Sunday, June 24, 2007

Part 2, An Overnight Trip Into Hell, Or..."Welcome to the Real Florida!"

I think it’s funny when you go through a horrendous experience, your mind automatically tries to wipe all memory from your thoughts. The past three days of sitting on the beach swimming, fishing, and just chilling have at least dulled the pain. Last time I left you, I was covered in stinking lake mud. Of course it was brackish water, which is semi-salty and very muddy. Sitting there I though how if Mary Ruth were to wake up to me at this moment she would probably think I was some kind of monster. Rachael thought I was a monster. I had a couple hours to sit and think things through. Jed was sleeping, mom and Rachael were trying to, and the kids evidently thought it was a nightmare they couldn’t wake up from…Which perhaps was an intuitive look at our present situation.

After hours, I vaguely thought I saw some difference in the distant blur that was the shore. It looked like water? Maybe? But I wanted to be sure. So I sat another twenty minutes. And waited. Yup it was water, slowly rising. How ever it occurred to me that there was no real point in saying anything to anyone, since it was obviously going to be another half an hour before it reached us at this rate. Finally Rachael said something about the water, and I mentioned I had been watching it come in. She sounded so happy, it made me want to cry. As the water rose we set out slowly, since we were still getting grounded in the mud quite a lot. At one point we decided to leave the raft floating and scout ahead. Though our canoe was by far heavier and sitting ridiculously low, it was so much easier to scout without the huge raft dragging us around with every current. We found the way out, then lost it again when we came back with the raft. Then we found a sand bar and stuck a Tiki torch in it as a marker. Which gave the girls a chance to get out and use the uh... facilities.

The water was rising fast so I drove the torch in deep and anchored the raft off to it as we once more set out to find the passage out. This time we found it, and I left Jed there with a light to mark the channel that had been cut into the sand bar with dredges. I must admit that the next leg of our journey is a little blurry. I had been concerned about conserving our drinking water while stranded in the mud, and so had chosen not to drink anything until I was sure we were going to get out as planned. Then of course there hadn’t really been much time to do it since. And I was suffering from exhaustion. As we entered the mouth of the river, exiting from the lake, the water was surging into the lake at an incredible rate. Unfortunately we either had to sit and wait it out for another two hours, or row “up hill” so to speak, against the current. Of course we chose to do this.

Like I said I don’t remember much except at one point we were next to a tree, and we couldn’t seem to pass it. Me and Jed kept pushing each other to row faster, but for several minutes we couldn’t beat the oncoming water. After two hours of rowing, {only about a mile and a half} we were searching for the camp spot on the LEFT side of the river. Mom was certain the ranger had told her it was on the left. Good thing that Rachael really didn’t have to do anything but sit and look at the scenery, or else we most likely would have passed right on by the darn thing. Yes… it was on the RIGHT side of the river, and actually we had already passed it a little when she chose to mention the, uh, sign. We were however overjoyed to have finally reached our destination.

As we rowed to the “beach,” which consisted of an in-cut pile of shells, I wondered if this place was really all I had been lead to believe. As we closed the last thirty or so feet I began to notice dozens and dozens of what looked like huge spiders sculling all over the beach and among the roots of the closely encroaching trees. As we neared, they all seemed to disappear into dens or burrows. As we stepped out onto the shore I was much relieved to realize from a couple of stragglers that they were, in fact, some kind of crab. Later I found out they were Mangrove crabs. The, err, campsite was, small. Really we had some great question on whether this could really sleep ten? But nonetheless we pulled out our handy quick setup screen room. And after a VERY short discussion decided that we would sleep a few hours, and go back to the van. This time we were going to ride the tide. {That’s using our brains}

I lay down on the ground and fell into a deep if strained sleep. I was awakened by a strange sound, a buzzing? My mind was still groggy, but it was definitely buzzing. I heard Mom shouting to the kids to get into the screen room. I opened my eyes and stared up out the back through the screen into the trees. Mom was shouting about a swarm of huge mosquitoes? It was all so weird. I saw the swarm way up in the air, it was huge. But it didn’t look right. Then my eyes focused in closer and I saw the large honey bee nest in the branch over our tent. Or rather I saw a mass of honey bees covering something which I assumed must be a nest. “So many,” I thought, then spoke out loud, “Yeah, uh, mom, they’re not mosquitoes.”

Then they started swarming our screen room. They would swarm for a few minutes, then stop. And come back a few minutes later. We would stand at the ready to kill any that made it through the gaps. Only a couple did. So we decided to accelerate our plan to leave. I mentioned that our pavilion was free standing, so we could theoretically move it from the inside. We began piling all our gear towards the river side, and after they quieted down for a second we moved it, then readjusted our stuff towards the river again. In this manner we made it to the river completely in the relative safety of our screen room. Funny, even at the time—which was rather tense, we were still laughing at the ridiculousness of what we were doing.

We got to the shore and loaded our stuff hurriedly. After a few minutes a guy in a canoe paddled up and introduced himself as Kerry. He was a marine biologist studying river snakes in the everglades. He was also a very, very nice guy and talked to us for some time as we packed. He even let the kids look through his binoculars and gave lectures on the birds, fish, snakes, and yes, the crabs. When we finished, we said our goodbyes and began to retrace our steps of the morning. After only a few moments however, we rounded a bend and found three men fishing in a motor boat. I “jokingly” asked them if they would mind giving us a tow. At first they laughed, but then they asked us if we really wanted one. Normally I would consider this cheating. BUT, well, at this point I didn’t really care. Besides we really had earned a chance to relax.

Jed held onto a rope and the guys pulled us along. They took us to the edge of the Mud bay, which now was a beautiful lake. Other than having to tack back and forth into the wind to cross the lake, it was pretty uneventful and beautiful. The fish were insane leaping and jumping nearly into our boats. Did I mention the previous night when Jed and I had left to find the way…the second time? The entire time we had been paddling I had been in the stern providing the power, letting Jed sit in the bow steering. But for some reason I asked Jed to let me sit in the front. {I think it was so I could see} No sooner had we set out with me in the front than a school of jumping fish about 18 inches long came jumping across the surface. And one leapt right into my face. I ducked and barely managed to miss being creamed. Right after this I let Jed get back in the front. Anyway, we made it into the other river that emptied into the river leading back to the dock.

Things went well until disaster struck. A large horsefly {about the size of a peanut} flew into Jed’s face and went under his glasses, which resulted in exactly what one would think. Jed violently swatted at his face knocking his $250 Ray Ban prescription glasses off and into the water. What a sickening feeling watching them sink into the dark brown water. Jed tore off his life jacket and jumped into the swampy water, only to find it over 15 feet deep. Goodbye glasses. After that it was a more …mellow trip. We made it back to the van, and realized how badly mom and Rachael had gotten burned…2nd degree burns. It’s now four days latter and skin is falling off mom’s legs. Uh, yeah, it was that bad. The only real alligators we got to see were the ones who came to watch us pack our stuff back in the van.

Well, I think that about does it for that leg. I hope you have enjoyed reading my rather long account. I’m sorry…I think I make a better novelist than a blogger. Cheers!

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