Posts Tagged ‘Suwannee River’

After a long week at work (>## hours) due to my involvement with our Environmental Film Festival, I looked forward to hanging out, coaching, and paddling.

Saturday the Symposium at Sweetwater Kayaks was rocking with so many new faces meandering around taking classes.

My roll and pleasure at the symposium was to co coach with Sean on Kayak camping/cooking.  We worked it in a “round-robin” style.  We began with showing a bivy sack, then hammock, to a small tent that needed to be staked, then transitioning to my favorite free standing tent (Mountain Hardware’s Skylight tent).  As one of us talked the other would pack the previously mentioned shelter and its coordinating sleeping bag and pad into a NDK Explorer.

We illustrated different types of camp lights, and cooked on several types of stoves.  Everyone also enjoyed eating our dishes.  And all of that even went into the kayak.  The guests were amazed at the ease to packing a kayak.  And I was amazed that the racks we used to support the kayak held up to the weight of all of the gear!

Sunday I co coached with Greg Stamer.  In the morning we did Greenland Open Water.  Greg asked me to do a put-across-bow-pry maneuver.  I have done it many times in my Chatham 17 and Russell’s Greenlander Pro to quickly turn the kayak up into the wind.  However, I was paddling a NDK Explorer for the first time.  I was a too aggressive with the paddle placement and flipped. LOL.  The water was refreshing and I rolled up on the opposite side of the kayak.

In the afternoon I taught bank-base Greenland rolling to two paddlers; whereas, Greg taught deep water Greenland rolling.  The two students I had never rolled with a Greenland paddle.  I have a few tricks in helping students and they both ended the class with a roll.

As the day concluded I was given the opportunity to paddle a canoe down the Suwannee River.  I have enjoyed the Suwannee every time I have hiked along its banks or paddled it.  So after negotiating a deal with my wife I joined the coaches and students for some 3 and 4 star canoe training.

Monday afternoon we drove to Stephen Foster State Park.  The traffic was thick and had a mind of its own.  At times I thought these metal beasts that clogged the asphalt river did not want to release its captive prey to enjoy the splendors of the river that we so desperately were trying to get to.

We finally arrived just before sunset and I then discovered how nice cabin # 4 was.  The cabin has a large screened in porch, rocking chairs, tables, a complete kitchen, and fire place.  We ate and sang, it was better than a night on the town.  We had two guitar players with us Russell Farrow and Nigel Foster.  Phil Hadley also graced us with song.

Tuesday after breakfast we explored Stephen Foster State Park, drove up to see Big Shoals, and then dropped off the automobiles at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park (our take out point).

The rapids at Big Shoals were not dramatic. I saw a gopher tortoise burrow.  But that was not the biggest discovery of an endangered species.  We discovered a Skunk Ape. And he was happy to pose with Chad and me.  Usually Florida Skunk Apes are shy and elusive but he liked people who canoe on his river.  He was especially fond of one of our members.  We all had a good laugh when they exchanged hugs.

It was midday when we started to paddle from Stephen Foster to Woods Ferry River Camp.  It is a short paddle of 9 miles downriver to Woods Ferry.  With current I figured it would only be a two and a half to three hour trip.  I was wrong.  It was a leisurely five hour journey. We all played with edging, tested the efficiency of blending strokes, and tried each other’s canoes and paddles.  We had lunch on the river about 90 minutes into the trip.  I was originally concerned with paddling in a kneeling position; but, I was not experiencing numbness in my feet, knees, or low back.  It was almost five o’clock when we paddled through some rapids and arrived at Woods Ferry River Camp.

For dinner we ate STEAK! I have never eaten steak for dinner during a kayak trip.  We ate very well that night.  And were well hydrated.  There is an advantage to having all that storage in a paddle craft.  Yum – big boat, big tasty meal.

Then we gathered around a fire pit in front of a chickie (screened sleeping platform with electricity and ceiling fan).  Nigel has a great voice and knows some fun songs.  Phil was rocking.  And Russell played ‘until his fingers bled’. Who needs electric entertainment when you have an opportunity to paddle with cool people?

I slept well after my first day of paddling a canoe.

Wednesday after eating and breaking camp we paddled up river to refine some skills in the rapids.  Phil Hadley and Jen Kleck are excellent coaches.  We worked on moving the canoe up river, recovering in eddies, and what to do in the event of a capsize.

Standing up in a canoe and polling it up river was similar to my experience to punting on the river Cam along the banks of Cambridge University.  Well, not really.  The only thing similar was to remember to yank on the punt/poll if it got stuck and I had to remember not to lock my knees.  We also used the painters on the canoe to ferry it up through the rapids.  Then we practiced paddling up and spinning the canoe in the rapids.  I would like to say I was smooth like icing a cake.  But I now know what I need to do to improve.  We also had one volunteer to capsize a few times.  This gave us all the opportunity to safely practice some rescues.

After class we paddled to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  It was nice to get out of the canoe.  Kneeling for two days had started to feel more like penance than pleasure.

We collected our kits and headed to Paynes Prairie State Preserve.  We stayed at the campground for the evening and then drove to canoe up Silver River.  Sean and I have kayaked Silver so many times I think I could navigate it without a headlamp on a star free night.

My friends had never been on this river and the local wild life made it a wild morning.  And I will share all about it in a future post.

– Jeff

“Good Morning, Good People!”

Technology can be a great help in communicating and making our lives rich.  I composed this post before Sean and I started our journey.  The cool thing is that now you are reading it as we enjoy New Years Eve.

It is the start of a new year; and Sean and I are either staring up at the stars or into a small campfire. What I planed on doing was continuing the traditions that I grew up with.  It will be interesting to see what Sean thinks of my traditions, because they will be a surprise to him.

Being a Pittsburgher of Polish, German, and Irish ancestry I have observed some unique family traditions during New Years Eve.  In the morning, everyone helped to bake bread.  Sometimes we made the dough in the shape of sheep, rabbits, geese, cows, a ring, a cross, or a child.  The one shape we always made was a New Year Eve Pretzel.

We would fast as long as there was light in the sky.  Before it got dark, we would place some silver coins outside on the windowsill.  We then would sit and eat from dusk until midnight.  At exactly midnight as a family, we would observe the Polish Sylwester by celebrating with friends by drinking a glass of champagne, raising toast for luck in the upcoming year, and everyone young and old would go outside to bang pots and pans to ward off evil spirits.

In the morning, we would bring in the silver coins and we always ate pork and kraut on New Years Day as our first meal.  Ensuring that the New Year would see money coming into the house and there would always be food enough to eat.

The plan is that down by the river I will be baking bread, fasting, placing silver coins outside of the tent, eating when the sun goes down, drinking champagne, and banging on pots just after midnight.

On a serious note I will be taking time to ponder what it means to be a “steward” of God’s creation.  It is our responsibility to care for creation, all of it, and with a bit of a blessing pass it on to the next generation at least as lovely as we received and enjoyed it.

Anglers, Backpacker, Campers, Hikers, Kayakers, Rock Climbers, Swimmers, et cetera, all understand the blessings of having a healthy environment.  We are all Environmentalists in our own way.  For me my love of the outdoors blends with my academic loves, family devotion, and my theological traditions.  Christianity has a long theological tradition of understanding that we are nothing more than “stewards” of God’s creation, and it is our responsibility to care of all things.

As we enter into a New Year, I am thankful for all of God’s creations: the people I know and do not know, the environment, and “for all things seen and unseen”.  Many times, I have reflected of St. Francis of Assisi during this trip and especially now at midnight.  St. Francis of Assisi with his love for and protection of all created things might have been the first Christian environmentalist.  And at this time I would like to reflect on his life…

May we all listen more attentively and carefully to the growing dangers to planet earth as we know it.  And in the old Polish language, “do siego roku” which means “I wish you well”  – Jeff


Saint Francis’ Canticle of All Creatures

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

Heavenly Father,
You gave Your servant Francis
great love for each of Your creatures.
Teach us to see Your design in all of creation.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

“Deep thoughts”…


I kayak to reconnect with what I lose by being apart of the rat race.  Work dulls my senses.  I quickly travel isolated in a “box” to work.  I work in a different box.  I exist at work by seconds marked out on a clock.  To paddle is to leave the rat race, my car, my cubical at work, and my watch at home.  I am always amazed by some of the professional paddlers I have met and read about that actually turn an expedition into a rat race.  Paddling is all about reconnecting to nature.  And my wife always remarks at how relaxed I am when I get home.

(Guys…there are logical steps to keeping your wife happy and supportive of your adventures…I will elaborate on the things I have learned from wiser men in a future post)

This paddle for me is about reveling in the interesting landscapes along the historical Suwannee River.  I will be exploring every nook and cranny with the eyes of a toddler.  Sean and I are not planning on traveling fast.  Nor will we have a moment of boredom. To paraphrase “Forrest Gump” (1994) “when we get tired, we’ ll sleep, when we get hungry, we’ ll eat,  [when the water beckons] we’ ll go.”  We will be like the feather dancing with the wind.


Maybe I am odd in thinking like a “Soul Surfer” that riding the water is a gift that we are lucky to catch at that moment in time. But I am not alone in thinking that.  I have had the pleasure of meeting some professional paddlers that agree that “riding the water is a gift that we are lucky to catch at that moment in time”.  Moreover, they acknowledge how lucky they are to be able to make a modest living being a professional paddler.  It is easy to get into the trap of making a past-time into a rat race of a job.

I feel sorry for those people who turn paddling into a fast pace job.  And need a vacation to relax after they have finished paddling.

Thinking deeply – Jeff

kayak deep thoughts