April 04, 2003

Okefenokee Journal Part II

image copyright Fred First

In the end, there were three of us on the trip... all of us, biology-types, and all Auburn grads. Mark and Darrel had been classmates, coming along about ten years after I left college. Mark had lived in the small Virginia town we left when I entered PT school. So had Darrel for a time; he managed a fish farm there, and was still in that line of work now in South Carolina where we were going to pick him up on our way south.

We'd be staying in a motel in Folkston the night we arrived, and heading out the next morning. Had to be on the water by 10:00, Park rules. It was hard knowing how to dress. You could see your breath when we put in, and there was a 10 mph northwest wind that mostly blew in the treetops, skirting over the top of the waterway. You had to assume that you might get wet and not be able to change for several hours, and dress accordingly. (Should have probably had a wetsuit, but I feared all I would have is wet clothes.) But it was also likely you'd be in full sun for several hours of the trip, and at mid-day, it might easily be in the low 70's on the water. It was hard knowing the right combination for warmth and for sun protection, without being too warm. As it turned out, I never even got my old tennis shoes wet, and a polypropylene T-shirt and nylon longsleeve shirt was just about right for most of the day.

We arrived at the park around 9:30 on Monday morning and began loading our gear in the canoes. Good Lord, we brought enough stuff to stay a month! Ice chest with steaks, chicken, beer. Gas grill, Coleman lantern, two-burner stove. Way too many changes of dry clothes. Mark would go solo and Darrel would take the second canoe, which we managed to fill to overflowing with our 'necessities'. As I had suspected, but had just confirmed with Mark, once we set off, we'd be stuck in the canoes all day: there is no dry land to stand on between the launch site and the platform in Chase Prairie where we would spend the night. The prospects of sitting with my knees six inches higher than my hips, fixed in this posture for eight hours and twelve water miles seemed a kind of self-imposed torture, and I prayed that I would not have leg cramps or back spasms, and that my shoulders would be able to do this thing unlike anything they had been called on to do for decades.

The moment of truth: I stepped into the bow of the boat, and sat down cautiously... way down... with my long legs frogged out in front of me. With the first motion of the canoe away from the shore, I remembered in a wave of vertigo just how much balance and quick reflex is required to keep a six-foot paddler inside the gunnels of the boat. I sank the paddle into the red water of the Suwanee Canal for the first time, making a long sweeping stroke. I couldn't help wondering how many digging motions that paddle would make before we returned to the launch on Wednesday afternoon. After the first mile, the worry changed to anticipation of all that we would see and hear in the next two days in the 'land of quaking earth' and I was free at last.

Posted by fred1st at April 4, 2003 08:25 PM | TrackBack

I'm still reading, but just had to comment on this one picture. It's gorgeous!

Posted by: deb at April 7, 2003 08:10 PM

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