Alligators, crocodiles, flamingos, sharks, snakes, manatee, no-see-ums, and mosquitoes were expected and they did not disappoint us on this annual Florida kayaking trip. Our group saw them along with many other birds, marine life, and unique plants common in the Everglades. Our club traveled over a thousand miles and several days to the Everglades to feed the mosquitoes and to be with each other. It was great to see father and daughter together on this trip: Rory with Alice and Tommy with Mallory. Chuck and Kelly traveled great distances just to spend all their time in the hospital. It was one expensive way to avoid the mosquitoes. We just cannot imagine how difficult it is to be in the hospital waiting instead of out paddling with us. The rest of us did our fair share of donating blood to the local mosquito population and experiencing what the Everglades had to offer.
We set camp in Flamingo campground and concentrated our paddle within the park. The first day we paddle the Nine Mile Pond following the trail markers through shallow grassy marsh. Paddling through the bread stick algae (periphyton) was a unique experience.
On the second day, we paddled through Hell’s Bay to Lard Can Campsite. The claim of “Hell to get into and Hell to get out of” lived up to its reputation. Paddling through the narrow mangroves with just half of a kayak paddle was truly an experience. The sulfur smelling tannic water certainly made it even more memorable. This memory should last us a lifetime, so we decided not to paddle through any more mangroves for the rest of the trip.
That evening, the open bay paddle was in order. The sunset and the open space of the Florida bay balanced out the Hell’s bay. We managed to spot a couple of flamingos flying overhead. The flamingos along with the beautiful sunset made for an incredible day.
The next morning, we gathered in the park to paddle Florida Bay. While getting ready for the launch, Tommy spotted a small Sawfish, a carpenter shark. It turned out to be an endangered species. Mary Finley did the proper thing by notifying the Park Ranger of our finding. We paddled out to Bradley Key to hang out on an oyster bar. We took advantage of the calm bay to practice open water rescue and have a little fun on the paddle board.
On Wednesday, we decided to travel out of the park to paddle in Islamorada Key. Our plan was to paddle to the Lignumvitae Key and then to the Indian Key. Both were within paddle distance from the launch point. Unfortunately, Lignumvitae Key was closed that day, so we had lunch on the dock and met with a very nice Park Ranger, Carmen Powers. Our trip out to Indian Key was beautiful. We paddled over crystal blue water and green eel grass. This also was our first time to see the Portuguese Man-o-War, better known as a floating terror. Leave it to my son to recognize it and the danger associated with the venom filled tentacles. For me, it was fascinating to read about how it can inflate the body with carbon monoxide to sail and deflate the body to submerge to avoid danger. Indian Key was a must visit. We had a great time exploring the history of the island. It was a great break from all the paddling.
Back at camp on the next day, we paddled the West Lake. It was a massive lake to paddle. About a third of the way in to the lake, the local Coots were putting on a show for us. From the edge of the mangrove, they flew out one at a time to form a defensive line on front of us. I never would imagine being able to see that many Coots in one location. It was impressive to see the vast number and to see the line that they formed in front of our paddling group. As we paddle they move the line to keep the distance. This was certainly the highlight of the trip for me. Just to see that massive gathering of Coots in one location.
We had such a good time paddling the Keys so the next day we decided to try Key Deer Park. We paddled around the no name key and spotted several key deer. This no name key was full of trash and debris from the local area. We definitely did not need to return to this key. After the paddle, we headed to Key West for the photo opportunity at the Southern Most Buoy and to see the sunset at Mallory Square. After the sunset, we had dinner along the waterfront. It was a wonderful night to hang out with friends. We managed to get back to the camp around 2 am.
Getting up the next morning to leave was difficult. However, most of us were exhausted from having fun so it was time to go back to our normal life. For me, it was great to be able to spend paddling time with friends.