Key West

Blog post from October 2008 paddling the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

October 30.

Today was different from every day we’ve had so far.  Today Key West is in our sights.  My body was bouncing this morning with energy.  I could feel myself jumping up and down inside.  I would jump up into the clouds and drift for a moment, and then come racing back to earth.  Today I felt like we were actually achieving something.

It’s been incredible to watch Florida change as we’ve traveled down the ICW into the Atlantic, and now here.  Key West.  This point that has been on my mind.   Every time we’ve explained ourselves it’s been “Well, we’ll be traveling down the east coast of Florida along the Intercoastal, around the tip of Key West…”  And here it is.  The tip of Key West.  Within our grasp.  This is a pivotal moment, when our compasses will turn in a new direction, and our focus will become something distant.  Something further north.  And we’ve made it here.  We’ve made it to this southernmost point.  How awesome that feels right now.

The day was spent in a sort of trance, my mind drifting with the birds and the waves.  Drifting from the marsh grasses and oyster beds of north Florida.  The wild ponies on Cumberland Island.  The live oaks and pines.  Our first taste of the mangroves and the first alligator.  The manatees and the dolphins.  The tides we’ve fought.  The currents and the wind.  The rain storms, the squalls.  The sea turtles.  The sharks.  The everchanging colors of the water.  And most amazing of all, the people.  Some of the most genuine people I have ever met.  I’ve been able to share stories and swap jokes with some truly generous, kind people.  Not too mention knowledgeable.  We have learned so much so far, and everyone has helped to make us better paddlers and better people.

Memories are vivid in a way that defies time.  When I think back over this past month, I drift into my own private gallery of photographs and paintings.  And each picture tells a story or a moment.  The bioluminescence near NASA.  Winding through the grasses in Sister’s Creek.  I added one today as we were nearing Key West.  Paddling along the Key West Naval Air Station, I had to stop paddling for a moment.   To the south, in the sky, two fighter jets emerged and came into their descent right over the top of my head.  My kayak began to shake as the noise enveloped my entire world.  I could see someone inside a cockpit very different from my own, in a state of intense focus.  For an instant, our worlds merged, and our paths intersected.  What have they seen and where have they been?

Tomorrow we paddle around Key West, and begin the next leg of our expedition.  The West Coast.  The Everglades.  The Ten Thousand Islands.  The Big Bend.  I rush forth with renewed vitality.

“The simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons. It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment, and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives as well. When in the wilds we must not carry our problems with us, or the joy is lost.” — Sigurd Olson

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