|Kings Canal (Kingfisher Landing)|
|I was following the green trail|
Chip, who with his wife owns Okefenokee Adventures, drives me to the launch site. Both of us are from North Carolina and we talk about rivers we’d both paddled (the Waccamaw, Town and Rice’s Creek, the Black River, etc) and about how he came to be the concessioner for the refuge. His father, who had been a Baptist preacher, had taken him to the Okefenokee when he was a kid and he’d kept coming. When he took over the operations ten years ago, there was an environmental battle going on with DuPont who wanted to mine over a 100,000 acres of sand, just outside the refuge's boundaries, to extract titanium. Thankfully, it didn’t happen as it would have severely affected the water quality of the swamp. After DuPont backed out of their plans, they donated a large track of additional land to the refuge. Chip also told me what to expect in my journey and told me the story about the guy who cleared the section of the swamp that I’d be paddling the second morning of my trip. Finding out I’d lived in Utah for ten years, he had to tell me about how this guy had two Mormon missionaries from there who needed volunteer hours and how he took those boys into the swamp and “worked them like a rented mule.” The guy let them talk all they wanted about the Mormon Church, as long as they kept working. He wasn't going to convert, but he admired hard work. When we arrive at the landing, there is another group also preparing to launch.
At 9;30 AM, I slide my kayak into the water of Kings Canal. The other group, who would have been paddling with me for the first mile or so, are still waiting (they had a long shuttle as they were on a four day trip and would take out of the swamp at Fargo). I won't see anyone else for the next 48 hours. It's warm and I paddle in short sleeves. The sky is now overcast and I paddle steadily as weather is changing and I know they are calling for heavy showers and even thunderstorms in the afternoon. After a mile, I leave Kings Canal and turn south on the green trail (at this point, the other group would take the trail to the northwest, toward Maul Hammock). I paddle through many narrow sections that occasionally opened to a small lake or prairie. A few miles into the trip, I encounter my first alligator, a six footer who is spread out on a bank, just off my starboard side. Because of a bend in the stream, I don't see him until I'm right beside him and could easily (had I not been looking) wacked him with my paddle. I'm careful not to do that, but surprised that he does’t slide off into the water as I slide by I also see an eagle, lots of waterfowl and kingfishers, and a couple more alligators.
|an area recently burned in a wildfire|
|Bluff Lake camping platform|
I arrive at Bluff Lake shelter/platform at 12:30, having paddled seven and a half miles. Because there is little stable ground in the swamp, there are platforms built for camping, keeping you up above the water (and the gators, I suppose). Part of the platform has a cover and off to one end is a latrine. Knowing that rain is a possibility, I set up camp (including my hammock) and when all is ready, eat lunch (cheese, crackers, fruit). Then I take a nap, read some, and call my dad to wish him happy birthday (I'm surprised I can get a signal, but since this trail has taken me straight south, paralleling the refuge’s boundary, I'm only a few miles from a major highway).
|my new hammock|
But so much for an afternoon of rain. There had been a light shower while I was napping, but nothing more. By mid-afternoon I'm wanting to explore. Chip had told me about a nice crescent-moon lake that was accessible through a narrow trail (he advised that I not stay too late as it could be difficult to make the paddle in the dark). I grab my cameras (I take two: a water proof one that I kept handy at all times and a DSLR that I stow in a dry bag), and slide my kayak back into the water and set out to find this nice lake. Along the way, I paddle a couple of water lilies that have opened up trying to catch what little sun that creeps through the clouds. While photographing them, I notice how the lily pads all appear as Pac-man, ready to devour some dots. I also begin to notice the large number of pitcher plants in this section of swamp. These carnivorous plants are unique as they depend on the bugs they eat. Pondering this, I make so notes that I eventually shaped into a poem, Swamp Seduction. I find the lake and paddle around a bit, almost wishing I had a fishing rod. Then I feel a drop of water and decide that I better make it back to Bluff Lake. A few minutes later, long before I reach my shelter, the skies opened. Although warm for December, it is chilly to paddle in the rain, but not chilly enough for me to pull on my rain suit. Furthermore, I would still get wet as I had discovered at Kingfisher Landing that I had left my spray skirt in my car. When I arrived back at the shelter, I'm drenched and quickly change clothes, hanging up my wet ones to dry under the shelter.
|Rain in the late afternoon|
|Water lily and "pac-man" lily pad leaf|