Peace, Love, Paddle! January 2011

k line rTN

Peace River Trip with Paddle Florida

  • I didn’t know anything about Paddle Florida before this trip.  Based on my experience, I would definitely go on another one!

  • Trip Itinerary:
    • Friday, January 14: Travel to the Fort Mead Recreation Department Park in central Florida.  Check in and set up camp.  Prepare for dinner and program (speaker).
    • Saturday, January 15: Break camp. Have breakfast.  Be on the river no later than nine o’clock.  Paddle 13.9 miles to Paynes Creek State Historic Site in Bowling Green. Set up camp.  Prepare for dinner and program (Music).  
    • Sunday, January 16: Break camp. Have breakfast.  Be on the river no later than nine o’clock.  Paddle 10.0 miles to Hardee County’s Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs. Set up camp.  Prepare for dinner and program (Music).
    • Monday, January 17: Break camp. Have breakfast.  Be on the river no later than nine o’clock.  Paddle 19.0 miles to the boat ramp in Gardner.  From Gardner, paddlers and their boats will be transported back to Fort Mead for a final meal and departure.

k line rTNh

Friday, January 14: I arrived at the Fort Mead Recreation Department Park at about 3:00 pm after a two plus hour drive from Sebastian.  I was traveling alone on this trip as I had yet to meet other committed paddlers who liked wilderness paddling in my new home.  Things seemed to be set up under a large pavilion near the center of a great mowed field.  I found a table loaded with official looking stuff with someone behind it.  Soon I was registered and given a few of the parameters of the trip.  I received the obligatory tee shirt, a small dry box, a survival compass/whistle, a water bottle and some other goodies, and was sent on my way.  I could camp anywhere in the field that I cared to.  

I cast about for a little while, then settled on a spot near a picnic table, partly under a huge Live Oak tree.  I hadn’t set up my tent in months, but it is a great tent and goes up quickly.  Within fifteen minutes the tent was up, my sleeping platform was ready and all my gear was stowed inside.  I explored the grounds and then drove down to the launch area where I dropped my boat with the help of a fellow paddler.  It would be ready in the morning.  I wanted to get out early if I could.  

I managed to meet and have brief conversations with a couple of paddlers before dinner.  Most people came to this event as couples or in groups.  This made making connections difficult.  There was even one group of four who separated themselves, set up their own table and chairs and played cards each night instead of participating in the planned activity.  It was their choice of course, but it didn’t help a newbee feel welcome.

Dinner was hearty, filling and good for food prepared in mass quantities for some eighty people and trucked to the site.  At dinner I met Dennis and Susan.  Dennis is a second career middle school teacher who loves his new profession and is completely devoted to it.  I am a former teacher and school administrator myself, so we found lots to talk about.  Dennis and Susan seemed to be in a new relationship.  It soon became obvious that Dennis was completely smitten with Susan, and from what I could see, with good reason!  

After dinner, some folks sat around a fire and sang to a guitar played by one of the paddlers.  But it was getting very cold so most folks retreated to the relative warmth of their tents and sleeping bags.  I climbed in, set up my Crazy Creek chair and read for a while.  I was getting real cold, so I slipped on my long underwear, put on a lightweight polartec sweater and slipped my legs into the sleeping bag for warmth.  About ten o’clock I decided to call it a night.  I slept OK for a while, but as the temperature descended closer and closer to forty degrees, I got cold again.  Before the night was over I had pulled on another heavier sweater and some polartec pants, and covered myself with a down jacket.  That kept me till morning.  

k line rTNh

Saturday, January 15: I was up early.  I did my stretches and began to pack up my gear from inside the tent.  I ventured out to use the bathroom, then finished packing before breakfast.  After a quick breakfast and cup of coffee, I loaded my gear camping gear in the truck and headed for the launch area.  With a little help I was on the water by 8:45 with a substantial group of paddlers already ahead of me.  I really wanted to be near the front where I thought I’d see more wildlife.  It turned out that in this group I was a fast paddler.  Soon I was passing boats and moving toward the front.  

The water level in the river was very low.  Boats kept bottoming out and paddlers had to get out and walk, pulling and dragging the boats over low spots more than a dozen times.  The river is fairly narrow here and snakes back and forth making our almost fourteen mile paddle on the river about eight miles as the crow flies.  The scenery was eerie, almost primeval, with tall cypress and drooping live oak trees draped with Spanish Moss lining the banks and hanging out over the water.    There were many falls from previous flooding and windstorms to navigate around.  This made it necessary to concentrate on paddling and navigation rather than the unusual and spectacular sights around us.  

I caught the lead boat before our lunch stop.  We were the first ones there at about eleven-thirty.  After a quick lunch, we were back on the river for the next seven miles.  We didn’t see as muck wildlife on this first segment of the trip as we would in the coming days.  Still, the birds and turtles, the feral pig sign on the riverbank and the occasional river otter made for an interesting day.

We finally reached Paynes Creek about three o’clock and began the routine of setting up camp and preparing for dinner.  Dinner was again hearty and the evening’s entertainment was great.  Still, I was tired.  I headed to my bunk at ten-fifteen.

k line rTN

Sunday, January 16: I woke up late with a sinus headache.  Not unusual for me.  Coffee was ready, so I headed over to get a cup then back to my tent.  I slowly packed up my gear, broke down my tent and hauled it off to the truck.  I lingered over breakfast, then made my way to the launch site.  I was on the water at 8:55, late for me.  I still wanted to be near the front, so I paddled fast and soon had caught up.  Today would be a ten-mile paddle.

I saw many more animals today, especially river otters and turtles.  There were too many to count!  The usual menagerie of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, Osprey, Black Buzzards, Kingfishers, Little Blue Herons and more greeted us at every turn.  Some folks had reported seeing alligators, but I had not seen any yet.  

Over the next two days we would run into fossil hunters on the river.  They were looking for ancient shark teeth and artifacts from Florida’s Indian days.  Some of the rigs were quite elaborate with floating strainers, special shovels, wet suits, snorkels, even SCUBA gear.  These were the “serious” fossil hunters.  Then there were the “casual” folks in shorts and sandals, with a hand shovel from the garden and an old colander to sift out their treasures.  Some of our paddlers stopped on exposed gravel bars to hunt for their own treasures.  Dennis and Susan stopped and Dennis brought back several fossil shark teeth.  

The river was still low on this leg, but better than yesterday, with fewer times when we needed to get out and pull/drag the boats through shallow places.  Then there was the “waterfall”.  It wasn’t much of a drop and with higher water it would have been fun.  But the first paddler over it got hung up.  The second paddler took a different line and also got hung up.  So the next two paddlers (me being one of them) poked into a side channel of fast moving water and found we could get around the obstruction and get an exhilarating ride too!  One of our group stayed at the waterfall to direct other paddlers around rather than over.  

This short day on the water went too quickly.  We were at Zolfo Springs by early afternoon with lots of time to set up camp and take a shower.  What a luxury!  It was dinner and music again with the capstone of the evening being a drawing for a Necky Manitou kayak.  

k line rTNh

Monday, January 17: I was up early and on the water before 8:30.  This final day was to be our longest paddle, some nineteen miles.  There was more water on this section of the Peace River, so there were almost no “get out and pull” obstacles.  But this part of the river also seemed to be the wildest section.  

As I mentioned, the river winds and twists, mostly through sand, but occasionally through limestone.  Where the river cut through sand banks, the outside curve carved deeply into them.  Many trees had had their roots washed out and had toppled into the river.  Now, the deepest water is typically on the outside curve with the shallowest on the inside.  This left us with the choice of trying to pick our way through the tree falls on the outside, or trying to find our way through the shallows on the inside.  Each had its problems and demanded that we pay attention all the time.  

I caught a brief glimpse of three small alligators on this leg of the trip.  But we saw plenty of sign of big alligators in this section.  As I rounded a slight curve, I came upon a wide, low bank, just inches out of the water.  On it were the skeletal carcasses of two large animals.  I thought one was a feral pig, the other a deer.  Others thought both remains were deer.  As if to prove the point, a little further on was a decapitated deer head surrounded by buzzards feasting on the leftovers of a kill by a large alligator.  Around the next bend, we found buzzards wading in the water.  As we got closer, we could see that they were tearing at the flesh and hide of some poor creature that our alligator had stashed underwater to ripen.  It was good to be past this macabre scene, though we were now more alert than ever for alligators, especially big ones.

Today’s trip seemed like it would never end.  We had no landmarks and I hadn’t brought my GPS, so I had no idea where we were on the trip.  Lunch was on our own today.  After three hours of paddling I pulled up on a low sandbar to take a break and eat something.  I cast a careful eye around for alligator sign, but saw none (would I recognize it if I saw it?)  Soon I was joined by several other paddlers who announced that this was indeed the halfway point of our trip.  Back in my boat after fifteen minutes or so, I continued on down the river for another three hours or so to our takeout in Gardner.  I must say that the ramp at Gardner seemed remote and crude, with no facilities of any kind.  We readied our boats for the trip back to Fort Mead and climbed on an old school bus.  Our boats were waiting on the ground when our bus pulled into Fort Mead.  After loading our boats and gear on our cars we had one more hearty, but quick meal. Then everyone said their goodbyes and headed for home.

k line rTN

 © Don Yackel 2020