PART 1 - PROLOGUE AND THE ATLANTIC COAST
December 3rd - 18 Days to Departure
I don’t remember when I last felt stressed about taking time away from work, but I have been stressing this week. The tension hits me when I look at my list of to dos; it’s winnowing down at a lethargic pace while the time remaining drains like a whirlpool. When I line strike a bullet item, I feel the cathartic pleasure of a small victory, like fitting one puzzle piece in a ten-thousand-piece puzzle. Progress, however small, is progress. Perhaps this mental training will serve me on the journey; if I paddle 1,200 miles at 3 miles per hour and give one paddle stroke every 1.5 seconds, that will be 1,080,000 strokes to go around Florida. Better to concentrate on the next stroke, than the next one million.
The other stress I feel has to do with what others at work may be thinking. Sure, no one’s told me I cannot do it, I have the vacation time in the bank for it, but I wonder how that may reflect on me. “You’re going to be gone for how long again? Two months?! That’s quite a lot! Don’t forget you have a job!” I hear my colleagues say. My response to anyone that asks if I have considered the ramifications is, “I’m so glad to work at a firm that lets me do this! What a great company! Oh, and if anything happens, I’m reachable by satellite phone; don’t hesitate to call!” though I hope no one will.
If all goes well, getting ready to push off the beach and into the sea in little less than a month will be the toughest challenge of them all.
November 21st - 30 Days to Departure
It has been a little over 2 years since I returned from the California bicycle adventure in mostly one piece held together with metal screws and a steel plate in my shoulder. But now time has passed, bones have healed, and the thirst to see new places, once a time satiated, once again yearns to seek new places anew. I sense now, that very soon, will again be that rare fitting time in life when circumstances align for the purpose of another great feat! The weather will soon be neither too hot nor too cold; the machine for propulsion is ready and in my possession, a generous quantity of energy is stored around my abdomen, a narrow window of calm weather at work is materializing, and I have an enviable accumulation of paid time off. With a little luck from heaven, on solstice next month, there will be a strong and yet gentle breeze blowing steadily from the Southeast to carry me along the coast; for in about 50 days, I will circumnavigate the state of Florida, by kayak! From my house on Key Biscayne and back, to the same sandy beach, will be some 1,200 blue miles of oceans, beaches, rivers and swamps; if fishes, alligators, Burmese pythons, crabs or the odd redneck don’t eat my thumbs along the way, I will reach to find words that will have you in the journey with me, if not in person, then at least in spirit.
To be continued....
December 9th - 12 Days to Departure
Packing a kayak is a puzzle where the pieces can make a different picture depending on how you arrange them. There is a general rule of thumb; the heavier the gear, the closer it should be placed towards the back seat or near the foot and should be as close to the bottom as possible to keep the center of gravity low. That will keep the kayak stable, and the trim flat on the water. I have, however, discovered that there can be too much of a good thing. This weekend I did a dress rehearsal for the launch in two weeks; I packed 14 liters of water in the day hatch, the food bags in the front hatch and the three-person tent in the back of the stern hatch. The kayak transformed into an inflatable bozo bop doll, so bottom heavy that when I was quarter way through a practice roll the cantilevered weight sent me back up the same way I went in. On the third attempt I succeeded, but only with deliberate force rowing myself past the halfway point. Conceivably this great stability will be an advantage when low bracing down a heavy breaker, but I worry if I will be able to duck dive to safety if a large dumper wave catches me paddling off the beach through the surf. Such things will only be knowable when they happen.
It surprised me how much packing space there is inside the Taran. After laying out all my gear I was sure I’d have to cut back on non-essentials, but everything snuggled in with room to spare (even the large dolly), albeit I had to use lots of small dry bags to fit things through the narrow front hatch. “You’ve made the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, in reverse; next you’ll have to turn all that belly fat into distance.” I was told. That will be a much tougher miracle.
December 15th - 6 Days to Departure
Having an abundance of office work has been a good fortune of sorts. I worked every Saturday and Sunday for the past 3 weeks in anticipation of the journey, but not until this weekend when work is at last wrapping up, has my mind dwelled on the enormity of the challenge I set myself. A friend recommended I read a book called “Without a Paddle” by Warren Richey. It’s a memoir of a man’s race around Florida called the Ultimate Florida Challenge (UFC). The race happens once a year in February and the competitors go through the same route I will be doing, more or less, but they have a time crunch to complete the entire circuit in 30 days or less. That's 40 miles per day, every day.... I, thankfully, have the luxury of taking a little under 50 days. Coincidentally, UFC is also the acronym for Ultimate Fighting Championship. Going around Florida might be the tougher of the two; the book was not the fairest bedtime story. After reading it I felt relieved I did not have it with me with me three years ago when I paddled from Miami to Marco Island through the Everglades or I would have spent sleepless nights living the author’s fears about man-eating alligators, Burmese Pythons thick like tree trunks, and rabid raccoons chewing through my boat. Surely that must all have been a product of his sleep deprived imagination, I hope.
Today I received the latest of a long procession of expedition items delivered to my door; a complete rudder repair kit from smart track. I never thought that Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping would be such a blessing. Last time I planned for an expedition, I had to know precisely what I needed weeks in advance as lead times were long, exchanges were a headache, and last-minute afterthoughts were hard to find. Now, however, it’s all laughably easy; the first kayak dolly I bought was too bulky, so I sent it back and got a new one. The wetsuit I purchased needed to be a large rather than medium, so I sent it back and got another; and when the price on Black Friday dropped by $45, I sent it back a second time and rebought the same wetsuit. Inflatable pillows are an essential item to sleep well when you camp, but a few need to be tried out before finding one that is as comfortable as a glove, so a lot more buying, trying and returning. Amazon pickers at warehouses throughout the country must have come to know my address by now.