The idea of Florida being home to Class III white-water seems, even to native Floridians, somehow absurd.
There's so little altitude (just ask anyone with actual mountains! Hi Granite State!) it's hard to imagine how the rapids could develop.
But they do. And I was so happy to receive photographic proof that our tough adventure fellas took the smart way around the Shoals.
The Ultimate Florida Challenge started Saturday a week ago, which makes this (quick finger-calculation) Day 13.
So yesterday afternoon, our intrepid adventurers, Moresailesed and TwoBeers portaged around Big Shoals. Buoyed by the experience, my favorite skipper told me by phone that they planned to take a break, and then paddle some more using a two hours on/two hours off system. It was hard to resist the lure of the positive current.
Late last night, he called again. He started with, "I don't know how we didn't biff."
These are words that do not soothe.
What happened, I asked, keeping a level and cheerful tone. "Well, we were going along pretty good –– you know, we never even saw Little Shoals? It just wasn't even there," he paused to paddle and then continued, "So we were going and then we broke the mast. We never saw the limb."
I take a moment to process the moment: dark, flowing river, abrupt stop in a canoe that neither flipped nor swamped.
"The moon is amazing!" my favorite skipper added. Splash, splash of the paddle. Then, "The watch thing isn't really working. Airplane seat naps –– we'll try to camp later. I'll send a picture."
And then I tried to get back to sleep.
The SPOT tracker continued to disappoint overnight, so that I found myself doubting the late-night phone call.
As it turned out, the Miss Patsie continued downriver with only a short camping break. The ground was too hard and sandy for comfort, so the boys took Jarhead's wise dictum to heart: If you don't fall asleep, you're not tired enough.
Late the next morning, the SPOT was revived by a second new set of batteries...Just in time to document another long day of paddling.
Their 4 o'clock call (Circadian rhythm disruption?) sounded as if they were hitting the metaphorical wall.
TwoBeers is a never-say-die guy, but he said there might be tears today.
They were discouraged; they'd hoped to get to Branford for a hot meal.
They were worried about Moresailesed getting back in time for work (there's a flight reservation, about which I've maintained a strict need-not-to-know).
Headwinds––and it's still a <expletitive + intensifier> 100 miles more of this.
As the Chief and Paula Paddledancer say: get some food, get some sleep, and it will look better in the morning.
I told my favorite skipper my version of that same thing. Their location has not changed for nearly five hours. I bet they could sleep another 10, but I suspect they'll be paddling under the stars by midnight...
Our intrepid adventure racers started Day 12 by rising fresh as daisies from their bowers at the Suwannee Outfitters Lodge (alas the storied Gator Motel is no more!) and leaping energetically into their Miss Patsie at the crack of dawn.
Okay, that might be all poetic license. Nevertheless, I'd bet any amount of money that they were fresh, and I can tell by SPOT that they set off down the Suwannee River at a civilized 8:00 am.
How far Moresailesed and TwoBeers get and when they can be expected to arrive at the end of the Suwannee? That's an excellent question. I do not have an answer, though I am actually pretty interested in that topic.
It's 82 miles as the crow flies from Fargo to the end of the Suwannee. The event rules suggest that the distance on the water is 220 miles. When I try plotting points on the SPOT map ruler, nobody is going to be surprised when the ruler taps out before I get to the I-10 bridge.
When I spoke to himself at around 3 pm today, Wednesday, TwoBeers reported that they were making good progress. The rainwater flushing down to the Gulf was giving them sometimes 2 knots of push. Altogether more comfortable than walking.
We are delighted to hear that the reptilian residents of the river are keeping their snouts down. The weather today was around 75 and bright sunshine. Maybe not quite warm enough to liven up the cold-blooded locals.
The Miss Patsters hope to navigate Big Shoals before dark -- it's a short portage around the Class III rapids –– and have supper. Then Little Shoals, and after that, if they can do so, they plan to start their watch system (one person is awake for two hours, while the other sleeps) as they float down the river.
Perhaps not an ideal method to navigate a river after rain has dumped, but it's the method they are going to try.
Knocking wood some more.
I wake several times in the night these days, click on the SPOT map (annoying as it can be), and now that my racers are in range, check the "Find My" app to locate my favorite skipper. Today, the second Tuesday of the Ultimate Florida Challenge I woke groggy at 8:30. Granted, it was 7:30 only a few days ago, but still, lazybones.
Waking the laptop, I found the team of Moresailesed and TwoBeers was still –– actually still –– in the middle of the planned 40-mile portage. It's the likeliest spot to camp: at the base of a power tower, on a patch of mowed grass, a long stone's throw from the highway. I double-checked my data and sent a quick text to my team: Your last SPOT ping was blah blah blah, please press okay, it's 8:30 on Tuesday.
An hour later, I send another text: Your last SPOT ping was blah blah, please press okay, it's 9:30 Tuesday.
I hit refresh a few times, and voilá! movement. Thank you, I text them.
Were there tears? I said.
No, not really, not me, he said. The shoulder was okay, the feet, the back, everything was okay. The calves were pretty sore. I didn't cry. He raised his voice, But JT might still cry, and they both laughed.
Yes, they had slept longer than they planned that morning. At 8, I said his name once, TwoBeers said, but he didn't even stir. He needed the sleep.
It had been a decent day, really: all the passing cars were considerate in sharing the road. No wildlife sightings, but the Chief stopped by!
The Fargo buffet was closed because it's Tuesday, and the long-anticipated steam trays of savory goodness in the convenience mart were nearly empty, but there was a ham-and-cheese sandwich waiting for him when he finished the beer.
Go! Eat! I said. Send pictures!
I don't know if they will dash into the canoe at first light, but I suspect a long shower, a long snooze, and a big greasy-spoon breakfast will set them up for whatever tomorrow brings.
In the official description of the Ultimate Florida Challenge, the 370-mile Stage 4 is described variously as a "foot-shredder," a "heart-breaker," in an event that the organizer promises "is a long and grueling event that will chew you up and spit you out."
TwoBeers and Moresailesed, as I type this from the warm comfort of home on the second Monday of the Challenge, are pulling the Miss Patsie along a country highway between two flyspeck Georgia towns, portaging between the St. Mary's and Suwannee Rivers.
We scouted that road in December.
It's been a droughty year for Florida, which, we feared, meant that Moresailesed and TwoBeers would be dragging The Miss Patsie up or down the rivers in the ignominious fashion of Christopher Robin conveying Pooh down the stairs.
For his part, TwoBeers worked on the tactics integral to those choices, like water-ballasting, a handy sea-drogue, and a righting line on Spawn, while The Miss Patsie has a modest water-proof skirt, tie-down points for cargo, and an easy-to-furl little sail.
They got the okay for these navigational options from the sole arbiter of the event –– the Chief of the WaterTribe –– and then kept a sharp eye on the atmospheric conditions.
What we didn't predict was that a cold front last Saturday would drop a metric butt-load of rain over the 438,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp. There's still a drought, but there's also some overflowing of the riverbeds.
All to say, our fellas started walking early today. In addition to the 40 mile portage they expected to make between St. Georges and Fargo, Georgia, they slogged another 18 or so miles today alongside the flowing St. Mary's.
At 4 pm, my favorite skipper announced that they'd arrived at the long-anticipated convenience store in St. Georges. Hurrah them! They'd been walking since 8 am. They were tired. They were going to take a break.
When I inquired about the state of his feet, TwoBeers' response was uncharacteristically waspish: "They feel as if they have walked 18 miles."
And the road so far? Not bad. Moresailesed chimed in: it was all logging trucks.
Were they wearing the slow-moving vehicle reflective sign? Yes, on their safety vests.
Had they eaten some fine convenience food? No, they had just plopped down on the curb outside the mart.
The mighty paddlers have, at last stuttering SPOT ping (damn its inconsistent heart), something like 27 miles to push or pull The Miss Patsie to the Suwannee –– or, most likely, to that rustic little hotel next to the canoe launch where they'll rest up for a bit.
They plan to carry on walking/resting/walking overnight as much as they can bear, because, naturally, as is par for this challenge this year, they are racing against the weather. A rainy cold-front is predicted to swing through Tuesday afternoon.
Despite having the boys –– back in cellphone range Wednesday afternoon, and evidently a bit bored –– tell me that maybe I needn't go all the way to St. Mary's quite yet (did that sound like defeatist talk? They said they'd give themselves til midnight Friday night to get to the Miss Patsie And since I can't help them unless they decide they are done and want fetching –– oh, whatEVs!) I went all the way.
Thus we find ourselves in beautiful downtown St. Mary's, Georgia.
That the Ultimate Florida Challenge includes Georgia tickles my sense of Florida identity.
This town is in fact quite lovely: a restored municipal waterfront, a spacious boat-ramp, a daily ferry to the Cumberland Island National Seashore (with wild ponies! I might yet betake myself out there, but not quite yet), an elegant historic lodging, the Riverview Hotel, and even a small locally owned bookstore. Having an independent bookstore, to me anyhow, is the mark of civilization at its height.
TwoBeers got so cold on Wednesday, he reported, that he took up oars in the middle of the night and rowed. BTW, even with the long sweeps and the sliding rowing seat, Spawn maxes out at around 5 knots –– but sustainable rowing is more like 3.5. Evidently when calculating whether that juice is worth the squeeze, one should factor in metabolic benefits as well.
Moresailesed started a story with, "If you ever want to do something not fun with your husband..." and followed it up with, "Hey, don't get me wrong, I like the guy..."
At least they are still laughing. "We're still laughing," Jeff said, and then, "I see wind. Gotta hang up."
And back I went to a leisurely mooch around the bookstore.
Fast forward to the end of the day. The phone rings –– a special ring-tone just for my favorite skipper's Batphone –– and it's an exasperated TwoBeers.
They have been pressing "okay" each time I have asked in the past five hours (the SPOT personal locater is NOT okay. What a regrettable purchase!). The batteries have been changed, it's been powered down and on again. All expected lights are on or flashing in accordance with expectations. And yet it has not worked for five hours again. Grrr.
So the SPOT has provided a little side entertainment from the day's main work: They've chased zephyrs. They've rowed. Zephyrs. Rowing.
And now, gol-dern-it, they are anchored at the mouth of the river. Outside of the 3200-foot-long George Crady fishing pier on Fernadina Beach.
There's zero breeze, squadrons of hungry no-see-ums, and the tide is flowing out like -- well, like a river in flood.
So that would be no to a hamburger on shore this evening?
They'll be having an MRE on board Spawn and will snooze until the tide turns.
Let's hope there's breeze to help them get to Fort Clinch and on to St. Mary's in a civilized fashion. I've got hopes to see them before midnight.
It's a long way around the state of Florida even if you don't have to face the traffic on 75 or 95.
For our doughty sailing adventurers, the weather supplies that capricious aspect usually provided by truckers texting or minivans full of meth users deciding at the last moment to exit from the left.
As I type from my cozy hotel room, the Spawnsters are dodging thunderstorms. As evidenced by the multiple little green dots on the image of their track, the barky is creeping along in light air.
And yes, the SPOT is still spotty, though it did reel off hours of coverage yesterday, so <ironic fistpump> yay SPOT.
Once the team got within cell tower reach, they called to check in. They sound tired, which is not surprising, and they are basically in a race to get to Fort Clinch/St.Mary's before the monster cold front arrives, bringing big wind and 40-degree weather.
But of course it looks like it's pouring down rain all day and I don't see a lot of breeze for them in the forecast until it's a LOT of wind.
I'm going to suggest they hunker down in St. Augustine for a couple of days –– this is permitted in the event rules, though of course I am not allowed to help them hunker. But they are the captains of their own fates and it's their boat.
My knuckles are tender, but still, I knock wood...
It's a marathon, not a sprint. So we've been telling one another, wisely, for months, as we picked out cold-weather gear, additional electronics, packs of AA and AAA batteries, as we've talked about whether the Spawnsters will stop and camp or press on through nasty weather.
I don't know how the 1,200 miles of the Ultimate Florida Challenge is calculated, though I suppose it comes down again to that old successive approximations under a curve...Even though the event is never about curves.
In any case, the first stage is done. The two boats (catamarans, naturally!) that arrived ahead of Spawn in Key Largo summed up their race: it was the worst conditions for sailing that they remember. Really rough. Really grueling.
I sat with Paula Paddledancer, the race organizer, as she fielded calls from worried family members of the racers, and from the racers reporting in that the wind and the waves were brutal, I thought, well, that's the first leg. I only hope the next four legs are less tough.
Spawn arrived in Key West Monday afternoon. Jeff said, "I'm surprised the boat is still under us. It was –– it was just awful out there."
The word "miserable" was bandied about.
A nice big meal at Mrs. Mac's, a very long night's sleep, a big breakfast at Mrs. Mac's, a bit of light boat-repair (replace blown ratchet blocks and jib sheet. Replace jib hook that straightened during re-entry after flying off a wave. Toss Jahn's defective shoes. Restock food and batteries. Repack everything) and they were away on the tide by noon today.
Spawn's personal tracker –– a SPOT, which brand I do not recommend –– seems to be on an extended popcorn break. The hapless customer service rep at SPOT agreed that it seemed to be acting unusually, and suggested when they got back to shore, he might be able to troubleshoot some things.
Can you HEAR my eyes rolling?
Instead of pinging every half an hour, as advertised and expected, the SPOT tracker evidently will only sing out after I send a text asking Jahn to please please for the love of all things holy press "okay."
This stage should actually be fun!
Ongoing –– not to say endless –– coverage of the human-powered adventure race in which my favorite skipper (AKA TwoBeers) and Moresailesed (Jahn Tihansky) are endeavoring to circumnavigate Florida...
My drive to Key Largo via state-maintained roads was longish but uneventful, and after an assist from Jim Signor (Hi Jim!) to obtain more nautical scavenger-hunt items (80 feet of 1/4 inch Yale Lite line -- any color! one pair of men's 9.5 regular boating shoes -- Musto or Sperry if possible!), I arrived at what is the finish line for nearly every other WaterTribe racer, The Pelican Resort.
It's a bit confusing that while Moresailesed and TwoBeers started with a gang of boats, and are speeding down the left coast of Florida among that fleet, they are in fact not racing in the Everglades Challenge. So they are not –– technically –– part of the Everglades Challenge... I'm not sure why, but dems da rules.
If sailboat racing tells you nothing else, it shows you that rules are both random and the only thing standing between ourselves and screaming chaos.
Despite its glitches, we stuck with SPOT as the personal locator device. In for a penny, in for a couple hundred clams...but it's hard on the watchers of this kind of event to have three-hour gaps in coverage. The SPOT tracker is supposed to "ping" every half hour.
As brother Paulie texted, "SPOT is on a smoking break." Or I think it was Paulie. SOMEbody texted it.
So our intrepid Spawonauts came ashore at 3:15 –– or 15:15 military style. They proclaimed it the worst conditions they've seen in their six years of making this trip. Fierce wind, pounding waves. BUT, they did get some sleep, not just camping out in their tent, but taking watches and sleeping on deck in their cool sleeping bags.
They even at an actual meal while camping (a MRE chili, which evidently packed a bit of a kick. I pat myself on my provisioning back for that!).
After hosing off the boat and all their gear, changing batteries and whatnot, they were ready for a meal and a good night's sleep in a non-rocking bed.
We're off to Mrs. Mac's for a burger, and to Jim and Sheryl Signor's to avail ourselves of the laundry, and then crash for a bit...
Yes, I have no idea how long I will be fielding peculiar demands from my team on the high sea.
Yes, I don't know when they will arrive at any particular place, or which way they intend to traverse any given set of navigational challenges.
Yes, I can't say whether they will camp out tonight and eat one of those delicious meals I packed.
I'm just driving the trailer (and The Miss Patsie) and a box after box of meals, haberdashery, and other diverse matérial for their restocking stops.
Oh, well, that and rescuing two Care Bears in Animal Suits and a White Bear from the bench by the red curvy slide at the playground by the skipper's meeting pavilion.
In what might be my most cheering moment of the week, I found the bears and got them back to their youngster -- the daughter of the friend of a former student of a friend sailing a different regatta on the other side of the Bay.
Still wouldn't want to paint it.
That being said, the latest telephone call from our adventuring crew at around 5 on Saturday put them at Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze. Their report: the wind was at first lively, then flattened in the afternoon. They rowed back toward shore where they caught breeze (brisk, puffy, and of course directly from the direction they meant to go), and had their hands full getting into the checkpoint.
They sounded wearied but resolute; perhaps the enormity of the event hitting them –– as it did me, nearly weeping for no particular reason this morning after the start –– right in the midriff.
Track them directly by clicking on the map below.
By "we," of course, I mean my favorite skipper, known by his WaterTribe handle TwoBeers, and his trusty crew Jahn "Moresailesed" Tihansky will be sailing/rowing/paddling around Florida, while I ("BookWorm" natch) shadow them by road, towing the other boat from the air-conditioned comfort of an automobile.
It's astonishing and humbling to see the crowd of dreamers on the beach each year.
The fleet will swarm the water tomorrow (Saturday, March 5) at sunrise. Some will be going to first checkpoint (they are racing what's known as the Ultra Marathon), some to Key Largo (Everglades Challenge), and a select few all the way around the state (Ultimate Florida Challenge).
There are a couple of ways to follow the progress of the three fleets. There's the WaterTribe tracking site, just be sure to select "Ultimate Florida Challenge" rather than "Everglades Challenge" if you want to see what our team Spawn is doing.
Likewise the RaceOwl site will track the various gangs. On RaceOwl, Spawn is known as 3662.
And finally, to pinpoint our fellas only, the SPOT locator site is unwieldy and difficult to use, but it doesn't get the volume of users and only occasionally bogs down.
About the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or if you use an aggregator, click the RSS option below.
Old school? Sign up for the newsletter and I'll shoot you a short e-mail when there's something new.