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100 Miles to Flamingo

May 29, 2014
 I fought the afternoon rush hour traffic across town. With the green Oldtown canoe tied to my  beat up Ford pickup I was headed for Dania Beach Boulevard and the intracoastal. My friend Anthony was there waiting for me. He was going to keep my truck for the week while I paddled 100 plus miles from Fort Lauderdale to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. 

It was a trip that had been bouncing around in my head for 20 years, Most of my exploring is well off the telecommunications grid in the remote mangrove swamp of the southern Everglades. This trip would be different though with 70% of the route within cell phone range. This would allow me to stay in touch with the kids as well as engage in a little social media activity. With the summer time heat just starting to kick in the route would also let me take advantage of the ocean breeze to keep cool.

 It was good to see my old friend and we caught up on things as I untied the canoe and set it in the waters edge. I quickly stowed my gear and after taking a few photos we shook hands and I was on my way.

The tide pulled me south as I rearranged some gear and settled in. I drifted under the Dania bridge and the sound of the traffic reverberated loudly. The city was a buzz all around but it seemed peaceful on the water. There was little boat traffic. I grabbed my favorite wooden paddle and took the the first stroke of what would be more than a few.

The plan was to travel all afternoon and on through the night down the intracoastal and be somewhere near Port of Miami at dawn. From there I would play in by ear with Biscayne Bay.

The tide was in my favor and I set a steady pace, making good time. I stuck to the western edge of the intracoastal. Just below Dania it's a natural preserved area and I much preferred paddling along the mangrove lined coast than the condos on the eastern side.  A few boats and jet skis passed by but in general traffic on the water was light.

Shadows grew long after awhile and the day began to fade. I paused to take a picture of the sun setting between two condominiums and then took a moment to switch on my running lights. I had been worried about boat traffic at night along the intracoastal and lights had seemed like a prudent idea. I had hobbled together some out of a flashlight, a water bottle and the green and red housing from an old broken set. With my white lantern hanging from the stern I was good to go. It was reassuring knowing I was visible to others.



The heat of the day waned and the lights of the city switched on. I have to say, I complain about this metropolis a lot and always seem desperate to escape it, but from the water at night it is a very beautiful thing and I would paddle all night mesmerized by the colorful lights. The city shone like a jewel.

Condos, condos, opulence and condos. The metropolis is all about real estate and this waterfront was the most coveted. You can not travel down the intracoastal without realizing that a lot of people got a ton of cash.

Around Aventura the intracoastal widens out and I crossed to the eastern edge. This is the side I would want to be on many miles from here when I reached the port. I traveled all night through the city mostly unnoticed. Somewhere around 3am, well past my normal bedtime, I started to get the nods. It can be a bit disconcerting to bolt awake sitting up right in a canoe. It's something I've become familiar with. I imagine someday I'll wake up soaking wet in the drink but for now I was ok.  I struggled to stay awake. My green and red running lights quickly faded and went out and I search for somewhere to pull over. In the wild I would stop anywhere but here in these upscale neighborhoods trespass could be an issue and I didn't want any trouble. I coasted along in the dark finally coming to an old broken concrete dock area. The condo behind it was half boarded up and heavy equipment was scattered around the place. In dark I pulled up to the dock, tie the boat off to some exposed re-bar and rolled out onto the cool concrete. Laying flat on my back I stretch, it felt good to work the kinks out. The night air was cool, I glanced around to see if I had been noticed. All ways quiet. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

45 minutes later I woke up still in the dark of the night. I felt refreshed. A nap was what I had needed. I quickly changed the batteries in my lights and set off again. I was well south of Indian Creek and I could see the causeways running to Miami Beach and the port in the distance.

Before first light I weaved my way to the main north channel of Port of Miami. I paused to let a mid size freighter pass by then scooted across. I made for Fisher Island and then onto Virginia Key. As the sun finally broke the horizon I washed ashore. It was nice to be on the natural beach of Virginia Key after so much city. I stretch my legs a bit and  took a few photos of sunrise.

There had always been a decision to be made at this point. Biscayne Bay is vast and if conditions were choppy prudence dictated that I stay on the mainland side. If condition were calm I might consider making the 5 mile open water run to Soldier Key. Conditions were NOT calm; but they were less than two feet and marine forecast was the best it had been in weeks. I was going for it.

I underestimated the length of Key Biscayne, the last key before open water. I found myself getting a bit peeved as the day heated up and I found myself spending so much time traversing its length. This was time I wanted to spend crossing open water in the relative calm of early morning.

The heat and exhaustion was getting to me. I became nauseous and weak, finally throwing up mu trail mix. I felt decidedly better after that but was still feeling a bit weak and I drifted ashore on Key Biscayne. Pulling the boat half out of the water i curled up in the sand , put a t shirt over my head to block the sun and took another brief nap. A half hour later the beach became active with people and I thought it best to move on. I was feeling rejuvenated. Finally the light house on the southern end of Key Biscayne came into view and in the far distance tiny Soldier Key.

Thhe water of Biscayne Bay was beautifully clear. My path out to Soldier Key followed the natural line of the Keys and the water here is shallower than the rest of the bay proper. I could easily see the bottom which appeared to be 12 feet deep or so. The bottom was a mix of sea grass, coral and open sandy areas and it helped to give me a sense of how I  was progressing  as  it slipped by beneath me. Soldier Key bobbed up and down in my view. After an hours paddle I was perhaps midway and the police, out on patrol decided to check up on me. The officer asked me if i was "out of my mind", with a smile I said "yes I am" he said "okay then".  
I explained to him the trip  was on and told him i was going to take a break at Soldier Key. He seemed impressed and wished me luck. I asked him if it would be okay to camp on Soldier Key and he said "sure no problem". This was a big relief for me because I knew I was reaching my limit.

 The officer was also the first person to mention the missing kayaker to me. Apparently a kayaker had also left Dania Beach the same time I had and had not been seen since. The officer thought that I might have been him.  It wasn't the last time I would hear about this over the next few days. When I returned home I would learn that, sadly, the man had drowned and washed up in Port Everglades.

By early afternoon I had finally covered the distance and slid the canoe up to the old concrete pier on Soldier Key. The water was littered with sharp rocks and I was careful. I didn't want to slice a hole in my boat so far from the mainland. I quickly unloaded my gear and then shouldered the canoe and walked it up above the high tide line. Soldier Key is small but it was larger than I expected. Part of me wanted to explore but the wiser part of me told me i needed to rest. 19 hours of paddling had taken its toll. I rolled out my foam pad under an inadequate shade tree and quickly drifted off to sleep. A handful of boaters visited the key throughout the afternoon. I would stir a bit continued to cat nap. An hour before sunset i finally rousted myself and set about making camp. I set up my tent and then organized my gear. I like to keep a tidy campsite. Dragging out my cameras and tripod I took some photos of sunset and the distant Miami skyline as it, once again, sparkled with light.

Soldier Key was magnificently peaceful place and abundant with life. I felt very fortunate to have the place to myself. I was still feeling a bit weak and didn't have much of an appetite. I spend some time hydrating with Gatorade and water and nibbled on a cinnamon bun. An hour after sundown  I  fumbled around for my emergency weather radio/flashlight and tuned into the Miami Heat basketball game. It was playoff time and I would catch three separate games while on my adventure. It was a nice way to spend the early evening before going to sleep.

I slept like a dead man. My body recovering from the exertion of the previous night and day. At first light I was up. I made a quick espresso and then made my way to the eastern edge of the key to capture sunrise. I had to scramble through thick mangrove and step out into the knee deep water of high tide to get a good view. It was well worth it though scattered clouds and the sun just breaking the horizon made for a dramatic setting.

I took my time breaking camp. I fueled up on oatmeal and an orange and carefully stowed my gear before setting off. Ragged Key was 3 miles to the south and from there the keys come in quick succession without any large open stretches between. The paddle to Ragged keys was beautiful  the water was a beautiful dark blue and the bottom was alive with corals, sea grass and fish. I made good time. As I approached Ragged Key the tide was ripping out around an oyster bar and I had to struggle to round it , finally coming to rest in an eddie behind the bar.. Ain't know stopping me now I thought to myself. The dangerous part of crossing miles of open water was over.

 I made for Boca Chita. this small key had been a  millionaire retreat in the 1930's . Mark Honeywell had  developed (sic) the island  constructing a harbor, several buildings an extensive stone wall.  Best of all, a light house at the harbors' entrance. It is all well preserved. The key is a popular boating destination and campground. As I spied the lighthouse it was easy to see that everybody and their brother had descended on Boca Chita for a memorial weekend Saturday. Cuban music was bustin from everywhere.  Boats and small yachts were  moving about,  chicken was barbecuing , The place was a hive of sun bathed activity. I thought I'd take the opportunity to see if i could get my phone charged. landing on a tiny stretch of sand I tied off the canoe and strolled up onto the island.  Wow! beautiful spot and a fun time seemed to be had by all. I walked up to a group of young latin moms hanging in the shade and ask if I charge my phone on the generator, the one with 18 cell phones hanging off it. She gave me a look that said ,sure one more can't hurt. I thanked her and said I'd be back.  I took an hour to walk about and explore the place and admire the stone work. There are several several stone buildings, a stone wall and of course the lighthouse, I assumed they were turn of the century structures and it was only later that I learned they were the work of a  1930's era millionaire. I think they were tastefully designed in a more traditional style to keep with the setting. All very nice. The place is a bit developed for my taste but it would be a fun place for the family to camp overnight .



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 With the cell phone charged I took my leave. As I scooted out through the shallows I past a group of men struggling to get their boat off the mud shallows. It looked hopeless until the tide turned and I sensed they were duly impressed with my crafts functionality.

Boca Chita was nice but I was l wanting to "get away" from the crush of humanity. It was nice and peaceful as I eased past Sands Key. The late morning sun was hot and sheltered from the wind the paddling was easy. I thought to myself "How nice". If things stayed the same it would be a pleasant go down the eight mile length of Elliot Key.

As I rounded a point chaos erupted.  All of humanity has descended on this spot for a memorial day celebration. Everybody and his brother with a boat had come out to "party".  Heavy boat traffic, police presence , loud music, alcohol, general unruliness. All quite "fun in the sun" and all, but not really what I was looking for.

Aargg, I said to myself.

I picked a line across the bay that just skirted the edge of the mass concentration of boats. There was a lot  of  traffic coming and going and many larger boats anchored out in deeper water. It ended up being kind of fun. People were friendly and a few asked me where I was heading.  things thinned out a little but there were still many people along the three miles to Elliot Key Harbor. I stopped there briefly and made the walk across the slim key to the Atlantic side. There  is a campsite there with a good view of the ocean. I had considered this as a possible place to camp for the night but it was still a little early in the day and this place was a bit to populated for my taste anyway.

 As soon as I left the harbor and headed south things turned to my favor. Boat traffic stayed either to the north or well off shore. Everything quieted down. Pelicans and other shore birds started to appear. It was quite hot and I was dripping with sweat, I didn't mind though, it was certainly better then working outside back in the city.  At mid afternoon I pulled up near few old pilings languishing in the shallows. Three cormorants were sitting  atop them and I thought it might make a good photo. As I  rested a moment I spied a ancient culvert sticking out of the mangrove. I paddled over to it and then noticed a path running inland." Hmmm", I said, maybe I'll explore a little. I managed to drag my canoe up into the mangrove without having to take out to much gear. Confident it was secure I struck off down the path. I knew Elliot Key had some history of human habitation and I soon spyed  signs just off the well worn path. Some odd rusty farm equipment here and there and some small open clearings, likely the sites of now gone structures. I continued along the path and near mid island I stumbled upon wide road running north and south. In the 1950's developers had had been plans to develop elliot key and I think this road mty have been a part of their initial attempts. Fortunately this northern chain of keys were secured for Biscayne National Park. Certainly a wise idea. I bopped over to the Atlantic side just to sea the ocean. i knew I wasn't going to camp here. I wasn't interested in portaging my gear across and i wwas fairly certain there were restrictions on it  with the public "designated" campground justthe the north. . As I was heading back toward my canoe on the west side I bumped into two biologist doing field work. Their primary focus was on an endangered butterfly, endemic to the island. We talked briefly and they seemed impressed with my adventure suggesting that the rangers on Adam's key might be able to accommodate me for the night. I said my goodbyes and was soon back on the water

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 I was entering the haunt of the legendary pirate "Black Caesar" who had prowled these waters in the 19th century (?). As I approached the end of Elliot Key the late afternoon sun shone through a haze of the distant mainland. Turkey Point Nuclear power plant was prominent across the bay.  I crossed  over a  small patch of water with a white sandy bottom. It shone a vivid Caribbean blue.  A lark shark of unknown species passed slowly beneath my boat. I sensed the spirit of the place. I knew it was a moment I would always remember.

 I headed for Adam's Key. It was getting late in the day and  I needed to figure out where I was going to camp.  I slid past the docks at  the ranger station on Adam's Key spying the  buildings set back from shore. I didn't stop. With noone obviously out and about I didn't feel like searching for anyone, besides I was more interested in some abandoned ruins on a small key across the inlet. Strictly speaking I'm certain camping wasn't allowed there., but we were now remote, 
I saw none about and I was confident, if gone undetected it wouldn't be an issue. I doubled my effort as I paddled across the inlet, I check over my shoulders a few times to see if anyone might be watching  and soon slid in behind a small key out of view of the station. Apparently ,I was safe and undetected.
 I should have checked my map. I was poking around in the mangrove trying to find the old ruins of a house , but the whole time I was checking the wrong Ke\y. I founded an opening that lead to a landing litter with trash and float sum.  I scampered inland a short ways and decided this was not where I wanted to spend the night. Quickly back on the water I headed east towards the ocean along the north end of Old Rhoads Key.  I wondered if i might find something out on the ocean side. Light was starting to fade and i needed to make a decision soon. Nothing appeared overly appealing on the ocean side, no open stretch of beach,so I spun around and headed back in the inlet. I manage to avoid being spotted by a few boats passing in and out.  a little befuddled I ran the boat up into some thick mangrove and crawled out onto land. I dragged the boat in behind me and we were immediately hidden from everyone and everything. The place was a mess. If it floats it washes ashore on Old Rhodes key and the area in and among the mangrove was strewn with everything imaginably. Plastic bottles , lawn furniture, crab pots, mattresses, monofiliment, a basketball, you name it it was there, yuck. Still it was level and hidden and i secured my canoe and scampered across the 30 foot wasteland of refuse. The terrain rose in elevation, something that's not always easy to find. I only went a little ways and concluded this would be a nice "high and dry" place to spend the night, plus it was free of the trash down by the water.. I continued inland a short ways just to get a feel for the area and to look for any hint I might have company.  It quickly became apparent I was very much alone. 

Back at the trash field I moved my gear 30 feet inland , safe from the changing tides. Darkness was fast approaching and I quickly grabbed the things I might need for the night. The bugs were a bit thick. I expeditiously set up my small tent and brewed a quick espresso and snacked on some trail mix, beef jerky and a sweets. My stomach full I repaired to the safety of the tent, had a few smokes with a Guinness, and looked out into the darkness of the surrounding Forrest.  small critters scurried about unseen. The heat of the day gave way to a surprisingly cool evening. Rarely, a boat might pass by slowly. I would spy their navigation lights through the trees. Even though they were a good distance off I could hear their conversations as clearly as if i was on deck. I refrained from using my flashlights or lantern and when I checked the weather on my radio I kept it close to my ear with the volume low.  I was quite well secluded and hidden in my forest enclave. I drifted off to sleep and slept  well.
Well past first light, when the dappled sunlight drifted through he woods, I began to stir.  My old muscles were a bit soar from the past two days and I took my time getting up and ready to go. After a breakfast of  coffee, oatmeal and an orange, I moved my canoe and gear back to the water and stowed my gear. The canoe got hung up on some mangrove branches and i had to struggle to free it and push on through to open water. i popped out into the open unseen. I paddled away, a successful night's "stealth camping" behind me.

There's a lagoon behind Old Rhoades Key. It's a protected area and I'd heard interesting things about it. The whole area around Caesar's Key held an attraction for me.* Perhaps it was the spirit old pirates welcoming me.* I was tempted to explore, but I had a long ten mile run down Card Sound I wanted to get on with. Sheltered fro the ocean breeze it soon turned obsessively hot even this early in the morning. I made a point of hydrating well, something I hadn't been so diligent with, and i tended to drift away from the shore to try and catch whatever slight breeze I could. Far to the south I could see the bridge of Card Sound Road arching  across the short distance between  Key largo and the mainland. From this distance it seemed be floating magically on the water and it was only much later that the adjoining land mass came into view.

 There's something about the third day of any canoe trip. You start to find your stride, your comfort zone. The oppression of civilization begins to fall away. You  start to become tuned to the natural tempo of life undistracted. The buzz of civilization gives way to the peaceful sound of nature. It calms and strengthen your soul. It's in this frame that I entered something of a meditative "zen like" state. As I traveled down Card Sound  in the heat of the day paddling ceased to be effort, My thoughts drifted and then my mind emptied, Time became irrelevant. My peaceful state was only broken by thepassing bye the opulent Ocean Reef Club.  This island retreat for the wealthy seemed tragically out of place among the wildness and unspoiled beauty. I wasted no time passing it by and was soon back along a more wild coastline.  It reminded me how thankful I am for the protected status of these natural areas.
 By mid afternoon I was approaching  Card Sound Road. I could see the cars moving across the arching span. I had a choice to make. I could pick one 5 channels leading through mass of mangrove and on into Barnes Sound or i could even stay in the boating channel and go under the main bridge. I chose the channel known as steamboat creek.  I passed under the roadway and along a short winding stretch line with mangrove wich soon opened into the wide expanse of Barnes Sound. To my left was Key Largo. I went right and followed the general direction of the roadway back towards the  mainland. My destination was a a small Key popular with kayakers. I  knew that others had camped there and from the pictures I'd seen it appeared nice. To get there I had to pass near the establishment of Alabama Jack's.

The tavern was a well known  landmark with some history. It was packed with a lively crowd on this Memorial Day weekend. An eclectic mix of old school country music fans, aging "wanna be" bikers plus a multitude of tourists. The band was talented and the place was jumpin. I found a spot at the bar an ordered a Guinness and some conch chowder. It was fantastic. Between  sets I asked the band if I could charge my phone and they happily obliged.  After a second beer I  thought it was getting late and with an hour or so left of sun, perhaps I should take my leave.. A bit buzzed I sauntered * back to my canoe which I had  stowed under a broken dock. I shoved off down a channel past the tavern . A quick left and I was soon out in an open bay. A derelict boat lay half submerged a little ways off .Within minutes I was back in the wild.

 I paddled a mile or so down a narrow line of small keys. Through my camera I could see some boats and perhaps some tents on a distant stretch of sand. I thought  That,with evening closing on, i'd look for a place to spend the night. The first place I came ashore was not going to work. A mix of mangrove and some non native plants made for a dense uncomfortable ground cover, plus there was no real shade. I moved on. Soon I came to a stand of Australian Pines. The non native tree is well known for being destructive to the native ecology. Their needles form a thick mat on the ground which stops just about everything else from growing. As destructive as they are though, they make great campsites. The soft bed of pine needles are perfect for setting up a tent. The trees provide excellent shade, and as a bonus the trees whisper in the wind, making quite a soothing sound.

Perfect. I ran my canoe ashore and stepped out. Yes, this would do  nicely. There was room for three tents here, and it was all very clean and pleasant. With a nice breeze ouit oif the east cooling everything off  I think  most people were attracted to the beaches  a half mile further on. I felt this spot didn't see much in the way of people at all. * counted myself fortunate.

With a bit more daylight than I'd anticipated i took some time to just relax in the cool shade.  They Key was very narrow and behind my little stand of pine trees lay a thick  field of impenetrable  low mangrove.  I couldn't get much of a view of sunset from this vantage point.  Eyeing  one of the sturdy pines I thought to myself, " I can scramble up that tree".  and so i did. Not to far, after all, 50 and alone in the bush is no time to fall out of tree, but I made it a few branches up, say 20' and got a glimpse across Manatee Bay. I snapped a few photos and realized sunset was still 20 minutes or more away so I scrambled back down, set up my tent, and organized things for the night.  Feeling the time was right. I ascended the tree once more. I caught the Sun dropping through the branches of  a distant mangrove . It made for a more memorable moment than what i captured with my camera and I was happy i'd made the effort.  Back on the ground I cooked up a nice dinner of rice and beans, the gently breeze across Barnes Sound kept the mosquitoes at bay. After dinner I relaxed in the tent as I gazed off across the quiet water. The bridge span across the bay was framed nicely by the pines . I soon drifted off to sleep.



I awoke feeling refreshed. Today was  a big day. I would pass under U.S.1 and enter Everglades National Park, effectively leaving  behind any remnants of civilization. First though, I needed to capture the spectacular sunrise over Barnes Sound. Dramatic clouds and the span of the Bridge made a great canvas. I took my time and got a variety of shots and experimented with some different  camera settings.  I would come to appreciate this later when editing. Eventually i set the canoe at the waters edge, loaded my gear. I meticulously cleaned up the camp site, leaving it better than when i arrived and then set out for the days adventure.

It was calm easy paddling. Again the day was heating up early. I followed close along the shoreline until i came to an opening in the mangrove. i slide through into Manatee Bay.  A sail boat was tacking slowly across the bay heading for a channel.  Without checking my map I assumed they were heading for the same spot I needed to be. I set a coarse across the bay that would intersect with theirs.  The wind picked up a bit and rollers helped to push me across. I met up with the sail boat as we got to the channel. I said good morning to the captain and mate who eyed me suspiciously. Sensing something was amiss and these two men were much to wary for a simple holiday cruise. I decided, for safety reasons to, "mind my own business' and quickly made my goodbye.  I came ashore to stretch my legs. I checked my map and realized i'd made a small mistake. The small harbor and the channel under U.S.1 was a bit further on. I took a moment to scramble up a hill. Apparently it was debri dredge up from the canal and piled high. It's rare to find any kind of elevation in south Florida so i took advantage. from atree atop the hill I had a fine view across Manatee Bay and beyond. I took a moment to drink it all in and then made my way back to the canoe. The sailboat with it's suspicious crew had moved on up c-111 canal.Good riddancce.

The wind had picked up considerable and I had to struggle a bit as i made my way along the shore, soon i rounded a point and  Pelican Cay Harbor came into view.   The small harbor had a profusion of vacation rentals as well as some dry dock and sheds and whatnot. Off to the right in a protected cove were several boats anchored. I made for the small channel that would lead under The highway. As I passed the dock a work man said hello and i stopped to talk.  A nice man we had a friendly conversation , he seemed interested in my little adventure. I was able to charge up my phone again at an outlet on the dock and while waiting he showed me around the place. I was quite surprised when out of a large shed came a small horse to say hello.  It was a Shetland of some kind and i never did find out why he was there, but I petted him and said hello and he seemed quite at ease. Soon, a man approached us and it became  apparent he was the other man's boss and that he was angry. The nice man explain i was just passing through. The angry man asked "when are you coming back?".  "I don't think I will be back young man", i said. He looked at me quizzically and asked, "What are you going to do with your truck?". "I don't have a truck", I said. realizing he was talking to the wrong person he storm off in search of the trucks owner. The friendly man shrugged his shoulders. i retrieved my cell phone and made ready leave. He said "hey wait just a minute" and soon came back with an old worn beach umbrella. "Can you use this?" he asked. "I sure can", I said.  Again I thanked him and moved on.
Immediately I heading under the highway. The tide was up and I  had to duck my head  as I pass under the concrete overpass. Half way through I spun the boat around so I  was facing the bridge as i exited. i nodded hello to a surprised guy fishing. Bopping through a small mangrove channel I was soon heading out into Long Sound. They day was hot, but the breeze was strong, and it was pushing me in exactly the direction I needed to be going.  I decided to dispense with the paddling. I turned broadside to the wind so the boat would catch it all, working like a sail.  Making good progress, I deployed my recently acquired beach umbrella. Ahhh, a little shade was just what the doctor ordered plus , as I quickly discovered, it lent that much more sail to the operation. My tall ship ran speedily before the wind.  I was alone in the wild. My meditative state returned,. Time ceased.
  
Interestingly, Long Sound had been one of the first places I'd kayaked in south Florida many years before. It was my first  steps into a mangrove back country. I was using my bright yellow  9 foot recreational kayak which i'd  bought used for $60.  I'd always prided myself on having journied "off the map" on this trip. The small channels i took north of Long Sound had led me to a point that hidden on my charts. It was the inconsequential area hidden behind the map's key. While there, and completely ignorant of alligators and crocodiles, I witnessed a large and aging aeroplane come flying in low and slow, it's noisy twin props humming. It seemed to be heading straight for me. As it got directly overhead I could read the message written in large read letters. "Mosquito Control".
I assume I was doused with some serious pesticide that day.

I digress. In less than two hours and with zero effort I covered the distance of Long Sound. I eased into Shell Creek and paddled its short winding length. As I rounded  it's final bend I was met with a wonderfully blue Florida Bay. It shined a magical Caribbean Azul. Florida Bay isn't like that everywhere.  Much of it is sea grass or a mangrove and muck, the water can range from a clear green, to a milky white or a tea colored brown. Here it shone vivid blue.
  
  I was in my element. Away from it all. Before me was a long undeveloped stretch of wild coast.  Miles of mangrove and the occasional narrow white beach.  The long shallow approach to this mainland kept what boaters  there were far off shore.  My canoe was the perfect craft ,Its minimal draft allowing me to hug the coast. I  would be alone for the next three days. I paddled lazily along in no hurry to get anywhere. I was on schedule, confident i could make it to Flamingo and grateful to be in this solitude.

 After a good long paddle I came ashore on a narrow point of land. There was a nice flat area behind the mangrove of the shoreline and It seemed like a fine place to camp. I knew I was within the borders of Everglades National Park and that this was not a designated camping area. For that matter I didn't have a permit anyway, but it was high summer, a sweltering mosquito ridden time of year in the park, and i wasn't likely to see anyone at all. Still i thought it best to keep a low profile and i quickly dragged my gear ashore and hid it in among the brush. I took notice of the landscape. it was a low flat ground and it was easy to imagine the ground being inundated during a storm or higher tide.  The the plants seemed to have a delicate appearance.The ground cover was small and seemed dominated by plants i was unfamiliar. I could imagine a biologist taking a keen interest in this unique and seemingly delicate landscape.  (needs work)

I wondered away from the immediate area.  I'd see an unuasual patch of thatch palms on my approach and wanted to find them again. Soon I stumbled onto them . From what i'd read these thatch palms were an all purpose utilitarian material used by the native americans and early settlers. everything from fish nets to mats , baskets, cords etc could be woven from them. That they were here in profusion and seemingly out of place among the ubiquitous mangrove  suggested to me that this was a place wants used by humans. It's location was important too.  The Florida keys were known to be a refuge for the original Caloosa and Tequesta natives americans. Anyone traveling from the west via canoe would pass by here, and being only a short days paddle from key largo it probably made an ideal stop over. I sat in among the palms and pondered things. I considered moving my gear closer, it would have been a fine campsite and very secluded but i thought i might  appreciate a breeze by the shore and didn't think it was worth the effort. i felt a spirit at the place and vowed to return someday, spend some time, and have a better look around.


As I headed back to my gear I heard voices. I ducked low behind some bushes and peered tentatively out.  Two gentleman  had stopped there boat and were fishing just off shore. Keeping  low i crept as near as i dared. I could easily hear their conversation from my hideout.  I stayed sequestered thus for 45 minutes until they finally packed it in and headed for home. After they left I  set  up my tent  in a small clearing well hidden from the water.  And organized my gear, taking inventory  of my food. I snacked on what ever I had while making some macaroni and cheese. The sun was dipping low.  I dragged my tripod and camera to the western side and got my feet wet in the muddy water. I framed a small solitary mangrove in my camera's view finder, The sun was setting through a somewhat hazy atmosphere . I spent twenty minutes getting a variety of shots in the changing light. Finally the sun disk sank below the horizon. I gathered my stuff and wandered back to the tent.  Glancing over my shouldered I saw the sky light up a vivid pink, soon it faded away and darkness enveloped my world. I slept well and contented that night.

I was up a first light
 

A Warning from Carlos

March 12, 2014
 The water finds many ways across the morass and into the Gulf of Mexico. I'd heard mention of one small river that covered the 5 miles from Highway 41 through the marsh land and mangrove and on down to a bay in the 10,000 Islands .
 On a whim, I decided a weekend exploring was just what I needed, and with my canoe and gear loaded on the pickup, I headed for Florida's west coast.
 The landing isn't marked along the highway and, even though I'd taken a close look on Google, I blew past it the fi...
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Loxahatchee Run Around

January 12, 2014
   CRASH KASPLASH!  The big alligator surprised me and I veered my canoe away from the thick  cattails as he plunged into the water.
 I was paddling along the wide canal that circumnavigates Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge. It's 59.5 miles around and, for no other reason than "why not", I decided to go the full distance.

 It was an idea perhaps ill conceived. Strictly speaking the refuge closes at sundown and it would take me longer than a day to cover the distance. My biggest concern was getting k...
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Quest for the Inaccessible Lake

November 8, 2013
                       

                                                      (This is an unfinished work)
                                            _________________________
______________________________

"I have labored hard and staked my all on this undertaking, for I love that renown which is the noblest recompense of man."
                                               Hernando Cortez



 On January 18th 2013 I finally reach a small lake hidden deep in the mangrove swamps of Florida. In the g...
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The Inaccessible Lake

May 17, 2012

  
                                             *******************
 In April of 2012 I attempted to reach a somewhat inaccessible lake buried deep in a mangrove swamp. My motivation for going was simply that it was there, It was remote and I knew of no one having been there before.

                                                         **********

" Where are you headed ?" Said the large authoritative park ranger as I pulled up to the dock. He was obviously the law around here and not the kind ...

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Manatees Attack!

January 20, 2012


 The sun had just set as I entered the park and Venus was shineing brightly in the east. There was no one at the entrance to collect the $10 fee but a sign read "Station Closed Park Open" so I started on down the lonely 40 mile road.

 Only a half a dozen cars passed me on their way out. Lights shining brightly as we met  along the two lane highway.

 When I reached the marina  fortyfive minutes later it appeared recently abandoned as if everyone had just left for the night. I stopped at the rang...


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Searching for Tancha

April 11, 2011

 
Punta de Tancha (Tancha Point) is the old Spanish name for Cape Sable. Ponce de Leon first sighted this coast in 1513 and slave raiders may have been there even earlier. It can be an inhospitable place. Even the Caloosa Indians avoided using it for there permanent settlements except along the coast. The land immediately behind the cape was an unforgiving place full of crocodiles, alligators, and mosquitos. It still is. When you consider it's long history it is astounding how little it has ch...

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Almost Perfect

March 20, 2011

Sometimes everything just goes right. The kids and I just returned from a week in and around Cape Sable. It was a total gas.
  After the fiasco we had last Thanksgiving, when the truck broke down, I felt like we deserved to have a great time. We did.
  I had been planning and gathering supplies for months. We had lots of provisions, charts, tide tables, satellite images and a plan., I knew where I wanted to go and hoped conditions would be favorable.
  The drive down had been nice. I took highwa...
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Holy Canoe!

February 18, 2011

  What kinda fool buys a canoe with a hole in it? Apparently this kinda fool.
Old Town is one of the premiere canoe manufacturers, known for their quality . I had been searching craigslist for several months and finally found a good ABS plastic canoe offered at a good price. It looked a little rough in the picture but i called the kid and decided to take the two hour drive up to Stewart Florida and check it out.
  I was a little concerned when I saw that it had been impaled  on something. Someo...

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