intriguing. I was tempted to just leave the car and start out. I'd fix myself once and for all!

Florida is working on a 'round the state paddling trail. It would be wonderful to see more places doing the same. And don't worry about them getting too crowded. The Appalachian Trail isn't and I doubt it ever will be. Can you just imagine if there was a South Coast Newfoundland Paddling Trail, heading out only to discover it was way too crowded? I don't think so!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Nature Coast of Florida

I paddled on that famous river of song, the Suwannee, today. I've known that song as long as I can remember and to paddle on its waters was a treat. It also means I'm facing up to my family responsibilities and slowly, reluctantly, but dutifully, heading northward and homeward. I'll be doing my best to pull Spring along in my wake.

I'll be leaving these laughing gulls behind to guard the beaches and the waters until I can return. It's been a different trip this year, one surrounded by a natural, old fashioned Florida, which many might think had disappeared. It hasn't entirely. Pockets still remain and I'll post some stories on the places I discovered in the coming weeks.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Internet With Those Fries, Sir?

Who would have guessed that the Golden Arches supports wilderness kayaking? Well, they don't, actually, but waterside stops within reach of the famous burger joints give you easy access to wireless internet and that means kayakers - at least those wearing shirts and shoes of some sort - can update their blogs etc while enjoying a refreshing... aaa... something edible - at least other people here seem to be eating whatever this is... So this is your update! Cool, eh? Keep paddling!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Calusa Trail...

Not exactly the wilds of Florida, but I've found paddling this 'Water Trail' in the Fort Myers area more interesting that I expected. Tomorrow I hope to get out to the outer islands, especially one called Cayo Costa. This is a state park area without any habitants, so it ought to be a bit wilder than Pine Island where I am at present.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

No, I'm Not Lost!

But I am paddling down the west Florida coastline! Seagrass, manatees and birds, lots and lots of birds! And hardly any wilderness internet! Yeh!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Look at Both Sides

Pictures like the one above are always interesting because of the mirror image. Whatever is seen above is sort of repeated below. It's the ying-yang, the light-dark, the male-female. Not always opposites, each relies on the other for its presence. Only one is real, yet at times the other side of the image can appear more clearly and more forcefully leaving one confused and at odds with reality.

So it can be with people. Sometimes it hard to decide which side of a person is the real one. Is it the one who hugged you or the one who slapped you? The one who praised you or the one who slandered you? The one you loved or the one you hated? Which is more real?

Perhaps, like the image, both realities are reflections of the other, both exist as a result of the other, they're mutually dependent. So, perhaps we shouldn't expect to see only one image of the world around us. There will always be others, perhaps several others. We must learn to live with them all even if we prefer only one in particular. We can cherish and nurture the one we prefer, but expect a few surprises along the way.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rainy Day Ramble

While rainy days can often be boring, I've been taking advantage of the indoor time to put together the equipment I recently purchased to make higher quality videos out on the water. As I had the Sticky Pod and the waterproof camera lens shipped to Georgia, I had to wait until I got here to assemble the bits and try them out.

I had a little trouble getting the video camera to record, but now everything seems to be running well. Next step is to get it out on the water and film! That will happen next week, when I get to Florida. I'll keep you posted on my upcoming This Is Michael video releases (TIM videos for short!).