Sunday, September 21, 2014

Smack Attack

Chug, chug, chug...Chug, chug, chug

The bright yellow topwater lure slowly but surely made its way back to the boat, each 'chug' sending ripples of water outward in the mirror flat water. The sun had just broken over the horizon and its early morning tendrils shone through the nearby pines on the shoreline to dance on the bay.

The wind had yet to come up, so the only sounds to be heard was the quiet whirring of the trolling motor and the rhythmic 'chug' of my lure. But that rhythmic chug was abruptly broken.

A splash, followed by the tug on the line and the screaming of the drag ripped apart the early morning calm. The fight was on.

But what I didn't know was what was on the end of my line. Surely not some trout, I thought as the fish continued to take line. I was fishing too deep honestly. What in the world was it? A small jack crevalle? A red?

After a few minutes of fighting I got my first glimpse of silver under the pale green waters of St. Joe bay. It was a Spanish Mackerel. And a big one at that. The picture doesn't do it justice, and please excuse the hair...

I generally don't view Spanish as noteworthy unless I'm writing about a fish fry, but this one was a big one. I never measured it, nor weighed it. But there was a brief discussion with my dad as to whether or not I had a small King.

With a quick tail grab, the hefty fish was in the boat, and thrown on ice. I wanted desperately to fill the cooler with these guys, so as soon as my lure was free, it was back out there, chugging away.

And once again, on my next cast, it only took a few chugs before another monster Spanish attacked the lure. This time the fish went skyward, shaking his toothy head and ripping line back off the reel. But unfortunately, as quickly as the fight started, it ended. That all too familiar "blip" when your heart sinks and you know you've been cut off. I reeled up a lureless line and said goodbye to a favorite lure of mine. Luckily it died doing its job and wasn't lost in grass or some ill-placed tree.

As my luck would have it, I didn't have another lure just like it. It was the only one of its kind I had in the tackle box. I tried tying on very similar lures, but never had the same kind of luck again. Topwater is always exciting, and I found that big Spanish on the surface are quite the thrill. Over the years I'd actually forgotten how much fun it can be to catch these toothy critters. Maybe next time I can land a few more (with a thicker leader), and make the most of a good fish fry.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Sand in the tent

“Did you hear that?” asked my dad, looking over his shoulder at the ominous dark cloud across the bay.

I had, of course, heard the thunder coming out of the massive storm. “Yeah.”, I responded, brushing some sand off my arm. “I think it's heading away from us though”.

If ever there was a phrase to guarantee a direct hit from a storm of apocalyptic proportions, that's the one. It's probably what Jim Cantore says when he arrives at some poor old coastal town ahead of a hurricane.

The storm took no time to decide to jump right across the bay, and whip everything into a frenzy. Paddling our hearts out, my dad and I raced back to shore, praying that we not only made it, but wouldn't get hit by a bolt of lightning. Our campsite was a little dot on the pristine white-sand shoreline of St. Joseph State Park and in that dot was our tent, the only shelter for miles....

I was lucky enough growing up to get to spend many of my summers in and around Port St. Joe Florida. A hidden gem along the Gulf Coast, St. Joe and its state park provided an almost limitless playground for me in the form of camping and fishing. My dad and I would load up the canoe or kayaks and set out for week long camping and fishing trips along the bay. We'd pitch our tent right on the sandy beach next to the water and fish from there.

If you've never had the good fortune to camp on the beach, allow me to set the scene for you:


Sand everywhere.

Sand on your feet. Sand in your tent. Sand in your shoes, your gear, your clothes, your hair, your food, your water. Sand in your soul.

Try as you might, the sand gets onto and into everything. After about four days, it becomes a way of life. Its omnipresence is a constant reminder that even in paradise, you're forced to cope with this otherwise unseen gritty hell. There was, however, always one thing that could give you a break from the sugar white sand: Rain.

So as my dad and I paddled for our lives from the storm ,which had now whipped the bay into a frenzy, we were hit with fat heavy raindrops. I was already covered from head to toe in sand from camping for several days. So when the rain finally hit me it was almost like taking a shower. It honestly felt amazing to finally get SOME of the sand rinsed off my body.

We were close enough to shore now that I could see the trees and grasses getting whipped around in the high winds. Heavy bands of rain and wind were no longer showering us, but rather drowning us. Most of the sand on me -had- to have been washed away at this point. A crack of lighting ripped through the white-washed sky as our kayaks ground to a halt against the sandy beach. Only a few yards up onto the beach was our tent. Shelter. And inside were towels, sleeping bags, and various gear to get us dried off. I pulled the yak onto shore and looked up just in time to witness one of the strangest sights I'd ever seen.

Thanks to a massive gust of wind, our tent, with all of our supplies, was ripped from the ground and sent tumbling down the beach. I couldn't really believe my eyes. I just sort of stood there trying to mentally grasp what I was watching. The tent, with its poles sticking every directs, was hurtling itself down the coast like some massive sea urchin. To make the sight stranger, all of our gear pushed and bounced on the canvas from within, making it look like some beast was attempting to kick its way out.

By the time I gathered myself, the tent was a good 40 yards down the beach and gaining distance. I immediately broke into a sprint after our runaway shelter. I should note that no matter how many sports you play, or how many outdoor articles you read, you'll never be fully prepared to chase down and tackle your own tent. It's not exactly something you get to do every day.

I'd finally gotten within arms reach of the tumbling canvas mass and after lining up my shot to avoid the swinging poles, I dove...

Face first into the sand. I did manage to get my hands onto the tent, but the wet canvas just slipped out from underneath me. I spit a mouthful of sand out onto the ground as I picked myself up and took off after the tent again. I was angry now. Not because our gear was threatening to blow into the water and out to sea, but because less than 2 minutes after my “shower” I was sandy again. Actually, sandy isn't the right word to describe me at that point in time. Powdered donut is perhaps a more accurate term.

Perhaps I just got lucky, or maybe it was the extra grit all over my body, but my second attempt at tackling the tent proved successful. I wrestled it still and my dad caught up to help me stake it back to the ground. I opened the tent to find that our gear had been thrown around every which way, and I sat down inside to try and dry off.

Never in my life have I seen more sand in a tent than I did that afternoon. I thought about going back outside into the storm to let the rain wash some of it away, but as quickly as the storm was on us, it was gone again. Trying to become sand free would be nothing more than an effort in futility.

I just sat there, looking like a powdered donut, and stared out across the now sunlit bay. “At least the fishing's good”, muttered my dad.

Summertime in St. Joe is something I'll always be grateful for. Even through all the bugs, heat, storms, and runway tents, I enjoyed (and still enjoy) every minute I get to spend down there. Everything about the place has a special place in my heart. Even the sand...

Seriously there's probably sand in my heart from that place.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It lives

Well, new computer is here and it's about time I get back to blogging. I've noticed a trend over the past few years of keeping up with this website where I spend most of my summers working hard and neglecting the site. Then I spend fall, winter, and spring hunting/fishing pretty hard and getting plenty of writing material.

And working hard I have been. But that's not to say I haven't taken the big yellow yak out a few times. I've got a few good reports to draft up, and with any luck those will be rolling out in the next few days.

I'll also be doing a long write up on how to fix a kayak rudder. Mine's completely shot from years of abuse, and I honestly have no idea how to do it. But I'll figure it out, and keep track of my errors. Stay tuned! And thanks everyone for being patient.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Flash...Thunder...Fried Computer

Florida ranks number one in the US for lightning strikes. And this summer hasn't been lacking any storms. Thanks to some severe weather, I'm currently blogging this on my phone while sitting on the couch. I came home last weekend to discover my computer, modem, and router had been absolutely fried by lightning. It was all on a surge protector, but Lord know what exactly happened. I can only hope that my files are recoverable (the computer turns on at least). So for the time being, I'm mildly incapacitated for my writing.

But there's good news...

I just went ahead and purchased a new computer that should be about 5 times better than my old one. This means more pictures, videos, and hopefully stories. It gets here next week, and with any luck I can get the ball rolling again on posting stories.

Lesson learned Mother Nature. I'll unplug my things while I'm away. Lightning is nothing to mess with. Niether outside nor inside.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

To Kill a Gnat

The muddy brown water of the Flint River lapped silently against the shore as I took a seat in the damp sand. Recent rains had caused the water to be slightly higher than usual, and farther out into the middle of the river water raced by in the strong current. Thanks to the weather, it was getting dark, and quickly. The approaching storm brought with it high winds and flecks of rain. Occasionally, a strong gust would roll through, sending the long arcing branches of the nearby Live Oaks into violent sways. Bits and pieces of leaves and branches silently found their way into the muddy waters and were quickly swept away by the current. 

”We’ve got about 10 minutes I suppose”, I quietly muttered to Iceman. “Then shit’s probably gonna hit the fan”. 

He nodded in agreement as I quickly tossed my chicken gizzard baited hand line into the river. Maybe some unfortunate catfish would stumble across my bait before the storm hit. 

But time passed and nothing touched either of our baits. The storm was practically on top of us now, and the not-so-distant crack of thunder told us it was time to leave. No catfish is worth getting nearly struck by lightning…again. 

“We’ll come back after dinner once this has blown through!”, I nearly shouted over the winds as we scurried up the bank to the truck. With any luck, we’d have another chance to fish, and it would be slightly longer than 10 minutes worth. 

This is my job. Well…part of it. Sorta. 

It’s more like a perk. 

My writing has taken an obvious hit recently because I’ve been…well…working my ass off. The rare occasions that I have off, I don’t find myself behind the computer typing away. Rather, I try to get out and fish as to actually GIVE myself something to write about. 

I’m currently working for an ecological monitoring company and am focused on small mammal trapping. And by small mammals, I mean these guys…

Mice and rats. Lots and lots of mice and rats. And given my luck, that immediately translates into lots and lots of mouse and rat bites. 

We take various samples from the poor little guys including hair, whiskers, ear punches, blood, and yes…even doo-doo. I simply cannot express how much fun it is to fish a nasty rat turd from a metal trap. I’m pretty sure it takes all five years of my college experience. 

Joking aside, I actually enjoy my current job. I find myself outside plenty and of all the things in the world I –could- be doing outside for my job, I feel pretty blessed to be doing something I enjoy. I have, however, recently discovered something I despise: Insects. And no, it’s not your average, every day biting insects. I’m talking about gnats. 

Yep. Just your ordinary, non-biting, stupid little gnat. Now, I’m no stranger to swarms of gnats. I did, after all, work on quail plantations for a couple of years where the gnat swarms were absurd. There’s really nothing you can do to keep them from flying into your ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. You kinda just have to suck it up and deal with it. And deal with it I did just as I’ve always done... 

At least until I’d gone 6 solid days of constant gnat bombardment. Try to work up a mouse? Gnat in the ears tickling the hell out of you. Need to write something down? Instant gnat in the eye; You’re not seeing the data sheet. Need to say something? Well you’re gonna eat fifteen of them while your mouth is open. 

They were incessant, and after 6 days of trapping, they’d broken me. Resistance was futile. Even though I attempted to slap my face from time to time, sending hundreds of gnats to their death, my face would be immediately enveloped by the next legion of eye poking, ear tickling demons. 

I soon developed a twitch and an acute form of tourettes. Every so often I’d break into a series of bizarre spasms and terrifying cuss-filled shrieks as I involuntarily resisted the swarm that was determined to bother me to no end. 
Slayed gnats from my face that fell onto the data sheet

It was an ugly scene, and by the sixth day I noticed I was not alone. Our entire team was broken. Tensions ran high as everyone felt the unrelenting onslaught of the gnat. Work was next to impossible and even with a dedicated “fanner” for the person working up a rodent, the gnats eventually broke through and sent someone into a fit of rage. 

But aside from those little guys, work goes smoothly. 

Back on the damp shore of the Flint River, I watched the night sky as the passed storm lit up the heavens. Lightning filled the sky, outlining the dark squall line and the far shore of the river with every strike. But a cool, refreshing breeze occasionally wound its way down the twists and bends of the river to meet us, and a subtle yet obvious tug on my line told me a fish had found my chicken gizzard. 

“I think I’ve…ACK!” I was quickly interrupted midsentence by a fit of coughing. My eyes watered as I struggled to catch my breath. 

“You alright?” asked Iceman. 

I tugged on my line to discover it was hung on some submerged rock and turned to look at him through watery eyes. 

“Yeah…I just inhaled a gnat”.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cedar Key Kayak Fishing

It had been a while. A long while, in fact, since I'd taken the kayak out in the saltwater. My Everglades adventure was the last time the big yellow yak had seen action and as I loaded up the trailer and dragged the boat out of my apartment, signs from the Glades were still very much present. The kayak still had mud all over it. Inside, my spare paddle banged around. And the snapped cable to my rudder was still broken, held together only by the piece of dock line I'd found washed up on the beach.

I honestly haven't had much time for...well...anything really. Especially not fishing or repairing gear. I just recently quit my second job because I was so busy. Now that I'm down to just one, my weekends are free. But rather than spend them fishing, the past few weeks I've found myself spending time with friends who were about to graduate and leave this college town.

But I finally got a free weekend with good weather (a miracle...I know), and I took advantage of it. So early one Saturday morning, my friend Ian and I loaded up the kayak trailer, and drove over to Cedar Key to look for Reds.

We arrived just a few minutes after sunrise and quickly began loading up the kayaks. I realized that it'd been nearly two years since I last fished this area near the Shell Mound and the last time I was here, my dad and I tore into the tailing Redfish. I could tell we were both excited with how quickly the yaks were loaded and the paddling started. But I was quickly reminded of an extremely important act of nature that practically drives Cedar Key: The tides.

Considering how strapped I've been for free time, I decided to just go. Just go to Cedar Key and not worry about what tide it is. There's no other opportunity for me to go. So go I did, and I did so during a time that the tides were polar opposite of what I wanted. Outgoing tide all morning, low tide at 10:15.

Needless to say, the water was skinny, and getting skinnier by the minute. To add to my frustration, the wind decided to kick up to about 15-20mph out of the east. Paddling was by no means easy, but we managed to make our way around the oysters and cuts and work out toward the gulf.

I'm still not exactly sure why I decided to switch up lures, but I did, and I tried something I've never done before. A few days prior, I bought a $1 spinner bait at Walmart. I think I may have done it just to help begin filling up my new tackle box, but I remembered that I read something once about using spinners for Reds. So...why not give it a try?

Three casts later I hooked what I thought was an oyster least until line started screaming off my drag. I set the hook and immediately began getting drug around. I shouted over to Ian that I had an -actual- fish on. Not just something small. Round and round we went; the fish peeling off drag and pulling the kayak in wide circles against the wind. Repeatedly the fish circled the boat and thanks to the high wind, the kayak stayed pointed one direction as I was being pulled the opposite. This made me play the fun game of fighting the fish backwards and switching the rod back and forth over my head. By this time Ian had made the paddle over from where he'd been and was getting the camera ready.

It was then that I saw it. The massive Redfish rose up from the muddy waters and thrashed on the surface. It was a big fish. 30+ inches and it still had quite a bit of fight left in it. It rolled on the surface for a moment longer, then peeled out more drag. Soon it was back on the surface, and it made a quick turn, running straight toward the boat. I quickly reeled to keep the line tension up, but to my dismay, I literally WATCHED the lure fall out of the fish's mouth.

Not break, or bend, or rip out. It just sorta fell out. I was shocked to be honest. It's rare for me to lose a fish after fighting it for so long. Usually when I lose one, it happens in the first few seconds of the fight. Not several minutes in.

I'm not one to really ever let losing a fish get to me, but this one hurt. It'd been a while since I'd been in the saltwater, and it was an awesome fish. What really bugged me was just how surprised I was that I lost it. I certainly know that's why they call it fishing and not catching, but I beat myself up for the rest of the day over that fish, and that's something I never do.

Unfortunately the tide continued to race out, and fishing soon became almost impossible in the extremely shallow water. Ian and I stood on a mud flat and waited out the tide switch. When it finally started coming back in, we got about another hour of fishing in before we gave up. It was nearly noon, and neither of us had eaten anything all day. Plus, aside from that one nice Red, we'd had zero luck.

I honestly can't wait to go back. Now that I've settled into my work schedule, I should be fishing every weekend that I can. Next time I'll be sure to time the tides a little better and actually hit it on a high tide. And with any luck, I can get round two with mister Redfish. I've got a score to settle.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Still Kicking

Not a whole lot to report here, but I decided to let everyone know that I am, in fact, still alive and kicking. I started a new job working in ecological monitoring and focusing on mammal trapping. What I'm not used to are the hours. No, it's not strange midnight shifts and what not. Instead I'm trying to get used to the "normal" Monday-Friday 9-5 thing.

The good news is that I have weekends now, and starting next week I'll actually be getting back out on the kayak for some fishing. It'll be the first time it's touched the water since the Everglades, and I can't wait.

Stay tuned! I'm sure I'll have plenty to report on soon enough!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Where the Water Flows Uphill

On a brisk morning in late February, six outdoorsmen set out on an adventure through the Central Florida wilderness. The goal was to traverse 22 miles through the Little Lake George wilderness in Ocala national forest. The party was to hike and small game hunt along the way. Whoever’s genius idea it was to tackle such a feat is still unknown, though much of the party places blame on one individual in particular; especially when things began to go awry. The following is an account of the adventure through the eyes of one of the outdoorsmen…

February 28th, 2014. 09:30:
Today, myself and five friends (Hunter, Mitch, Kyle, Rob, and Ian) set out on an adventure through Ocala National Forest. It’s the last weekend of small game season and I’m hopeful that we can shoot some pigs during this trip. I’ve admittedly done very little research when it comes to the path I’ve chosen, but I imagine it ought to be alright. 22 miles round trip and hunting alongside the St. Johns River. We plan to have a drop off and a pick up vehicle between our start and end spots. If all goes according to plan, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t, we will start our hike this afternoon and finish it by around lunchtime Sunday. Everyone’s beginning to show up now. I’ll update this log as the trip progresses. 

We’ve made one final stop for supplies in Palatka at the Winn-Dixie. Though I brought plenty of food, I couldn’t resist the impulse buy of summer sausage, triscuits, blue Gatorade, and cheese. Everyone else is currently devouring rotisserie chicken and other pre-cooked food like it’s their final meal. Perhaps they know something I don’t. 

All the gear is unloaded and ready at our start point. Mitch and I are about to go drop off his car and Rob will follow to drive us back. It’s a beautiful morning. Though slightly chilly, I’m looking forward to this trip. I’m glad I brought my fleece jacket. I think I’ll leave this Gatorade here as a treat for when we finish on Sunday. 

It’s time to start our adventure. Last minute preparations are underway as some of the guys are strapping down the last of their gear to their packs. The shotgun is loaded, bag is packed, and I’m feeling great. Spirits seem high. 

We’ve stumbled upon what can only be a meth house. I’m pretty sure I can still see our car from here. We’ll cautiously try to make our way around this obstacle without getting shanked. 

The vegetation throughout Little Lake George wilderness is much…thicker than Google Earth led me to believe. We’re still currently stuck walking down this dirt road. Through the brush, I can see the tree line of the swamp. That’s where I want to be. I’ll find a spot for us to cross this water-filled ditch soon, and we’ll be on our way. 
The fleece jacket was overkill. I’m practically melting at the moment. And as if sweating wasn’t enough, we managed to walk through a peculiarly wet area, thus soaking my boots and socks to the core. If there’s one thing in the world I hate, it’s wet feet. Hopefully I dry out soon. I’m glad I didn’t pack more gear. I think my bag is the perfect weight. 

Progress is rather slow. Though the edge of this swamp is relatively open, cypress knees and fallen trees continuously make travel extremely difficult. To add, six full grown men trudging through the woods are about as stealthy as a stampeding herd of bison. The woods are noticeably absent of life. I worry we may find nothing to shoot. 

We shot something. Well…by we, I mean Mitch. And by shot something, I mean he defended himself against what can only be described as a boar-tadpole. It’s big enough that it should add plenty to our food supply. A supply that, oddly enough, is beginning to run low. As is our water. 

Given our current progress, my calculations suggest that we should reach the pick-up vehicle by mid-May. Ground needs to be covered much more quickly if we expect to finish this trip. We’ve decided to forgo the swamp edge for the time being and walk through the pines further up the hill. Travel will be quicker, and it should be a bit drier up there. 

The pines further up the hill are nothing like we expected. Somehow, there’s even more standing water here than there was in the swamp. To add, there’s fallen trees every few steps; forcing us to either climb around in the shin deep water, or trip wildly every few steps. My bag is beginning to feel heavier. 

We’ve lost Hunter and Mitch. I can only assume they’ve somehow perished in this watery hell and have met their fate. All attempts to contact them have been met with silence. For the good of the group, we’re moving on. 

I brought it to Rob, Kyle, and Ian’s attention that should we miraculously complete this journey intact, we’d make it to the pick-up vehicle with no keys and no way to get back. Mitch holds the keys and we at least need that if we expect to ever make it home. 

We found Hunter and Mitch. They apparently never heard our calls despite only being a few hundred yards away. This is a strange place. Sound doesn’t travel far, and I could’ve sworn I just noticed water flowing uphill. Perhaps I’m just tired. I need to drink more water and lighten this pack. 

The nightmare labyrinth of dead pines and shin high water has yet to end. We’ve turned south now and are following the St. Johns.... I think…Everyone appears exhausted, though no one seems to be complaining. Spirits remain relatively high despite current circumstances. Each of us are soaked to the bone and everyone either has, or has almost, fallen into the water at least once. Earlier, I heard Ian shout, “Wha…Well…Yep…I’m going down”, and I turned to see him falling. In this bizarre twilight zone of wilderness, I watched him gracefully fall for close to 30 seconds before hitting the ground. And as if that wasn’t surprising enough, he landed on probably the only piece of dry land within a hundred miles. There’s no logic in this place. 

If my body had to guess, we’ve been walking for days. The GPS claims we’ve come 3.2 miles, but I don’t trust it. It hasn’t seen what we’ve seen. We’re at the edge of the swamp again and have stopped to take a water break. Ironically, many of us are beginning to run low on water. There’s talk of blue Gatorades, but at this point, they seem an unachievable treat. The high spirits are beginning to wane. We must break free from this hell. 

A look to the south reveals no end to this misery. The same mysterious, and interminable mire stretches out beyond the vanishing point in the direction we need to go. The bugs are horrendous, and as the day stretches on, we’re shortened for time to find a suitable campground. I doubt the guys want to sleep in the water, so we need to find dry land before nightfall. The liar GPS says there’s a road 0.4 miles to our west. We’ll believe it when we see it, though given that all the water around us is flowing uphill (to the west), dry ground cannot be far. 

We’ve found the road! High fives all around. Now we just need a suitable campsite. My pack has gained 30lbs since we left, and I expect I will have shrunk 2-3 inches by the end of this trip. 

Everyone has decided on a campground. Though the land here is dry, all the potential fire wood surrounding us is soaking wet. To add, everything here was recently burned, and the woods are scorched. Our fire is absolutely pathetic thanks to the wet wood. Some of the guys began rationing water earlier today and while we sit around the smudge of a fire in a vain attempt to dry ourselves, it’s clear that some are becoming delirious with dehydration. We’ve watched the fire die twice now without any attempts to save it. Spirits are low. I can feel the group breaking. 

Summer sausage cooked over a fire is one of the greatest things in the world. I’m not sure what the suggested serving size is, but I devoured half of it in one sitting. Everyone seems to be in a better mood now that we’ve got some food in us. Kyle and Hunter have constructed some boot hanging mechanism over the flames in an attempt to dry their shoes. My old boots simply never dry out once wet, so I’ll keep them away from the fire. 

It’s been drawn to my attention that I’ve inadvertently covered my face in soot. I suppose dragging charred dead wood to the fire put soot all over my hands, and I have a terrible habit of touching my face. The coal miner and black lung jokes have begun. 

Hunter was busily taking pictures of the fire when we all suddenly noticed that it had gotten MUCH brighter around camp. Upon closer inspection, we discovered Hunter’s snake boots had burst into flames while drying over the fire. Unable to stomp out the flames barefoot, those sitting next to him threw sand in an attempt to smother the raging inferno. Delirious with a mixture of exhaustion and dehydration, Kyle and I could do nothing but offer hysterical laughter. Mitch’s boot laces were also torched in the flames. Much of my soot covered face is clean thanks to my tears. 

After discovering my headlamp has stopped working, I’ve opted to face plant. Just the thought of walking or carrying my thousand pound pack will surely put me to sleep. Ian, Kyle, and Rob are having an intense conversation about blue Gatorades outside my tent. 

March 1st, 2014. 07:10
Everything I own is wet. I will never again know the feeling of being completely dry. Somehow, even with the rain fly on, my tent gathered dew on the inside. This place continues to defy logic. Upon exiting my tent, I caught Rob licking the morning dew from his hammock. The water situation is becoming dire. I gave him a swig from my canteen. 

We just broke camp and are on our way back down the road. Our goal is to get as close to the pick-up vehicle as possible, then strike camp and hunt for the evening. First things first, we must escape this watery hell. The roads hold standing water, and it’s going to be another wet day. 

We’ve covered remarkable distance since leaving camp this morning. We actually made it to the road that our pick up vehicle is parked on. Spirits are much, MUCH higher and we’ve stopped for lunch on the side of the road. In an attempt to get my pack to weigh less than a ton, I’m eating as much food as possible. The land here is dry and with any luck we’ll not only find a good campsite, but also some game to eat. Everyone’s diving into their food reserves with ravenous hunger. We need to find some pigs. 

We saw a squirrel; something so rare that everyone but Hunter and Mitch stood around dumbfounded. Those two gave chase but were too late. The mythical beast had escaped. It was the first sign of life we’d seen since yesterday’s massive tadpole incident. We’ve high hopes that that wasn’t the only squirrel in the forest. They’d go great with blue Gatorades. 

By the grace of The Almighty himself, a suitable campsite has been found. There’s plenty of room for everyone, and enough firewood to have an actual fire tonight. The sudden lack of water is of slight concern as Rob and Hunter are dangerously low. How we ventured from a watery hell to this dry, barren wasteland, I’ll never understand. 

Everyone has broken up into small groups to look for game. I found a lizard, but doubted I’d find it should I hit it with the slug from my shotgun. It was too fast for me to catch. My hunger grows. 

I’ve given up on hunting for the evening and have decided to get the fire started at camp. I left Ian, Kyle, and Rob to continue looking for food. Hunter and Mitch are off somewhere…Hopefully not lost forever again. I did just hear a shot. Perhaps they’ve slain another tadpole. 

The fire is roaring and I’m busily eating every last bit of food in my pack. Somehow, it continues to gain weight despite my best efforts. My summer sausage is almost completely gone, as is most of my water. What little I have left I’m saving for the hike out in the morning. Ian, Kyle, and Rob are here and they too have begun to chow down. Kyle managed to kill a lizard with his knife. He, at least, won’t starve tonight.  Hunter and Mitch are still missing. 

Hunter and Mitch have made it back, and with food! A real life, honest to God squirrel. He’s currently cleaning it. He also brought water, though I’m unsure how safe it is to drink. Apparently pulled from a rotten stump, it still has the color of Jagermeister. I’ll just keep sipping my water and pretend it’s blue Gatorade. 

Even split six ways, that was the best squirrel any of us have ever eaten. Spirits couldn’t be higher. As I stare into the flames, I can’t help but feel thankful. This trip was almost over and today had been infinitely better than yesterday. I’m overly thankful not only for the chance to do such a trip, but for having good friends crazy enough to follow me through such a mess. Though the trip has been a little rough, everyone seems glad to be on it. The only thing that could make life better right now is some blue Gatorades. 

The fire has begun to die down and everyone has retreated to their tents. Tomorrow will be a short morning hike to the car and a relaxing afternoon in civilization. Everyone seems eager to get home. 

There’s talk amongst the tents of Gainesville. Promises that we’re within two hours of sitting happily at a bar with a tall beer, or even blue Gatorade. The debate on making a night hike out of the woods to the car is underway right now. 

The decision has been made. The night hike is a go. Camp is to be broken immediately. 

I’ve never seen a camp broken so quickly. Tents are packed back up and everyone’s ready to go. My pack suddenly feels like it weighs nothing. 

We were reminded that many of us had yet to fire their weapon during this entire trip. We took a brief moment to empty pistol clips into a nearby tree. One cannot simply escape the wild and still have all their ammo. 

I’ve never night hiked before. The sliver of moon overhead lights the path in front of me and the pale sugar sand of the road marks the way home as it glows in the night. My headlamp is still broken, but I can see fine without it. The stars are out and with the sun gone, it’s beginning to get cool. The chilly night breeze feels great and the soft rustling of the nearby trees are only broken by rhythmic swishing of boot steps in soft sand. We’ll be to the car before we know it. 

Never before have full grown men been more excited to see a Honda CRV. We all quickly crammed inside and are now on our way to find blue Gatorades. 

The Dollar General in Ft. McCoy is closed. Much like Little Lake George wilderness, there is no logic in this place. I’m not sure whether it’s the stump water talking, but Hunter seemed physically hurt to discover he couldn’t get blue Gatorades yet. 

I’m not sure how out of the norm it is for a group of disheveled, and grungy looking guys to stagger into a gas station in Palatka Florida at nearly midnight and empty the cooler of its blue Gatorades. But I fear it wasn’t too bizarre as the cashier barely blinked an eye at us. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it feels good to be out of the woods. The ride back to Gainesville won’t take too long, but I doubt any of us will be going to the bar when we return. I think it’s going to be straight to bed. 

We survived Little Lake George wilderness and despite some troubles, honestly had a blast. Had it not been for the great group of friends, the trip would have been sheer misery. But with the right group of people, we managed to turn a trip like that into a great time and certainly a hunting trip none of us will forget anytime soon. I’m sure we’ll try something like that again soon, but next time we’ll be sure to pack a little lighter, walk a little easier, and stay a little drier. 

Oh, and bring blue Gatorades. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tanks, Bombs, and Bucks

But I still bow hunted as hard as possible, making it out to the woods every chance I got with my dad until I was sixteen and old enough to drive myself. Eventually I got used to the military maneuvers, UXO’s, and even got to where I saw deer on a regular basis. Try as I did, however, success with a bow eluded me for years. But I wasn’t without my close calls.

Above is a snippet of a recent article of mine. While I piece together my write up for my Everglades trip, please feel free to check out this article for Legendary Whitetail's blog here:

Monday, January 20, 2014

I made it!

I'm still sore, sunburned, bug bit, and extremely tired as I sit here and write this. But I made it through the entire Everglades Wilderness Waterway by myself. I finished Saturday and made it back home yesterday. I've got a LOT to write about. Like...a ton. It's gonna be a few days before I can start writing thanks to a terrible work schedule, but the whole adventure will soon be told. It was an amazing experience, and I absolutely cannot wait to share it with everyone. Stay tuned!