Thursday, February 17, 2011

Florida and the Great Calusa Blueway

A few months ago, my step-sister Augusta sent me a link to this article, saying that she was sure I wasn't in need of ideas, but that this one made her think of me. I liked it, and for the fun of it sent it back to her and a few other friends. One of them - Javier - wrote back and said, "you know my family has a home there, right?" I didn't, I swear, but the end result was, well, this trip!

Our experience was somewhat similar to the folks' in the article as far as kayak rental went. The folks we rented from were friendly but astonishingly casual about sending us headlong into the wide ocean without wondering too much about who we were, how much experience we had, our level of preparedness, or pretty much anything beyond making sure we paid up front in cash. None of us had paddled in sit-on-top tandem kayaks before, but apparently that was the recommended way to navigate 3-5 miles of open ocean that separated us from our destination, Cayo Costa. The guy went so far as to inform us that you steer these boats from the front - a choice bit of misinformation that had one of our boats practically going in circles for 4/5 of the way out there, when we finally figured out the problem. For those of us used to paddling open water in sea kayaks, the sit-on-tops were miserably inefficient, unseaworthy, and DAMP! (There's a hole in the middle of all the seats that goes right through the boat, allowing for a continual flow of fresh seawater right, well, you get the idea! Not sure of the logic behind that design, but I've got to hope that there is some!). They're far wider and flatter than sea kayaks, and don't have skegs or rudders to help them track - essentially great boats for recreational river and lake exploration, but not designed for what we were hoping to do!

I am happy to report that in spite of the challenges presented by our un-seaworthy craft, four-foot waves due to strong wind, difficulty with actually aiming for the correct key island, and sea-sickness, we did finally make it to our destination. Jamie says it's the dolphins. We did run into a pod of 'em (woo hoo!) and while we had no luck at all in capturing them with the camera, we saw at least two mothers with their tiny babies surfacing right at their side. It really was neat.

Camping on Cayo Costa was pretty plush for being state park camping. They had clean bathrooms, showers, (ok, no electricity, and thus, no hot water, but hey, who needs it!) a gathering area with mendicant guitar-playing folk singers from the Catskills ("two things money can't buy / true love and home grown tomatoes"), picnic tables, fire rings, posts for hanging stuff (including hammocks!) and a shuttle to take you back and forth across the island.

Sunday we spent reading and hanging out, then paddled our way over a crazy surf-like wave shelf (supposedly shark-infested, but that can't be right, can it?) to neighboring Boca Grande for lunch. We did see heaps more dolphins with babies on the way back - and even saw some black dolphins! The birds were just amazing, with pelicans and osprey and terns of some sort wheeling up, and then diving straight down into the water. It never got tiring to watch - although it was seemed the osprey had the most success with pelicans and terns mostly coming up empty in spite of all the dramatic effort. We ended the day with a campfire and hot cocoa and take-out from the restaurant - let's hear it for good food in the wilderness regardless of the means by which it as acquired!

Monday was head back day, and we got off the island in plenty of time to really enjoy it. The water was far calmer, the weather far warmer, and the sun far, uh, sunnier than it had been on our way out.  We paused on several sand bars and explored around, looking for shells and other sea treasures and oddities. Then we headed to the inland canal system that follows the coast and used it to navigate our way to our launch point. Mangrove swamps and all sorts of crane/heron/egret things rounded out our nature explorations for the trip.

Tuesday was spent in more traditional "vacation in Florida" pursuits: we slept in, yawned our way to the beach, and caught rays for much of afternoon. Not a bad way to wrap things up before heading to the airport and back home. 

And now... can you say "Great Calusa Blueway" fast five times?! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

twirly whirly

k, aren't "twirl" and "whirl" both lovely words?
Hello from the air somewhere between Wisconsin and Florida! Tammy, Jamie and I are going to meet Tony there for a kayaking trip to the barrier islands for the weekend. Since I may want to post about our time there, I'm thinkin' it's high time I put an update out here covering the last few months!

For this lovely holiday, I headed to Raleigh to celebrate with Tom's family. We had fun fixing an incredible meal and just hanging out. I had met baby Elise before  Then we were joined by our friend Sam and his wife Hope, and took off for an exploration of some Civil War battlefields. Tom Sr. did the driving honors, and the five of us just really had a blast touring Richmond and learning about the characters and scope of the site of two major battles of the Civil War.

Christmas was drawn out and lovely with one highlight being that a group of game night folks and my college roommate Jocelyn went to a Handel's Messiah performance at the PAC. We had a great evening kicked off at an Indian Restaurant and ending in a snow bank. Well, nearly ending there - there was a big blizzard that left me and Jocey in a snow drift until some enthusiastic college kids helped us out!

The next weekend saw the congregation of Amy's side of the family the week before Christmas. Nine of us (me, Tom, Amy, Tim, Grandma Beth, Augusta, Chris, Grant and Margo) crammed into my 2-bedroom apartment and really just had a blast. My friend Katie and her daughter Annabelle stopped by on Saturday (Amy and Augusta hadn't yet met little Annabelle). And then Korean food, talking, sledding, x-c skiing, playing with Margo, presents and games - what could be better?! (side note: I received a camera for Christmas last year and took it kayaking this summer. I bought a dry bag for it, but somehow enough moisture collected in it to kill my camera. I was sick about it! I tried to get it repaired locally and online and nothing could be done - the repair cost more than the value of the camera. So imagine my delight when my fabulous boyfriend gave me a camera as a Christmas present: this time one that is WATERPROOF and shockproof! He's been testing the shockproof side of things - I think he's dropped in on solid ice twice now and the camera still works great :). We'll see how it does kayaking in Florida!).

Christmas proper was spent with our families, Tom in Raleigh and me in Eau Claire. My nieces and nephews are just the best small people out there (sorry, everyone else!) and we really just had a lovely time being together, eating great food, laughing, and playing games with the kids.

New Year's
It's become a tradition! New Year's with Jen and Mustafa in the Twin Cities. This time around, the group was me, Tom, Jonathan from CA, Jen's brother AJ, and Jen and Moosie. Friday we did a guided tour of the Guthrie theater that was just fascinating, and we had fun exploring the city, playing games (ever played Ra? It's a board game that you can play on the iPad!), running around, eating many marvelous things that Jen cooked, and just having a good time with friends we see far too infrequently.

Happy News
In early January, Tom's boss asked him if he'd like to work on a short term project in Neenah, Wisconsin! Once he confirmed that it would work, he had about three days to pack up his life for the next 6-8 weeks and take off for the northern hinterlands. And golly have we been having a blast. We've used weekends to hang out and catch up with friends within a 7 hour radius. Tom grew up and went to school in Iowa, so one weekend we went down there to see family and friends and get a tour of his college campus and home town - that was the 7 hour one! We've really just had a great time catching up with friends and family. The time has also been filled with game night, church small group, cross country skiing, racquetball, game playing, and...Wednesday Night Date Night. You wouldn't believe how much more fun it is to date someone who lives 15 minutes away vs. 15 hours or whatever it is.

As grateful as I am to the project for bringing him here, I must say that I am NOT grateful for the fact that its intensity kept Tom from being able to join us on this FL trip. Boo! I'm definitely looking forward to the relaxation and good time with awesome people, don't get me wrong. But it sure would be nice if he could be enjoying the warmth and sunshine too.

Well, I believe we're beginning our descent. Au Revoir!