The first day of our canoeing adventure along the Gulf Coast in the Everglades, I discovered a key difference between canoeing in the Everglades and canoeing down a river. There’s only one way to get lost when you canoe downstream on a small river: failure to stop at the pick up point.
Canoeing in the Everglades was a completely different story. We had a permit to camp on a particular Key each night of our trip. Our first day, we were supposed to paddle about 7 miles to Rabbit Key. Unfortunately, we started out heading down the wrong channel through the mangroves. As we paddled around trying to identify openings between tiny mangrove islands that matched shapes on our map, I realized how little a map drawn from an aerial perspective reflects what land looks like from the water.
As the navigator, I eventually gave up on the map all together, picked a channel that pointed generally Southwest, and took us through the maze of mangroves until we hit the Gulf. Assuming we were West of our destination, we paddled East.
Paddling along the Gulf Coast through swells of salt water in a canoe identical to the canoes we’d paddled as children was a completely surreal experience in and of itself. Then, we spotted a dolphin about 50 yards from our canoe. It was a joyful sort of strange.
After having paddled long and hard in the Gulf (which is not at all like paddling down a river) we decided to break for food and try to locate ourselves on the map. We figured we might just stay where we were. We were rapidly running out of daylight and we really wanted to have our campsite setup before dark.
We took a walk around the island we’d stopped on, trying to get a sense of what it might look like on our map. Fortunately, we stumbled across a sign that identified the Key we had landed on. It was Rabbit Key, the key we were supposed to spend the night on. While this was mostly pure luck, Pat was still impressed by my sense of direction (too bad it doesn’t seem to work in the Chattanooga area).
Taking some advice someone had given us, we found a suitable spot to pitch our tent where there was plenty of wind. Then, we pulled our canoe well up out of the water so it wouldn’t float away at high tide. We ate quickly and went to bed, exhausted.
In the middle of the night, I woke up and went out to heed the call of nature. When I looked up at the night sky, I’d never felt so close to the stars. I’ve been to the top of Maunakea, which is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to see the stars, but here at sea level on a tiny key in the Everglades, it seemed like the stars were within arms reach. It was astonishing.