Kayaking the 10,000 Islands in the Everglades National Park
William G. McArthur, March 1-5, 2010

    Darren Caffrey of the Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association (JSSKA ) and Pam Malec, an Outer Banks outfitter organized a camping/kayaking trip in the Everglades following the 2009 trip to the same general area. Since my wife and I were planning to be in Naples for our fourth 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 once again. I had spent some effort during the previous year to rectify a couple of shortcomings from my camping experience in 2009. First of all, I purchased five NRS dry bags online to replace the trash bags that I struggled with in the previous trip. Secondly, I purchased an REI camping table online to help organize my cooking and eating activities for 2010. In addition, I planned to bring a folding "NASCAR" chair to raise the comfort level of my camping. In 2009, I had some luck catching small fish with artificial lures, but soon lost the couple of lures that I had brought along. I had decided to buy a few dozen live shrimp at the local bait shop in Naples and to salt the shrimp for use on the trip. Just prior to the trip, I decided to save a couple of bucks by buying shrimp at Publix and salting it. This turned out to be a big mistake and resulted in my catching no fish at all on the 2010 trip. The cold water didn't help the fishing, but the mistake with the bait was the bigger problem. The winter season of 2010 had already proved to be extraordinary for its cold weather, so I made sure to pack warm clothing.  

Monday, March 1
    My wife Cathy and I got up at 5:15 AM and left at 5:45 AM to go to Starbucks in our usual Publix shopping center for breakfast and then on to the launching ramp at the National Park in Everglades City. I had paddled on different occasions with six of the other ten travelers. I recruited Val to help lift my 85 pound kayak off of our car. I had done a partial packing practice on Saturday, and I was able to fit everything easily into my kayak on launch day by using pint bottles for the water I was carrying and by strapping my tent, table, and chair on the aft deck of the kayak. Our group launched at 8:50 AM and paddled 8.5 miles in 2 hours and 50 minutes to reach our destination at Lulu Key in the 10,000 Islands. It was cool and windy, but a beautiful day on the water (pics: 1,2,3). As soon as we landed at Camp Lulu, we set up our tents. I selected a spot behind some vegetation to give me some protection from the wind and rain coming with a cold front on Tuesday. I was only slightly slower than the other campers in getting set up. The afternoon was comfortable when protected from the chilly wind, so we were able to relax and enjoy the beach (pics: 1,2). In anticipation of stormy weather on Tuesday, we pulled our unloaded kayaks well above the high tide line. The time of sunset influences dinner time while camping, so we all got our meals  started while it was still light. I found that having a table and chair in my campsite made cooking and eating much more efficient. I brewed a cup of coffee and enjoyed a hot dinner of quinoa flakes with dates and walnuts. When the sun was going down, Pam led a sunset paddle around to the west side of the island. A couple of others and I decided that we were too chilly to go along. We still enjoyed some sunset views (pics: 1,2) and the full moon rising. We lit a bonfire when the lights from the paddlers came back into view. After enjoying the bonfire and swapping stories for a while, I turned in early and woke up often as I was nervous about the pounding surf which sounded too near.

Tuesday, March 2     I got up at 6:00 AM, just before sunrise, and got my breakfast of brewed coffee and instant oatmeal. The tide was very low in the early morning, producing a muddy view from our beach. As we waited for the cold front to come through, we explored our beach. There was an interesting dead tree with a small cactus in residence at the top. At about 10 AM, the cold front came through, bringing heavy rain and wind and some thunder (videos: 1,2). Afterward, the Gulf was rough for a while. By early afternoon, we had sunny blue skies and the best weather of the entire week. We all took advantage of a lovely afternoon by fishing, swimming, and sunbathing. By late afternoon, the colder air had filtered in. We ate dinner and had a bonfire under windy, chilly conditions. A bit of rain chased some of us away from the bonfire. I read my very appropriate book, "Cold", given to me as a present by my brother Bob, as I lay in my warm sleeping bag. 

Wednesday, March 3
    I got up at 6:00 AM again and prepared and ate breakfast. It was cold and windy, so Pam decided to lead us on a day paddle which would give us some shelter from the wind. We waited for a favorable tide and then launched at 10 AM and made a 7.8 mile loop that took us to the abandoned settlement of Fakahatchee, where we ate lunch and walked to see some old gravestones. We fought the wind and sometimes the tide and had an interesting paddle. Later in the afternoon, the sky cleared, but it stayed cold. Dinner, bonfire, and bedtime followed as usual.

Thursday, March 4
    I got up at 6:00 AM and enjoyed the sunrise with a cup of hot coffee. I hustled to break camp and pack the kayak in order to meet our 10:00 AM launch time. We retraced our route to Everglades City accompanied by a chilly wind. We stopped for lunch on a sand bar near the main channel to Everglades City (pics: 1,2,3). After we landed, we loaded our kayaks on vehicles and headed for Trail Lakes Campground on US 41 east of Everglades City. This is a rather strange place in the Everglades with a small zoo in it. We set up camp and then queued up for hot showers in the filthy rest rooms. We decided to all go to the Depot Restaurant in Everglades City for dinner, after a quick stop at an unmarked manatee area on US 41. I ate a very good Blackened Grouper dinner and pigged out on the salad bar. I also had a mediocre piece of thawed out Key Lime pie. It was very cold when we went to bed. In spite of the cold, I slept my best for the whole trip.

Friday, March 5
    I woke up at 5:30 AM and ate two semi-frozen Power Bars for breakfast. We had to break camp for a 7 AM departure, so I wanted to get working on it. I had to go to the rest room three times in order to thaw my hands with the electric hand dryer. I dressed in my kayaking clothes, including three t-shirts, underneath some warmer clothing. The temperature was in the 30s and there was hard ice on vehicle windshields. The most amazing thing was the glaze of ice on all of the kayaks. We dropped the kayaks at the Turner River canoe put-in. Then, the vehicles shuttled to Chokoloskie Marina to leave vehicles at our landing site. When the drivers came back in one vehicle, we launched into Turner River for our trip. We had to paddle single file for the most part, as we went through a variety of environments (pics: 1,2,3,4). I was very near to a couple of alligators en route. Finally, the river opened up as it neared Chokoloskie Bay. We landed at a muddy beach next to the marina and hauled our kayaks up for loading. Finally, my kayak and pile of gear were left at the side of the road. Cathy arrived after about 20 minutes and we headed back to Naples.   

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 regret is that I brought the wrong kind of bait and didn't catch any fish. I hope that there is a 2011 version of this trip. I'm ready to go (and will bring the right bait).

What I Brought
    I used the writeup of the 2009 trip to help me in planning what to bring on the trip. Here is a list of the items I brought with some comments.