PART 4 - THE HOME RUN
February 2nd and 3rd - Days 44 and 45
February 2 - Day 44
I left Flamingo Point just before 8 am. There wasn’t any point starting earlier as the first high tide was just after 9am. Just East of Flamingo Point is a vast shallow section of the Florida Bay that sits partly exposed at low tide and becomes impassable even for a kayak. Getting stuck here means waiting around for hours until the tide lifts the boat. Jumping out and walking isn’t really an option; the muck is soft, watery and easy to sink below the knees. Fortunately for me, there was just enough water to pass through, though in some places less than half a palm deep. The moon is in between full and new, so the high tide wasn’t all that high. I pulled up the rudder and let the sail carry me through the shallows for about 8 miles making steering adjustments with the paddle until I reached deeper water.
I traveled as far East as Nest Key just West of Key Largo. I’ve camped here twice before, but I found that the island looks a lot different from the last time. There is considerably less beach to camp and the wooden dock was mangled and uneven with missing planks and partly collapsed in the water. The two blue pot-potties toilets which I think are a famous landmark of the island and could be seen from almost a mile away were gone. Since I’ve never used them it didn’t matter me, but their absence made me think I was in the wrong place.
There was a boat moored on the broken dock. They were two fishermen trying their luck; when one of them saw me he waved and said to not camp on the opposite end of the island. “Two days ago I saw a crocodile there, and it was not at all a small one,” he said. After it got dark, I shone my flashlight over the marsh in the middle of the island to look for any pairs of eyes reflecting back at me. Thank goodness I saw none.
February 3 - Day 45
Key Largo was a short 10-mile paddle. It was strange to be done before midday; I felt as though I hadn’t done anything. I am waiting for the Southeast wind forecast for tomorrow to carry me all the way to Miami. Everything from here on north is familiar territory to me. I’ve done this stretch 3 times before but in the opposite direction.
I spent all day eating and walking. The first thing I ate was a large lobster burger. Second was going to be gourmet ice cream at a gelato store I had marked on the map back when I was still in Chokoloskee. I walked up to the place dreaming about whether I could fit 4 scoops in one cone, and if I would have room for their chocolate covered waffles and key lime pie as well. To my dismay I found the front door locked. They close on Monday’s. The next place to get ice cream was the Publix supermarket two and a half miles south, and nothing nearly so good.
With what I have left, I won’t have to buy any more food to reach home. I’m done with the canned sardines. I think every time I see them it will bring me back to a place along the journey; maybe a breakfast in the Suwannee River, a dinner looking at the waves in the Atlantic Ocean, or a sunset in the Gulf of Mexico while picking out the fish spines with a spork. I must have eaten some 30 cans of the Louisiana hot sauce variety.
February 4th - Day 46
A day with a lot of lasts on this journey. Last long paddle day, last time I launch from a boat ramp, last night I sleep in the tent (and good timing; one of the poles snapped and I’ve had to patch it with duct tape), last use of the bug spray can, last cliff bars and sardines I’ll be eating for a while, and last Nutella breakfast. There was, however, one first. As I rounded the last protruding arm of mangrove trees on the north of Eliot Key, I caught sight of the skyscrapers in Miami Beach and Downtown Miami. For about a minute I stopped paddling, looked at those familiar buildings shapes which I know as well as the faces of old friends, and thought how in all the days of the journey, no matter how far was the next headland I could see into the horizon I knew I would always pass it eventually. Now however, that won’t be so, there is where it ends.
I’m the only person camping in Boca Chita tonight. There were a few boats on the harbor when I arrived, a group of French Canadians, who were getting frustrated with the mosquitoes and a few other day trippers from Black Point Marina, but by half an hour after sunset everyone had left. Everything here is so quiet; all I hear is the churning of the water being pulled from out of Biscayne Bay by the falling tide, a few crickets and the occasional bird quack. The human sounds of Miami will feel so strange when I’m back.