Eight Paddlers Brave Rain For Okefenokee Trip
Fargo, GA--The Fellow Travelers scheduled the 2009 April trip for the Okefenokee. It was the first time the group had ever done a spring camping trip in the swamp. The forecast called for being blessed with a little more rain so Donna and Jerry Ellis, Diane Stines, and John Williams all wimped out. Don Meece came down from Salemburg, North Carolina, for his rookie trip with the travelers. He observed that more trips are spoiled by the weatherman than by the weather. (He was not talking about Art Shelfer but it probably applies!)
Ronnie and Ron Marchant met Charlie Stines and Donald May in Moultrie for the trip to Fargo. After eating a Hardee’s breakfast in Valdosta, the four tripped on to the put-in through heavy rains. Rick Metz, Roy Moye and Don Meece were already at Stephen Foster and Greg Baker arrived before the canoes were unloaded. The rain had ceased but the skies promised more.
The eight men were paddling by about nine. It was not raining. Greg and Donald paddled Greg’s Spirit II, Ronnie and son Ron (a rookie) manned their Grumman fifteen-footer, Don took the Prism, Rick and Roy had the Canadienne, and the King soloed the Penobscot 16. It was an easy trip out the channel to Billy’s Lake and up to the trail through the middle fork run to Minnie’s Lake. The heavy fog gave an eerie look to the swamp, but it still was not raining. Everyone enjoyed the scenery through the cypress forest. All negotiated the trees skillfully.
The shelter at Minnie’s Lake has been moved to the main channel and has been enlarged enough to permit overnight camping. The paddlers were there at about noon. It was a good time for lunch snacks. The rains then came and they came hard. All put on the rain gear to prepare for a wet paddle to Floyd’s Island. Greg and Charlie had new Frogg Togg rainsuits and were very pleased with them.
It did not rain long. The paddle through Minnie’s Lake was either through gentle rain or no rain at all. Alligators were sunning on the logs. Once the junction of the red and green trail was reached the eight turned left on the trail to the island. The rains resumed gently. The scenery was nice along the narrow trail. The ferns were especially lush green. The lead canoes observed deer but they departed before the following canoes arrived. Songbirds were plentiful but wading birds were not.
The trail narrows as it approaches Floyd’s Island but the paddling was easy until about a quarter mile from the landing at the island. A large tree had fallen all the way across the channel. The Marchants and Greg and Donald carried their canoes around the obstruction but the other canoes were forced underneath the log. Greg took a wet and nasty fall carrying his canoe around the tree. Once the obstacle was defeated the men arrived at the landing and unloaded the gear. It was raining but not viciously. Everything was carried to the Hebard cabin. Then the rain really began falling. The wind blew strongly, lightning cracked, and thunder roared.
Canoe camping is not like backpacking so everyone had a folding chair to sit on the porch and watch the rain. Don Meece proved to be a capable Fellow Traveler and told lies like a veteran. Bugs were there but not so many as to make life unbearable. Ronnie and Charlie had Thermacell repellent devices and they seemed to work. Everyone used bug spray, though.
The cabin was clean and in good repair. Ron gathered enough firewood to supply a fire in the fireplace. The fireplace also gave Charlie a good place to cook some beef dish with vegetables in the Dutch oven. He also had a Dutch oven iron table which proved useful. Supper also included coleslaw, baked potatoes, and rolls. The paper trash was burned in the fireplace.
After supper the men again sat around on the porch counting raindrops and swapping stories. No one elected to pitch a tent so everyone slept inside the cabin. It rained until about two in the morning.
Rick prepared a breakfast of eggs, sausage, grits, and fruit. Charlie made a pot of coffee. Rick did a good job and the eggs were not brown or gray. After that, the gear was packed and carted off to the landing on the east side of the island. It was a short hike through standing water. Once the canoes were loaded the Friday trip to Canal Run shelter began. Charlie left his Dutch oven table at the landing.
The canal from the island was not obstructed in the least. Paddling through it was an easy job. The weather was near perfect with pleasant temperatures and a gently breeze. There would be no more rain on the trip.
After leaving the trail to the island the canoeists headed out the green trail to the junction with the blue trail. This area of the swamp is usually alive with wading birds but it was not this time. There were several alligators.
There was a lunch stop at about the half-way point. After gorging down apples, candy bars, and other snacks the trip to the Canal Run shelter resumed. The destination was reached at about noon. The shelter has been enlarged and is now about the same size as the other overnight shelters so there was plenty of room for the tents.
The resident alligator came looking for handouts but got none. Ron, Ronnie, and Don tried their hand at paddling the various canoes. Rick fished but caught nothing.
Firewood was scarce but the campers did gather enough for a fire. It was barely enough to burn the paper trash.
Greg was in charge of supper but really Lillian was. She had prepared chicken purlieu which is chicken and rice. Greg heated it in the Dutch oven and also gave everyone tossed salad. Lillian had sent delicious brownies and Greg did not dip them in swamp water this trip. There was little left of the food and none left of the brownies.
Once supper was eaten the men began telling tales again. There was talk of Boundary Waters, Buffalo River, several Carolina rivers which Don had paddled. Ronnie and Greg talked motorcycles. There were no stories about Jason or town drunks.
One by one the campers went to bed. It was a clear night so no one used the rain flies. The frogs croaked loudly and occasionally the alligator bellowed. AS red-shouldered hawk perched in the tree above the shelter. Barred owls hooted. All slept until about daylight. Charlie brewed a pot of coffee. Roy was in charge of breakfast and had planned his famed breakfast burritos. Unfortunately, the King did not refill the propane tank before the trip and the stove ran out of gas. So breakfast was just lunch snack food.
After taking the tents down and packing the canoes the travelers sat around a while before setting out for the final leg of the trip. Rick caught a nice bream but since there was no gas and no one wanted to eat bream sushi he threw it back in for the alligator to chase.
The five miles of the orange trail between the Canal Run shelter and Billy’s Island is the narrowest trail in the swamp. It winds through low-hanging trees and at places requires poling the boats through lily pads and across floating grass. It is an especially pretty paddle and there were no downed trees to hamper the paddling. Near the approach to Billy’s Island the channel becomes wider and several alligators and a few turtles were enjoying the nice spring weather.
The group did not see even one person after leaving Stephen Foster until reaching Billy’s Island. There were several people on the island. Some were in canoes, some were in motorboats, and some were in kayaks. After resting and eating a snack the final leg of the trip to Stephen Foster began. There were lots of people on Billy’s Lake and there were lots of alligators. The trip ended about one-thirty. It was Ronnie’s first overnight trip with the Fellow Travelers and it was the first trip period with the group for Don and Ron. Despite Thursday’s heavy rains it was a very pleasant trip.