Coldwater Creek, Florida - March 27-29, 1997
(This was our first experience canoe camping)
Well, after hitting a couple of Cracker Barrels on the way down, (Skip was on a "Beanie Baby" quest), we arrived at Adventures Unlimited at about 5:00. They were about to close so we lucked-out on the timing. We paid for the cottage and got information about what to do the next morning and then headed back to the cottage.
It was a quaint little place, built in 1901 and later moved to it's present location. It had two bedrooms and a kitchen, den, bath, nice front and back porches and a fireplace. It's named the "Granny Peaden Cottage". After unloading and looking around a bit, we all hopped in the Rodeo and headed into Milton for supper, ending up at Captain D's.
The cottage was situated in a sizable field and thanks to clear skies, we were able to do some good comet watching and photography out in the front yard.
Friday morning came with cloudy skies and a light sprinkle. I got up about 6:15 and began shortly preparing my breakfast of Spam n'eggs. Skip whipped up some oatmeal and we moved out to the back porch to eat.
We were loaded up and back at the outfitter's by 8:00 and made our arrangements for the morning. We loaded our canoes onto a trailer of theirs and our gear into Skip's canoe and a van. Then we, and eight other people got into the van and off we went. The ride was about half an hour or so over both dirt and paved roads. Seeing all of us and all that gear crammed into the back of the van like that reminded me of scenes I've seen from Himalayan expeditions when the climbers and porters and all are in a rickety old bus going up through the mountains on a dirt road. (Except they're not pulling a trailer loaded with canoes) The other people were going for a day trip on the same river and they had rented their canoes from the outfitters.
After much ado, we finally began floating at 9:50. About an hour or so into the trip, we were hit with a pretty substantial shower. I grabbed my microlite jacket and yanked it on but managed to get pretty wet before I got covered. Skip and Kyle pulled over to the bank and got under some overhanging bushes while Owen and I just sat out in the river. I grabbed the video camera, which luckily I had already put in it's new waterproof case, and began taping.
Owen looked funny sitting back there in the rain with his hat drooping about his face. After a few minutes, we began to move on down the river and not long after then, the rain stopped. We stopped and dumped the water out of the canoes and headed on.
We found a suitable sandbar and stopped for lunch at around 12:30. Owen suggested reviewing the video while we were stopped. As mentioned, he had just bought an under-water case for the camera and I had taped some with the camera completely submerged. Here we made a most dis-heartening discovery, the camera was messed up and the video I had shot was ruined. Even worse, we would later learn that the condition couldn't be corrected in the field and there would be no more video. Bummer.
After a lunch of a chicken salad sandwich and a can of Beenee-Weenee, we sat off down the river. The water here was very clear and the bottom of the river was pretty, being mostly sand or smooth gravel. In most places, the water was only knee-deep or less, with an occasional spot being waist-deep or a little better. There were mostly White Cedar trees along the banks with a few Cypress here and there.
We had earlier discussed what time we wanted to stop and decided on around 3:30. About this time, we came upon a nice sandbar and decided it worthy of our camp. It was fairly large, maybe 50 yards or so in length and about 30 yards wide. We had traveled just over 9 miles. Owen and I spread out the tarp and, since there was still a chance of showers, decided to fold it over and make a roof over our bivys. We used the paddles for front poles and tied off to the ends of our canoe in front and Skip's in the back. It worked pretty well.
We scrounged up some firewood and then ate supper. Not having to carry this load on my back, I had chosen to use some canned foods for my evening meal. I had a chicken and vegetable lunch bucket and augmented it with a can of all-white chicken meat. It proved to be quite tasty.
After supper, I started the fire and we took some fire-side photos and did the usual camping chat around the fire. We began bedding down around 8:30. Shortly afterwards, owls began to hoot in the trees around us. Kyle did his usual owl call and played a "Sounds of the Bayou" CD that he had with him. (He had brought a CD player and speakers) There was a segment on there with owls and it seemed to get their attention somewhat. They would move from one side of us to the other and hoot a while. It was kinda neat and went on for maybe a half hour or 45 minutes. Finally, we shut down and went to sleep. I had a pretty good night but had trouble regulating my temperature, being too warm inside my sleeping bag and a little cool out of it.
I woke early, around 5:30 and just laid there resting. Skip was up before 6:00 and I around 6:15. There was a brief shower just as I arose and we had to dive for cover for a few minutes.
For breakfast I had the remainder of the Spam from the previous morning and some oatmeal with banana chips.
Having discovered a swampy area behind the campsite the day before, I went back to it to take some pictures with the sun out. As I was making my way around to the other side, I came across a fair-sized water moccasin - about two and a half feet long I'd guess. Kyle was videotaping the swamp and I called him over. I hurried back to camp to get my flash and told Owen and Skip about it and they too came to see. We all took photos and Kyle and Skip shot some video. I began to wonder if it was really a moccasin or just a banded water snake and decided to see if I could get close enough to see it's eye. I took a step toward it. (I was about 5 feet away) The snake turned it's head toward me and opened it's mouth wide to display it's fangs and cotton-white mouth. "Yep, that's a moccasin".
Owen and Skip had been packing up while Kyle and I went into the swamp so it didn't take us long to finish. Then we loaded the canoes and set ourselves afloat around 9:30.
Owen and I tended to get ahead of the others during this trip and this morning was no exception. This allowed us an opportunity to have a little fun. We were on the East fork of Coldwater Creek and at one point it is joined by the West fork. Here, Owen and I decided to enter the mouth of the West fork and let Skip and Kyle pass, then ambush them from behind. So, we pulled along side the bank and under some overhanging bushes to hide ourselves. Skip and Kyle came leisurely by - Kyle fishing as they passed. We waited until they had gone a pretty good distance and then started our pursuit. However, the river made a steep bend and we were effectively approaching from the side. Skip looked over and saw us but Kyle didn't, and Skip kept our secret. we paddled silently but swiftly to intercept our quarry. We were now in a long straight section of the river and were staying directly behind them. Skip would occasionally glance back to check our position, I think he was enjoying this as much as Owen and I. As we continued to close, Kyle would sometimes look to the side and I was almost sure he would see us peripherally. But at these times Skip would turn his canoe slightly the other way to prevent our disclosure. He would also make comments about something up river to keep Kyle's attention focused that direction. We were now almost right behind them and still closing. Because of our speed, our canoe was making a little noise as the bow broke the water, to cover this, Skip splashed his paddle around in the water, that was funny to see. Anyway, we were now beginning to pull along side. Kyle happened to be looking toward the right side of the canoe as we pulled up on the left, as he began to turn his head around, knowing he would now see us for sure, I made the old childhood Indian "WoooWoooWoooWooo" noise by patting my hand over my mouth. It was great - startled the bejeezers out of him.
After the confluence with the West fork, the river widened considerably. It was still flowing with a pretty good current, just deeper and wider now. We saw a few large turtles in this section, as well as a few more Cypress trees. I remember two of these in particular, they were somewhat out in the river at the end of a sandbar and about 8 or 10 feet tall. Their trunks were large and their branches looked to have been shaped by occasional high water. They looked like giant specimens of Bonsai and were very pretty against the sandy white bank.
Owen has two GPS units and we had one in each canoe. He had plotted a dozen or so waypoints along our route. We began to notice that the mileage was going by faster than it should according to the map. In other words, it appeared that the distance would be less than the advertised 18 miles. For instance, our campsite was around the 9 mile point, and according to the map and GPS, we had only about 4 miles left to travel. This held true as the actual mileage recorded by the units was 13 miles when we reached the stopping point.
We were back at the outfitter's before noon, and after a shower, on our way home. We had lunch at George's Barbecue in Brewton and continued on.
We planned to watch the videos when we arrived at Owen's. I asked if he could call Suzie on his cell phone to see if she wanted to watch. She did so we swung by our house and picked her up. The videos were good. I further lamented the failure of Owen's camera.
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