The sky was grey, but not raining and it was still warm. As I made an omelette for breakfast, Chris came over and we chatted away again for a good hour before I had to do some planning, so we said our goodbyes. He invited me to his wedding in April if I’m anywhere near Tennessee by then!
I put all the recommendations I’d received from Larry and Mikey’s friend Tuuli onto a map to see where the points would take me. After doing that, I had some idea of what to do! I packed up camp and drove out into the warm sun. Half an hour down the road was Juniper Springs. I stopped at the entrance and talked to the ranger and she explained that the creek could be paddled in one direction only and they had a shuttle service to pick you up at the end. I was hoping to do some paddling, but when she said it was four miles I was less keen. She told me about a spot just down the road where I could launch and paddle in whatever direction I liked, without paying an entry fee. I was stoked at that tip, so I thanked her very much then went on my way.
I found the spot by the bridge easy enough and when I saw the tropical, mangrove-lined creek, I was excited to get on it! I packed some lunch into a dry bag and took my time getting my gear together. I had to dig out my swimmers from the depths of the van! Hat on, surfboard under my arm, I trotted down to the launching station.
With some trepidation, I put the board in the water and tried a few different sitting positions, then paddled away downstream towards Lake George. Not wanting to go too far downstream without knowing what it was like to go against the current, I turned around and found that it was bloody hard work with only hands for paddles! I struggled to keep my balance on the board in a kneeling position with my feet dangling off the sides of the board and my backpack was cumbersome. Thankfully the stream was very shallow in areas so I could put my feet in the sand to get myself sorted, but this wasn’t working very well. I struggled back to the launching station and had a rethink. I decided against trying to get to the lake and paddled off upstream. I figured then I could turn around when I got tired and just float back to the start.
I tried more positions on the board until I found that having my legs straight out infront of me worked best, and when the tops of my thighs got tired, I could sit cross-legged, though the balancing is a little more challenging that way. I even tried to use a long stick to push myself along, but that was useless, I couldn’t do that and keep my balance. I eventually settled into a rhythm and was overcoming the current quite easily. It is a lot like riding up hill though, you can’t just sit in the saddle and have a rest! Many times I came across schools of fish the size of my forearm, flitting away at the sight of me. It was very serene, even with the paddling.
I passed a few kayakers, all of them looking much more comfortable and fast than me, but I was happy! I’d probably gone about a kilometre when the wind picked up in the opposite direction to my travel and I took that as a sign to turn around. The tops of my arms were starting to ache. When the next lot of kayakers came up behind me, a lady said, “Aren’t you worried about gators?” “Should I be?” I replied. She then told me how she’d seen a 6-footer and a 10-footer upstream. I was nonplussed, people had told me that they’re not aggressive since they’re not having babies yet, but it was a good thing to know they were about.
The current took me back down-river and I just sat, enjoying the ride. Only putting my hands into the water to redirect myself when I needed. It was beautiful. I think I was out on the river for about two hours and the return trip probably only took twenty minutes! Still, it was a good experiment, I was happy to understand more about my board’s capabilities.
Back at the carpark, I ate my packed lunch that I’d carried for no reason and fiddled around making my roof system better for the board. The way I’d tied it down was ok, but the ropes were deforming the soft foam on top, so I used some bits of towel to stop that. I got sick of fiddling soon enough so just tied a makeshift knot in the middle of the board to hold it to the bike, then got going. It was only 3pm, but I was ready to make camp, tired from my afternoon of paddling. Freecampsites.net found me a spot at the northern tip of the National Forest that was a couple of miles down a dirt road and right next to another river, only this one was wider. With only five sites, most were full, but there was one left with my name on it. As soon as I pulled up, a girl from the group in the site across from mine came over to me. She moved with such a purpose, I thought she was going to tell me the site was already taken or something. No, she was just informing me that she was with a group of teenage boys and that if they should make too much noise, I should notify them immediately. The boys acted like boys, but they didn’t bother me. I had a look down at the river, then set up my hammock and chilled the rest of the afternoon, listening to the teenage banter.
I did some pilates before dinner, then retreated to the van with the windows closed to avoid the bugs and mozzies. It will be another beautifully tropical warm night.