Tag Archives: paddling

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RiverTrek 2012: A Quick Look Back

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

On every RiverTrek Day wrap-up post I wrote about what I heard while I lay in my sleeping bag that morning.  This morning it was the buzzing of my alarm, and then I strained to hear anything else.  Walls do a much better job keeping sound out than the thin fabric of a tent.  Eventually I hear that gentle hum of cars and trucks.  Today’s trash day, so I know garbage and recycling trucks are coming.

Back to a more technologically civilized existence.  That means I can upload all the posts that wouldn’t make it from the tablet while using Rick’s or Micheal’s phones as hotspots.  And I can add a lot more photos.  The blog software lets you fudge the dates, so everything can show up in order and you can start at the beginning and look at what we saw along the way.  The best way to see it all would be to go back to what is currently page 3 and keep scrolling over the posts (every new post will push them down, so this won’t be true for more than a few weeks).  Or you can just jump to the beginning and go post by post.

I am fortunate and honored that I was invited to participate in this year’s event.  I hope we do it justice in these posts and in the two video segments set to air on WFSU’s dimensions program (and which I’ll post here).  There may be other bits and pieces to post as well.  We saw and learned a lot.

And I do want to thank everyone who helped me with the production side of things.  Georgia already thanked the support team, and I want to reiterate that.  Thanks Eddie, Mitch, Fred, Dawn and Rick.  Thanks as well to Captain Gill on the support boat, and a big thanks to Dan Tonsmeire for taking a videographer for two days and showing him the river (and for so many other things as well).

Thanks to WFSU videographer Dan Peeri and In the Grass, On the Reef Associate Producer Rebecca Wilkerson for your assistance on the production side of things.

Thanks to the paddlers for putting up with the cameras, my lagging behind when I went to get a shot, and the occasional bump from my boat.  And for making me feel welcome in this group.  Thanks to Rick and Micheal for the use of your phones as WiFi hotspots.  A big thanks to Georgia for posting diligently and keeping the outside world up to date when technology failed me.  Georgia and Doug Alderson did a fantastic job coordinating the trip and picking participants.  I can’t say enough about the experience of RiverTrek, and how much there was for us to shoot and write about.

Lastly, I want to thank my wife Amy for letting me go for five days and staying home with an increasingly active toddler.

I’m probably forgetting someone.  If I am, these posts are editable.

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Rivertrek Day 5: Owl Creek to Apalachicola

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Every morning starts with interesting noises that hear from my sleeping bag.  I’ve been spending a lot of time listening, and I always hear other people up coughing, walking around.  Camping doesn’t always mean great sleep.  This morning, what I heard most was a constant ocean-like noise.  I know we were by mile marker 22, still pretty far from the Gulf.  I wondered if I could hear the tide, as tidal influence was to be felt not too much further up the river.  I asked about that, and was told that perhaps I was hearing the river current.

The one turtle on the Apalachicola that let me get close to it, on the last day.

A few miles into our paddle, we stopped by Fort Gadsden and Doug talked about the historical significance of the place.  Built during the War of 1812 by the British, they abandoned it at the conclusion of the war to a group of free blacks, escaped slaves, and various native groups.  Negro Fort, as it was then called, was a haven for escaped slaves until US troops fired a cannon ball heated in a stove into the fort’s gunpowder stores.  The explosion killed hundreds.  Doug had provided us the chapter about Fort Gadsden from his upcoming book on the Seminole Wars.  We stopped again at the site of another battle, at Bloody Bluff.

We were to stay closer together today, and keep someone with a map nearby (Doug, Rick, and Chris).  Rivers and creeks join and split off from the river in the lower twenty miles, and it would be a lot easier to get lost.  The plan was to take one last break at a small beach after the railroad bridge, at mile marker 3 more or less.  We would stick close together and paddle in line into the city for the people waiting for us.

The day’s paddling seemed a little slower, as we had an incoming tide and some head wind.  We also passed larger boats (including a shrimp boat) that kicked a lot of wake our way.  Sometimes it felt like I was paddling in oatmeal.  When it came time to get into formation, my lens started fogging up and I had to change cameras and switch my last good battery into the camera I had stashed behind my seat.  Georgia is yelling “come on Rob!” but I know I can’t not have this shot.  And it’s either video or stills, so I took video.

We were to come out of the main river and turn into the channel that runs alongside the oyster restaurants and Veteran’s Park, where people were waiting for us.  As we turned the corner to head to the park, I could see an adult form holding hands with a toddler- it was my wife Amy and my son Max.  I told Georgia I saw them and she told everyone, “On the count of three, everyone yell ‘Hi Max!’”  As much a I’ve enjoyed this trip, I couldn’t have been any happier to see them.

We got to the park, waved to our friends, family, and well wishers, and all that was left was the race.  And these guys don’t play fairly.  There was supposed to be a race for anyone who wanted to go touch the Gorrie Bridge.  As Georgia was trying to get them organized to start, Rick, Micheal, Josh, and Bryan just took off.  I wanted to tape this, but by the time I got my camera recording and turned around to get after them, they were pretty far ahead.  It got pretty close, with Rick closer to a beam on the left and Bryan closer to one on the right.  Competitive in both paddling and finding venomous snakes, Bryan Desloge took this one.

Commissioner Desloge (L) and Josh Bolick (R) paddle back after the race.

We all gathered at Up the Creek Raw Bar and ate together with each other and our loved ones.  We will all be sleeping in beds tonight.  We started in the thickest fog and emerged into tall bluffs and wide sandbars, climbing one of the tallest and sleeping on a couple of the sandbars (Estiffanulga sand is still on a lot of my stuff).  The bluffs got lower again and creeks and cypress swamps offered interesting side adventures.  Men fished and hunted, fishhooks hung from trees, houseboats and floating kennels lined the shores.  Herons evaded us, eagles circled overhead, and fish never stopped jumping (I wish I would have been rolling when that pinfish bounced off my bow).  Woods give way to marshes and the bay just opened up in front of us.  It’s been ten years since I first visited Apalachicola, for WFSU’s Our Town program.  I never thought I would enter it this way.  As we drove home over the bridge, in the last light of the day, I thought to myself “I can’t believe I just paddled that river.”

For more information on Rivertrek, visit the official page.  This page is on the Riverkeeper web site, and you can further explore what they do for the river.  (They’re also on Facebook).

The Franklin County Promise Coalition is coordinating aide efforts for families that are being affected in Franklin County through their Bay Aid program.   As Dan told us in his original interview, over half of the residents of Franklin County depend on the river for their livelihoods.  Learn more about volunteering and other Bay Aid opportunities here.

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RiverTrek Day 4: Dead Lakes to Owl Creek

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

The sounds I hear in my tent every morning sort of define where we slept that night. Alum Bluff had the barred owls, Estiffinulga had the rooster and boats launching. Dead Lakes had a low grinding noise that Doug Alderson identified by the campfire after our Wewa chinese dinner. Pine beetles were eating one of the pine trees we were sleeping under. He told Bob, the campsite caretaker, as the tree had to be removed before the beetles spread to other trees.

Before we started the day’s paddling, we stopped to look at the Dead Lakes.  A sand bar from the Apalachicola River trapped the Chipola River, killing thousands of trees.  These trees are still there.  There was a discussion yesterday about some or all of us paddling through the dead lakes into the Chipola, which meets up with the Apalachicola a few miles downstream.  In the end, we decided to stay on the Apalach.  As beautiful as the Dead Lakes are, we don’t want to miss any part of the River.

This is where the bluffs start getting much shorter and the sand bars get fewer and further between. In fact, for our first break we forewent a restfull sit in the sand for a scramble up Sand Mountain. Sand Mountain was created by the Army Corps of Engineer as they dredged the river. All that sand that was sitting at the bottom of the river was piled up into a 50-60 feet high mound. It takes patience to climb, using hands and feet as the mountain sucked them in. It was a great view if the river.

Doug Alderson, halfway up sand mountain.

Today, Alex Reed and Bryan Desloge rocket off ahead of the pack.  Me, I’m still slowing down to shoot things.  I envy Jennifer Portman of the Tallahassee Democrat.  She’s in a tandem with Chris Robertson, who paddles on without complaint while she stops to take notes, tweet, or take photos.  It reduces the risk that you bump someone or get your kayak turned around while changing a battery.  Of course, Doug Alderson is taking notes and photos for his Visit Tallahassee blog and possibly for the next book he does on paddling (he’s currently working on a book about the Seminole Wars).  He doesn’t seem to have as many problems as I do.  He, along with the majority of the paddlers, have guided kayak tours at the Wilderness Way.  They know what they’re doing.  Me, I’m happy to be here with them and pick up the occasional tip.

Our camp site is down Owl Creek.  The bluffs are lower in this part of the river and there are fewer sandbars.  I’m not sure what the correlation is.  But it does mean we have to paddle a mile-and-a-half off of the river to sleep tonight.  It’s a great creek, with a lot of cypress trees including a small island where you can paddle between them.  When we get to the camp site, Alex and Bryan say they’ve been there an hour-and-a-half.

Our support team was lights out, with Fred Borg procuring campsites and bringing homemade salsa.  Eddie Lueken and her husband Mitch Ross brought us quite a spread.  In addition to the delicious machaca (a beef dish), Eddie had made chicken and bean enchiladas, guacamole, and pico de gallo.  All home made.  This support team has really gone above and beyond for us.  Thank you!

Tonight we did ghost stories.  Doug Alderson has written a book of ghost stories, as it happens.  He performs his stories quite well, he sets everything up and even incorporated Fred’s lantern, which hung by the picnic tables (we went primitive camping the first two nights, Dead Lakes was a country club by comparison, but Hickory Landing is somewhere in between with a rudimentary restroom- a pit toilet with no sink- and no potable water or outlets).    He had a hard time getting started with everyone interrupting to ask questions, notably Jennifer- the reporter- asking what kind of shoes he was wearing in his story.  These are things I’ll remember about these guys.  The little phrases and inside jokes.  I’ll never look at a chicken box the same way again.

When everyone went to sleep, I was a little restless and wandered around the campsite.  I walked onto the boat ramp and turned my head lamp off and looked straight up.  This was the last night of the trip, the last time for a while that I would see all those extra stars that we don’t have in Tallahassee, framed by the silhouettes of the trees at the water’s edge.  It was a good last image before going to sleep.

For more information on Rivertrek, visit the official page.  This page is on the Riverkeeper web site, and you can further explore what they do for the river.  (They’re also on Facebook).

The Franklin County Promise Coalition is coordinating aide efforts for families that are being affected in Franklin County through their Bay Aid program.   As Dan told us in his original interview, over half of the residents of Franklin County depend on the river for their livelihoods.  Learn more about volunteering and other Bay Aid opportunities here.