The tiny keys that dot the Gulf Coast of the Everglades are countless. But the ones that are big enough to land a canoe on and pitch a tent have names. They are supposedly named after the shape of the key when viewed from the air, but I suspect Tiger Key was actually named in honor of the ferocity of the insects there.
Fortunately for us, when we climbed cautiously out of our tent on Boxing Day, the wind had kicked up and we were spared the brutal attack of the night before. It was an enormous relief not to do battle again first thing in the morning.
It was time to return to the mainland. We were somewhat concerned that we would not be able to find our way back having gotten so lost on our way out. Fortunately, we were traveling via major channels most of the day. While this made navigation easier, it greatly reduced the wildlife we saw.
By the time we were in the main channel, we got into a rhythm like we’d been paddling a canoe every day of our lives. We laughed at a couple heading out. They were struggling to go downstream because they were paddling against each other–the wife was literally paddling backwards. We felt like canoe paddling champions as we dug into the water and pulled our canoe against the current.
Then, we got to the final stretch. We could see our destination. It was a short distance compared to the many miles we’d paddled over the last three days. But the current was so strong that it pushed us sideways across the channel.
We spotted a small island along the way where we could land and catch our breath. We made it to the closest end of the island. After resting for a few minutes and saying a few choice words, we pushed off for what we thought would be our final launch.
We paddled for all we were worth, but the current pushed us back to the far end of the island we’d just left. We’d have spent less energy walking the canoe along the shore. Neither of us felt much like a champion paddler anymore.
We took a longer rest. We ate a snack. We got out of the canoe. We stretched. Then, we rallied and drove that canoe right across the current until we suddenly found ourselves in calm waters and could relax for the final 50 yards of our trip.
As we slowed down, a large, dark mass rose towards the surface of the water. Pat yelled, “Manatee!” We were so excited we nearly capsized the canoe after 3 days of remaining afloat.
As we glided closer to the slowly moving mass, we felt ourselves blush as we realized it was a mass of algae. No manatees in sight.
Despite the disappointment, we really felt like we’d done something when we beached the canoe for the final time. It was the best Christmas ever.