Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kayaking on the Blackwater River

We decided to spend Sunday kayaking on the Blackwater River. Neither of the boys wanted to go (teenagers are SO weird) but the Island Girl and her friend Owl couldn't wait.

We loaded up Sunday morning and after a series of minor mishaps we made it to Bryant Bridge, our drop off point.

It was a beautiful day and the weather report I'd looked at that morning called for sunny skies and 87 degrees. Perfect.

We unloaded, took the truck down to Blackwater State Park, our pick up spot, drove back to the bridge and we were on our way.

It was gorgeous. The river was cold but I knew that after paddling a while I'd be hot and the water would feel great.

We'd been paddling for about half an hour when the sky started to cloud up. About five minutes later we heard some thunder, loud, but not too close.

Should we turn back? The radar didn't show anything this morning so we decided this would pass on by and we'd be back in the sun shortly.

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

We paddled farther and it wasn't long before we ran into a light rain. Not a problem, we're here to get way anyway, right?

The Island King, who has NEVER been wrong about this, said “It's fixin to rain – hard.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth we saw a giant bolt of lightning and the thunder clap was deafening.

Crap. Rain is one thing but I'm not a big fan of lightning.

We rounded the next bend and pulled up to a sandbar just as the bottom fell out.

Dark sky, pounding rain, lightning bolts, REALLY loud thunder – this is not what we were expecting at all. We did have a dry bag with some towels but we knew we'd want them when the rain stopped so there we were stood, in our bathing suits, on a sandbar in the middle of the Blackwater River.

It didn't take long for me to decide I'd wait this one out up in the woods under some tree cover.

Yes, I know they say not to stand near trees during a lightning storm but they also say not to be in the water so it didn't really matter where we were standing. If we were going to be struck by lightning we were going to be struck by lightning. If not, I wanted to at least wait out the storm in a drier spot than exposed on a sandbar.

So there we huddled, laughing and agreeing that nothing would be as fun if there was no unexpected adventure thrown in the mix.

I started asking for a phone so I could look at the radar only to find that I wasn't the only one who left mine in the car in case I fell in the river.

Cool. We'll just do what the Indians must have done. Learn when it will be over by seeing when it's over.

I tried counting between claps of thunder but there wasn't a pause between them. Not being a meteorologist I can't be positive but I'm pretty sure that means the storm is right on top of you.

I'd say the worst of it lasted for about half an hour and by that time we were freezing.

It was still raining lightly but we could see blue sky off in the direction we were headed so we decided to paddle towards the light.

Slowly but surely the storm moved east and we traveled west until we were out of it.

We came around a bend and saw where someone had built a bonfire earlier but bailed when the storm came so we stopped and the Island King rekindled the fire for us to get warm.

After warming up they all swam but I just couldn't make myself get into that freezing river. It's a known fact that I usually don't swim until July because I don't like cold water.
The river is always chilly but when you're hot that's ok. I wasn't hot and getting wet again wasn't appealing.

The Island King said it was "refreshing" but from the look on his face I'm not believing it. 

We paddled along some more,

stopped for another break 

and as we were leaving I heard a yell and then a splash.

I didn't see it happen but the Island King had gone over.

The Island Girl did see it and she says he stepped into the kayak from the sandbar and then just fell out.

He tried to explain what happened but in the end we realized he just fell out. Period.

A while later I heard another yell and then a splash, turned around and the man was in the river again.

Owl saw it happen and says he was looking down and when he looked up there was a tree limb in his face so he grabbed it but when he did, he stopped and the yak kept going.

All he said was “That damn tree knocked me right out of the boat!”

Things were quite for a long time as we paddled along and enjoyed the river. Until the next yell and splash.

Yep. He'd done it again.

This time he hit a stump that was barely sticking out of the water and it pulled the yak one way while he went the other.

I'm not sure how he did it but he managed to fall out all three times without tipping the yak and losing his gear.

As the sun was starting to set we came across a rope hanging from a tree.

Island Girl tells us she's always wanted to do that so we stopped and did some rope swinging.

Well, we did a little rope swinging and a lot of rope throwing.

The rope was hanging out over the river and there was no way to grab it from the bank so I paddled back upstream to throw them the rope.

That meant keeping the yak from being pulled down river, grabbing a rope hanging way over my head and throwing it to people on the bank. I'd say that out of 50 throws they caught it 5 times maybe. Some of it was their fault, most of if was mine.

At one point I handed one end of my paddle to the Island Girl and told her to hold it while I grabbed the rope. I thought that would keep the yak in place long enough but I handed her the paddle and then promptly let go of my end.

Away I went with no paddle.

Luckily, she was able to toss it to me and I paddled back upstream to try and throw them the rope.

That time didn't go well at all. One minute I was reaching for the rope and the next I was falling into the water.

The good news was that I knew I was going in so I let go of the yak and it didn't flip. The bad news was that I didn't have quite as much leverage in teasing the Island King.

That and the fact that the water was freezing. I swear in the 2 minutes it took me to swim the kayak over to the sandbar I thought I was going to die of hypothermia. That ended ANY chance of me ever doing a polar bear plunge.

It was worth it because both the Island Girl and her Dad got to swing into the river. Owl has more sense and decided she'd rather stay warm and dry.

We had some serious paddling to do at that point in order to make it down to the truck before dark so we threw some muscle into is and away we went.

As we came around a bend Owl was beside me and she said "I think we're fixing to see something really pretty."

It was beyond pretty. The river was perfectly still and became one of Mother Nature's amazing mirrors. 

We made it back just as the last of the light left the sky so we had to load in the dark but it was worth every minute of it.

We paddled 11 miles and I can't wait to do it again but I'll need to wait until the muscles in my upper body stop screaming at me.

Oh, and when we got home I saw this on FB

The National Weather Service in Mobile has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for north central Okaloosa County in northwest Florida and parts of Alabama until 4:45 p.m.
Forecasters say the storm is capable of producing golf ball size hail and damaging winds over 60 mph.

Thank goodness we didn't get the hail. That would have really been unpleasant.
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