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Paddlin The Sante Fe River

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Good ’nuff

The Sante Fe River

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Cool place.

Water Clarity – 8+ (Springs – 10)

Natural Quality – 9+

Perception – Weekday

Nearest town to starting point High Springs, Fl 

Water reading at Hwy 441 was 32 feet

(White Springs/Suwannee reading 55′)

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I’ve been interested with paddling the Sante Fe for several years now – by chance its just never proceed further than me stopping along it’s banks and staring blankly down into it’s slow moving tannic waters – always something else down the road.

Fall and spring paddles seem to convey the ‘riversphere’ that strikes me most; this spring I set my sights on several rivers in Florida; the Sante Fe was first.  Gordy, a brother-in-law’s brother and paddlin friend dropped out of the Delaware deep freeze to figure-in; we met up at O’leno State Park and began our investigation of the Sante Fe’s ‘sphere.’

O’leno State Park is a pretty good place to start.  The Park is interesting (and cheap), there are some historical exhibits at hand – plus a short trail-walk that takes you around the landscape where the Sante Fe river disappears into the earth.  The river resurfaces 3 miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park.

Later on our paddle down the Sante Fe we noticed several occasions where smaller portions of the water would drop into the porous limestone – before bubbling up further downstream.

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Our objective was to paddle down-river from the Canoe Outpost at Hwy 41, maybe up the Ichetucknee, then to the confluence of the Suwannee river.  Then ten more miles on the Suwannee (close a little-circle) to the hwy 340 bridge; two ez nights amidst the river’s orb.

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The folks at the Outpost are more than helpful, they of course will fill you in on any details, rent you a canoe – and/or go pick you up at one of the bridges downriver if you like.  ‘Johnny’ agreed to deliver my vehicle to our ‘takeout point,’ cool.

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I haven’t been on the water (other than our lake) over the past winter; different than years past.  My circumstances has been with ‘interest,’ I find interested in a project and commit to it.  This winter I found interest in Barn art, stuff I couldn’t do when I was younger because I couldn’t sit still long enough.  Barn art worked well with my ‘thinkin-cap’ on and before I knew it – another season had passed.

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Long story short; it felt doggone good to finally be sitting atop the soft current of the Sante Fe, ‘thinkin-cap’ fits there too.

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The turtles of the Sante Fe must have been fairly use to folks, as they remained in place as we eased by; normally turtles slip into the water at first sight of a moving paddle.  We joked that just maybe they know when the gators are hungry.

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That soft current is much like the Suwanee‘s, slow and steady – with about the same 2.5 to 3 mph movement.  It’s a ‘second-nature’ stroke and an easy seat to be in.  Fishin must be good too, along with the  fishin-boats further downriver; there was also some ‘cane-pole’ fishin goin on at contemplation point.  Peace, and the simplest of times.

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Just past the Hwy 27 bridge stood the old highway or railroad pilings.  As a native of this state, I know that the highway was one of the original thorough fares of Florida, along with 41, 301, and several others. I eased by absorbing the setting much as one would respect the headstone in a cemetery.  Identifying natural or past ‘crossings’ along a river is the recognizing their story – stoic testimonies.

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Living testimonies (gators) to a further past were basking in the early sun (big lizards).

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Homes were infrequent day one, but several leaned against the river’s bank; each interesting with its own caricature – allowing more contemplation’s while paddling by

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like – What is your reason for paddling?

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While easing further along, the river-word I felt was “sanitary,’ even with the darker tannic waters of the main channel, there was something about the Sante Fe just provided that feeling.  When paddling different settings, it’s even possible to feel the difference in the water too (i.e.thinner/thicker) – anyway, the Sante Fe’s ‘sphere’ had a certain “sanitary” feel to it – something like the Current river in the Ozarks – a positive for sure.

The one or two areas of shoals encountered were an easy pass – the bottom was more of soft rivergrass with an occasional smoothed limestone bolder.  I could understand why so many folks could enjoy this river, along the way I only noticed only one area where unnatural debris was obvious.

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There are more than three dozen springs along the Sante Fe; Gilchrist Blue, Ginnie, Hornsby, Lily, Poe, and Rum Island springs – a contributor to that ‘sanitary’ feel to it all.  On my paddles of the Suwannee river I have made a stop each time at the Sante Fe confluence and admired the inviting water coming from the river.

Poe Springs

Poe Springs

All of the springs of the Sante Fe were open for ‘paddlin,’ facilities were available at most for ‘trail-stops.’

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Lily Springs

Lily Springs

Not far down from Poe was Lily springs

Clear as mud

Clear as mud

and ‘Naked Ed’s abode. Nope, I didn’t see ole Ed – but his story and place makes the paddle all the more interesting; “riverspere” – just part of it!

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Spring at Rum Island

Spring at Rum Island

There was no rum available at Rum Island, but the spring was another beautiful example of the Sante Fe’s water. Beautifully clear water from the spring-head, felt good too – a constant 72 degrees.

Ginnie Springs

Ginnie Springs

In addition, just down the way was Ginnie Springs

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They have a fine place for folks to camp, dive, or just frolick in the waters

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– on the spring-head, or while floating down the river.

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The river’s gnarly characters, much like the Suwannee’s

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Later down river and in the afternoon, mechanized traffic was present.  Personally I don’t have a problem with mechanized traffic – they are doing their thing, Naked Ed’s doing his, and I’m simply doing mine.

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The trees too held waterlines of seasons past, there are some ‘standouts’ along the way; beautifully aged trees, many cypress – proudly supporting little eco-systems of their own.

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Early homesteads

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Spending time with a river means living along the river, finding a campsite for the night; is once again, just a “part of it.” We had guestimated our stop at the Ichetucknee, but this island about an hour prior invited us in.  It was a good choice.

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 Along the way I’ve learned that a paddler goes down and rises with the sun, it just works that way after a full day of paddlin (with a few exceptions). For the day I had seen turtles, gators, turkeys, kingfishers, osprey,otters, deer, a family of wood ducks, and more. There were fishermen working the evening waters to entertain my supper, and the lullaby of the owls once again to send me through the night.

The ground was soft and level.  zzzzzz.

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The best thing about a good nights sleep, is that it is preparation for the finer moments that a river can share; morning paddles – be on the water at 8:15.

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Gordy and I were once again paddling a familiar setting

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coffee, and the morning’s peace eased the transition into another day.

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interesting objects

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a cormorant, turtle, and speedboat

Itchetucknee

The Ichetucknee

At the Ichetucknee the water is a 10! Crystal clear, we paddled up to the first landing available.  Our plans included the option of paddling the 6 miles up to the Iche’s spring-head, but having seen the awesome beauty of the Sante Fe’s springs already – the paddle really wasn’t necessary.

Our paddle rate had been leisurely and we wanted to keep it that way – so we eased on.

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There were limestone shorelines of eons past

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and mighty trees, some eroding away

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.Simple directions

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After the Hwy 129 bridge it was a few more miles out to the Suwannee.

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It began to cloud up, and out of nowhere Ellie Rays appeared.  At our pace it was easy to see the neon beverage sign on the window of their bar/restaurant.  Could there be some ‘land-food’ in our immediate future??? It was one fine place, on one fine river.

The rain came about the same time as our double-burgers and my beverage went down like the water falling off the roof. There was serious contemplation about sitting right on that stool and calling the outpost – they could deliver our vehicle to Ellie Rays (a good idea for someone paddling the Sante Fe).  The showers subsided, and Sun returned.

Working our way through the burger and another beverage – Gordy and I set-out to complete our trip as planned; a mile or so to the Suwannee, then 10 miles to Rocky Bluff….

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I am impressed with this river and highly recommend the experience.  The Sante Fe is a primitive river and with all those wonderful springs along the way the water clarity is high – to clear.  The river’s Natural quality is beyond that.  This river supports healthy aquatic life which in turn support other system-species seemingly abundant and thriving.

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The Sante Fe provides a setting for family day trips, or longer paddle trips.  If pondering distance paddling – this and/or the Suwannee rivers provide fine settings for getting a feel of such adventure.  The river’s simple length of @ 30 miles with multiple access points and the potential of culminating at one of the RV parks (there are two beyond 129, Ellie Rays recommended) makes this a very desirable paddle experience for any paddler.

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Mileage Chart
00.0    Santa Fe Rise
02.4    Darby Spring river left
02.5    US 441 bridge
02.6    Santa Fe Outpost (rentals)
02.7    High Springs Ramp off US 441
02.8    Columbia Springs river right
04.8    Suck Hole river right
05.7    River Rise Ramp off US 27
05.8    US 27 bridge
06.6    Transmission Line
07.2    Allen Spring river left
07.8    Poe Spring
08.6    Lilly Spring
09.6    Rum Island County Park
09.8    Gilchrist Blue Spring river left
10.1    Transmission Line
10.7    Devils Eye and Devils Ear Spring river left, July Spring river right
10.9    Ginnie Spring
11.2    Ginnie Springs ramp
11.4    Sawdust Spring river right
13.0    Transmission Line
13.6    Unnamed springs in river bend
13.7    Siphon Creek East
13.9    Siphon Creek West
14.5    Santa Fe River County ramp off SR 47
15.0    Hollingsworth Bluff Ramp
17.5    Wilson Spring river right
17.7    Wilson Springs ramp
19.6    Ira Bea Oasis ramp
20.7    Jamison Spring river right
20.9    Sunbeam Spring river right
21.6    Oasis Spring right left
23.4    Ichetucknee joins from river right
26.5    Betty Spring river right
26.8    Troop Spring river left
27.9    Lemmons Memorial Park ramp off US 129
28.2    Sandy Point Campground ramp
28.8    Campground Spring
29.0    Ellie Ray’s River Landing Ramp
29.1    Trail Spring
29.5    Unnamed spring in swamp river right
30.0    Unnamed springs In swamp river left
30.2    Wanamake Ramp
30.3    Confluence with Suwannee River

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Paddling the other two rivers on this trip didn’t work out, but somehow in justifying direction I felt fulfilled by the Sante Fe.  It had rejuvenated me with the riversphere that I needed within – “Good ’nuff.”

The Ochlockonee River

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The Lower Ochlockonee River

Dam through the Bay – 76 miles

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Lower Ochlokonee River Paddle Map

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Contemplating any ‘paddle’ usually begins with ‘googling’ the river (an aerial perspective) and figuring out shuttle logistics; for paddling the 72 miles of lower Ochlockonee in the Florida ‘panhandle,’ the research was no different.

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Visually the river ‘meanders’ back and forth; draining through the knotted terrain of the Apalachicola National Forest.  This ‘lower’ section of the Ochlockonee zig-zags from Lake Talquin (near Tallahassee, Fl) for about 72 miles through Ochlockonee Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Other blogs mention ‘swift’ water,’ what we found was no swifter than the Suwannee.  The first part of the paddle was a narrow corridor – which left a possibility for ‘swifter-water’ at a lower water level.  We left room for encountering potential strainers too along the way – several blogs about the Ochlockonee included accounts of paddlers ending up in the water.  Note taken but no deterrent – hey, its a ‘wet’ sport and sure the possibility exists, with the other part of my mind pointing a finger at – a ‘congestion’ of paddlers (groups).  These situations cause spillage (spread out folks) – paddling for me is ‘getting away.’

Within research of the Ochlokonee, I was intrigued by it’s distance, current, and the terrain.

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'pearl'

pearl

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As for the logistic’s of parking at each end, we contacted Ed and Bernices Fish Camp near the dam, this is where we left our shuttle vehicle for three days – covered with a launch fee of 5 bucks each (Jean will fix you up).  Initial thoughts were to stay at that campground before depart but with the recent flooding in the area – the grounds were left soggy (and no hookups).  As for the lower-end there are at least two choices, Ochlockonee State Park or the Holiday Campground at Hwy 98 on the bay – wanting to include the bay we used the campground.

While hoping for good sleep prior to our Sunday start on the river, Saturday night campground (‘trailer-park’) neighbors brought the saying; – “you’re happiness is beginning to piss me off!”  to lite – all in fun, and clearly – just a part of it.

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Once on the river at the dam, the water clarity was unimpressive – the tannic water had more of a reddish clay look to it, plus the waters were foamy from the spillway drop – much like the foam at Suwannee’s at Big Shoals.  Sure the recent flooding played a part with the clarity, but we figured somewhere within the spirit of this river was the character interpretation (from the Hitchiti dialect) of the name.  There were also issues with spelling and proper pronunciation of the Ochlockonee – so much so that we moved on to the simpler things within our grasp

 

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Water Clarity –  5+

Natural Quality – 8+

Skill level – beginner to moderate

Perspective – Sunday through Tuesday

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– simpler things like the ‘natural quality’ surrounding us.

Just down from Ed and Bernices we passed one of the few homes along the river – there’s not many.  This home had children playing while parents watched – made us think about the alligators – not that alligators were a real concern to us, but maybe the children playing at water’s edge.

And it never hurts to find an official river water-gauge to ‘orient’ your paddle experience with – it won’t alter a set vacation but maybe lead to a ‘plan-B’ is necessary.  Change happens more with low water readings. Our paddle-guage for the Ochlockonee was the Smith Creek reading – just above 13′  (and dropping from 16) – for this paddle, it was high water.  I have learned that high-water is not always a bad thing.

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Gordy and Carl joined up once again for this 76 miler – three full days would do it.  Our planned primitive stops were; Pine Creek landing at 18 miles; Tates Hell Forest at 48 miles; with a last night ‘open.’

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In the first few hours we did pass a couple fishermen, but beyond that there were few landmarks leading me to think ‘unremarkable,’ this would change. But being a paddle trail more ‘marks’ seem appropriate, not that markers really matter – but with a mundane shoreline ‘benchmarks’ are helpful in passing time – I have found this true along the Mississippi, and along the Current river.  There was little to no cell phone reception available.

 

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Also present in the first few miles was an eagle, this birds seem to be more and more abundant along our river-ways – certainly not out of the ordinary to spot one anymore. Eagles are a good sign of recovery.  The ‘natural quality’ along the Ochlockonee included the common kingfisher, egrets, herons, and Osprey sightings – plus my buddies the owls.

 

ONF sign

ONF sign

Leaning to different and interesting were the sandpiper’s and an ever present Swallow-Tailed Kite along the miles.

 

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The ‘high-water’ was nice in that it allowed more room for error, and left room for an occasional ‘short-cut.’  Along the way there were numerous occasions to slip through the trees and catch the meandering channel of the river beyond the switchback ahead.

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At the old Langston Ferry crossing (1876) there is a small memorial porch to S.I. Sam Stoutamire (it was his property).  The water allowed us to paddle right up to the structure – interesting because of the church pews present.

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At 15 miles; The Huey P Arnold park boat ramp (note water level) was marked private; there were fire-rings, porta-johns and a dumpster – other than that the place didn’t look especially inviting.  It was true that we hadn’t seen the rest of the river yet, in hindsite – the grounds were not affected by the high water and the place could have been a fine place to camp.  The truth is that only 15 miles from the dam, we we’rnt ready to ‘drop anchor’ just yet.

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The river was moving along pretty well, my guess was 3.5 mph (as compared to the Suwannee’s 2.5).  As usual there were the occasional strainer; but no apparent obstacles to speak of – Could it be the water level?  I remembered the blogs where folks had turned over, and couldn’t help but once again think that group’ paddlin contributes to this.  The congestion of folks (at different skill levels) creates conditions ripe for someone getting wet.  Its all within ‘Why?’ a person paddles.

During the day there was plenty of time to ponder traveling this river at a lower water level, I wondered whether a more distinct channel was worth the obstruction challenges that could be present then.

 

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At 18 miles and in the late afternoon, we found more flooded conditions at Pine Creek landing.  We had put-in at the dam near noon and five hours later it was time to seek a camp-site.  Pine Creek was muddy with a gator and once again could have worked, but we decided to move on a little further to seek the next best spot – always a gamble.

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Lonesome Cypress

A Lonesome Cypress

an hour later…………..

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There was a nice flow to the water and the course was easy to follow – after Pine creek there were no places or shore to camp (kinda like the mouth of the Suwannee) and it was getting late.  From out of nowhere this cabin appeared out of the dusk – we paddled right up to it.

Now its not a usual practice to stop at someones cabin, but out of necessity and circumstance – we checked it out.

Lonesome Cypress Preserve

Lonesome Cypress Preserve

The place couldn’t have been more perfect, and came at the right time.  The deck would work just fine.  So with a lot of respect and a little house keeping (had not been used in a while) we washed the heavy pollen from the floor and settled in for the evening, nice.

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The Lonesome Cypress Preserve; not a clue whom the place belongs to but simply ‘the best’ way to spend an evening, this by far was my second favorite ‘night’ on the water (first at Lake Powell)

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(found a buck in the horse trough)

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 I don’t think anyone should count on staying here without permission, but thanks to the circumstances it happened – thank you preserve folks, it really was perfect;

We treated your place with respect and left nothing but footprints.

8 am

8 am

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Day 2

Never seems to fail, a serious paddler goes down with the sun and is up with the morning light.  First thing, we had breakfast and river-jolt (coffee) in the most comfortable of settings, by 8am we were sitting ‘bac on the river.

 

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Mornings are absolutely the best time to be easing down the water.

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Nice to get back to that ‘lawn-chair’ feeling in the kayak, on the water.  The channel of flowing water took us through some light brush – all easy obstacles, easy ‘lines’ (once upon them) to pick.  We eased passed Jack Langston’s Fish Camp a few miles downriver at 22 miles – would have been forced to camp here if ‘heaven’ wouldn’t have happened the night before.

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 The Ochlockonee is not a straight paddle – your mind stays busy with the zig-zagging, brush, along with – the peace.

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The interesting thing about the Ochlockonee was the changes – it changed from an unremarkable flow at the dam, to an interesting river.  There are pools where the water sits before moving through small playful sections and curves – before channeling through a natural corridor into the Gulf.

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Somewhere about the 40 mile mark the unmarked Roberts landing came into view – just above Hitchcock lake, there were few places to stretch along this section so Roberts landing was good for a break – tap water available.

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tree ibis

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After a full day of paddling with few landmarks or inviting stops – Tate’s Hell Campground came into view, 48 mm, once again – at the right time.  The nights lightning-bug show was the most phenomenal that I have seen, and the owl’s entertained.  The rest was well deserved after a long thirty-mile day on the river. .

day 3

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Shoving off for day 3

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another fine morning paddle

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There is a ‘shortcut’ near Woods Lake entrance, we did see it (water flow) but being unsure stayed with the main channel.  Along the distance we did notice ‘surveyor’s’ ribbon placed which could indicate a paddle trail – we saw ribbon that also marked fishing lines.

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The river widened and began to have the heavy coastal feel to it.  Here just below Sopchoppy and before hwy 377 (@57 mm), the Georgia Florida and Alabama RR trestle pilings still stand from the 20’s.

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Sawgrass – the coast is not far off, I’m sure that the tide has some influence on this area but on this date and paddle the predominant thought was becoming more about – the weather!

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‘chicken-little,’ and the sky began to fall!

Now I don’t mind paddling in the rain – but this was a very active weather front bearing down on us.  As the first rains came about 11 am we found an empty boathouse, got under the roof and relaxed – it was a good time to review our options.  From our point it was a 4-hour paddle to the campground; the state park was the only thing between us and the bay (besides the boathouse we were in).  We put our feet up, ate, drank, and contemplated – we would have to decide by one pm if we wanted to commit.  After two hours and a little let-up in the rain we gave it a go – once in the open, the weather enveloped us.

It’s not the kind of situation paddlers like to be in; out in open sawgrass without options.  It was a solid paddlin situation – it counters enjoyment and my reasons for being there.  The paddle action was a constant ‘dig’ along with frequent lightning-bolts, which sure invigorate the effort.

While working the wind and river near the saw-grass I jabbed an unsuspecting 10+’ gator with a stroke – I say that because I had the best view of him as he suddenly rolled under my paddle in the shallow water before lurching under the nose of my kayak towards open water.  The action was fast and intense – and lifted my kayak into the air; ending with a large splash.  Way too quick to be a oh-crap moment.  The ending was good and under the circumstances – I never missed a stroke.

I looked back at Carl whom was just behind – wished I had a picture of that expression, but my camera was put-up because of the rain.  From that moment I don’t think either of us looked back until we all made it to the campground – ‘just a part of it.’


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So yes, there are alligators in the Ochlockonee river – and the river is an interesting cross section of Georgia pine into a cypress knot and coastal palmetto/sawgrass setting.  An interesting ride through three days of switch-back channels and straight corridors in moving water, “just follow the flow.”

Time well spent surrounded with an ecology supported within the mix of fresh and brackish waters, a simple time and place rich with those simple things of life – lightning bugs and sleeping with the owls

– experience it.

 

 

 

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