Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Okefenokee Swamp

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! It might sound weird, but we had a very nice time in the swamp for the holiday. Sure, we missed the zaniness of being with Andy’s brother, Joe, and family. But the swamp was peaceful and very beautiful. And we still had a full Thanksgiving Day feast…turkey (couldn’t find any Tofurkey), stuffing, mashies, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and peas. Yum!

We spent 3 nights here, giving us two full days to kayak. This is the first time our kayaks have gotten wet since leaving the southeast. Believe me, we had many heated discussions about whether to bring them on this trip or not. We used them a lot at the start of the trip, but then we should’ve thrown them in storage somewhere before heading west where there’s either no water or white water.

There are several kayaking trails in Okefenokee. Some would require overnight camping permits to use. We kayaked for eight miles on both Thursday and Friday, taking slightly different routes on the day-use blueways. The first day we paddled east on Billy’s Lake and north in a channel to Minnie’s Lake Shelter before turning around. That day we saw 30 different alligators, not including any duplicates when we doubled back to home. There was a decent west wind blowing in our face on the way home that also caused a little chop. We had to hug the shady, southern shore to keep out of the brunt of it so we know we missed a lot of gator-sightings since they were basking on the sunny side of the lake. Although there are several “lakes” in the Okefenokee, they are actually more like rivers. This is wider than your normal swamp channels. The next day we paddled the full length of Billy’s Lake, first going west and up a dead-end channel, then south a little into the Florida Sill. We had to turn around at an alligator sunning on a rock in the middle of the Sill, which is about as wide as your kayak paddle. There was no room to pass. Then we went east to Billy’s Island and hiked a trail around the historic lumber mill. On this trip we counted 77 alligators on our way out and in any section that we paddled through a second time we kept a separate count, for an additional 59. That was impressive. We kept a separate count since we couldn’t tell one gator apart from another…well, outside of ‘small’, ‘medium’, and ‘humongous’. We saw them basking in complete stillness, swimming within 10 feet of us, submerging without a ripple, and even lumbering down the bank only to slink back into the water. I think they’re amazing creatures. They’re beautiful in their own way with those perpetual smiles. Later I read that generally it is just the 8 foot, plus-sized gators that would attack humans. But it is rare for that to happen or for them to bite more than once.

Oh, bad news. My digital camera broke at the start of the second day of paddling, so I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have otherwise. And I had to resort to my back-up film camera for the rest of the trip so it’ll be a little while before I get them developed and posted. At first I thought it was just my memory card gone bad, but I bought a new one and am still having the same problem.


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