I obtained the overnight permit to cross the Okefenokee Swamp two days ago and thought I had been clear with whomever I had spoken on the phone that I would be crossing the swamp. The person raised no issues, so I was confident there would not be any. Early in the morning, I started the 6-mile walk to the boat ramp on the canal that leads into the swamp. I stopped at the park office on the way to check in and reiterated to the park ranger that I would cross to the other side. That’s when the problem started.
“You can’t cross the swamp,” she said. “The water level is too low. There is a two-mile section that isn’t passable. You won’t make it across.”
“Are you sure?” I asked exasperated. “The St Marys River is full, and we just had a lot of rain two days ago. If it’s just two miles surely I could walk that?”
“You can’t walk it because it’s all bog and swamp and the park hasn’t cleared the trail section in a year. They’ve only just started working on that. Maybe next month you can, but not now.”
I hated the feeling of second guessing what the ranger was telling me. I’m sure she was being overly conservative, and following orders. But to risk paddling the 12 miles to the campsite only to find that the way after would indeed be impassable and turn back would waste at least 2 days. I thought about it for a while. Back in my 20s I would have said, “the hell with it, let’s see what happens,” and I would have pushed until I made it to the other side. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more cautious. I turned around resigned to walking to St George and going around the swamp.
When I again reached the intersection with State Road 121, I a huge logging truck rolled by , and the fear of being run over made me consider turning back again and taking my chances with the swamp; surely a place with a funny name like “Okefenokee” can’t be all that ominous . Yesterday it was a four-mile walk; today would be 25. I also thought of walking back to Trader Hill and paddling to St George but that would take two days if not more; at least walking I was confident I could reach St George in one day. I would think about what to do about the even longer portage to Fargo later.
The road was straight like an arrowhead. The logging trucks ran up and down the road barely giving me enough space to breathe, though a few gave me a wide berth and a honk or two for encouragement. I stayed mostly on the left side of the road so I could see the incoming traffic, but on the uphill sections I had to switch sides as there was barely any head on visibility. Those were terrifying moments, I would listen to the sound of a roaring engine and look over my back constantly to know when to jump off the road.
On the way, there were three instances when someone stopped to ask what I was doing and if I needed help, but there wasn’t anything they could do. One fellow offered to carry me and my kayak on the roof of his car, but I have no idea how he would have done it without straps. “I’m sure we can manage it,” he said, with an air of confidence I was sure would be the last words ever spoken to me if I took his advice. I thanked him greatly, and he drove off.
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About a third of the way the front hand toggle frayed and ripped. I cursed Rockpool for their crappy rope. Surely I wasn’t doing something outside the intended use. At first, I thought this was disastrous; how was I going to pull the rest of the way? With some of the spare rope but it was much thinner than the toggle. It fixed the toggle and it worked fine, but by the end of the day it was fraying again, and would not last a lot longer.
After some 6 hours walking, I began to wonder if I had been arrogant with my fate when I turned down help from people who offered to give me a ride into St George. Perhaps I could have sat on the back of an open trunk held tightly to the kayak, and they could have driven slowly into town. I doubt it would have been much faster than walking, but at least I wouldn’t be walking and dogging lumber trucks. If right now someone stopped in front of me on a pickup truck with an empty bed to give me a lift, I most definitely would have said yes.
I finally arrived in St George after walking some 10 hours. St George is a tiny hamlet. There is a gas station and a dollar store, two churches, and not much else. I walked into the gas station with my kayak in tow feeling a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense of dread. Fargo is an even longer walk. I asked the cashier at the gas station if there was anywhere to stay in town. “In St George? No.” he said in a sort of “are you kidding me, this is St George” voice. He could see that his words had demoralized me, and I indeed must have had the helpless look of someone who was lost and no idea what to do. “Here’s what you can do. The field across the road is right in front of my brother-in-law’s house. You camp there in between the trees, and if someone bothers you, you tell them that Michael said you can camp there. Damn, you walked from the Cabins to here, you’ve suffered enough.” I thanked him and did exactly that.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation