Updated: May 15
There are so many twisted trees, roots and logs in the river channel that my imagination sometimes gives character to their odd shapes. Some trunks look like folded legs, others have the look of human faces, and some look so much like giant snake heads, that I would not look away just to be sure my eyes were not playing tricks on me, which of course, they were. The human mind sees patterns in randomness whether they exist or not. When I traveled through South America, I lost count of the cliff faces named "The Indian Face."
I passed by a ramp where a man pulling up his boat told me there were two people on a green canoe about 2 hours ahead. That encouraged me. I was concerned about not knowing where the put-out point to go around the Big Shoals waterfall was. Maybe these people ahead of me would know better, and if they were in a canoe, I might have a chance to catch up.
Time passed and I did not see them, and the GPS told me that the waterfall was getting ever closer, and I could see no put-out point or sign to indicate it. I thought that perhaps I could paddle down the falls, I have a helmet with me after all, and flipping over would not be a problem as I could roll back up, but I would at least like to take a good look to know the best way down so I would not smash my boat on a rock.
I checked my phone and saw I had reception and internet, so I began to search for the number of the park ranger. I dialed in and the phone rang some six times before someone picked up. I proceeded to explain the whole situation, I was going down the Suwannee River, that I was upstream of Big Shoals, and I needed to know where the put-out point was and what to look for. “Let me transfer you,” the voice said. Another 4 long rings later the ranger picked up, and I re-explained my concerns.
“When you’re some 500 feet upstream of Big Shoals,” he said, “you will see a sign on your right indicating that the pull-out point is 100 feet ahead. It will be on your left where there will be a fluorescent orange pole. You’ll hear the falls long before you get there.” I thanked him and continued paddling.
After some 10 minutes, I saw the sign indicating the put-out point and did indeed begin to hear the rushing water which very soon became loud and clear. However, the 100 feet the sign indicated, came and went and I saw no fluorescent pole or any other pole to indicate the put-out. I called the ranger again. “Oh, yeah, we maybe were a bit too cautious with the distance. The put-out is maybe 100 feet before the falls. Don’t worry, if you are on the left bank you won’t miss it, but don’t go over the falls on your sea kayak. I don’t recommend it.” I hoped he was not the kind of person that confuses his right and left when giving directions.
A little later the lonely fluorescent orange pole did appear as promised, I got out and not a moment too soon. Maybe some 50 feet downstream was the point of full commitment. Going down would have been ugly. I walked along the footpath to assess the water conditions; the river drops some 10 feet down two sets of shallow rapids with jagged limestone rocks. There was a possible narrow passage on the right bank down the first rapid, but there was no way to know if the water was as deep as it seemed; from there it would be a frantic paddle diagonally across a quarter of the river to make it down another gap through the second set of rapids. Maybe it would have been doable, but failure would mean slicing through my fiberglass hull like a party balloon. The right decision was to walk around.
I decided to camp at the falls. The two people on the green canoe were camped here as well. They were two brothers, Nathan and John, on a three-day fishing trip from Fargo to White Springs. Nathan works as a programmer out of Atlanta, though he didn’t seem happy with his job, he described himself as a “soon to be former computer programmer.” John seemed more at peace with life; he was a guitar player and had his instrument with him. I would say he was quite talented with country music and even knew a few Beetles and Johnny Rivers songs. I asked him to play “Secret Agent Man” which he did on the flip of a hat. Best of all, he had a pair of pliers for me to fix my loose hinge and that took a huge physiological weight off my shoulders.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation