This site is fluid (pardon the pun). Updates as I travel depend on my battery power from the sun and my cell service from Straight Talk. Some periods there will be neither, but I knew this going in.
Also, please don’t mock me on my blatant grammatical and punctuation errors. There will be many! Have to edit on the go. But feel free to let me know with the contact form below. For that matter , use the form to just say “hi”.
I will always appreciate the contact out here!
With that I hope you enjoy the story as much as I do bringing it to you.
Please Note: Week 1 was plagued with incredibly bad luck with cell phones: 1. New one stolen the day before ldeparture at the marina. 2. Backup phone couldn’t keep more than a 20% charge. 3. The new replacement phone I got onday 4 died on day 8 from a defective battery) That’s why the first week I title…
The Quest for a phone.
Anyway, that’s why this page has down for the 1st week. Have a lot of pictures still to add and will do my best to describe the footage lost
The 1st section of the great Marsh Loop takes me going upriver on the St. Marys River, running the border of Fl and GA, to it’s origin, the Okefenokee Swamp.
Then the route will run through the center of Okefenokee Swamp and The birthplace of the next, and longest, stretch of river, The Suwannee River.
But that is a future story……
Here’s The Day to Day!
The day started and conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. Especially because my son was there to cast off my lines. I still had 4 hours of an incoming tide and 5-10 mph at my back to push me along.
All I had to do was swing by my boat and grab my glasses. As simple as that was, It didn’t go smoothly. In my rush I took out my wallet to put something in it; then set it where I always set it on the boat. As if I forgot I was going on a long trip! It was another hour before I realized my mistake and too far to turn back. I called a friend who said he would run it out to me but it wouldn’t be till Wednesday. No worries, I had to wait in St. Mary’s till Thursday to replace a phone stolen few days previous.
Reid’s Bluff, St. Mary’s River
Days 2 – 4
The Great Wait
Time here was like being in a frustrating limbo! I was in a holding pattern in St Mary’s until I could retrieve my wallet and replace a stolen phone. To make matters worse my old backup phone was failing and couldn’t charge more than 20%
My friend who was to run my wallet out to me was unreachable on Wednesday. By sunset I was resigned to call for a cab to take me to my wallet and in the morning. Rates looked to be at least $100 roundtrip. Not something I could afford from my last paycheck coming in the morning.
Then my 1st miracle happened! And old friend that I rarely get to see, Scotty, came to my rescue from out of the blue. He had been tracking me with the “Where am I button” and stopped by to check on me. Not only did he ride me back to Fernandina and back for my wallet; he brought me to Walmart the next morning for a new phone!
On day 4, I found I was stolen from again. It happened when Scotty was taking me to get my wallet. Lost my GoPro with 3 days footage, binoculars and a water backpack.
Was hoping I wouldn’t need these!
A new Beginning!
With a new cell phone in hand, and my wallet reclaimed, it was like a new start. Made more so by meeting a cyclist, named Trevor(last name withheld), as I was setting up for morning coffee. He pulled off the road and came down to the river to rest his legs. He was on his own adventure , cycling from Savannah to New Orleans. Great guy!
It was also a new day because Scotty, to my aid again, took some extra, unneeded, cargo I had hidden by where my camp was.
I decided I didn’t need 3 antique laptops; each acting as each other’s backups. Down to 1 now and I pray for it’s endurance. Also didn’t need four days of mud covered clothes that would kill a washing machine. And lastly, I didn’t need my “mule”. A modified surfboard my friend outfitted with bungee cords and straps. Unfortunately she only cooperated in the best of conditions. Only the last half of day 1 when the wind was fighting the tide was when she would begin to fight me by kicking out and digging in her broadside, and my cargo, into the water.
Now my yak is cutting the water like she should.
Day 6 & 7
On My Way!
Hank was on the dock the morning of day 6 to see me off. It was a beautiful morning as the sun came up over the trees. The water was like glass with a low, lazy mist blanket. Everything was fully charged including myself.
1st stop, King’s Ferry, FL boat launch to stretch my legs and snap some pictures.
It was a short time after leaving Kings Ferry, while shooting video, I noticed my new phone starting to get hot. I shut it off for a few hours and continued on. Later, when I saw what would be a beautiful picture, my phone refused to turn on. Would not even show a charge indication when I plugged it in. Around sunset I made camp in what was to be my favorite camp yet along the St. Mary’s. Though I wasn’t really sure where it was…
The REAL Day 6 and 7 Camp
Overall, Week 1 was a time of working out the kinks and unbelievable phone issues. There where some bad characters in the story so far, but many more good ones.
Phone issues on the 1st week have caused me to hold tight at Trader Hill Campground and catch up on this website. I can not recommend this place enough. The camp hosts, Adam and Tammy, are fantastic!
Stay tuned for week 2 where there will be an unexpected development in the Section 1 route will add days and miles to this event. You won’t want to miss it!
That’s all for now. Say goodbye,Hank!
The Long Wet Walk.
I woke to a cool grey morning. Scattered rain was expected throughout the day.
Overnight my new, but defective phone trickled down to oblivion, while my old phone was slowly taking a charge. In the morning the score was Old Phone 67%, New Phone 20%. I tried calling my service provider but hold 30 minute hold time was eating away at the charge I had left. Next stop would have to be the Stateline near Folkston to find a 3rd phone to use to save my 2.
The closest business I found at the US 1 Bridge near Folkston was a drive through liquor store in the Florida side of the river. For those who know me, this isn’t such a bad place to get out of the rain.
The 2 women that work at Stateline Drive Through liquor were great and let me use the store phone . Unfortunately, we couldn’t beat my service provider’s hold time(still over 30 minutes) before a customer pulled up and I had to hand the phone over to run a credit card. For those who are wondering, why didn’t I use one of their cell phones? I would never ask that from a stranger. They are a little too personal nowadays. After a few hours of no luck I decide to move on.
I knew on this particular stretch of road there was a Florida Agricultural Checkpoint about 4 miles up the road (and nothing in between) so I headed that way.
It was after dark by the time I reached the checkpoint and met Ofc. Carlos.
I must have been a sight to 7 Carlos coming in out of nowhere in the dark, kayak paddle and water jugs in hand. Once he’s determined I wasn’t a psychopath, he welcomed me in to use the phone while he’s put on some coffee. While I was on hold, the station received a call from whom I now consider “My Guardian Angel”. It was Scotty! Tracking me again and unable to reach me, he called the station to see if I was there. In what has taken me 8 days so far, he was able to swing by pick me up, go back to Yulee to replace my phone and get me back to the yak in about an hour.
It was about 11PM on the 8th day when my “Quest For A Phone” was over. All thanks to Scotty on 2 occasions. I will always be thankful and in his debt.
By the time I got back to the boat it was too late to make a camp so made a cozy campfire and waited for sunrise.
After a long night awake, and fully exhausted I set out. As tired as I was, my spirits were high as my phone ordeal was over. Leaving Folkston, GA the St. Mary’s river bank’s are beginning to loose there signs of civilization. Until I came to this odd tree growing out of the top of some sort of stone foundation. The weather was warm and the river peaceful and beautiful. But today, I needed some sleep and catch up on the Logbook now that I had a phone.
I spent the next 4 days at Traders Hill Campground, overlooking the river. The place is run by Adam & Tammy who are wonderful people. I can’t recommend this place enough for people that want to get away for a weekend. Unfortunately, didn’t get much footage of the place because I had so much previous footage to compile and upload. Added to the fact that I was on what appeared to the edge of my cell service to uploads were extremely slow.
It was also here where I learned my route would be changed. On the 2nd I called Okefenokee Park and learned that the wait list for a permit to cross the park would be another 18 days. I would now have to go around Okefenokee instead through to get to the Suwannee River.
The Camp Too Good to pass
To wrap up the 2nd week I only traveled about a mile up the river when I came across a spot where it was impossible to pass up. Initially it was only going to be a quick stop for lunch.
At this point however, my cell service was getting fainter and the new route would most likely put me in dead zones up the river. So If I wanted to at least finish the week’s narrative it would have to be here.
Camp To Good To Pass (pt.2)
Today was a repeat of the last. Slowly adding images to this page but with a very weak cell signal the process is slow. In the meantime, it was a good day to do some much needed laundry by soaking my clothes in the river, beating them against a tree and hang to dry. Detergent is, of course out of the question. One major is with our waters is the amount of phosphates that are in it.
The Push To St. George.
Moving on, I had to make it to St. George in a day and a half to meet my friend, Rob, who volunteered to load up me and the Gaia Wanderer to the next river. The Suwannee. From Trader’s Hill to St. George by land is only 20 miles. By river it is nearly triple that beause of its many twists and turns.. The river past this point really begins to narrow as it reaches its origin. And, as it narrowed, the current against me became stronger. Still, I was optimistic I could make it in a day and a half.
The weather however had a different plan. In the late afternoon and approaching thunderstorm forced me to go ashore and make camp. This would be the first day of four where the forecast was nothing but thunderstorms.
Goodbye St.Mary’s, Hello Suwannee
At the start of the Suwannee River section I found the perfect shelter from the coming 3 days of thunderstorms. It was also a place where I finally had some decent cell service to still catch up on this page….
A Chiily Start
The sun finally reappeared this morning, but did little at first to warm the 28° temperature outside. It ended up being a late departure between loading up the boat and the coffee breaks to warm up. To make matters worse, I had 3 days of rainwater to pump and dump out of the boat.
Once underway, it was shear joy to have the current finally going my direction. The river was my own that day in that I hadn’t seen another human until I made camp that evening.
I can’t say I had the river to myself though. I was finally sharing the water with gators. To this Montana boy, seeing them up close and free is a mixture of amazement, joy and terror at the same time. They however wanted nothing to do with me, and would dive from their riverbanks into the water with huge splashes to watch me pass from their safety of the water. I counted 13 that day, I’m sure many more were unseen.
Camp No Name
As I was making my approach to the Big Shoals Rapids, light was quickly fading. I stopped at a spot labeled as a campsite on Google Maps. Although, it may have been private. I looked for nearby owners but couldn’t find any so I left a note and pitched a tent on the bank.
The Big Shoals
Prior to arriving at the Shoals, I called ahead to park office for the water’s conditions. It seemed the 3 days of rain earlier in the week at raised the water level considerably and I was STRONGLY encouraged to portage around it. Upon arrival I could see why.
A Beautiful Night For A Kayak
A short paddle downriver I came to the small town of White Springs and where I would meet my buddy Russell, our Contribution Coordinator. We had a great lunch and reviewed the procedures for taking sponsorships and contributions. It was great to have something to eat other than tuna or mashed potatoes!
We we parted company there was still a few hours of sunlight left and I wanted to use them. At sunset I still wasn’t ready to come off the river so I continued on.
The night was warm and clear under a neatly full moon. The river at night is a mysterious, yet peaceful place. I found myself drifting more than paddling as I steared around obstacles as they came out from the darkness.
About 1 AM it was about time Tom make camp. I pulled up to a steep bank next to the I-75 Bridge. I stepped off the kayak onto what I thought was a white sand bank. It was not sand at all, but very slippery white clay. My feet went out from under me and in the next instant I was swimming.
Now the night was not so warm. I made camp in record time and eventually got warm again. It was then that I realized that my camera which was in a pouch on my belt was also soaked. As I write this, I am still trying to revive it.
That night also had a cruel sense of irony. My glasses, which were so important to take on day 1, were also lost in my swim. They were on a lanyard around my neck, but it was a regular occurrence for them to come off it.
Woods Ferry Campsite
From White Springs to the Gulf the is what is called the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.
It is a fantastic system of designated river camps that are free to use. They are 1st come 1st served if a site is not reserved. Although the smart thing to do is to reserve a spot.
The sites are excellently maintained by the joint efforts of the Florida Dept of Envirnmental Protection, the Florida Park Service, and the Suwannee River Water Management District.
The camps operate primarily on a donation system so if you stay don’t forget to give. The boxes for the most part are near the end of the boat ramps leading to the campsites.
The camp host here goes by the name “Fruit Cup” because she always has a handy fruit cup to offer weary travelers. A very nice woman who also brought me a St. Patrick’s day dinner of corned beef and cabbage
Holton Creek is the 2nd river camp on the Suwannee River Trail. Cell service was slightly better than Woods Ferry so I was able to upload more to this logbook.
At the moment the volunteer camp host’s name is Robin and she is great. The volunteers at these river camps have 2-4 months of service at any one camp before they have to move on. She is still in her 1st week and the camp is immaculate.
The Florida Trail runs past this camp and a short side journey from it takes you to a Co-Champion Bald Cypress Tree. A tree is labeled “Champion” when it is the largest of their species in Florida.
Holton Creek was so peaceful and the company so good, I stayed an extra day.
It was a great day for paddling as I made my way to the next camp 28 miles away.
I pulled up to the beach in front of Dowling Park after dark and saw warm and cozy campfire already going. There I met fellow Suwannee River paddlers David, Austin and Griff. They were also heading to the Gulf, and in the days that followed we would hopscotch past each other down the river and meet up again at the next evening’s camp.
A couple days of thunderstorms have me (as well as David, Austin and Griff) holding up at Peacock Slough. On a short break from the weather I was able to go on a mile or so side trip up the slough.
The most memorable to me was how crystal clear the water was. It’s been a while since I was in anything other than water the color of coffee. For the record let me assure all that the rivers thus far are supposed to be that color due to the natural tannin found in the vegetation up river.
Unfortunately for now, cell service here is weak. Pictures should follow on the next planned resupply stop, Branford.
Day 33 &34
Branford was a good place to stop and resupply. I was able to use the last of my money to get another 2 to 3 weeks of food. Unfortunately all the stores in town were sold out of propane. I would have to make the last tank last.
While I was out on my 1st food run, my paddling buddies David, Austin and Griff arrived and set up camp. Austin had a rather unique idea for his camp and I am surprised he didn’t break his neck in the night!
The three left the next morning while I stayed another day to unsuccessfully update this page with more pictures and storyline.
Leaving Branfod with the supplies I could find, I made my way to Rock Bluff. It was a late start and I made camp beside the Route 340 Bridge around 10PM.
After 19 miles of paddling I had quite the appetite and set down to cook dinner. It was then I discovered that my last propane tank would not work. The threads had rusted so thick under its cap that it could not screw into its pressure valve. Now I have gone from 1 tank to 0.
A few miles down the river I passed my 3 Amigos of the Suwannee again as they were breaking camp at Gornto Springs. We paddled together for most of the day until they found a suitable camp on the riverside.
Along the way we passed by Hart Springs Park and decided to take a look. Unfortunately it was closed due to flooding and gators were using the people swimming areas. I was finally able to get a pic of a gator close up. Maybe too close because mama was probably watching.
I continued on a short distance more toward Old Town.
Old Town Camp
I found a great campsite about 4 miles north of Old Town. It had plenty of firewood so I was able to cook a meal again.
Yellow Jacket Camp
The primary goal today will be filling up my 5 gallon water tank and traveling water jars. I will quickly be approaching salt water within the next day or two.
Added to the mix today is that I have 2 days of sunshine before 3 days of thunderstorms hit. So I want to be in the town of Suwannee by then. Should be able to make it. I estimate it is about 42 miles.
I ended up finding a cozy picknick table to sleep on that night at Yellow Jacket Campground. Believe it or not it was by choice. The flat surface did wonders for my back. I had made about 20 miles and now the town of Suwannee was in easy striking distance for tomorrow.
Suwannee,FL. Gateway to the Gulf
I don’t think I mentioned yet the famous Suwannee Sturgeon. A fish that can weigh up to 600 pounds that randomly jumps out of the water. Any given time, any given place. Last I heard they don’t know why this fish will leap out of the water. Maybe just stretching it’s fins. Friends in the know warned me about them, but I thought they were pulling my leg. They were not. Before Big Shoals I started seeing the signs…..
And while I think I saw some jump in the distance the week before, without my glasses I couldn’t be sure.
This morning, on the stretch from Yellow Jacket to Fowler’s Bluff there were 4 leaping giant fish. Or maybe just 1 very active fellow. One of these leaps was 10 feet in front of my kayak an in my line of travel. It happened so fast my brain could hardly register this 6 foot fish shooting straight out of the water. It came completely out of the water and submergerged in an instant. The only proof of what I had seen was the soaked shirt he gave me from his splash.
I have heard that Sturgeons have been involved in approximately 5 boater deaths a year. Due to accidentally jumping out of the water as a speedboat passes by. Imagine a 600 pound fish hits you in the face going over 15 mph.
But fear not. The sturgeon is not malicious. It just needs to look up more often before it leaps.
The last 10 miles to Suwannee, FL seemed to take forever. Southeast winds at 20 plus an incoming tide kept me at 3 miles an hour. If I stopped paddling I would go backwards at half a mile an hour. Then coming around a turn I looked up and saw this….
Into The Gulf & The Cedar Key Standby
I have been reticent updating the log this week at Cedar Key. Primarily to conserve my battery power. The weather this week was either thunderstorms or 40 mph wind gusts going the wrong way for the 20 mile crossing of the upcoming Waccasassa Bay.
The storms took their toll on my tent this week and snapped one of its support poles. I was thankful I packed some duct tape for emergency temporary fixes.
Three miles in to the 20 mile open water crossing of Waccasassa Bay my chartplotter blinked out. My boat battery was dead so apparently my solar panel charing controller had stopped working. To make matters worse, my phone was around 30% and that, other than my compass, was my other means of navigation. The prudent thing to do now was to take the coastal route and hope to find a suitable campsite before sunset.
Live Oak Key
After some trial and error exploring of some rivers heading inland to solid ground I was able to find a great spot at Live Oak Key.
It’s was there, when after I made camp and settled down to cook a meal, I found that my nearly empty propane canister was seized to the burner and was impossible to loosen to change it out. Still had enough left to last another day or two.
Cedar Key Part 2 & The End Of The Journey
Without a way to recharge my batteries, I returned to the Cedar Key Camp. I brought my boat batteries to the local Napa and they recharged them free of charge. They were so depleted they had to charge overnight.
During the wait, for the next two days the wind and rain finally finished off my tent. After 325 miles. It was time to call this trip as finished. Without food, shelter, and a reliable recharging system it would have been foolish to venture further into the unknown.
My best friend Russell came to my aid for the Cedar Key evacuation.
So,after 325 miles, 55 days, and more experiences to count or even write about this adventure comes to a close for now. The loop will always be there waiting. Next time I will put it together with more that a short shoestring budget and with the knowledge of past pitfalls and mistakes.
TO THOSE FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO HELPED ME ALONG THE WAY I AM ETENRNALLY GREATFUL.
People Along The Way…
|THE GOOD||THE BAD||THE DEEDS|
|Shiela||For her initial donation to get things started. Even though she knows I am a dreamer.|
|Ron||Thank you with your help getting me the supplies I needed to start.|
|Thief #1||Took my VHF, binoculars, spot light and cellphone the day before departure.|
|Scotty||An unexpected rescue from him to help retrieve my wallet and bring me to get a phone the next day!|
|Thief #2||While getting my wallet this person found my hidden kayak and helped himself to my GoPro, another set of binoculars, and a water backpack.|
|Trevor||A fellow adventurer cycling from Savanah to New Orleans. Over morning coffee he reaffirmed my belief in fellow man.|
|Scotty(yet again!)||Scott brought back my excess cargo that was slowing me way down on days 1-4|
|The Women at Stateline Discount||Their help in attempting to use their one phone to help save my two.|
|Officer Carlos||His help in trying to revive my phones as well. Plus providing warm coffee and great conversation on a damp evening.|
|Scotty(for a 4th time!)||Scott aka: My Guardian Angel, tracking me still and keeping in contact via text during the Quest For A Phone saga. Without him this site would be stagnant or overbudget!|
|Adam & Tammy||Hosts @ Traders Hill Campground for their friendliness and service.|
|The St.Marys Riverkeepers I met along the way||I met 3 Riverkeepers at different times along the way. Thanks for your help and advice for the trail ahead.|
|Rob||Thank you for getting me from one river to the next.|
|“Fruit Cup”||Thanks for a delicious St.Paddy dinner. Alice change from the tuna and mashed potatoes I live on.|
|Robin||A great camp host and kindred spirit.|
|Doug||Offered a ride into town and bought burgers for the 4 of us staying in the campground. The burgers are legendary at Luraville Country Store if you are in the area.|
|David, Austen & Griff||Great companions and paddling buddies as we made our way to the Gulf.|