PART 2 - THE FLORIDA CROSSING
January 4th - Day 15
St Marys has a long boardwalk along the riverfront pier with many shops, bars, and restaurants. Business and tourism must be booming; there are renovations happening everywhere, the town’s public works is building a new boat ramp and dock that will let ships load and unload from the town center rather than about a mile away in the back of town where I arrived. If I ever return here on my kayak, this will be the new arrival point.
Last night I was overjoyed to eat a hot meal. I went to the Seagulls Pub on Osborne Street and ordered an appetizer of 16 fried mozzarella sticks, followed by a burger and fries, but even after all that I didn’t feel full. I decided it was best to stop there or my biological rhythm might be thrown into a sort of jet lag. These past two weeks trained me for a 6am appointment, do or die, as I don’t know how I would heed the call for number 2 off the kayak in the ocean.
On the pub wall over the spirits cabinet was a poster of a vintage mustang advertising for an event called the “Damn the Torpedoes Race.” The waitress told me that once a year there is a vintage car race from Athens Georgia to St Marys. “The rules are that your car has to be pre-1976, you must only use backroads, and you cannot get a speeding ticket,” she said. Only the race organizer knows the route at the start; the racers find out as they go through checkpoints and solve clues to point them where the next checkpoint will be. The finish is always at St Marys, and the town fills with a cast of showy characters and their vehicles in what was described to me as “the equivalent of the 70s Wacky Race Cartoon” but in real life. I wonder who got to play Dick Dastardly and his snickering dog Muttley ub the Mean Machine. Those who partake in the race officially join the The Car Tribe brotherhood and are christened with a Tribe name to be used when interacting with other members of the Tribe, which made me think it of the Water Tribe that organizes the Everglades Challenge kayak race from Tampa to Key Largo.
In the morning while washing my wetsuit pants in the shower I noticed a large hole developing on the lower back. The cursed British minimalist kayak seat chewed on it like the edge of a fine knife. I added some marine flex tape around the seat edge which hopefully will fix the problem, but I’ve also ordered new wetsuit pants on Amazon which I plan to pick up at the post office in Fargo Georgia. Hopefully it will be there when I arrive; I called the post office and told them to hold it for me. I don't want this mean seat to eat through my back.
I spent the day wandering around town. I came across a building called “The St Marys Submarine Museum,” which had an enormous torpedo large enough to fit a man inside, dozens of submarine models, and a deep-sea diving suit that reminded me of Jules Verne’s "Ten thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” The biggest portion of the museum, however, was the gift shop. Rent must be expensive on the waterfront.
I returned late in the afternoon to the Inn where the innkeeper told me I was in luck. “There’s another room for you tonight, but you have to move downstairs. It’s getting cleaned up for you right now,” she said.
January 5th - Day 16
A cold front moved through in the night, and through the early morning hours all I could hear was rain and wind. I wondered if that would be a good excuse to stay another day, but I was anxious not to fall behind schedule. Sleeping in a warm bed for two nights was softening my resolve; I dreaded the thought of setting foot outside and dreaded how cold it would feel to put on my damp boots. Fortunately, when I did walk outside the front had already passed, and although it was windy and cold, at least it was sunny, and lifted my spirits.
I got a late start as my two camp choices were either a close camp not too far up the river, or one too far to reach with daylight. I chose the closer camp so it will take me 3 days to reach the put-out point at Trader Hill. Even so, the river meanders a lot near the sea, and distances that are short as the bird flies are far with the river flow. I traveled only 8 miles west of St Marys, but covered almost 20 miles of river, and at one point was paddling due East around a large oxbow.
The color of the St Marys River is dark red like oxygen rich blood from the arteries. I cannot see even half a foot deep into it. When the paddle strikes the water the light penetrates a little deeper and makes ruby colored whirlpools. All kinds of creatures could be hiding down in the depths, and sneak right under my hull, and I would never know they were there. It was too cold to do a roll , but I’m sure if I went under water, it would be as dark as the silt laden Shube River in Nova Scotia.
The campsite was under the State Road 17 overpass. I was fortunate that the concrete pavement extending to the water I saw on Google Earth was indeed the boat ramp I thought it was; that made landing easy. I was greeted by an old man with missing teeth fishing off the boat ramp next to his pickup truck. I thought this was a strange spot to fish as it was the proverbial middle of nowhere, unless it’s a secret spot where the fish bite a lot, but he said he hadn’t caught anything all day. As I was scouting a place for the tent, he lost one of his lures when it tangled in the marsh. He must have been either lonely or needed to vent his emotions like a customer with his trusted barber, because me being there was his cue to tell me the story of his life. His name was Karl, 68, born on December 1st in Tennessee. Recently he went back to work as a car repair man because his daughter’s husband is a dead beat and he has 3 grand-kids to keep a roof over their heads. There’s a lot of age discrimination in the car repair business; he said he can repair any vehicle no matter how bad the crash it’s been in, but he gets constantly asked in job interviews for when he graduated high school which is coded language to screen off elderly applicants. Once he answered 196F.U!!! And walked out.
After 30 minutes of him talking and the sun close to setting he finally packed up and went his way, much to my relief to finally get to pitch the tent.