We got an early start on Wednesday.  We knew that loading the kayaks would take some time.  High tide would be around 9am, and we wanted to catch the outgoing tide to make the paddling easier.  Christy was feeling better, though she didn’t have all of her strength back.  I made breakfast and we broke camp.  Then we drove back down to the Visitor’s Center in Everglades City.  The boat ramp was busy with a couple of other groups of kayakers, but we managed.  Our biggest challenge was getting 6 gallons of water into our kayaks.  Our boats have a lot of storage space, but the 5-gallon hard-sided container we’d purchased didn’t fit into any of our holds.  We ended up taking our water in jugs but lashed the container to the top of my boat empty.  Our plan was to fill it from the jugs in the evening, before we went to bed.  Unfortunately we’d have to refill the jugs from the container the next morning before we departed.


It was late morning when we departed.  It was a warm sunny day – the forecast called for clear weather with highs in the mid-80’s and lows in the lower 60’s through the whole trip.  We paddled out in Chokoloskee Bay and I gradually oriented myself so that we could find the route to our first campsite on Picnic Key.  The first part of the route has green and red markers, which made it much easier.  Once we reached them it was a simple matter of following them all the way to Indian Key.  We stopped once, on a sandbar, to stretch our legs.


The markers led us to Indian Key.  The beach at the far end was covered with pelicans.  There must have been at least a hundred!  We stopped farther down the beach for lunch, keeping our distance from the birds to keep from disturbing them.  After lunch we faced our biggest challenge.  First, we had to leave the markers that we had followed.  I had two good maps though, along with my GPS app on my phone.  I relied on the maps throughout the trip, but used the GPS to double-check our location periodically.  The bigger challenge was crossing the channel west of Indian Key.  The wind had picked up, and there was a lot of boat traffic in that area, including tour boats that run constantly from Everglades City.  The channel was quite choppy, with big waves that were almost white-capping.  The direction we needed to go was perpendicular to the waves, which was inconvenient.  We ended up taking a different angle so that we could paddle into the waves.  This made the crossing longer, but safer.  As it was, Christy took on quite a bit of water from waves breaking over the side of her boat.  I guess we should’ve brought the spray skirts!  I only got a few splashes, as my boat sits higher in the water.  I was pleased with how it handled in the rough water.  It is slower than Christy’s boat, but very stable.


We eventually passed the worst of it and turned back in the correct direction.  Our next obstacle was a sandbar that had appeared as the tide went out.  I thought we might be able to get over it, but our timing was poor.  We considered dragging our boats across it, but they were too heavy fully loaded.  We ended up paddling around an extra island to avoid the sandbar.


From there it was an easy paddle to our beach campsite on Picnic Key.  We arrived around 3pm, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine and go for a swim.  Picnic Key has an expansive beach, but it was a busy place.  There was a large tour group at the far end of the island and a family in the other ideal campsite.  The campsite was at capacity, which isn’t surprising considering it is popular and easy to get to.  We took a small spot in between the high tide line and the woods.  Originally we thought we might sleep in hammocks back in the trees, but the mosquitoes were fierce back there.  Christy set the hammocks up, but we never used them.


It cooled off that evening, which enabled us to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts for bug protection.  The mosquitoes weren’t bad on the beach, but the no-see-ums were annoying.  We made a small fire below the high-tide line to discourage them.  That evening we enjoyed a couple of cold beers (we brought a small cooler, though the ice didn’t even make it through the first day) and a spectacular sunset.  The clouds were fantastic, and the red, orange, purple, and gold sky constantly changed, but lasted for a solid hour.






We enjoyed a leisurely morning before leaving Picnic Key.  I made blueberry pancakes and coffee for breakfast, and we watched dolphins splashing around just off-shore.  We saw lots of dolphins during our trip, but this pod was just a short distance from our beach.


We packed up and headed out late that morning.  We backtracked towards Indian Key, and once again the Indian Key Channel was rough and challenging to cross.  Oddly, once we passed it, the water was calm.  We passed several more pods of dolphins along here.  We enjoyed a pleasant paddle past a series of wooded islands, including Jack Daniels Key, before reaching the beach on Jewel Key.  It’s a beautiful spot, so we stopped there for lunch and a swim.  Picnic Key only has the one long beach on one side of a large wooded island.  Jewel Key features a beach connecting two wooded islands.  There are bays on both sides of the beach, offering views in almost every direction.  It would be a great place to camp – we will keep that in mind the next time we are in the area.


There is about 4 miles of open ocean between Jewel Key and Rabbit Key, our next destination.  Originally I planned to take a somewhat longer route connecting a series of islands.  This seemed safer than exposing ourselves to a long open water crossing.  However, conditions were totally calm as we rounded the far end of Jewel Key.  The water was as smooth as glass.  We conferred, and decided to head straight across the ocean to Rabbit Key.  This worked out great, as steady, easy paddling delivered us to Rabbit Key in less than an hour.  Rabbit Key features a long spit of sand that connects it to Lumber Key.  That spit is underwater during the highest tides, so we didn’t want to risk camping there.  The prime campsite on the west side of the island was taken, so we paddled all the way around the island to access the bay on the east side.  That end of the island features a long beach that connects with the spit leading to Lumber Key.  There was another group camped there, but there was plenty of room for us.  We took a nice sandy site under a stand of trees.


After setting up camp Christy and walked around the island.  It was a fun little hike, with some wading in the surf and bushwhacking inland.  We found pretty sea shells, horseshoe crab shells, and one sea turtle shell.  After we finished our loop I went looking for firewood.  That was successful, except that one log I picked up was covered in fire ants.  Somehow I managed to avoid getting bit that time.






Our neighbors invited us to join them at a campfire on the spit that evening.  One guy was on an 18-day, 100+ mile solo trip from Flamingo to Marco Island.  His trip included all of the Wilderness Waterway, and he only had 2 days to go.  Camped nearby was a couple that included a woman from Utah and her husband, a French mountaineering and backcountry skiing guide.  Finally, there was a local guy that entertained us all evening with a thorough account of the local history of the area.  Sharks just off-shore provided additional entertainment.  Every few minutes a shark would approach a school of fish, sending them into a panicked thrashing mass of flashing silver.  Each time we shined our high-powered headlamps on them to watch the feeding frenzy. 


The spit was a great place to spend the evening.  There were no bugs, and we made the most of the fire and polished off a small flask of whiskey.  It was a great way to spend our final evening in the Everglades.


It was overcast the next morning.  We had blueberry pancakes and coffee again, but headed out earlier to take advantage of the ingoing tide.  We took the direct route through Rabbit Key Pass.  Although we had the benefit of the tide, it was a rougher paddle due to choppy conditions.  We reached Chokoloskee Island by late morning and paddled 3 more miles across the bay to the take out at the Visitor’s Center.  After packing up and loading the kayaks onto the car we had lunch at the Oyster House.  Then we started the long drive north.  It was Friday afternoon, and we needed to be back in Charlotte by early afternoon on Saturday.  I had reserved a hotel in Jacksonville to break up the drive.  On the way we planned to stop and visit friends in Titusville.  Google Maps thought that we should drive to Miami and head north.  I thought that sounded like a terrible idea.  Apparently Google Maps has never driven through Miami.


We took secondary roads to Orlando and then picked up the exceptionally expensive turnpike east to Titusville.  We met our friends, Myron and Dorcas, for dinner there.  I started hiking with Myron in the mid-90’s, before he met Dorcas.  We all enjoyed many adventures together in the late 90’s and beyond.  In recent years Myron and Dorcas have spent the colder months in Florida.  They are avid canoeists, and Florida is a haven for paddling.  Unfortunately Myron is having some health problems, but they are upbeat that he will recover soon.


It was great to see them, but we were only able to stay for a couple of hours.  Two more hours of driving brought us to a Holiday Inn Express in Jacksonville.  From there, we only had 6 hour drive back to Charlotte on Christmas Eve.  That went smoothly, and we were back home – all too soon.  We plan to return to the Everglades for another kayaking trip.  Next time I think we will do a 4-day loop from Everglades City connecting the Lopez River, the Chatham River, Mormon Key, Pavilion Key, and Jewel Key. 

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