Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Adventures Suck While You're Having Them (Sweetwater Creek, 9/16/2006)
The title is something Neil Peart says a few times in his travel book "Roadshow." Man, is that ever true.
The worst kayak ride I've ever had was one of those sucky adventures.
I found a guidebook to Northwest Florida rivers a few years ago. It's pretty out of date as far as roads and landmarks, but still usable, since the rivers are still there.
I wanted to try a different run from the usual one I took with the Movie Freak; this would be the first time one of his trumpet students came along, so we wanted a short ride.
According to the guidebook, the ride along Sweetwater Creek would be about 2 miles, with plenty of shade. We dropped Movie Freak's car at the take-out spot, piled all our stuff into my Tracker, and headed up to the Highway 4 put-in, a bridge over the creek. It was about 11 a.m.
I parked behind the southwest guard rail and we made our way down a kind of steep slope to the creek. Plenty of trees around, so the water was almost icy cold even in mid-September.
We had played up the whole tubing/kayaking experience for the kid, and all three of us were looking forward to it.
We hit a snag within 100 feet of the bridge, but didn't think anything of it. There had been plenty of hurricanes in the previous couple of years and deadfall was common even on Juniper and Coldwater Creeks (our usual). The kid and Freak had it easier; they were riding inner tubes and could just crouch down and float under it.
I had to maneuver the boat to a shallow spot, lever my fat ass up out of the seat (even 6 years ago, my legs were starting to give me trouble), and drag the boat around the snag. Saw some raccoon tracks on the bank, a first.
Back in the boat...and within a couple of minutes the way was blocked again. We voted to keep going, hoping that it'd be better.
There was a Lowe's worth of lumber downstream, and we had to go over, under or around it all. We really should have turned back, but that didn't happen. Each snag was a sucky adventure in itself; one was bad enough that I left the boat, climbed the west bank, and found myself looking across someone's pasture. I went a few yards downstream past the snag, climbed back down, and retrieved the boat, long since having given up on riding it. I pulled it along like an unwilling burro.
We hit another one like that a few hours later, the worst of all--a high, thick wall near what looked like a picnic area on the east bank. We scaled the bank and stopped for lunch, joking that this was a little more fun than we usually had. There really was no going back at this point; we had no idea how far we'd come (not far at all, as it turned out) and just wanted to keep moving forward.
From the picnic spot and a little trail running south, we could see that we could get around three sizable snags...and as soon as we were in the water again, we had to deal with another one.
We killed six hours doing this. By 5 p.m., the three of us were worn out. My shins burned from where I'd banged them on underwater branches. We wearily passed by a picnic area on the west bank, this one with a table and benches.
I don't think there was any discussion of stopping there; we kept going through/over/around several more snags before coming up against another wall of trees and branches. It looked like the creek stopped right there--and for us, it did. We turned around and hiked for that last picnic stop, rested a few minutes, and followed the nearby trail north away from the creek. The trail became a loose dirt road bordering that same pasture I'd seen from the other side, then finally led to a paved road.
At the second house on the right, we stopped to ask for a ride back to the Tracker. Big family, really nice folks. They explained that the creek had been left uncleared by whatever State or County office, and that it had been like that since Hurricane Opel in 1995.
We were loaded into the family truck and off we went, maybe a quarter mile to Highway 4. The Tracker was parked barely 300 feet away.
After more than 6 hours, we'd gone maybe 3/4 mile down the creek (the middle push-pin in the picture).
"Idiots" tag is for us, for not turning back.