Kayaking the 10,000 Islands in the Everglades National Park
William G. McArthur, February 23-26, 2009

    Darren Caffrey posted an invitation on the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association (JSSKA) bulletin board during 2008, asking if anyone was interested in a camping/kayaking trip in the Everglades. I hadn't been very active on the board for a couple of years, but I posted a notice about the Paddle for a Purpose for Aqua Trails, a Cape May kayak touring company, and happened on Darren's post. Since my wife and I were planning to be in Naples for the winter season, and since the launching site for the trip was only 45 minutes away from our Rock Creek RV Resort, I jumped at the opportunity to sign on. The trip was organized by Pam Malec, owner and operator of Kayak Outerbanks.

    I hadn't camped since kayaking Assateague Island back in the spring of 2001, so I had to locate all of my camping gear and pack it in our RV before we left for Naples in early October. When February arrived, I checked out all of my camping gear and visited the Bass Pro World near Fort Myers to pick up some new equipment and supplies. The one necessity I lacked was a set of dry bags for organizing my stuff. Somehow, I had wrongly assumed that we were going to set up one base camp on the trip and then do day paddles to other areas. With only one setting up of camp, I decided that trash bags and ziplock bags would suffice. I was very wrong.

Monday, February 23
    My wife Cathy and I got up at 6:00 AM and left at 6:30 AM to meet our group for breakfast at the Ivey House B&B in Everglades City. I had paddled on different occasions with three of the other ten travelers. As I met the other seven and started to hear stories of other adventures, I knew that this was a very interesting and able group. After breakfast, we headed for the launching site at the national park. Cathy and I met our guide Pam as she was organizing those kayaks which she was supplying. I recruited Mary, a former tennis pro, to help lift my 85 pound kayak off of our car. I had done a partial packing practice on Saturday, but I barely was able to fit everything into my kayak on launch day. Everybody was finally ready for a muddy launch into the 10,000 Islands. The weather for the whole trip was fantastically good. On this first day, it was partly cloudy and a bit breezy. We paddled a bit over 8 miles through mangrove creeks, boat channels, and some open water to reach our first campsite on the white beach of Tiger Key. We had a beautiful open view of the Gulf of Mexico from our tents. The beach was of the crushed coral variety: very pretty, but the fine powder sticks to everything. It took me a while, but I managed to erect my tent for the first time in eight years. The water off of the beach was shallow and warm, so some went in for a dip. I took my kayak out for some fishing and caught two small fish that I released. I boiled water for my dinner of instant vegetable soup, an apple, coffee brewed in my French Press, and a PowerBar for dessert. We had a beautiful sunset over the Gulf. Pam organized a campfire. I discovered that a lot of wine is consumed on kayak trips; who knew? The stars were brighter and clearer than I'd seen in a long time. I headed off to bed early and read some pages from my book, Shadow Country. I read that Panther Key was named for a panther that swam to the island and ate someone's goat. Coincidently, that key was our goal for Tuesday. I slept fitfully as I always do when I camp, but was comfortable overnight.

Tuesday, February 24
    I got up at 6:20 AM, just before sunrise, and got my breakfast of brewed coffee and instant oatmeal. It took me a long time to break camp and get my kayak reloaded. At each of our locations, and as we paddled about, wildlife abounded. For example, the white birds that we saw:

white pelican
great white heron
American egret
white ibis

snowy egret
little blue heron (white phase)
royal tern

The best bird of the trip was a roseate spoonbill that flew in front of our kayaks as we paddled into a small bay.

We paddled in the Gulf and mangroves to reach Panther Key. It was a very warm and lovely day. I paddled around the nearby bays, trolling a fishing lure, but only managed to snag and lose my rig. The adjacent bay was one of the most beautiful spots I've ever been in. Our campsite looked very neat from the water. I put up a clothesline to dry some of my wet things. I took a saltwater bath using camp suds to shampoo my hair and scrub off. I dried off with a "Sammy chamois" and then rinsed off with a small bottle of fresh water. I dried off with a second "Sammy chamois" and finished up with some baby wipes in my tent. I felt very clean and refreshed afterwards. After my usual dinner, we had another campfire. Pam surprised us with a cake that she magically baked during the afternoon. In keeping with using minimal dishes, I just ate my slice of cake out of my hand. I read some more of my book before bedtime.

Wednesday, February 25
    I got up at 6:20 AM again and prepared and ate breakfast. I took a walk up and down the length of the beach and found a nice pink conch shell which I gave away. It took me just as long to break camp. We launched and paddled to Picnic Key. After setting up camp and eating lunch sitting on my kayak, I trolled up and down the nearby creek and caught two small fish which I released. Dinner and coffee hit the spot again. Pam supplied another nice campfire for us. We looked at some big, nine-armed starfish with our headlights. The stars were dramatic for the third time. I read and then went to bed. During the night, I heard a large uproar from some animals.

Thursday, February 26
    I got up at 6:00 AM and hurried through breakfast. I hustled to break camp and pack the kayak in order to meet out 9:00 AM launch time. As I was getting some of the last items from the tent, I spotted a scorpion on the floor. I had to chase it around the tent and search for it under items until I could hit it hard enough to stun and crush it. This was the first scorpion that I'd ever seen. I made our launch time with 20 minutes to spare. A dolphin supplied some entertainment by chasing fish within a few feet of shore. We launched and paddled back to our launching site. We had some nice open water, but at times the wind was blowing pretty hard. Every person on the trip was a strong paddler and we had no problem with the wind. We landed around noon and got to work unpacking and loading kayaks. Cathy arrived at 12:30 PM and packed the car. Tom helped me load my kayak on top of the car. A bunch of us, joined by Mike and Barbara, also from JSSKA, went to Camellia Grill for a good lunch on the water. After lunch, we headed in different directions.

Conclusion: It was a great trip with a great tour guide. I am very grateful to Darren and Pam for setting up this trip and allowing me to take part in it. My only regrets are that I packed in such an unorganized way and that I didn't bring a whisk broom to sweep out the tent. I hope that there is a 2010 version of this trip. I'm ready to go (as soon as I buy some dry bags).

What I Brought
    I used the writeup of the Assateague trip and three years of RVing to help me in planning what to bring on the trip. Here is a list of the items I brought with some comments.