Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Everglades Challenge race report: Day 4

Day 4: Whitehorse Key to Mormon Key, via CP2
Again practicing to be a better lazy bum, especially after not making Whitehorse Key until shortly after midnight, I sneaked a peak outside under the tent flap in the dawn light to see NiteNavigator dragging their Kruger down the tide-out beach. We waved at each other, and I thought more seriously about getting up. I could hear NatureCalls stirring, and off we were. It doesn’t take too long to pack everything up, drag boats down the beach, grab a dried apricot or two and scarper – but NiteNavigator andNite Song were gone.

Another camper a wee bit along introduced herself – Dana. She and her husband camp here regularly, living off the sea, and had very much created a home-away-from-home, with shell-lined footpaths leading to their tent clearing, and crab buoys hanging from numerous branches. She had shared their fish dinner with NiteNavigator and NiteSong the night before; they’d been having some GPS problems, and were wary of stumbling around in the pitch black. We left Dana scanning the mudflats, looking for breakfast.

A bit before Tiger Key, who should catch up with us, but SaltyFrog, and giving no hints of not feeling well, he glided off in his Epic 18 with wing paddle – one of the few paddlers I’ve seen who really knows how to use a wing. He headed off inside Tiger Key to find some shelter from the winds, and we followed, he kindly stopping alee of the Key for us to catch up and swap stories. He’d camped the night before at Gullivan Key, just before Whitehorse Key. With a bit of map studying, we planned a route to Chokoloksee, trying to by-pass the main entrance. It was a little bit later that we passed the moored launch, when one of the chaps came up for’ad, saw the name on my boat and exclaimed, “It’s the infamous KiwiBird! I follow your blog!” To me, this has to be the strangest event of the entire race.

With a heavy beat ahead of us, across a wind-swept, choppy bay, SaltyFrog left us to come around the bottom end of Chokoloksee. We continued around another direction, found instant respite from the wind, and made for Chokoloksee from the north. SaltyFrog finished about ten minutes after us, and it wasn’t long after I feared something may be up, when I saw his boat atop his small wheels, tucked away outside a quiet-looking hotel room.

Ever-smiling race managers, Tyro and PaddleCarver were there to greet us, as was Archangel. Archangel’s Raptor hadn’t stood up to the conditions on reaching CP1, so he’d made the sensible choice to pull out, and was now working with Tyro and PaddleCarver to help with the race. Can’t say enough about this wonderful young man – beyond helpful.

Not having a hotel room to shower in this year, we stood under the hose at the fish-gutting bench to wash the salt off for the first time. Still a bit damp, PaddleCarver very kindly drove NatureCalls and me along to the Everglades National Park Ranger Station to pick up our compulsory camping permits – we opting for a night at Watson’s Place and the next at Middle Cape, down along Cape Sable. And what really perked our hopes up, was that the weather forecast was for more favourable winds from the west and then north. Hurrah!

Following Jim’s edict, “paddle to eat,” PaddleCarver dropped us off at a local restaurant for lunch, promising to pick us up again in 45minutes.Real food! And two hot cups of tea!

Back at CP2, Chief arrived in his Tridarka Raider, looking pretty beat. After not having slept for two days, and his wet weather gear falling apart at the seams, he decided to call it a day here at CP2.
Now 1545, we furiously repacked to head off down the Wilderness Waterway, refilling water bags and changing over charts. Archangel kindly helped carry my boat across the road to the waterway-side boat ramp. The first open bay was windswept, so we swung over to the left to follow the lee side for some protection. And those first few miles through the Waterway were glorious – no wind and the current with us. Bliss.

Jim has a knack with planning. To take advantage of the forecast northerlies for the next day, we decided to head down the Huston River to the sea, exiting the Waterway at marker 121, and find a sandy spot to camp for the night. As dusk fell, I felt a nibbling on my arms, and found mosquitoes biting through my Icebreaker long-sleeved Crew top. I stopped to take off my PFD and put my light jacket on. A brief rain shower offered only a few minutes respite. At one stage I thought I heard a helicopter overhead, and stopped paddling to listen better and to gauge from which direction – not a helicopter, but millions of mozzies buzzing around my head!

In the dark, every now and then I’d call up ahead for NatureCalls to slow down a bit, their stern light fading with old batteries. Spending some time with them helped me appreciate the benefits of a tandem – and these two are particularly compatible – always chatting to one another, always working together, one taking care of something and the other keeping the boat moving – not as easy for a solo paddler!

Following the coastline south, and searching the shores of the small offshore mangrove islands, we searched for a suitable campsite, finding none. Finding a wee bit more energy, we again headed south, and a few miles later found the beautiful white beaches of Mormon Key, albeit in the pitch black. Putting my religious proclivities aside, we dragged the boats up and made camp around 2140hrs.

The mosquitoes had followed us to the beach, and were having a field day. Quickly throwing off PFD, shorts and Icebreaker top to “dry” hanging from a bush, I dived into my tent. Only two things normally keep me awake at night – snoring and the buzz of mozzies – this year’s race was snore-free, but those mosquitoes kept up a constant fighter jet roar circling around my tent all night.

At 0200, and still wide awake, I heard the scrabble of tiny feet on fiberglass, and remembered that I’d left my bumbag, loaded with snacks, in my cockpit and had forgotten to put on the cockpit cover. Peeking under the tent fly, there was a raccoon happily munching away. Give these critters credit, she’d managed to unzip an industrial YKK zipper, and open the ziplock baggie loaded with beef jerky. And not only that, but as soon as I ran buck naked from my tent to scare her off, she called in the mozzies. Slapping myself and waving at the critter, she slowly ambled away. I threw the beef jerky left lying around into the sea, quickly put on the cockpit cover and tore back to my tent, bites galore. For the next wee while, all I could hear was the splashing of raccoons, rescuing drowning beef jerky. At 0330 I finally fell asleep; and the alarms rang aloud at 0400.

Thanks to Archangel for the photos!


Ginger Travis said...

A buck-naked Kiwi attacks the ravenous raccoons and is beset by millions of mosquitoes -- all at 2:30 in the morning? A You-Tube moment -- missed, alas!

Ginger Travis said...

A buck-naked Kiwi attacks the ravenous raccoons and is beset by millions of mosquitoes -- all at 2:30 in the morning? A You-Tube moment -- missed, alas!

Ginger Travis said...

A buck-naked Kiwi attacks the ravenous raccoons and is beset by millions of mosquitoes -- all at 2:30 in the morning? A You-Tube moment -- missed, alas!

craigcanoer said...

Is buck naked raccoon chasing one of those funny NZ sports, or just part of the EC?

devildoc211 said...

Could you please contact me, I have many questions about the EC 2009.