Beyond Coastal (Cruising)
Everglades Challenge 2014 Report by Robert Finlay (IronBob):
What follows is a short explanation of the Everglades Challenge and the 2014 race report for IronBob (aka Robert Finlay) and TheJuice (aka Druce Finlay), who is my son. This report has more background info and introspection than any of my previous Everglades Challenge reports.
What’s up with the names IronBob and TheJuice?
Each challenger is a Water Tribe member, each with a tribal name. I am a retired union ironworker, Iron Bob has been my nickname for over 30 years, Iron Man or Iron Bob were my nick names among the climbers of the Red Rocks of Nevada and Iron Bob was actually my nickname as a high school wrestler, thus IronBob. Druce was climbing hard climbs at the age of 6 years old and The Juice became his nickname among the Red Rock climbers and The Juice was actually his nickname on his high school jazz band, thus TheJuice.
The Everglades Challenge:
The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats. The distance is approximately 300 miles depending upon course selection. The Start is on Mullet Key, Ft. De Soto, on Tampa Bay, the Finish is Bay Cove at Key Largo, and there are three mandatory checkpoints along the way; CP 1 is Cape Haze at Placida, CP 2 is on Chokoloskee Island, and Flamingo at the southern tip of the Everglades is CP 3. There is a time limit of 8 days. A challenger’s safety and well being is completely up to them. There is no support, there is no support allowed.
There are five main classes of boat and one exhibition class. All boats in the five main classes must use human or wind power only. Class 1: Expedition Kayaks and Canoes in which a downwind sail is allowed. Class 2: Racing Kayaks and Canoes in which no sail rig is allowed. Class 3: Sailing Kayaks and Canoes in which a full sail rig along with outriggers and leeboards are allowed. Class 4: Monohull Sailboats and Small Craft. Class 5: Multihull Sailboats and Small Craft.
When I use the term ‘paddle craft’, I’m referring to all the boats of Class 1 or 2. This year there would be 111 boats on the Start Beach, with 49 paddle craft in Class 1 and 2; 36 in Class 1 and 13 in Class 2.
Is it a race or a challenge?
It is a challenge with each challenger defining the endeavor for themselves. We’ve always defined our challenge as doing it as fast as we can. We’re racing our plan, we’re racing the Ghost Team, which is ourselves from our previous endeavors, we’re racing every boat in our class, we’re racing all paddle craft, in fact we’re racing every boat on the beach. Well yes, we’re a little competitive, but we sure are having fun.
In the campground in the days before the challenge, during a conversation with IszataRock and CWolfe (aka Charles Wolfe) concerning everyone’s upcoming goals, IszataRock commented that Druce and I had talked for several minutes about our upcoming goals and not once did we use the term race. We talked of the endeavor, the challenge, of coastal cruising, but never a race.
We’ve completed the Everglades Challenge five times. In 2006 as Class 2, we finished 4th in Class 2 and 6th paddle craft overall. In 2010 as Class 1 (our sail broke on day one), we finished 2nd Place in our class and fourth paddle craft overall. In 2011 and 2013 and this year, 2014, as Class 2, we finished 1st in our class and 1st paddle craft overall.
Every single year, we received the coveted award for finishing, a simple Shark’s Tooth worn around the neck. And - every single year, we’ve had a great adventure.
We would once again paddle ‘Sunshine’ (at night her name is ‘Ranger’). She is the SEDA Kayak model ‘Triumph’, a triple kayak. We paddle with Quick Blade ‘Sydney’ paddles, we protect our eyes with NUMA Eyewear (www.numatactical.com), and on our backs would be Haeleum ‘faran’ color gypsum (khaki) shirts (www.haeleum.com).
TheJuice and I race as Team Kayak Lake Mead (www.kayaklakemead.com). I retired from the Ironworkers Union in 2004. Kayak Lake Mead is my business. For this race; I am 60 years old and Druce is 34.
Keeping to our usual practice, we drove with our boat from Arizona, leaving on Monday and arriving in St. Petersburg mid-day on Wednesday. We had made arrangements to stay in the campground near the start with SavannahDan (aka Dan Lockwood) and PaddleMaker (aka David Wicks). These guys are retired university professors and have completed something like ten Everglades Challenges. I think even they have lost count. But our truck and trailer were not going to fit in that campground. Driving around a bit aimlessly, we ran into IszataRock (aka Hal Link) and he agreed to put us up in his campground, thanks Hal.
On Thursday, we met Mexican (aka Valentin Chapa), a friend and teammate from many expedition races. We’ve raced together in the Highlands of Scotland, on the sandstone of Southeastern Utah, in the coastal mountains of Brazil, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and on the plains and in the mountains of Patagonia. This would be his first time at the Everglades Challenge. He was racing Class 2, single male. He would be the first single male Class 2 boat to finish. Yeah, he’s strong and he’s an all around great guy.
Thursday night, the boys; Val, Druce, and myself would imbibe a little too much. OMG, actually we got quite drunk. But the boys got together and the boys were reminiscing. Waking up Friday morning, feeling like hell, I had to somehow put a positive spin on it and said, “well, we needed that”, you know, as in reducing the stress, yeah right!
On Friday, along with all 100 other plus boats and tribers, we readied ourselves on the Start Beach for a 7 AM Saturday March 1 launch.
On the beach on Friday, reflecting upon the upcoming competition, I had these thoughts. This year, it would be a good race, other Tribers, world class paddlers, were on this start beach, many with hopes of not only winning but of establishing new records. I wasn’t sure about it being a record setting year, not with a new moon and the corresponding Spring tides and not with a forecast of south winds, light though they were forecast to be. But I was sure of one thing, Druce and I were ready to give a fair account of ourselves. We were paddle fit, we had a good plan but also are quite good at adjusting to new courses of action as necessary, and as a 2-person tandem team, we have solid minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, operating procedures.
Among those on the beach, ready to race, were ArdieO (aka Ardie Olson) record holder of the Everglades Challenge (fastest paddler to do the challenge) and world class endurance athlete whether he’s in a kayak, on foot, or on a mountain bike, KayakVagabond (aka Greg Stamer) a renown paddler and holder of the records for circumnavigating both Iceland and Newfoundland (WOW, huh?), Riverslayer (aka Rod Price), winner of many, many canoe races (like over 200) including winning the Yukon 1000 (that would be 1000 miles). Paddling with Riverslayer in the same boat would be Whale (aka Bill Whale) who was part of the US Dragon Boat Team which competed in the 11th World Nations Championships in Hungary last July 2013. There was SaltyFrog (aka Marty Sullivan) who in 2006 with Riverslayer took 1st Place in Class 1 and whose forward stroke is one of the smoothest and prettiest kayak strokes I’ve ever seen. There was also the canoe team of NiteNavigator (aka Bob Bradford) and White Caps (aka Toby Nipper). Bob has taken 1st Place in the Everglades Challenge paddling with his wife NiteSong (aka Janet Bradford, he has taken 1st Place in the 460 mile Yukon River Quest, and he holds the record for paddling the length of the 2,348 mile Mississippi River while Toby knows the waters of Southwestern Florida perhaps like no other. There were others like the new triber Driftwood (aka John Wood) who I just met and who seemed cool, confident, and competent. He would be the third paddle craft to finish, finishing 1st as solo male Class 1. Then there was MosquitoMagnet (aka Wayne Albert) a finisher of the Ultimate Florida Challenge (1200 miles around Florida). Also paddling a SEDA triple kayak (as were we) were JungleJim (aka Jim Collins) and his sister MtnMama (aka Cathy Shoenfeld), both strong athletes and experienced paddlers.
In fact, after a lively, fun, informative, and humorous Captain’s Meeting (the pre-race meeting) that only the tribe’s chief, Chief (aka Steve Isaac), can give; Druce and I had the opportunity to talk to Riverslayer and Whale. We shook hands, laughed, and generally sort of bullshitted each other. They told us, “we heard you were the rabbits” and that we had “the bullseye on our backs”. I looked down, shuffled my feet, and replied with complete feigned innocence, “oh whatever, we’re just coastal cruisers”. We all laughed, and we all knew – we had a race.
Three hundred miles is a long ways to paddle and race someone. It’s too long a ways. It’s not like running a half mile, wrestling, boxing, or fencing saber as when I was in high school or college. Those are competitions where you can look your opponent in the eye and the result will be decided in a few minutes.
In my view, a multiday expedition adventure race, it is not really about racing. It is about teamwork, unless you are solo. It is about compassion, not just in regard to your teammate but in regard to everyone out there striving to get to the finish. It is about racing your own race, staying resolute, unflinchingly resolute, staying with your plan, adjusting the plan as necessary but staying tough with decided courses of action, navigating well, problem solving, staying healthy, staying refueled and staying hydrated. In the end, it is not about winning, it is about getting to the finish and as for the Everglades Challenge, it about getting that Shark’s Tooth.
Team Kayak Lake Mead and what each of us brings to the team:
Druce is about the best adventure racing teammate anyone can have. He is physically and mentally strong. He is compassionate. He is skilled in a kayak, on a mountain bike, or whether doing the most technical trekking in jungle, mountain, or desert. He takes care of his personal needs faster than anyone else takes care of theirs and then moves on to team needs. When it comes to handling team duties and chores, you have to race Druce because if you blink, the chores are done. He has a well developed ability of abstract reasoning. This is important for problem solving and it is important for a navigator. As a navigator, he can take all the variables of each route choice, and quickly deduce a smart course of action.
My assets? I am, in general, tactically proficient, and in regard to accomplishing the mission, I am quite stubborn.
Both of us as individuals notice nature as we pass through it. We see the colors, we see the textures, we see the animals, the plants, the rocks, the sand, the sky, the clouds, and the stars. I would say, that our draw to adventure racing is this interaction with nature, this most primal feeling of pushing yourself to your limits as you in turn are finding your own nature.
Racing with one’s son or daughter:
It’s a fine thing racing with one’s child. At one point in your life you are holding an infant in your arms, who depends upon you and its mother for everything. At some point a little later, you are on the ocean with your son, each of you depending upon one another for your very survival. There were five other father-son or father-daughter teams this year. There were MicroTom (aka Tom Dyll) and daughter WaterLily (aka Erica Dyll) in Class 3, Coastie (aka Eddie Mack) and son ClamCounter (aka Joshua Murphy) in a Hobie Cat, Sundance (aka James Connell) and daughter GoldenSun (aka Victoria Connell) in Class 5, Moose (aka Lee Havens) and daughter Squirrel (aka Kimberly Havens) in a Hobie Tandem, and Painendias (aka Joe Slama) and son Ozymandius (aka Philip Slama) in Class 5.
I’ve decided to describe the race as it unfolded according to our plan which was; to paddle steady and stay healthy, coordinate our sleep periods with the tide, and take advantage of the sea breeze whenever possible. This year it is a new moon, new and full moon periods are the cause of Spring Tides. Spring Tides mean higher high tides, lower low tides, a shorter slack period, and so the new moon means not just darker nights but bigger tidal currents. Our plan this year will revolve around our sleep and the tides.
Phase 1, Getting to our first sleep on Chino Island:
We have no intention of racing anyone on day one. Our goal is to paddle 93 miles on this day. To do that, we plan on paddling steady and staying relaxed, staying fueled and staying hydrated.
I keep a timepiece on my deck. A quick glance and I can see the time without pausing my stroke. TheJuice and I eat and hydrate every half hour on the half hour. We drink only water. Hourly we have some electrolyte capsules. Our food is comprised of sandwiches, nuts, and dried fruit.
This is a huge advantage for us as a tandem team. While on the water, our boat never stops moving forward. Every half hour we eat and hydrate. I stow my paddle and take care of business. Then I resume paddling while Druce takes care of himself. Total time for each of us is about 2 to 2.5 minutes. So, in other words, every half hour we are taking a break; fueling, hydrating, and resting our arms and shoulders, and all-the-while our boat continues to move forward.
The race starts promptly at 0700 hrs. on Saturday March 1. We launch amid over 100 other boats launching. There is a lot of energy on the beach, a lot of excitement, a lot of laughter.
It all seems so surreal being here in middle of Tampa Bay, with the goal of finishing yet another Everglades Challenge, halfway across Tampa Bay I remark to Druce, “Well, here we are again…”.
Just a mile or so into the race, we interact with Driftwood. He compliments our synchronized stroke. About 9 miles into the race, we interact with BustedRudder (aka Bob Waters), exchanging a few pleasantries. A bit later, we interact with ArdieO and wish him good luck because he is not only racing us to Key Largo, he is in fact racing all the way around Florida. We interact with MtnMama and JungleJim as we approach Sarasota Bay getting to know each other a little better. But after Sarasota bridge we talk to no one until we happen next to Riverslayer and Whale a few miles from CP 1, where we exchange a little banter. I watch with keen interest Riverslayer’s stroke with that canoe paddle of his, his stroke is like no other I’ve ever seen, it is masterful and beautiful to watch.
Paddling down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), it is 63 miles to CP 1. I find this stretch boring, very boring. It is a long ways, 63 miles. In the past we’ve usually gone outside, outside on the gulf where we can interact with and get some advantage from the wind and waves and have some adventure. But here, inside on the ICW all we can do is paddle. This year, in my opinion, the tides did not line up for going outside. I remark to Druce, “Here we are, with all the paddlers, grinding down the ICW, but tonight we can start doing our own thing.” Speaking in general terms only, because many paddlers do go outside for one portion or another of the first leg to CP 1. For instance, MosquitoMagnet had gone outside right away from the start. KiwiBird (aka Kristen Greenaway) had gone out early in the challenge going outside at Longboat Pass. Driftwood pulled an interesting move by going out near Midnight Pass, about 10 miles below Sarasota Bridge, which involved a short portage but allowed him, with his Class 1 sail, to take more of an advantage of that light NW wind.
We arrive at CP 1, 11 hours and 52 minutes into the race. We’ve paddled 63 miles. We are a few minutes behind Riverslayer and Whale, ArdieO, and KayakVagabond. We are right on our plan. We pull into the closest dock we can to the shower room, take a hot shower, stretch, eat, and are paddling less than 30 minutes later. We have 30 more miles to go that night before we can rest.
At 0245 hrs. Sunday 2 March, we arrive at our preplanned bivy (camping) beach having covered 93 miles in 19 hours, 45 minutes. We set up camp, we eat a hot meal, we get two full REM (rapid eye movement) sleep periods, eat again, and are paddling again at 0715 hrs. on Sunday 2 March.
Phase 2, Getting to our second sleep at Big Marco Pass:
Our goal this morning is to paddle 50 miles to Big Marco Pass and then sleep while waiting for the flooding tide. We stop briefly on the Sanibel Bridge Causeway, stretching for a few minutes and using the restroom, before our next 40 mile push.
Chafing, Serious Chafing: On the way to CP 1, I notice I’m chafing. I’m chafing on my back, all around my waist, on my thighs, and on my ankles. I attempt a little 1st Aid at CP 1 and at our first bivy. Here on Sanibel Causeway, I notice the chafing is becoming a significant problem, Druce tapes up my back.
We pass Ybel Point at 1000 hrs. and enjoy a nice steady pace to Big Marco. We are slightly into the wind all day but our general course from Ybel to Big Marco puts us less into the light but pesky SSW wind than a course right along the Naples shoreline would.
We arrive at our bivy beach around 2030 hrs. We set up camp and I, I am in bad shape. The chafing has continued, portions of my body are blistered, some of these abrasions are now 2nd and even 3rd degree burns. As I take off the tape, I remark to Druce, “I don’t know if I can continue”. This type of chafing has never happened to me before. I will have to figure this out before future such endeavors.
But, at the moment I just lay on the bottom of the tent shaking, shaking from exhaustion, shaking from the pain, while Druce makes us dinner. Because of the pain, for the past few hours of this afternoon’s paddle, I could not even sit up straight and paddle correctly. I was forced to lean back against the coaming. Now that dinner is ready, I can’t even sit up my abdominals hurt so much. I raise a hand to Druce so he can lift me up to a sitting position.
We eat, we call our shore contact, we get one full REM sleep period. Our alarm goes off at 2330 hrs. I roll over onto my knees and remain silent and motionless. Druce asks me, “Are we out of here”? After a moment’s prayer I reply, “Yeah, let’s move”. Druce bandages me up exhausting that portion of our 1st Aid Kit, we eat, take down our camp, make the boat ready, and are paddling by 0015 hrs. on Monday, March 3. We’re moving up the Big Marco River with the full flood and life is good!
Phase 3, getting to our third sleep at Chokoloskee:
We see full flood up the Big Marco River but along the length of Gullivan Bay we are seeing a cross current from the flooding tide to about White Horse Key, a cross current from the ebbing tide to about Indian Key Pass, and we are against the ebb all the way to Chokoloskee Island and CP 2.
I felt strong all morning, all the way along the length of Gullivan Bay, all the way across Chokoloskee Bay, and I feel strong now as I help pull the boat over the mud flats but as I stand up on the beach and find my balance, I am feeling battered and feeble. We arrive at 1100 hours, though our official time shows 1129 hrs. as I was slow in hitting the OK button. We are the first paddle craft to arrive at CP 2. We have paddled 174 miles.
Hanging out at Chokoloskee:
Our stay at CP 2 will be the perfect check point stop. We have no intention of leaving until 1600 hrs. When we do leave, it will be with the full ebb of the tide returning us to the gulf, as we turn SE on our course to Ponce de Leon Bay we’ll have the western sea breeze on our right rear quarter, and when we arrive at Shark River at 0200 hrs. we’ll arrive there with the full flood pushing us up the Joe River.
But for now, we have five hours to accomplish everything we need to. We do our laundry, rinsing out all the salt from our paddling clothes. SparkleRocket (aka DJ Staub) is kind enough to let us use her trailered Hobie as a drying rack. We shower. We address our dental hygiene. We take care of other bathroom needs. We have a great shrimp and rice dinner from the Havana Café and get two cubano sandwiches to go. We get two full REM sleep periods. Also – I get bandaged.
Our 1st Aid Kit is depleted of bandaging supplies. SparkleRocket and Married2Paddler (aka Sherry Olsen) helped us out with abundant supplies of tape, gauze, and Neosporin. NorthernLight (aka Emily Algera) the CP 2 Checkpoint Captain, and an emergency room nurse in real life, bandaged me thoroughly and professionally. She let me know I would likely need antibiotics when I got to Key Largo. She also remarked that she couldn’t believe I was going back out there. To that I had no reply. But I knew it wasn’t very likely I would stand on the beach and wave goodbye to fellow Water Tribe paddlers as they headed to CP 3.
There was someone else who helped me at Chokoloskee. I think her name was Karen, but I’m not sure. She’s a local, she remembered Druce and I from the previous year, and she was very kind to help me with some homeopathic remedies (not at all placebos thank you). Thank you Karen.
When we first arrived at Choko, it was quiet, quiet and lazy, warm with a slight breeze, and the people were warm and friendly. It was, for a few hours, like some classic nostalgic memory of ‘the keys’ of which I've only read about.
There was practically no one there. Certainly, there were no other paddlers or I would have noticed them. Arriving with us at Choko were SirTackAlot (aka Roy Edwards) and WindWatcher (aka Alex Wilson) in their Hobie Tandem. Before seeing them at the entrance to Indian Key Pass, we had not seen another Triber since the first night.
However, by the time Druce and I were getting ready to leave, the beach was alive and festive with other Tribers. It was carnival like with laughter and animated conversations, with the colors of sailboats and sails, and of paddle craft and drying gear strewn about. The afternoon wind was coming up, the waves were slapping the shore, and the sails and drying gear were blowing around vividly. There were, and we of course exchanged some banter with, Riverslayer and Whale. Rod actually suggested we go down and get some cubano sandwiches which I thought was very nice of him. We also saw ArdieO, KayakVagabond, JungleJim, MtnMama, MosquitoMagnet, NiteNavigator, WhiteCaps, and BustedRudder.
Before departing, I noticed one Class 5 craft and its crew. That would be Vikingur (aka Jeff Stringfield) and Broadsword (aka Matt Saxman). I noticed this crew because I had met and walked with Matt in Ecuador a few years earlier during a little trek from the coast at 0 degrees, 6 minutes North Latitude to the top of the Cloud Forest just outside of Quito.
But now, it was time for Druce and I to leave…
Phase 3, moving on to Flamingo/CP 3:
We are paddling away from Chokoloskee at 1600 hrs. and our passage to Flamingo couldn’t have gone better. We leave with the full flow of the ebbing tide, at the mouth of Rabbit Pass we punch out of the turbulent burble caused by the colliding tidal current and the western sea breeze, we turn left and run downwind into the night making at times 6 mph, we take a 20 minute stretch break on Plover Key, and we arrive at the mouth of the Shark River right on time at 0200 hrs. Tuesday March 4.
In one respect this passage is no different from any other, we pass much of the time wondering about other tribers and how it's going for them. We thought of IszataRock and how it might be going for him in his first effort in Class 3, of CWolfe since this year he's in a kayak rather than a canoe, and of TideTraveler (aka Josh Morgan) since this year he's in a canoe rather than a kayak. We gave some special thought to the paddlers we saw at Chokoloskee and what their sleep plans might be.
Tonight as we traversed the Highland Coast, we thought of Kiwibird. Since we've known her, she has always gone inside from Chokoloskee to Flamingo and followed the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. Each passage of the Wilderness Waterway has qualified her for an Alligator's Tooth. Druce and I have never done this arduous and adventurous passage. But we feel out here on the outside has some value too and we wondered if she has or would ever see the entire Highland Coast. As it turns out, this outside route was her route this year.
We thought of Mexican. Many times that we've raced expeditions, Val has been our teammate. This year, as Druce and I have made our way merrily down the coast, he has paddled alone. Since Hour One and most every waking hour of the challenge, we've wondered where's he's at and how's he doing. But it turns out, he had buddied up with a stand up paddleboard (SUP) guy, JustSurf (aka Justin Schaay). Justin set the new record for SUP's and as I mentioned before, Val came in first in his class, which was Class 2, solo, male.
Due to the flooding tide, our passage across Ponce de Leon Bay is 5 or so mph, we travel up Oyster Bay at 5 or so mph, up the Joe River with a 2 mph effort we travel at or near 4 mph, we even see flooding tide at the canal to Coot Bay and travel all the way to the boat ramp at Flamingo at 5 to 5.5 mph.
This 65 mile paddle through the night puts us at the Flamingo boat ramp at 0800 hrs. We finish the portage and arrive at the orange log in box at 0835 hrs. when I remember to hit the OK button. We are the first paddle craft to arrive at CP 3. We've paddled 239 miles thus far and have just 33 to go.
We find out that we have about 5 hours on the nearest paddle craft and so our demeanor becomes one of ‘we’re on vacation’. Really? Really, we should have immediately descended the boat ramp and headed for Key Largo. At this point Florida Bay is close to high tide, it is mid morning and so we are hours away from the inevitable sea breeze which will come off the Atlantic Ocean in the afternoon, and if we needed a short rest at some point, we could have taken one mid way across the bay. But instead we lounge around for a couple of hours. Sure we ate a good meal and got a short nap in, but tactically it was a mistake waiting until 1100 hrs. to launch.
Final Phase, across Florida Bay to the Finish at the Bay Cove Motel, Key Largo:
We leave facing the ebbing tide so we paddle against the current to about mid point across Florida Bay, at about some point past Dump Keys. Before even getting to Buoy Key we are seeing a head wind. So tide and wind are against us and the wind is increasing.
Making repairs: Just a few miles out of Flamingo, a rudder cable breaks and we make repairs, an easy repair to make. Good thing it broke in this relative calm, during the day, in the shallows and not for instance; during big winds, at night, and in deep water when we would be racing downwind. Sometimes things are just too easy.
We take the Crocodile Crossover and on the final leg, about 10 to 12 miles from the finish, we act like we’re finished, we’re paddling like we are. Our mental state is nothing to brag about. For these miles, we are hardly making the boat move forward. Of course the reality is, we’ve had tougher times on Florida Bay. Three out of our previous four times on this bay, it has taken us over 24 hours to paddle these 33 miles. But the past is the past, and tonight is tonight, and for the five miles from the big turn near Madiera Point Key to Park Key our speed is something like 2 mph.
On hallucinations: Suffice to say, there is a lot to learn about hallucinations, about dreaming, visions, and illusions and perhaps a lot to learn from them. I don’t have hallucinations from sleep deprivation when I’m trekking or mountain biking. During these types of endeavors, I can simply lay down and rest for awhile. This is not possible when out on the open water, in a kayak, miles from a rest beach.
During previous Everglades Challenges, once Druce and I are past Chokoloskee, during the night, I have hallucinated. But I have learned that by using certain techniques, I can choose to ignore or to accept the hallucination, I can even sometimes consciously decide what direction an oncoming hallucination might take. And yes, I did read Carlos Castaneda’s ‘Journey to Ixtlan’ sometime back on the ‘70’s. A side note on a journey up Ixtlan, Druce and I have also done the rock climb 'Ixtlan' (aka 'Journey to Ixtlan'), 5.11c, Whiskey Peak, Red Rocks, NV. The question begs itself, "Am I getting enlightened (I ask laughingly) or losing my mind"? While I would vote for the former, my suspicion is the later.
But regardless of all this, hallucinations are not conducive to any effort of paddling from Point A to Point B, they are in fact very debilitating. Therefore during this Everglades Challenge I have been consciously avoiding them, even though some of them did look quite inviting.
But tonight, being in the sad shape we are, I utter a prayer. After praying, a certain hallucination that I had been avoiding, well – I finally let it transpire and let it into my consciousness. The resulting hallucination was very interesting. So interesting in fact, I decide to watch it twice, sort of like a youtube video with replay. But to make this long side note of hallucinations and prayer no longer than it already is – the result of all this is that Druce and I, who could not make their boat go any faster than about 2 to 2.5 mph, left Park Key at boat speeds of over 6 mph.
We exploded away from Park Key. Well no, not right away, as we turned the northern key’s southern edge, we grounded ourselves on a sandbar. Thinking we were only in shallow water, dipping our paddles in a shallow manner, watching the wind driven ripples rip across the sandbar at high speed, it took us a few moments to realize we weren’t going anywhere! So, out of the boat, push across the bar, and drive into the waves!
Over the wind, I yell to Druce, “take us off the mapper” (that is the GPS map function) and “put us on the computer (because our navigation now is simply to head for the radio tower of red lights) and let me know when we are going 6 mph”. And we do reach speeds of almost 7 mph, but my cockpit, as we drive into the waves, is filling quickly, and in fact filled completely up with water. I knew full well I should have put my spray skirt on as the waves on the windward side of the key would likely be significant. Druce had even told me to put it on. But because of the pain from the friction burns around my mid section, I rebelled against that idea. So now, I must bail my cockpit out and put my spray skirt on. Hilarious situations are sandbars and water filled cockpits.
The end result of our moving away from Park Key with such mad authority was that we maintained a good 4 to 4.5 mph average speed as we paddled the last few remaining miles to the Finish Beach.
We glided into the cove at exactly, on my watch, straight up midnight. Having paid attention to Chief's block of instruction for logging in at midnight, while I tied our boat off, Druce logged us in at 2359 hrs. March 4. Our SPOT Tracker official time stamp was one minute past midnight or 0001 hrs. on Wednesday March 5 or a total time on the course of 89 hours and 1 minute. We were the first boat in Class 2 to finish, the first paddle craft to finish, and the ninth boat overall to reach The Bay Cove Motel.
At the Finish, at Bay Cove Motel:
Druce volunteered to get the keys to our truck and secure our sea bags of dry clothes and shower kits, and our finish line bottle of rum. I had a few minutes to be alone in the quiet of the midnight hour of the Bay Cove Motel. Having a bit of trouble standing, shaking from the cold, and from various other ailments I will attribute to a weak mind – I was flooded with the most positive and warm feelings imaginable. Indeed, standing there in the quiet of the night, looking back across Florida Bay, I was happy, very, very happy.
The very next mission was to get a hot shower, get some warm dry clothes on, and mix a drink! Druce and I wanted to be able to get done with our showers and be able to hand a Bacardi and Coke to the crew of the next paddle craft to come in. That would be Riverslayer and Whale.
We greeted them when they came in, we all shook hands and congratulated each other for a hard race and then we proceeded to get a little too boisterous. But I gotta say – the boys just finished paddling 300 miles, they just finished paddling their hearts out for 300 miles, the boys were going to celebrate.
Note: Our actual course measured something like 272 miles but 300 sounds cooler.
Email us about The Everglades Challenge
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If you are an adventure racer but first and foremost an adventurer, who is willing to take full responsibility for your skills, knowledge, conduct, and safety but love the true test of real adventure - then this challenge is for you.