Dorcas, FL--Eleven Fellow Travelers met on Thursday, April 12, 2007 to canoe the Shoal River. The group consisted of Donna Kelly, Margie Massey, Jeanne Hewetson, Mike Ricciardio, Al Taylor, Rick Metz, Harry Selby, Hamp Chauncey, Janice Shelfer, Art Shelfer, and Charlie Stines. Al, a retired Sheriff’s lieutenant and dive team member from Pensacola, was the only rookie. Harry took the honors for traveling the farthest since he again came from California’s Mojave desert to do a little paddling. Diane Stines had planned to come but backed out at the last minute.
The original plan was to launch at SR 393 and leave the vehicles at Gin Hole Landing on Eglin Air Force Base. Since Al lived relatively close he performed super rookie duties by scouting the route. He determined that the land around SR 393 is all posted and that it would be a miserable launch if the group had to carry the canoes and gears over the bridge abutment rocks on the highway right of way, and there was no safe place there to unload canoes or to park on the shoulder of the roadway. Instead, he found a suitable launch area on Pond Creek which was very near the SR 393 site. The canoes and gear were unloaded there. The Suburban Profane and trailer were then driven to Gin Hole Landing and the other cars were parked at Wal-Mart with the permission of the code manager. Charlie had arranged for a taxi to bring the drivers from Wal-Mart to the bridge, and the travelers were ready to begin paddling shortly after one, Eastern time.
The section of Pond Creek was a very entertaining part of the trip. There were lots of obstructions to negotiate and the current was rather swift. Everyone successfully completed the course and reached the junction of the Shoal around one thirty.
The Shoal at that point was a shallow river with considerable obstructions, but the paddling was easy. It took little time to reach the SR 393. The banks of the river were high clay with pines and hardwoods and a surprising number of blooming mountain laurels. The armada continued downstream with little difficulty. The river constantly changed between high banks and sandbars. The group took a long break on a sandbar around four.
The canoe guide calculates eight miles from SR 393 to US 90. The gang passed under the highway about five fifteen and began looking for a good campsite. Art and Janice found a good one with wild turkeys before the bridge but it was passed up. It later seemed a bad decision to have passed it, but eventually a really good sandbar was located about a mile below the railroad bridge. It was close enough to Interstate 10 to hear both the highway and the railroad traffic. However, it was on a beautiful bend in the river.
After all the tents were pitched Art began preparing a supper of fried catfish filets. Janice made coleslaw. Charlie cooked grits and fried corn bread. Margie, Jeanne, and Donna provided lots of fruit for dessert. It was a good meal, and Mike and Charlie washed the dishes.
Hamp built a fire for everyone to sit around and enjoy. The temperature dropped rapidly so the warmth of the fire was especially welcome. There was no shortage of firewood, and Rick and Harry seemed especially adept at gathering it. Most of the campers went to bed around ten o’clock. It was a very cool night and those with light sleeping bags wished for heavier coverings.
No one arose before daylight. Charlie made a pot of coffee in his twenty cup camp percolator and it was so good he had to make a second one. Margie, Donna, and Jeanne cooked a breakfast casserole and served lots of good fruit. Mike brought some really tasty fresh strawberry jam which Carol had just made, and it was a nice addition.
There was a lot of dew on the tents so there was no hurry to leave until the sun had a chance to smile on the wetted abodes. But eventually the paddlers were headed downstream. It was only a short distance to Interstate 10, and once it was passed the river became very obstructed.
Art found a sunked canoe and wanted to rescue it. He and Hamp spent considerable time doing so. Meanwhile, just below the shipwreck the rest of the group found the river obstructed. Al got out and chopped and sawed until he cleared the way. Meanwhile, everyone was getting worried about Hamp and Art so Mike and Al unloaded their canoe and began paddling upstream to find them. The trip upstream ended in an upset so it was fortunate that the canoe had been unloaded prior to the rescue. But Hamp and Al did manage to pull the wrecked canoe out of its grave. It was a 17’ Grumman in pretty decent shape but extremely dirty from its time submerged in the river. Art and Janice tied it behind the Canadienne and it was there the rest of the trip. It did cause some problems getting hung up in tight places, but there is another boat in the navy now. It was christened the Edmund Fitzgerald but was being called the ghost boat before the trip ended. Janice was calling it something else under her breath.
The character of the river changed to a swampy terrain with neither banks nor sandbars. A spot was found to eat the usual gourmet river lunch and then the eleven continued downstream toward the wayside park at SR 285 which was reached a little after three. There was a long break at the park but then it was down river again. It was a nice day for paddling but it was obvious that the canoe guide was correct in saying campsites are scarce below the wayside park. Although the GPS said it was not far from Gin Hole it was wisely decided to take the first possible one. It was afte six when the weary crowd reached the campsite, and abandoned fisherman’s place on a bluff. It had lots of trash and an access road but really did have lots of space for tents and fires away from the left over couches and mattresses.
Hamp cooked two shepherd’s pies in Dutch ovens. He said they were actually cottage pies since they were made with hamburger rather than mutton, but no one complained. It was a dandy meal and was something never served before on a Fellow Traveler trip.
There was another great campfire. The night was much warmer than Thursday. Owls and whippowills sang lullabies. A lot of the campers stayed up pretty late talking, but once in bed everyone slept warmly.
Again no one started making noises until after daylight. Rick and Harry cooked a nice breakfast of sausage, eggs, and grits. Art noted that the eggs were yellow.
The canoes were floating downstream shortly after nine thirty. It was 2.21 GPS miles to Gin Hole Landing but the estimated distance was four miles. And it was a tedious four miles due to the numerous obstructions, pull overs, and float unders. There was one float under where Charlie got out of the canoe to help guide the other canoes beneath a log, but found himself greeted by a pit bull and a Doberman. The dogs came right down to the river bank but never actually entered the water. It was a tense moment but the dogs finally lost interest and all the canoes were shoved beneath the logs with no upsets.
It was about eleven when the Yellow River was reached. It was a totally different scene. The river was wide and obviously well-suited for motor boat traffic. The paddlers took a rest at the junction and some young men in a motorboat warned of an impending storm. The skies were threatening. Gin Hole Landing was reached within thirty minutes. Art took the drivers back to Wal-Mart in the Suburban Profane to retrieve the the vehicles but left the canoe trailer. It was loaded by the time they returned. Everyone said good bye and agreed it was a fun trip. The Edmund Fitzgerald made it safely to Art’s house in Tallahassee and after a good pressure washing and draining the water from the rear flotation chamber it should be ready for a Fellow Traveler outing.