January 11th, 2014
By Nic Stoltzfus
Cypress stump on the Dead Lakes (Photo: Joey Dickinson)
Monday, December 9th: Day 5
I still felt like crap. The last two days were hard, slugging days of 20 miles apiece. By now I was tired, grumpy, and desperately wishing for hot food, a hot shower, and hot ladies. Preferably perfumed ladies. Low on morale and cologne, I smelled, the guys smelled, and I wanted to see clean faces for once. I talked to Dad that morning and he promised today was going to be a light paddle. Good—a light paddle. Expectation set. I can do this.
We met up with my mom at Gaskin Park in Wewahitchka—she came with bountiful goods—fresh chocolate milk from my aunt’s dairy (I call it “chocolate crack.” It’s just that good), homemade Christmas candy, and frosted doughnuts. A sugar lover’s dream.
Mom was dressed in her work clothes ready to head to the E.R. after leaving us. I was happy to see her again and visiting with her boosted my spirits. I was ready to get out on the water and, restless, I grabbed Joey and the two of us began kayaking Justin wanted to see the Dead Lakes today, so we were going to take a detour off of the Apalachicola into the Dead Lakes via the Chipola Cutoff.
A bit on the Dead Lakes: The Chipola river flows through the Dead Lakes on its way toward the Apalachicola river (Locals call the Chipola the “little river” and the Apalachicola the “big river”). You know the scene from “The Lion King” where Simba and Nala visit an elephant graveyard? This is a cypress graveyard with tons of dead cypress trees all throughout the lake. It is haunting and majestic—a hidden treasure of the Florida panhandle. Also, it is a great fishing spot and locals guard their spots jealously.
Joey and I were the first to begin the trek into the Dead Lakes. It was an easy paddle and a welcome diversion from the last two grueling days. Sun out and light paddle—now that is my kind of kayaking! We made it to the Dead Lakes and the others caught up with us there. I looked around: Rippled bark whispered stories of old and Spanish moss swayed in the breeze. The fading afternoon light caught in the crevices and corners of tattered tree-skin. Branches arced heavenward and trunks flared downward deep into the murky depths. Hard to describe in a word. “Ancient” is a good start.
Wind through Spanish Moss (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)
Exaltation (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)
From here we turned back around towards the “big river” through the cutoff. As soon as we hit the cutoff, though, I knew we had a problem. Uh-oh. The current. The current! That is why it was such an easy paddle into the Dead Lakes—the current from the main channel that was funneled through the cutoff was pushing us in. Now, to get out, we had to push against it.
For five days I had been paddling with the current—this was the first time I had to paddle against it. Two miles against the current. I hadn’t prepared mentally for this challenge, so I was caught off guard. I would paddle for about five minutes and stop. I’d drift back about half of what I had paddled. Oh no—this wouldn’t do. I grabbed on to a branch and gathered my thoughts and mustered courage—damn it! I had gotten myself in here, I will get myself OUT! I began to paddle, deep strokes twisting my lower back with each one for increased torque and power. Usually the last, I passed Joey and my Dad. I stopped once to eat a Slim Jim and half a Clif bar and continued. I was upset because I had been promised a slow day today—how could it be?! Today was the hardest day yet! I paddled and paddled—for ages. I would make a bend, thinking it was the last, only to see another after it. Finally I saw the last bend and made it out into the main channel. I laid my oars on the kayak and drifted for a bit—I spotted Justin on the side of the bank waiting for us. The five guys on the canoe powered through it, so they were long gone. I pulled over and stopped next to him. We waited until Dad and Joey made it out. Tired and whupped, we ate lunch in silence. Later we caught up with the guys at our campsite.
That evening Dad and I chatted a bit. He said Justin, Kristian, and him had been talking and there was going to be a change of plans. Originally, we had planned to go for 9 days. However, Dad had bracketed for one day that was only four miles and a few other “light” days. Kristian wanted to run the river again on Dad’s powerboat to get a smooth shot of the river in one stretch for better photo quality. They agreed to lop off two days and end the expedition on Thursday, December 12th, instead of the 14th. Dad informed me that on Friday, He and Kristian would head down the river. Someone would come pick him up in Apalachicola and they would come back Friday night. Saturday morning everyone would head down to Apalachicola for a “end of the expedition celebration” and from there we would go our separate ways. I thought that sounded good. I said goodnight to the crew, went to my tent, and fell asleep immediately.
Justin and Elam talking (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)
Tomorrow’s blog: Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part V: Baptism