Lot's of HUGE alligators, a nice paddle, solitude, and sleeping in the woods to the sound of nature. Just what I was looking for.
I was up at first light and well rested. After packing up the tent, I drove down the little road along the canal past the rental kayaks and canoes to unload my gear.
As I was preparing to inflate the boat, several deer appeared on the edge of the woods.
They were playing and were curious enough to let me get closer.
After inflating the Sea Eagle FastTrack, I loaded up and was ready to head out around 8:30 a.m.
I paddled out the little canal at the Stephen C. Foster State Park ....
to Billy's Lake.
The "lakes" are just wide areas in the rivers and streams flowing through the swamp. I took a left and headed west on Billy's Lake with the current toward the River Narrows.
It was a gorgeous day, and I was the only person out there. But I had plenty of company. :)
Gators were in the water, in the lilies, and on the bank, and they weren't small.
Some were more skittish than others. Sometimes, I could be a hundred feet away and several would rush into the water at the same time. Sometimes I was much closer and they stayed put. If they were in the water, they all had different "safe zones", and they would just sink with barely a ripple if I was too close.
The water is so dark, you can only see about six inches to a foot below the surface. Though I'm fascinated by alligators and have been around them a lot in bodies of water all over Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, I have to admit I was a bit nervous due to the numbers and size of the gators and the fact that I had no idea where they were under water. And because they tend to approach fishermen here looking for an easy meal, I didn't do much fishing. I was extra cautious and kept my distance more than usual. My biggest fear was not that they would want to chomp me, but that I might startle one and get hit with a massive, powerful tail as they tried to get away.
But none of that would keep me from enjoying the beauty and the solitude.
I took a little side channel ....
but just a short way in, there was a sign that the refuge was closed beyond that point. So, I just took more alligator photos and returned to Billy's Lake.
Not far from there, I saw my first people - four guys in two canoes that had camped at a shelter last night. They would be the only people I would see on the water the rest of the day.
Soon, the channel narrowed ....
and I came to Mixons Hammock where I would be camping tonight.
This campsite is only 1.7 miles from the state park, so it was still early when I arrived. Last night's group was still there, and I had already decided to paddle another two miles down current through the River Narrows.
The river narrows way down for the next third of a mile or so, and it takes a bit more skill to maneuver. I didn't see any gators in that stretch, and I eventually reached the 2-mile marker (2 miles from the state park).
Shortly after that, the river widened a bit, and I started seeing gators again. This was a big one.
Then I came out into the wetland plains and the current got stronger. It was going to be a tough paddle back, but the sun felt good and I knew I wouldn't be seeing anyone out there. The day-use rental boats are not allowed in the River Narrows.
The sun felt great, and there were enough gators ....
and birds to keep it interesting.
There were Great Egrets, White Ibis, Little Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, Anhingas, Belted Kingfishers, Red-shouldered Hawks, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, and more. I even saw some wild turkeys leave their roosting tree along the bank.
Reaching the three-mile marker.
Then I came to a "T" and a large canal running north/south.
Another shelter, Cravens Hammock, was another five miles north if I had taken a right. But I just paddled a little ways to the left down to the Suwanee River Sill, a water control dam.
The Okefenokee is the source of the Suwanee River which runs from here down through Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. You can drive to the Sill, and I was thinking this would be a great, down-stream, one-way paddle if you have your own boat. You could leave a bike locked up at the Sill, and then drive to the state park and launch. I'd highly recommend doing that trip.
I pulled over to a sand bank and got out to stretch my legs a bit before heading back. I wasn't looking forward to the two-mile trip back upriver against a fairly stiff current. There were about four particularly difficult stretches, but I finally made it back to Mixons Hammock.
There is a dock with a latrine, and then the campsite is back in the woods.
It was early afternoon as I unloaded the boat and set up my tent.
I didn't realize this campsite had a firepit. Fortunately, there was plenty of wood, and I had some fire-starting aids.
I set up my camp chair and table on the dock and did some reading while again enjoying the quiet and solitude.
After awhile, I cooked dinner on my little MSR Windburner. That thing boils water faster than anything I've ever seen and it's so easy.
Some mosquitoes came out around dusk, but they weren't nearly as bad as in the state park campground last night. As it got darker, I hung my food bag in a tree as there were signs indicating bears were a possibility.
A Whip-poor-will called nearby and then some Barred Owls communicated with their "Who cooks for you?" hoots as I got a fire going. I did some fireside reading, ....
while listening to the crackling of the fire and the breeze in the tops of the trees. Sometime before 9:00, I decided to put the rain fly on the tent as I remembered there was a chance of rain in the morning. There was no cell service out there, so I left my phone in the truck - checking weather, emails, etc. was not an option and that's the way I wanted it.
Not long after putting on the rain fly, I crawled into my tent under a three-quarter moon. What a great day.