Zolfo Springs to Brownville (or so we thought)
Let me first start by saying – this trip would not have ended as well as it had if we did not have the most amazing participants and guides as we had with us.
May is usually a low water period on the Peace River. This is one of the best times to hunt for fossils and prehistoric sharks teeth. There are many beaches to pull up on and usually a very fun trip. Due to the very dry winter and hot dry spring water was much lower than expected. I did all the research I could. We knew the water was low but all the sources I spoke with said, “The River was passable for kayaks but not canoes and we should have to walk part of the way but it would not be bad.” Boy, were they ever wrong! Let me start at the beginning….
We had a group of 13. Ages from early 20’s to one fella celebrating his 65thbirthday! The weekend started out with everyone in very good spirits. We even saw our first otter and a flock of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks not long after we launched! But it was not long before we had to start “walking our yaks”. The water stayed about ankle to knee deep and there were nice long stretches where we actually could stay in the boats and paddle. But there were many times we had to get out and walk, this was especially hard on those that chose sit-in kayaks. We stopped about every hour for a break and re-hydrated, had a snack and looked for sharks teeth. It was fun showing everyone the many fossils that can still be found on this river. Dennis, our birthday boy was having a blast fly fishing from his kayak and caught quite a few nice fish. We stopped and played in the water, enjoying how refreshing it was. Christy pulled out bubbles and the other gals had water guns – everyone was a target!
Around 3 pm we arrived at the “near ½ way point” and our camping spot for the evening. After getting tents and clotheslines up many chose to take a nap, Dennis fished; others hiked, threw football, or looked for fossils. After a dinner of Garlic Parmesan chicken with pasta and vegetables we celebrated Dennis’s birthday with a cake and song. Soon we were all sitting around playing with a deck of “would you rather” cards. We were all laughing hard at some of the answers! It was an early night for all of us. It had been a tough day and the general thought was it would get better tomorrow. I wish I could say it did.
We have a breakfast of fruit, granola, oatmeal, and coffee – thinking back I should have brought so much more…. Our day started out walking more than kayaking. I was in the gear canoe and maybe as well ought to have just walked the whole way. We were able to pick up a lot of trash with the river being so low and slow and that weighted down the canoe even more. Still everyone was smiling. We were supposed to be off the river by 2 at the latest and all figured it could not be that bad. We hit some nice spots of deep water and thought we were making good progress but upon checking the GPS we still have 4 miles to go just to the next boat ramp at noon! We were not even going ½ a mile an hour. No current, lots of time getting in and out of the boats and walking and now a head wind. After passing a familiar landmark it hit how far back we still were and just after that we hit our worst news yet. There was a ½ miles “S” turn with 12 ft high banks totally blocked by downed trees….. and we had to get through it – there was no way we were going back. First to empty the canoe of all the gear, then boat by boat we all lined up and carried them up, over, around, under and through the blockage. What an enormous task! Thank goodness there were no gators or snakes in and around the deeper holes caused but the floodwaters that brought this mess back in November! On the other side, deep water! We were so relieved! We were all exhausted and it was now 2 PM. About then the weather started to change…. There was a band from the tropical storm front hitting near Jacksonville on the East cost about to pass. Wind was picking up bad and then the sky opened up and rain fell in buckets. Everyone had to get off the river, lightening was getting close. After getting everyone huddled in a clump of low bushes under a tarp we waited out the storm. After about 20 minutes it passed and they sky started to lighten up. We found more water in our boats than in the river! We were nowhere close to getting off the river and we had at least 4 more hours (minimum) to go. We made a call to the Ranger at Brownville park where we parked our shuttle vehicle and let him know there was no way we could make the park by dark and asked if we could possibly get a ride from Gardner Ramp to his park once we arrived there – shortening our trip by 4.5 miles. I sent our guide Mike with my car keys and 2 of the stronger paddlers ahead of the group, he would call the ranger when he arrived at the ramp, and go get the shuttle vehicle (my truck) and meet us at the ramp. This worked out to be a good decision. Most of the rest of the trip was done on foot. Everyone was overheated and exhausted. Bringing all the extra heavy snacks paid off and everyone had enough to eat all day and we never came close to running out of water! We finally pulled up on the boat ramp at 8 pm -just before dark, Nike had just gotten there with the truck, a sight for sore eyes (and feet!) There was a young White-tailed Buck there to greet us. He had been visiting that ramp for a few weeks and was sniffing each boat for a snack. We found out that the FWC was coming out to take him to a petting zoo as he was just too friendly. He made everyone smile!
After taking everyone back to get their vehicles and the boat trailer we got everyone loaded up in their own vehicles and said our goodbyes. What a great group! Beyond exhausted, 6 hours late getting off the river and hungry, everyone was still smiling and sharing hugs. I was shocked someone did not want to rip me apart for guiding this trip! They all chocked it up as an adventure….one heck of an adventure!
As we started for home the rains started in earnest, I was glad to be off the river! I went through the trip in my head over and over on the way home. Trying to find a way to makes sense of this trip. Last time on this river I traveled the same distance in less than 8 hours and in 1 day! No matter how I tried I just could not account for all the hours, even after a 12 hours nap upon returning home.
Nature is a wild, unforgiving creature, always deserving respect, never able to be fully understood. I am glad I was able to apply the skills I have acquired over the years to get this group off the river safely. But I really can take no credit. It was their wonderful attitudes and the skill and attitudes of my fellow guides Ellie and Mike that got us through. It was all about how we mentally faced the challenge before us, and everyone was up to the task. I notified the Outfitters of the true status of the river and soon crews will be out with chainsaws making it all easy to pass again soon. The summer rains have started and the river is already up 2 feet! I know that there was no one else that experienced this river they way our group had. What we experienced was a very unique adventure and next time we do the river it will have changed yet again. I am thankful for this challenge, it has made me stronger and I have learned so much from these 2 days and over the 19.5 miles we travelled. Until then we leave the river “at peace”
Note: The Peace River was 3 ft 8 inches below normal when we traveled over Memorial Day Weekend (We were the only ones on the river). As of today June 9th the river is already up to only being 1 ft 2 inches below normal and all outfitters are planning to do a river clean up soon.
For photos from this trip please visit: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151156884946982.545991.123289366981&type=3
For current water conditions on the Peace River Visit: http://www.canoeoutpost.com/Peace/showpage.asp?page=waterlevel
For more information of trips offered by Not a Clue Adventures please visit our website at: