This is the story of my one and only kayak adventure. In the summer of 2021, I drove to Florida to spend time with both of my daughters and their families. My first visit was with my eldest daughter Dawna, Dr. O’Brien. She and her husband are empty nesters and have become avid RVers. (Is that how you say it?) I met my daughter at the school where she is principal and then drove to their home. A wonderful place with a huge yard, screened-in pool with a big screen projector, and a beer fridge! Could it get any better?
The plan was to take their RV to Ocala National forest, spend four days in the park, meet her friend Nell (also a principal and RV owner), and go on a four-hour seven-mile kayak adventure.
I’d never spent time in an RV before, so it was quite an education. Keeping up with everything takes a lot of work, preparation, and planning. My daughter and son-in-law excel at all the above. I’m not sure either would know what to do if they weren’t completing some sort of task. I could not have asked for better hosts. Our time in the park was lovely. We grilled out, went for walks, which I love to do, especially in a park, and ended our evenings with adult beverages shared with Nell and her beau, who parked their RV next to us. We had a wonderful time.
Near the end of our stay, we took an excursion to kayak on a local stream. Although I had never kayaked before, I was excited. We were going to Juniper run, which was named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America by ReserveAmerica.
“Juniper Run is a narrow, winding waterway set under a dense canopy of old-growth forest and few places solid enough to get out of your canoe. The seven-mile journey starts just below the springs and follows the spring run through the heart of the Juniper Prairie Wilderness…” — USDA Forest Service about Juniper Run.
We arrived a few minutes before the park opened. We sat patiently listening to 80’s music and excitedly anticipating our adventure. David pulled us into the park, checked in, and found a parking spot. When I got out of the car, I heard a gentleman on a walkie talky. He wore a beige shirt, dull green-colored shorts, and a beige hat. I assumed he was a park ranger. I was correct. A minute later I overheard the person on the other end of the radio say, “So, Ted, I think we should close the run. I really do.” Ted said, “I’ve seen this before. It will be okay. Besides, we have people waiting.”
I wandered over to Ted, introduced myself, and politely asked if I might inquire about the radio conversation. Ted shrugged and said sure. So, I asked Ted why his co-worker wanted to close the run.
Ted said, “Well, the water’s up about eight inches, and there might be places where it could be difficult to get through the brush that’s normally overhead.”
Ted took another call.
After the call, Ted moseyed over to me and said, “Ya know, with all the water we’ve had this last four or five days, it’s brought a lot of critters out. Just today, I‘ve seen two panthers along the creek.” Ted smiled from ear to ear. I didn’t so much.
Ted went on, “You know this stream has every poisonous snake found in Florida. Yes, it does. Right here.”
I thought he was going to say right here in River City.
Ted seemed to be enjoying himself. “Did I tell you about Elvis?”
“No, Ted, at least not yet.”
“I don’t know if you read much about the run, but there’s one set of rapids that’s about 40 feet long, but it’s only 20 feet or so wide. Well, that’s where Elvis hangs out. We call him Elvis because people scream when they see him!” Ted chuckled. “Yep, Elvis is an 18-foot 800-pound gator!”
Great, more things that want to eat me.
“Elvis, he’s never hurt nobody. Now his brother, that’s another story.”
Ted looked at me with one eyebrow raised. “His brother ate a girl.” Ted looked down at his feet and shook his head. “Well, he didn’t actually eat her; he just pulled her under and drowned her, but it was her fault. She was down at the dock after midnight drunk swimming, and well, Elvis’s brother didn’t take too kindly to an invasion of his territory after midnight. They found her body washed up under a bridge the next day.”
I thanked Ted for the information and quickly left before he could tell me more stories.
My daughter and son-in-law owned three kayaks and had loaded them in the bed of the truck that pulled their camper. Two of the kayaks were what I thought of as standard kayaks (but what do I know), and the third was different. It was shorter, sat higher, and it was pink.
We carried the kayaks down to the landing, sat them near the head of the spring, got on board (do you board a kayak?), and began our adventure.
It was breathtaking. The fauna, weather, and company were perfect.
The first half of the cruise was lovely. Then the water started picking up, and we came to a few overhangs that covered the stream. They weren’t too difficult to get past. We went around and under.
The stream became narrower and faster. It was challenging to keep our kayaks in the center of the river. The water tried to sweep us to the riverbank.
David was in the shorter, higher kayak. He was the first to capsize. A few minutes later, the water forced me to the bank, where I was caught in a Bay Bush. A crooked limb had pushed through my man bun and became entangled. I was pulled from the kayak by my man bun. Fortunately, David brought up the rear (thank you, David!), and he grabbed my now free kayak.
It took both of us to raise the kayak high enough to empty the water. Remember in the USDA Forest Service quote when they shared, “…few places solid enough to get out of your canoe.” They were right. After we finally emptied most of the water, David traded kayaks with me. He explained that the shorter kayak sat higher, so it had less space inside for retaining water. It would be easier for me to empty if I capsized again. David must be psychic.
What David didn’t tell me is that since I was nearly sitting on top of the kayak, it was much more difficult to balance. I capsized five more times. I capsized against both riverbanks, in the middle of the stream, and under an overhanging palm tree blocking the waterway. Every time I fell out of the kayak, David was there to help me.
My daughter had gone on ahead. I assumed in case she needed to call 911. David stayed back with me. You know, to help me get back in the kayak and ward off the alligators and poisonous snakes.
During the last half mile of the trek, the waterway opened up, slowed down, and I didn’t capsize again. Good thing because it was where alligators were known to nest.
With about 30 minutes to go, the sky opened. It rained as hard as I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness my eyeglasses were strapped to my head because they would’ve been washed away. Ya know like my boat shoes.
Eventually, I made it to the dock. I got out, walked the three steps to the brick walk, kneeled, and kissed the bricks. My daughter looked at me and said, “You told my husband to get fucked at least three times.”
“Yes, you said fuck you, David. I heard you.”
The ride home was uneventful and quiet. Later we all laughed about the day. It’s a story none of us will ever forget, and we don’t get many of those in a lifetime.
The next day I drove to my younger daughters. We had a lovely time. Her family had scheduled a kayak trip during my visit. It was canceled.
A couple of days after I returned home, I sent both my daughter’s snail mail thank you cards. In the card I sent to my daughter Dawna and her husband David, I inscribed the following.
“I can’t thank you enough! I had a wonderful time and I loved your pool and beer fridge. Being able to lounge there my first day while you were at work was restorative. I had a great time watching the concert with you on your big screen by the pool. Ocala National Park was a joy, and thank you for sharing your RV with me! I’m sure I’ll even look back on our kayak adventure with humor. Love, Dad.
PS Fuck You, David.”
Photo by Taryn Manning on Unsplash