Thursday, August 6, 2015

2003 Kayaking Florida's Suwannee River with Sierra Club

This Sierra Club Outing was kayaking Florida's Suwannee River which begins at Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp and travels 229 miles through southern Georgia and Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. We were scheduled to begin at the swamp and paddle to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, but the spring rains had raised the river level to 28 feet over normal levels and the upper section of the river was closed and had flooded the camping areas, so instead we began at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and paddled downriver to Branford, a little over 70 miles.

A cold front hit us the first two days, sending evening temperatures near freezing and making mornings a magical time as the warm river fogged over. Here the fire warms our bodies and spirits as we await breakfast. Pictured are (l to r) Greg, our exceptional leader (who volunteers five months a year, leading Sierra Club outings throughout Florida and around the world), Bob from California, Julie from Illinois, Katrina from Virginia, Jennifer from New York, and Nancy from Massachusetts.

Our two experienced guides couldn't use any of the usual lunch stops and camping areas  since they were under water, but they managed to locate new areas for us to use. As seen in the photo below, the scenery was drop-dead gorgeous despite the flooded conditions.

As you can see in this next photo, we are VERY well fed. Greg is an exceptional cook and here he's  preparing pork chops for this evening, and we also had chicken and steaks as I recall, not usual fare on a week-long river expedition. Greg and I hit it off really well, and at the end of the week, he asked if I'd be back to Florida. I said no, that I preferred Arizona for winter trips, but the next year as I planned my trip to Arizona, I remembered my trip two years earlier and how I had practically froze in Arizona! So, every year since, I've been in Florida for a month or more, biking, hiking, and doing more trips with Greg -- over a dozen now in fact, including a number of his Adventures In Florida expeditions which I recommend highly.

The river was calm and the scenery breathtaking. With the water level so high, all the magnificent natural springs feeding the river were underwater, as were the rock outcroppings and cliff walls we would have normally seen. But the level did allow us to experience the land which normally would have been out of sight above the cliffs, which was magnificent in its own right!

Nightly campfires were a highlight of the trip, providing relaxation and fostering camaraderie. One evening, we each elaborated about one or more natural areas back home which were worthy of visits by the others, and since the 17 of us were from all over the country, we all learned of new locales to visit. Many thanks to Dr. Bob who was our master fire builder.

< This sunset over the Suwannee River was a special gift not often viewed by visitors. This is truly a special river, a fact that the state of Florida recognized and acted upon by preserving all the land within the 100 year flood plain as public land.

The entire group at the flooded take-out at Branford, Florida, where we kayaked over a parking lot to reach the driveway.

Back row (l to r): Greg (our leader), Graham (assistant leader), Nancy, Jesse, Gail, Kenny, Jim, Cass, Jennifer, Chuck
Middle row: Julie, Jackie

Front row: Catherine, Carol, Eleanor, Bob, Katrina, Patrick (assistant leader)

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