Friday, March 23, 2012

Suwannee River: Branford

"Branford!"    "At Branford getting food.  55 miles so far today.  Might stay here and camp.  Hard day, both really tired, hurt all over. Hope to recharge phone somewhere."  --text messages from SOS and SandyBottom at 7:30pm on Thursday March 22.  

From 5:00am to 7:30pm Team Kruger / Team B&B paddled 55 miles. (That is from river mile marker 129 to mile marker 76.   The Fargo starting point was at mile 221.)  They stopped to camp in a river-side park at Branford, FL.    Branford has several restaurants and a grocery within walking distance of the park's public boat ramp.  

SandyBottom and SOS worked hard to reach Branford before the grocery might close.  Here, 2/3 of the way downstream on the Suwannee River, the two subway sandwiches were gone.   It was time to find a grocery and resupply.
Remember the two subway sandwiches ?

The riverside park at Branford is Ivey Memorial Park which offers shelters with electrical outlets, two ramps, and restrooms.   Rails-to-trails greenway runs through the park.   

SB and SOS recharged batteries, stocked up on groceries,  and found a tent camping site.

Are we there yet?   

No; more like 2/3 of the way.   The distance to Cedar Key is 76 river miles + 18 open gulf miles = 94 total miles. That's about 20-25 hours of paddling.    Perhaps 15 hours of paddling on Friday and then about 10 hours of paddling on Saturday.    (That means that on Friday DWSB will need to start trailering the Mosquito from NC to Cedar Key.  Oh joy.)

There's a big snake in the water right beside you. Really.

At 6:00am SB and SOS paused to tie up at a stump in the water to nap for 30 minutes until sunrise when the fog would clear.  That was the plan until SOS pointed out that there was a large snake swimming in the water between the boat and the stump.  Quick change of plan:  look for a different stump.

"I guess you had to have been there" humor department: 

Several times today SB and SOS played a game called "Yikes! Where's my ___(item)___?!"  
Here, insert the word "paddle",  "head lamp",  "hat",  or "new pet cotton mouth snake" in the blank.    Regardless of the item,  the game is played this way...  One of the crew (ok, its always SB) puts her __(item)__  away and out-of-sight where it belongs,  and then picks up SOS's __(item)__ and hold it or wears it.   Next, when SOS needs his __(item)__,  he looks around for it and can not find it.   He then panics.  SB also panics.  He sees that SB has one,  but his is missing.   Has it floated down stream?  Panic turns to big laughs when they finally figure out that SB had SOS's __(item)__ all along.

SOS:  I'm hungry.
SB:     Oh, let me make you some lunch while you continue paddling.
SOS:  Ok.
SB:     How about I make you a half a can of peaches?
SOS:  Ok. Sounds good.
SB:     (Opens can of peaches and begins eating the first half.)
SOS:   So THAT's how you make a half can of peaches?
SB:      Mmmmmmmm...

I guess you had to have been there.

River-Mile Maps:  Fargo to Branford,  Branford to the Gulf

The Play-by-Play

On the WaterTribe Forum,  SharkChow wrote a summary for Thursday morning, March 22.

"At 7 a.m. today, March 22, the 1,200-mile Ultimate Florida Challenge entered its 20th day. There are ten days left to reach the finish line at Fort DeSoto Park near the entrance to Tampa Bay and meet Chief's 30-day deadline. Given the performance of the four remaining boats in the2012 UFC, all should easily reach the finish line before the deadline. The only real question is in what order.

I know. I know. Chief doesn't like to think of this as a race between all four boats on the course. The boats are different classes with different design capabilties. The two class one boats are a kayak and an expedition canoe, the class three boat is a Kruger expedition canoe with full sail, and the class five entry includes the boat-switch option -- a big and fast trimaran pared with a Kruger two-seat canoe with sail for the river sections. How could such mismatched boats be competitive?

Indeed.  Tell it to Sandy Bottom and SOS yesterday when they ripped down the Suwannee -- often at a 5 kt. pace -- adding a cushion to their lead over Mosquito Magnet. What is it that compelled them to take turns napping in the two-seat Kruger while the other paddled and kept the boat moving downstream? This was no mad-dash sprint in search of a restroom. They weren't churning the Pepsi-colored Suwannee white to reach some riverside Dairy Queen. No. It was competitive spirit, the desire to stay out front. Let's be honest. They are racing. They are paddling hard and fast and trying to squeeze out every efficiency in their journey downriver. Sure, they are racing themselves, testing the bounds of their own strength and endurance, and discovering things about themselves that they never knew. But you can't tell me they weren't also glancing back over their shoulders to see if that pesky white kayak of Mosquito Magnet might not suddenly appear on the river and zoom by them. And maybe an additional shock, Riverslayer and Whale, also flying by.

What is that? What is it that makes them dig deep in the water and pull hard? It is a race. It is a race and it is something more. It is the highest compliment to Mr. Magnet, and Mr. Slayer, and Mr. Ale, who have overcome the obstacle of being in smaller, slower boats to make this challenge look every bit like the race it is. These guys are proving what we knew all along -- it's not about the boat.
The same is true of Sandy Bottom and SOS. They spent two days on the launch beach, fixing a leak and then confronted plenty more issues along the way. They kept coming. They fought their way back into the race and into the lead. Now they are fighting hard to keep the lead.
Wednesday's performance created a comfortable lead ahead of the others in the challenge. But there's still 250 to 350 miles to go in this race and, as we've seen, pretty much anything can happen.

Here's the outlook for today:

Sandy Bottom and SOS stopped at 8 p.m. Wednesday in pouring rain and camped about three miles upriver from the Suwannee River State Park. They were back out on the water at 5:18 a.m. and were moving at about 3 kts. They are roughly 130 rivermiles from the Gulf of Mexico and have traveled about 90 miles since putting in at Fargo on Tuesday around 12:30 p.m.

Mosquito Magnet arrived at the start of the 40-mile portage at St. George at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and started walking at 3:40 p.m. He is still walking, maintaining a pace of roughly 2 to 3 kts. throughout the day and through the night. As of 6:30 a.m. he was about two-thirds of the way across the portage.
Riverslayer and Whale arrived at the St. George landing on the St. Marys River at about 9 p.m. Wednesday and camped there for the night. As of 7 a.m. they were still camped,and are poised to begin the 40-mile portage today.

Weather Outlook: The weather is not great for a portage. 87 degrees with isolated T-storms. There's a 30 percent chance of rain. Overnight temps will dip to the mid 60s. The other significant weather issue is what the Gulf of Mexico will look like when the challengers begin arriving there maybe Saturday. The forecast is for SW wind 10 to 15. Not the best forecast for paddlers.

What to watch:

Expect Sandy Bottom and SOS to continue to push hard to extend their lead. Mosquito Magnet will finish the portage sometime today, but will he have enough left in his tank to get back in his boat and keep paddling? For Riverslayer and Whale, the portage will be hot. They would be well advised to pick up some bananas and sports drinks at the grocery store in St. George before setting out. If it gets too hot they might wait part of the hot day out at a restaurant in Moniac."

Sharkchow (a.k.a.Warren Richey) is author of "Without a Paddle", published by St. Martins Press. It is an account of his participation in the first Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006.

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