The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Category: Snook (page 1 of 4)

Poodles in Hell

“Oh….Oh God. Oh LORD! THEY’VE FOUND US! Let’s go! Grab the dog! Forget the tent, let’s just GO!”

It was far too early in the morning for this, but there was no escaping it. I ran back and forth across the chickee, flailing like a madman and screaming obscenities in a futile effort to rid myself from the undying horde of mosquitoes that had found us. At daybreak, the black cloud of bloodsucking demons left the safety of the mangroves and ventured out to our chickee. A faint roar could be heard coming from the swarm during the brief pauses while we caught our breath between screams.

Seriously…They were bad.

“Going!”, shouted my friend Johnny as he hopped aboard the gheenoe, swatting wildly with one hand while his other cradled a poodle. I leaped aboard a moment later just as he cranked the engine, and we sped off in an attempt to escape the bloodthirsty horde.

Welcome to fishing the Everglades in May.

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I’d gotten the bright idea to go on this adventure a few days beforehand. I’d been wanting to make a trip down to Flamingo for some time now, and I figured since it’s about a 2 hour drive for me to get there from where I live, that camping would be the best bet. The idea at least, was to be out on the water late, and also super early. A task that would be simpler if I was already out there. So my plan was to sleep on a chickee and fish for a couple of days. I ran the idea past my buddy Johnny, and he seemed game to come along under just one condition; He had to bring his dog.

Sadly, no one would be around to take care of poor Otis while Johnny and I fished, so there was really no other choice. I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work with two full grown men, camping gear, fishing gear, and a dog all packed into a 16ft Gheenoe, but I honestly didn’t care. I just wanted to fish.

So after loading up, we made our way down to Flamingo. Upon arrival, I had to go fill out a camping form. I realized once we pulled up that I hadn’t actually been to Flamingo in over a year. The last time I was there was when I’d finished the Everglades Wilderness  Waterway. So I went upstairs into the visitor center to fill out a camping form and pay. As it turns out, there are only a few of us insane enough to camp in the Everglades during summer, so camping was free. In addition to that, it’s all self registration. No rangers are involved. Which is quite a bit different than when I camped in January and had to reserve campsites and adjust my trip because there were so many people. I turned to exit the visitor center and stumbled across this helpful sign. Had I known it’s inaccuracy, I may have just gone back home.

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So we took off into the backcountry. We launched around 4, so we still had plenty of daylight to get a little fishing done before dark. Upon entering Whitewater Bay, however, we realized just how hard the wind was blowing. It was an absolute gale from the east, and that happened be the direction we were going. But it was anything but a dry ride. It’s called Whitewater Bay for a reason and the crashing whitecaps periodically made their way over the bow, soaking both us, and poor Otis. We finally pulled off into a spot out of the wind and got ready to fish. We dropped the trolling motor and…

Nothing. No power. We fiddled with it, and messed with it, and did everything we could do. But nothing. The trolling motor was dead. To make matters worse, as we were packing to leave, the subject of a push pole was brought up. “Do you think we ought to bring this?”.

“Nah. It’ll be alright. We’ve got the trolling motor after all”.

I dropped anchor while Johnny proceeded to mess with the trolling motor, and I took advantage of this pause to try and fish. I took a cast along the mangroves and before I could even twitch the jerk shad at the end of my line, a fish inhaled it. First cast, and it was a good fish too. It immediately took off, sending the drag into a screaming fit. I fought it for several minutes without every laying eyes on it when suddenly “pop”. And just like that, it was gone.

I generally never beat myself up over lost fish, but this one was a good one, and it hurt. I imagine the way it was fighting and generally steering clear of the mangroves that it was a nice Red. But sadly there’s no telling.

Almost as soon as I’d lost the fish, however, I heard “Aha!” along with the beeping of the trolling motor. Johnny somehow managed to get it working, and we were back in business. We fished for probably another hour, and I proceeded to hook and lose two more fish. It was odd because my line was getting cut clean like some toothy critter was on the other end. But soon, the dying light was a telltale sign that it was time to go. We needed to set up camp before it got too dark to see. But more importantly: before the mosquitoes showed up.

I’m not an idiot. I know there are mosquitoes in the Everglades. Particularly during the warm months. Hell, even during my paddle in mid-January, I was almost carried away on several occasions. So we’d come prepared. 3 thermacells and several cans of Off. Hopefully we could eat and be in the tent by dark.

I drove us to our campsite at South Joe River Chickee and it was during this that I was overly thankful to have a motorboat. I couldn’t believe I’d once paddled this exact same leg before. It was 12 miles from South Joe to Flamingo and I was getting impatient in the -boat-. The thought of paddling it again was cringe worthy. After a bit of meandering around switchbacks through the mangroves, we came into the small bay where the chickee was. We docked up, unloaded our gear and the hound,  and I started walking around on the chickee. It was then that I discovered something I’d completely forgotten about; my initials.

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This chickee was my last stop on my paddle through the Everglades. Just before the helpful couple showed up and gave me a towel and socks, I hacked my initials into the wood to signal the end of my trip. I remember being almost overcome with a wave of emotions that evening as I watched the sunset. Thankful for the opportunity to do the trip. Proud of myself for even completing it. And most importantly, grateful to actually be alive. I was in rough shape to say the least.

So seeing this was quite the nostalgic trip. I couldn’t help but have a big stupid grin on my face.

Johnny, Otis, and I ate dinner a little bit later which consisted of Spam, macaroni and cheese, and kibble (in no particular order). The wind was still blowing quite strong, and before long we were sitting in the dark.

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But there was something happening that neither of us wanted to bring up; There were no mosquitoes. Rather than jinx ourselves, we just sat up BSing, and attempted to shark fish (which produced nothing but catfish). By about midnight we’d had enough and called it a night.

My alarm went off about 530. In the dark of the tent, I could just make out the shape of Johnny and Otis next to me. Out loud, Johnny said “They’re here…”

All creepiness aside, that’s not exactly what you want to wake up to. But before I could even ask “who”, I figured it out. The mosquitoes were out in full force. In fact, a quick glance out of the mesh window revealed that about 2000 of them had found there way to the down wind side of our tent. The roar from the swarm outside was almost deafening, and it set up a rather odd situation. Two full grown men and a poodle, having  mental pep-talks to themselves in the dim twilight of early dawn inside a tent. It’s one of those talks you have with yourself before doing something horrible like jumping into icy water, or going to the DMV. Finally, we couldn’t take it anymore. Otis most assuredly had to poop, and the hard deck of the chickee was breaking my back (we brought no sleeping pads). I unzipped the tent, and stepped out into the horde.

They really did get bad enough that we were forced to leave everything on the chickee and run away in the boat. We did a little exploring and found some cool waters that I’d like to go back and fish at a different time. It turns out that we timed our trip -perfectly with a neap tide, and got absolutely skunked the entire day. But I’ll remember to go back and fish some of the areas we visited.

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Later that day, we motored back into Hell’s Bay in search of the non-existent fish. It was actually getting hot enough (ironically) that Johnny kept having to splash Otis with water to keep him cool. Something that I’m sure he was unamused about considering he still hadn’t pooped. Hot, tired, sore, and about a gallon of blood low, we decided to call it and head back to Flamingo. I hopped behind the wheel, and turned the key.

Mrrrrrp. Mrrrrrp. Dead battery

I’d prepared for such nightmares, and actually brought a kayak paddle with us. I could only imagine how bizarre it would look to see two men and a poodle paddling a 16ft Gheenoe across Coot Bay on the way to Flamingo. But as luck would have it, the new Gheenoes come with a 25 horse that has a pull start. I haven’t been so thankful to hear a motor start in a -long- time.

I’d like to go back again soon. Maybe out front into Florida Bay instead of the backcountry. Next time I might just bring a bug net though.

And maybe leave the poodle at home. Till next time,

Fish on!

Everglades Wilderness Waterway: Isn’t it Terrifying?


Day 3
 
For the first time in recent memory, I woke up calmly. I didn’t jerk awake from the sound of my alarm clock, nor did I dose about groggily for hours before rising. I simply opened my eyes and was wide awake. My tent faced east and from the vantage point of Darwin’s Place, I watched from inside my sleeping bag as the first tendrils of light illuminated the sky. 
It was going to be a good day. A day that promised to be full of fishing and exploring, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I sat up to unzip my sleeping bag…
…And immediately flopped back down in pain. If it was possible, my muscles were even sorer than they had been the day before. My whole body felt like it had been picked up and dropped. Repeatedly. Still secure in my sleeping bag, I inch-wormed my way to a dry bag, and produced more ibuprofen. 
It was going to be a good day. And a short one…Thank god. 
This day was to be my shortest of the entire trip. The distance between Darwin’s Place and my next campsite, Lostman’s Five, was a little over six miles. This meant two things: I’d have plenty of time to fish like I wanted and the short paddle would give my spent muscles a rest. 
Considering I hobbled around camp like a 90 year old man, I managed to get everything loaded up into the kayak fairly quickly. Even with sore muscles, it’s impressive how much motivation thirsty hordes of mosquitoes can give a person to break camp. 
Only a few minutes into my paddle, I spotted something swimming in the water. Upon closer inspection I noticed that it was an Alligator. Gators while out fishing, particularly in the Everglades, are something I rarely find to be noteworthy. But this one caught my attention. It happened to be the first one I’d seen all trip. Maybe it was the “chilly” weather, or maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention, but I found the fact that this was the first one of my trip to be slightly surprising. 
But the lack of gators my first two days were quickly made up for. Within the course of an hour I spotted out more than a comforting amount, and quit counting at 30. They were out in full force, and the reasoning behind it remains a mystery to me. 
Only a few miles from Darwin’s Place I encountered what I’d consider my first real creek of the trip. Appropriately named, Alligator Creek twists and turns to connect Tarpon Bay to Alligator Bay. It gets rather narrow in there and I even opted to lay my rods down on the deck rather than risk them getting pulled overboard by low hanging mangroves. The current was, of course, going against me in Alligator Creek. Though not particularly swift, it ensured that there would be no rest until I reached the other side. Had I stopped paddling for just a moment, I risked getting pushed up against fallen trees and essentially being stuck at the mercy of the current. It was a rather humbling feeling to realize that I absolutely –could not- stop paddling. 
About halfway through the creek I had, once again, an experience with a little too much nature. As I rounded a bend in the creek, I looked ahead to see a gator swimming. He wasn’t particularly big, maybe 8 ft long, and he was riding the current down stream. I was, of course, going the opposite direction and in the tight quarters of the mangrove creek, our paths were quickly coming to a crossing point. Every gator I’ve ever come across has always disappeared underwater when the kayak gets too close, so upon seeing this guy, I wasn’t particularly worried. That was, at least, until we started playing chicken. 
Still swimming on the surface, the gator was closing the distance between himself and my kayak. At 20 yards away he still hadn’t seemed to take notice of me. 15 yards and I’m starting to wonder just how close he’ll get before sounding. 10 yards and I decided maybe I should try steering around him just a –little-. 5 yards and the gator still hadn’t gone under. I could now see his entire body. His short legs remained tucked underneath his body as his long tail lazily steered him down the creek. And still he got closer. 
With the exception of holding captured gators, I’ve never come this close to one in my life. While I brandished my paddle like some long plastic polearm to protect myself, he quietly passed within two feet of my port side without ever sounding. Had I wanted to, I could have elbowed him in the face without having to move. Being so close, every feature of the animal was vividly clear. The specks on his snout, the carved features of his head, his amber eye looking right at me, and even the small bits of algae growing on his back were plainly visible as he passed my kayak without incident. I turned to watch him as he floated on, unfazed by our encounter, and disappeared around the corner of the tannin stained creek. 
Able to breathe again, I quit wielding my paddle like a weapon, and continued on down the creek. Only a few minutes later I ran into the first people I’d seen paddling since I left Chockoloskee. Two men in touring kayaks were heading the opposite way as me and, thanks to the current, I had only a moment to chat with them before being force to paddle on. Much like the lack of gators my first two days, I was shocked at how few people I’d run into who were paddling. From the way the park ranger had described it when I purchased my camping permit, the park was riddled with paddlers who were out camping. And yet my first two nights had been spent completely alone. 
Once I made it through Alligator Creek, I began my paddle across Alligator Bay. The wind, just like the current, was directly in my face. But luckily the water wasn’t too rough and I was actually able to find a small point that was out of the wind to take a rest. There in the shallows, I noticed something unique about this area; the water was clear. Clear is of course a relative term when talking about the water in the Everglades. But this tannin stained water was clear compared to everywhere else I’d been. I could actually see sandy bottom about 4 feet deep in some places and I spent a few minutes fishing this area in hopes that I could sight cast to something. 
After Alligator Bay came Dad’s Bay and I made sure to take a picture of it. 
Going fishing in the Everglades has been a tradition with my dad and I for years. He’s the one responsible for getting me hooked on fishing and hunting in the first place and the Glades are a place we try to make it to every year. Unfortunately this year he was unable to make the trip with me, but I knew had he been able to, he’d be having a great time too (minus being horribly sore). 
Plate creek was the next creek to navigate. By this time of the day, the tide was slack and the paddle through was perfectly calm. I took advantage of the nice conditions and slowly fished my way through the whole thing, catching some specks along the way. 
When I emerged into Plate Creek Bay, I got my bearings and began paddling across it. Only a few hundred yards in, however, I encountered a slight problem: Mud. 
Anyone who’s ever read some of my older articles has seen some of the unfortunate days I’ve had involved with mud. The kayak skittered up onto a grass covered mud flat and became stuck. Hopelessly stuck, in fact. My rudder had managed to bury itself into the weeds and muck, and no matter how hard I pushed with the paddle, it merely sank into the smelly depths of hell that the mud covered up. Poling out was now no longer an option and attempting to paddled accomplished nothing more than slinging black mud all over my kayak. 
I didn’t dare step out of the kayak either. I’m pretty sure similar circumstances lead to prehistoric saber tooth cats and mammoths being preserved in tar pits. Instead, I stood up in the kayak (which is quite a feat in the Tarpon 160i), and spread my weight out. I then rocked it back in forth while simultaneously pushing at an angle with my paddle. The result was about 3 inches of movement.
I kept this up for about 20 minutes before I finally reached open water and floated the kayak to safety. I’m still not sure whether I actually pushed myself anywhere, or if the tide came in and lifted me, but the point is that I escaped. 
Just around the corner I encountered my first chickee of the trip: Plate creek chickee. The white roof of the porta-jon stuck out like a beacon across the bay and I paddled up to take a closer look at it. 
It was getting to be about lunch time and considering my map told me I was just about a mile from Lostman’s Five, I decided to paddle there for lunch. I figured I could set up camp while I was at it and then go fish for the rest of the day. It was just about that time that I heard a boat coming. I was slightly surprised considering I hadn’t seen or heard a boat for the entire day. It came around the corner and slowed as the driver saw me. The first thing I see painted on the side of it was “Park Service. Law Enforcement”
You can probably take the most law abiding citizen in the country, put them behind the wheel of a car, make a cop follow them, and they’ll still feel slightly paranoid even when they’ve done nothing wrong. This is about how I felt as I watched the boat slow and come to a stop next to me. 
“How’s it going?” I asked as he got close. The man piloting the boat looked to be about my age and he spoke up as the motor quieted. 
“Where are you camping tonight?” he asked. 
“Lostman’s Five” I’m good too. Thanks for asking…
“Have you got your permits handy? Or are they tucked away below deck?”
They were –definitely- tucked away below deck with my wallet. Safe and sound in a dry box with my satellite phone, VHF radio, flares, and car keys. Now, I know you’re supposed to have such documents easily accessible for such scenarios, but I wanted my stuff to be safe. Considering he’d even asked me if it was below deck, I thought he was going to take my word for it. I was, after all, three days paddle in. I wasn’t exactly performing an elaborate scheme to fish and camp illegally in the National Park with my bright yellow kayak. So I told him they were way below deck. 
“Okay”, he replied rather curtly. “Well you can paddle to Lostman’s right now and I’ll check. I’ll meet you there”. With that he cranked his motor, and sped off in the direction of my camp, leaving me rocking in his wake. 
I never did figure out what species of animal had crawled up this man’s butt, but I found him to be exceptionally grumpy. I did, however, make sure that I took my sweet and precious time paddling to Lostman’s. He was (obviously) waiting for me when I arrived and once there, I took about an eon to pull my paperwork from the bowels of my kayak. Normally I wouldn’t have been such a pain in the ass, but every friendly attempt at conversation was shot down with one to two word short answers. I got the feeling this guy was –really- looking to write me a ticket, and since he was being such a jerk, I decided to blue-ball him and say things like:
“I know I put it in here somewhere”, and “Oh man, I really hope my fishing license is up to date” (I’d renewed it the week before). 
I eventually produced the papers and after studying them quite thoroughly, he handed them back to me. 
“You’re good”
He hopped back on his boat, cranked the motor, and said “Oh, and you’ll have company tonight. They should be here soon. I checked them earlier”
And with that, he sped off around the corner, and the sound of his boat motor was swallowed up by the mangroves. 
Not even five minutes later, my company showed up. A canoe and two kayaks rounded the corner. It ended up being a group of college students from Indian and their guide. Four girls, and two guys. And almost before they could get their boats tied up, another canoe arrived with two men. Lostman’s Five had quickly become Lostman’s Nine. 
It seemed that it only took two days of paddling alone in the wilderness to forget all of my manners. I literally did not introduce myself to a single one of the eight people I’d be sharing a camp with that evening. I talked to some of the girls a little as I ate lunch, and learned from their guide about where they’d come from, where they were heading, etc. 
I soon finished eating, pitched my tent, and prepped the kayak to go fish for the evening. As much as I love chatting with attractive college girls, I really wanted to get some fishing in. They would, after all, be there when I got back. It’s not like I was going to miss anything. 
I discovered the creek next to Lostman’s Five was loaded with fish and I practically wore my arm out catching them that afternoon. Black Snapper, Jacks, Ladyfish, Snook, and even Largemouth Bass called the creek home. The Everglades is pretty unique in that freshwater fish and predominately saltwater fish inhabit the same areas. I even had a bluegill strike at my fly moments after I landed my first Snook of the trip. 
The creek emptied out into a narrow bay. I glanced down at my map to see that the map actually ended –right- in the center of the bay. What laid beyond it was anyone’s guess. I paddled as far into the bay as I felt comfortable with, and snapped a picture. 
I couldn’t help but get the “edge of the world” feeling as I looked out across the bay. It was the end of the road for my map, and though my GPS could have probably gotten me a little ways in, I wasn’t willing to risk getting lost just before dark. So I turned around and paddled back just as the sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon.
I was already getting hungry again and actually needed to use the porta-jon quite badly when I made it back to camp. Everyone else was beginning to cook dinner and I rushed down the dock to grab toilet paper from my tent. Back at the end of the dock, I passed one of the two men from the canoe as he left the bathroom before me. 
“How gross is it in there?” I asked in passing. He merely chuckled and said
“Welcome to Egypt…Land of the pyramids.”
I didn’t quite understand until I looked down into a porta-jon that had zero blue water in it, and probably needed to be emptied about 4 months prior. It was by far the grossest moment of my entire trip. 
After I left the bathroom, I passed by the other man who’d shown up in the canoe. He was busy smoking a cigar and taking notes in a journal. He asked me if I’d caught anything and after telling him all about it, he proceeded to tell me what they’d been doing all afternoon. 
“You missed out man. Everyone got in their swimsuits and went swimming off the dock for a while. It was great”. 
It was then that looked over to notice that all the girls had their hair up to dry. Apparently I had, in fact, missed out. But it was something I didn’t care too much about. I live right next to The University of Florida which is might as well be “Hot College Girl Capital of the World”. So missing out on swimming with a few attractive girls in the Everglades wasn’t –that big of a deal. 
But still…
 
Dammit
I cooked myself dinner and chatted with everyone at the camp. I learned that the man smoking the cigar was named Johnny Molloy, author of A Paddler’s Guide to Everglades National Park. He was apparently there working on his third installment. I, admittedly, have not read any of his books, but he was still fun to talk to and I wish I’d had more time after dinner to pick his brain. While talking with one of the girls and telling her about paddling this trip alone, she asked me “Isn’t it terrifying?”
Until that moment I hadn’t really thought about paddling solo as being frightening. Worrisome for my friends and family, maybe. But there was nothing at the time I could think of that was scary about the trip. I was confident in my paddling and navigational abilities, and I had the right gear should an emergency arise. So I answered honestly. 
“No, not really. As long as you’re careful, there’s nothing to really worry about while paddling alone”. 
I didn’t know it at the time, but had she asked me that question after the trip, my answer would have been slightly different. 
We all watched the sun set, had a group photo (somewhere is cyberspace is a picture of me with 8 strangers at the end of a dock in the middle of nowhere), and talked amongst ourselves before being chased into the tents by the swarming flocks of mosquitoes. 
Just before bed, Johnny turned on his weather radio and let us listen to the forecast for the next couple of days. 
“Winds 17-20 knots. Offshore seas 12-14 feet”. Those were really the only things that stuck with me from that little computerized voice on the weather radio. I knew the weather was going to suck. But winds that strong could put a serious damper on my plans. As I laid down to go to sleep, I couldn’t really help but fret about the coming days. Was I going to make it to my next stop, Rodger’s River? Or what about the day after at Highland Beach, when the weather was REALLY supposed to get bad? I tried not to think too much about it as I stared at the ceiling of my tent. The full moon above was casting shadows of the mangroves down on my tent, and the constant buzz of the mosquito horde outside forced me to check the inside of the tent several times. 
When I finally closed my eyes, I did at least notice one bit of good fortune: I was done being sore. Maybe with any luck, the 13 mile paddle to Rodger’s River wouldn’t be too bad.  

Everglades Wilderness Waterway: The Lord Giveth



Day Two:

I was paddling as hard as possible. And yet the distant dark green, mangrove riddled horizon failed to get closer. It seemed like I’d been paddling for hours and my body was damp with a mixture of sweat and sea water. Suddenly, the distant sound of a motor could be heard. Faint at first, then louder. A boat…It must be a boat. But a quick glance around revealed no power boat. Only open water, and that distant shore that remained fixed on the horizon. The sound of the motor grew louder. The boat must be close. But where? Does it see me? I’m stuck in this kayak after all. What if it hit me? Still the sound grew. It was almost on top of me now. It was close…
I jerked awake and nearly shot out of my sleeping bag as a power boat flew right past my camp on Lopez River. It took me a moment to realize where I was as I stared at the ceiling of my tent. The sound of the boat motor grew distant and the rhythmic sound of its wake slapping the shore next to my tent took over. It was then that I noticed I was wet. Drenched, actually. A cold sweat from that dream perhaps? But upon sitting up, I noticed that EVERYTHING was wet. The outside of my sleeping bag, my clothes I’d worn the day before, and even the floor of the tent was damp with water.
It’d been years since I’d camped, and I forgot one important detail of setting up your tent: The rain fly. No, it hadn’t rained that night, but enough dew fell that it went right through the tent, and soaked everything within. It was a mistake that I’d be sure to never repeat. The rain fly was to go on the tent. Every time. Regardless of how nice a day it was. 
A glance out of the tent revealed that I’d overslept. The sun was already beginning to peek itself over the horizon and several of the mangroves’ upper branches across the river were lit up in its orange rays. 
I need to get going, I thought to myself as I went to unzip the sleeping bag. But it was then that I noticed something; I’d never been this sore in my life. It felt like my shoulders, back, and arms had all been run over by a truck. I quickly became aware of exactly how physically unprepared I was for the trip that lay ahead of me. Apparently, my strict regimen of 12 ounce beer curls several nights a week wasn’t the best training exercise for a paddle through the Everglades. So with a groan, I dug through my toiletry bag and took a bunch of ibuprofen. 
Considering how sore I was, camp was broken down remarkably quick. I slid the kayak into Lopez River at 7:40 and began my paddle. It took maybe three and a half seconds of paddling to realize it was going to be a VERY long day. I had approximately 12 miles to paddle to Darwin’s Place, and if the wind was anything like the day before, it was going to be a nightmare. 
But I also came to the understanding that it didn’t matter HOW sore I might be. I absolutely HAD to paddle. There was no choice about it. I simply had to make it to my next campsite, regardless of how much pain I was in. And with that mindset, I stopped focusing on how terrible my shoulders and arms felt, and instead focused on the goal ahead. With no option to quit, you find the strength to complete anything. 
I navigated through Crooked Creek and rounded the corner in to Sunday Bay. It was here that I had my first encounter with the Everglades Wilderness Waterway markers. 
The official “path” through the Everglades is marked with numbered signs. All of these signs are brilliantly camouflaged brown, and without binoculars, are literally impossible to spot out. In addition, the signs are in the shape of arrows that have absolutely no meaning. It took me only a few times to figure out that the arrows served no purpose aside from making the day “interesting” by getting you hopelessly lost. They point no where in particular, and I began navigating solely by map and compass. 
I was only a few minutes paddle into Sunday Bay when I noticed something odd about the wind: it was at my back. Such oddities in nature are generally cause for alarm. Kayaking AND fishing AND the wind is at my back? Pushing me in the direction I need to go? Insanity. 
This stroke of good luck, however, came with a predicament. Do I merely bask in nature’s gift of a favorable wind and fish heavily along the way to Darwin’s Place? Or do I take advantage of it and paddle like a madman before Mother Nature changes her mind and clocks the wind around to the south. 
Not trusting the wind an iota, I opted for the latter and paddled like my life depended on it. At the speed I was traveling, I’d have plenty of time to fish once I reached Darwin’s Place. 
The crossing of Sunday Bay made me fully appreciate the favorable wind. When I made it to its southern pass, a quick look over my shoulder revealed a bay that was whipped into a whitecapped frenzy. Waves were hitting the kayak hard enough that water sloshed into my lap on several occasions and white caps continuous broke all around me. I was so thankful to not have to paddle into that. 
The next bay, Oyster Bay, was much calmer. About halfway across, I took a short break to eat some trail mix and just let the wind push me for a moment. It was there that I spotted out an otter only a few yards from the kayak. With as much time as I spend on the water, it may come as a surprise that I’ve only seen two other wild otters in my life. So as commonplace as this may have been, I found it to be a rare treat. After Oyster Bay came Huston Bay. Immediately upon entering it, something caught my eye. In the bay’s center lies an island. And on that island, a red building sits. I was once again reminded of how deceptive the distances can be out there, and the paddle to the building took nearly an hour. 
I’m honestly not sure what this building is, or who it belongs to, but I couldn’t help but think what an odd place for someone to decide to put a building. 
By this point in the day I’d become tired. My muscles were beyond hurting and my ibuprofen had already worn off. I decided to take about a 30 minute break and eat lunch, but wasted no more time than that for fear of losing the good wind and being cursed with another poor one. 
Whoever named the bodies of water in the Everglades had a sick sense of humor. When I reached the end of Huston Bay, I wearily opened up my map to see what was next. Huston Bay was by no means small, so I actually looked forward to the next body of water and being rid of Huston Bay for good. A quick glance at my map revealed my next obstacle: Last Huston Bay. 
Hardy har har. 
Last Huston Bay was just as miserable as Huston Bay and just as big to boot. I did manage to take a short break on the far side of it though and fished the mouths of some creeks with only a few small Jack Crevalle to show for it.  
The final body of water to cross for the day was Chevelier Bay. It proved to be the biggest bay of the day. By this point in the afternoon, I noticed that the wind had actually slacked off. It was no longer pushing me right along to my destination and I was forced to really start paddling. So reluctantly, I grinned and beared it, and paddled my way across the bay. 
When I was about halfway across the bay, a massive explosion of water erupted about 100 yards away from the kayak. I turned to see a pod of dolphin chasing mullet around in the shallows. Three of them rose up out of the water, revealing their shiny grey bodies and dorsal fins, and disappeared below the tannin stained water. Being relatively bored since I wasn’t fishing, I rapped on the side of the kayak to get their attention and continued to paddle. To my surprise, the pod turned from the direction they were traveling and came straight at the kayak. Suddenly all three appeared and took a breath about 10 yards from my port side. They then came right under the kayak with the last one suddenly ramming my bow with its body. 
This all came as a bit TOO much nature far too quickly for me as I greeted them with a series of well placed expletives while trying to remain upright in the kayak. Their splashing put water across my bow and well into my lap. Almost immediately they came to the surface again, this time on my starboard side, and one of them turned on its side to show its eye. For a brief moment it held its head just far enough out of the water to have a good look at me, and with a quick spray of mist from its blowhole, it turned to join the others who’d already made their way into the distance. 
Nature is pretty awesome…At a distance…when it’s not trying to capsize me. 
I’m pretty sure everyone in Flamingo could hear my sigh of relief when Darwin’s Place came into sight. It was still mid afternoon and I had more than enough time to fish. I wearily set up camp and as soon as I finished putting up the tent (rain fly included) I took a seat on one of the convenient park benches at the campsite. 
I then faceplanted onto the old wooden table top in pure exhaustion. My eyes began to get heavy and…
No! I suddenly shot back upright. I’d come on this trip to fish. And by God, I was going to fish. Not spend a whole day paddling and then sleep away my afternoon. 
As I began to get ready to fish, I had a small itch right between my collar bones in the center of my chest. I scratched it and immediately let out a yelp. It felt sunburned. But how? I’d been wearing my Sun Buff all day. Having no mirror, I quickly took out my camera, took a picture and had a look at myself to assess the damage. Somehow, with only the top most button on my shirt unbuttoned and my Sun Buff secured around my neck, I had a little triangle of skin open to the sun all day. Had I stayed in the sun much longer, I’m pretty sure it would’ve burned me to my esophagus.
I wondered whether or not I had the foresight of packing some sort of sun burn relief in my first aid kit and I quickly began digging through my pack for it. It was then that I made a startling discovery: I left my first aid kid in the Jeep. Two days prior, I remembered having the kit in my hand and thinking “I don’t need this, I have another one in my pack”
No Alex…No you do not. And now you’re two days into the Everglades with no first aid kit. There wasn’t really anything I could do, so I simply covered up, and went fishing.  
The small creek that Darwin’s Place is located is loaded with Black Snapper. I wore my DOA shrimp out catching one after another. It was a slight shame that I had no real way to cook fish on this trip. Those little morsels would’ve been fantastic. 
As the sun began to set, the bite really picked up. I tossed my shrimp up underneath some mangroves and almost before it hit the water, a huge explosion erupted underneath it. A fat snook came flying out of the air and put on quite a show as I set the hook. He turned, came out into the creek and jumped several more times next to the kayak. But suddenly he turned, and almost as quickly as the fight began, it ended with a quick “snap” and a broken line. 
I fished the rest of the evening as the sun set with minimal success. Even though the wind had died almost completely, my sore muscles screamed at me not to paddle far. 
That night, back at camp, I learned three important things: 
1. A can of Pork N Beans is remarkably misleading. Where I expected a hearty meal of beans, mixed with chunks of delicious canned pork, I was met with a simple can of baked beans. Reading the ingredients on the can reveals that “Pork Fat” constitutes as the “Pork” in Pork N Beans. But after an exhausting day, the entire can along with a full pot of rice was devoured in mere moments. 
2. My awesome C.R.K.T “Eating too” (read: spork with frills), rusts when washed in saltwater. 
3. Deet and Thermacells are gifts from God. The mosquitoes at Darwin’s Place were hellacious. But thanks to a potent mixture of the two repellents, I sat comfortably by the water’s edge, and inhaled my meal for the evening. 
When I finally laid down in my tent, I was pretty sure nothing shy of The Reckoning was going to move me. My arms and shoulders were numb from exertion, and I laid there in sore, sunburned agony. I was so thankful that my next day was to be the shortest of the trip. I jotted down my notes for the day and felt inclined to include the following: 
I smell like fresh death. I can’t wait for a smoke bath Wednesday night
And with that I put away my notes, closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep with the light pattering of raindrops beginning to fall on the outside of the tent. 
Glad I put up the rain fly.
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