Everglades Diary

10 Day Through Trip, November - December 2004
After three years of planning, and as many cancellations due to the difficulty of the logistics involved, I was finally able to realize my dream of a solo through trip from Everglades City to Flamingo in the fall of 2004. The trip would take me in a long, circuitous route that would cover nearly 200 miles, and allow me to see and camp the few places that I had yet to visit in my years of travelling by canoe through the Everglades backcountry.
A solo through trip across the Everglades Wilderness Waterway has one difficult problem that needs to be carefully planned for and solved, and it's a problem that had stymied my plans for such a trip on three previous attempts - how to get back home when you finish! You basically have two choices: either have somebody come and pick you up at your end point, or shuttle a vehicle to the finish and leave it there before you start your trip. Had I lived much closer to the park, say, in Naples or Miami, this might not have proved such a difficult problem to solve, but I live in the Tampa Bay area, and it's about a 350 mile drive from there to Flamingo where I would finish my journey. A 700 mile round trip is a rather huge favor to ask of anybody who would not otherwise be participating, and I was hesitant to make such a demand on those that I knew were already very much involved with their own busy lives. It wasn't until I met a wonderful woman named Cherie who expressed her willingness to make the grueling shuttle trip with me that I was able to accomplish the plan of leaving my truck in Flamingo on the day before I set out on the long voyage.
The shuttle began at 10:00 AM with the long 225 mile drive from St. Petersburg to Everglades City, made on the day before Thanksgiving. We left early enough so we would arrive in Everglades City in plenty of time to pull my permit, something I always try to do the day before departure. Quite often there is a bit of negotiation, and sometimes disappointment, involved in obtaining this many days worth of camping in the backcountry, and I was in a mild state of anxiety at the possibility that somewhere along my route I would not be able to get the sites I needed to make the trip I had planned. I've known of others who have tried to make a through trip, and they've had to settle for a loop instead because they couldn't bridge the distance between unoccupied sites. This probably wouldn't be enough to stop me, as I can paddle 35 miles in a day if pressed, but it wasn't something I looked forward to doing. It turned out that I needn't have worried. Not only was I able to get the sites I needed, I was able to pull a permit for my first choice of all campsites, and I would be able to make the exact trip I had planned and wanted to make.
After obtaining my permit, we stopped briefly at our motel in Everglades City to wash up and rest a bit. We then set out for the long trip to Flamingo. This was the toughest part of the shuttle. We were already tired from the long drive south, and we still had about 250 miles of driving to get to Flamingo and back. It was coming up on dusk when we reached Flamingo, and we worked quickly to transfer the canoe and gear from my truck to her car. It was a long, dark drive back up the Ingraham Highway on the return trip, and along the way we had a run-in with one of the Park's more notorious exotic denizens - an 8-foot Burmese python that was crossing the road just north of West Lake. Actually, I should say we had a "run-over", since that's what we did to the snake, which had already been hit by one vehicle, and would probably not survive anyway. As cruel as this may sound, pythons pose a very real threat to the Everglades ecosystem, since they compete with native species for scarce food, and the rangers will capture and kill any pythons that they find inside the Park boundaries. We reported the incident at the gate on our way out.
We stopped at a nice little outdoor Mexican restaurant for dinner in Homestead, and then made the slow crawl in stop-and-go traffic back up Krome Avenue, followed by the much faster drive across the Trail back to Everglades City. It was after 9:30 PM when we finally pulled up to our room at the motel. We were both whipped after nearly 12 hours of driving, and I will be forever in Cherie's debt for making this long drive for me, and allowing me to live my dream. Despite my exhaustion, I got little sleep that night, and the long-awaited day of departure dawned under the stormy skies of an approaching cold front. The rest of the story is told in the following pages.
Here is a brief overview of each day I spent on the trip:

Day One
Date - Thursday 11/25/04
Destination - New Turkey Key
Put in - 6:15 AM
Take out - 3:15 PM
Miles travelled - 19
Total miles - 19
It was a dark and stormy...morning??? Despite it's melodramatic beginning, the cold and rainy start of my trip evolved onto a beautiful day of pleasant island-hopping across the open Gulf to my first night at New Turkey Key. I had the good fortune of a northwest wind at my back during the passage of a mild cold front, and I made good time and arrived at my destination earlier than I had expected. It being Thanksgiving day, I prepared a special turkey-less dinner on New Turkey Key, and went to sleep that night hoping that the rest of the trip would be as pleasant and carefree.

Day Two
Date - Friday 11/26/04
Destination - Plate Creek Chickee
Put in - 7:30 AM
Take out - 4:00 PM
Miles travelled - 20
Total miles - 39
The passing of the cold front dropped temperatures into the fifties overnight, but the day warmed up quickly again as I backtracked and headed north toward the Chatham River. This day would take me through the "inside" of the Waterway to my second night's destination at Plate Creek Chickee. A side-trip to visit Sweetwater Chickee and a swing by Darwin's Place was followed by a smoky passage through Alligator Creek on my way to Plate Creek Bay. The cool breeze of the morning dissolved into a warm calm at the end of day, a condition that would last for most of the remaining days of the trip.

Day Three
Date - Saturday 11/27/04
Destination - Rogers River Chickee
Put in - 8:30 AM
Take out - 4:45 PM
Miles travelled - 21.5
Total miles - 60.5
This day dawned bright and calm, and was to be a day of meandering along the many creeks and passes that lay between Plate Creek Bay and Rogers River Chickee. I would visit the Lostman's Five Bay campsite and get my first look at the results of the Park's remodeling efforts, for which I still have mixed feelings. I would also make a side trip to see Willy Willy, one of my favorite campsites along the Waterway. At the end of day I would camp for my first time on Rogers River Chickee, where I would learn the true meaning of mosquito fear.

Day Four
Date - Sunday 11/28/04
Destination - Broad River
Put in - 7:45 AM
Take out - 4:45 PM
Miles travelled - 22.6
Total miles - 83.1
My destination on this day would be the Broad River groundsite. A direct route should only take a few hours from Rogers River Chickee, but I had other plans, and a sort of a score to settle with Camp Lonesome. This resulted in the longest and most difficult day of the entire trip in terms of hours of effort, if not of mileage, but my decision to make the long detour was one that I have few regrets about making.

Day Five
Date - Monday 11/29/04
Destination - Cane Patch
Put in - 8:15 AM
Take out - 4:50 PM
Miles travelled - 21.5
Total miles - 104.6
This day would take me back down the Gulf coast south of the Broad River, one of the wildest and breathtakingly beautiful parts of the Everglades. From there I would turn inland at the mouth of the Harney River, and my day would end deep in the freshwater Glades along Avocado Creek at Cane Patch. I would take an extra day here to explore a part of the Glades that I'd never seen until now - Rookery Branch and the terminus of the Shark River Slough, the Pah-Hay-Okee of the Seminoles, which we know as the great River of Grass.

Day Six
Date - Tuesday 11/30/04
Destination - Rookery Branch
Put in - 10:15 AM
Take out - 4:50 PM
Miles travelled - 13.8
Total miles - 118.3
After five days of early rising, I chose to sleep in for a change before heading out for my day of exploration. This day was to prove more than any other the usefulness of the detailed aerial photos that I cobble together from Terraserver. It was also to be a day of revelation that would spawn the genesis of a plan for a trip unlike any other that I'd ever taken before or may ever take again, a plan that is still very much in my mind to fulfill, if only the danged hurricanes will let me!

Day Seven
Date - Wednesday 12/01/04
Destination - Oyster Bay Chickee
Put in - 8:00 AM
Take out - 3:45 PM
Miles travelled - 23.7
Total miles - 142
After my break at Cane Patch, I would follow up with the longest day of the trip in terms of mileage, which would take me down the Shark River and out to the Gulf at Ponce De Leon Bay, and then back into Oyster Bay for a night on the chickee there. Despite the length of the trip, it would be an easy day of paddling that would take me through what is, hands down, my favorite place to paddle a canoe - the Shark River delta, where the mangroves tower more than eighty feet overhead and create virtual canyons of forest.

Day Eight
Date - Thursday 12/02/04
Destination - Roberts River Chickee
Put in - 7:45 AM
Take out - 3:50 PM
Miles travelled - 19.2
Total miles - 161.2
From Oyster Bay Chickee I would detour south to pay a visit to Joe River Chickee, and from there I would make an out-of-the-ordinary (for me, at least) crossing of Whitewater Bay to Watson River. From here I would zig-zag through the archipelago of tiny islands that make up the northeast corner of Whitewater Bay, and then up the River-North-of-North-River (at least, that's what I call it), and finally across the Cutoff to Roberts River Chickee where I would spend the night. Not as confusing as it sounds, take my word.

Day Nine
Date - Friday 12/03/04
Destination - Hell's Bay Chickee
Put in - 7:00 AM
Take out - 3:20 PM
Miles travelled - 16.3
Total miles - 177.5
On my next-to-last day of the trip I would follow Roberts River out to Whitewater Bay, and then take the Lane River back inside for a passage through the upper reaches of Hell's Bay to Pearl Bay, with a side trip to Lard Can. I would finish the day at Hell's Bay Chickee which would be my last campsite of the trip. After spending nine glorious days in the wild Glades I found myself gripped by a desperate melancholy at the thought of leaving it all behind and returning to the stifling confines of civilisation.

Day Ten
Date - Saturday 12/04/04
Destination - Flamingo
Put in - 6:30 AM
Take out - 10:00 AM
Miles travelled - 11.5
Total miles - 189
If it had to end, I wanted it to end quickly, and I was on the water before dawn making my cautious way through the East River in the darkness. From there it was out to a very busy Whitewater Bay and Tarpon Creek, and the weekend traffic jam along Buttonwood Canal for the final leg of the journey. On touching asphalt again at the Flamingo Marina, I decided that civilisation really wasn't that terrible after all, especially when there was a hot shower and a cold beer waiting for you when you got there.