October Overnighter On The Suwannee
White Springs, FL--North Florida autumn weather can range from hurricane threats to sun-drenched days under crystal blue skies. The promise of the latter caused Charlie Stines to take off on Friday, October 21, 2005, and invite only Diane to canoe an easy stretch of the Suwannee.
After devouring a gourmet breakfast at Hardees, Charlie and Diane drove on to White Springs for the launch. The Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park now has a good facility for launching the boats, and there is secure parking inside the park. The Gunn boat (Penobscot 17) was loaded with less gear than usual, and the trip toward Suwannee Springs was underway.
Although there had been considerable rain due to the hurricane season, there had also been quite a spell of dry weather. Consequently, the Suwannee water level was neither high nor low. Sometimes low water can force canoeists to wade and drag boats just below White Springs, but this time floating was natural and easy. Shortly after put-in, Diane spied a medium-sized gator on the right bank. He would be the only one seen on the trip.
The Suwannee River Water Management District is developing canoe campsites along the Florida portion of the river, and the one at Woods Ferry is ready. Eventually there will be some type of camping facility about every ten miles of river. The platform at Woods Ferry is handicap accessible, and it is not a thing of beauty. Actually, it resembles a railroad trestle. Nevertheless, these sites will make camping along the river easier, and they will be availabe through reservations. The cost is very reasonable.
The paddlers continued at a leisurely pace. The limestone banks of the areas showcased the fall ferns and wildflowers. The usual woodpeckers, songbirds, hawks, and herons were in the air. Swift Creek and Interstate 75 came into view around lunch time, and there was as a stop for lunch just past the highway.
Although it was Friday, the river was not isolated. There were fishermen in jonboats and an occasional canoe camper on the sandbars. Charlie and Diane had planned to camp at the large sandbar known to the Fellow Travelers as Camp Diane, but alas, it was occupied by about fifteen members of the National Sierra Club. The group was mostly in rental kayaks, and Greg Pflug of Adventures in Florida was the outfitter. Greg helped the Lippys organize the Wilderness Trekkers and is friends with some to the travelers who are on loan from the Trekkers.
The Shelfers were not along, but the radio weatherman had predicted only a slight chance of showers. There were intermittent sprinkles during the afternoon, but not enough to call for ponchos or rainsuits. But the bottom dropped out of the sky around four, and it came a drenching rain. Fortunately, everything was securely dry bagged and Charlie and Diane had sufficient warning to get suited up for the downpour. It probably rained for considerably less than an hour, but the canoe did get a fair amount of water. The bilge sponge was as good as any major award. The weather was really nice after the rain ceased.
The two began looking for campsites, and it occurred to Charlie that they were getting much too close to Suwannee Springs. Finally, a pretty sandbar showed up on the left. After pitching the tent, the charcoal was lit and two delicious ribeye steaks were placed on the grill. Two foil-wrapped potatoes were placed in the coals. After a while, supper was served.
It was a night to sit out under the stars and hear the gentle rippling of the Suwannee. Charlie and Diane really had come to close to Suwannee Springs, so the amplified music from the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park was audible but not decipherable. Finally, it was bedtime. The sandbar was not level, and it was hard not to slide downhill in the tent. But the temperature was right for a night out.
Coffee was ready sometime after daylight. Charlie cooked Canadian bacon and pancakes, and there were no complaints and no unflattering comparisons with Roy Moye. After breakfast, the two just sat in the chairs and watched as the National Sierra Club canoeists floated by. They were to take out at Spirt of the Suwannee after having spent seven days canoeing from Fargo. The kayakers were from many parts of the country including Oregon, Orlando, New York, New Jersey, and Kentucky. It was obvious that they had spent too much time together as the irritation was apparent in some of the voices.
Eventually all good things must end, so the tent was packed, the canoe loaded, and the final short trip to the Spirit of the Suwannee was underway. There were several people enjoying the park at Suwannee Springs, and some were swimming inside the walled spring. As the canoeists approached the take-out they saw several campers from the campground with tents near the river and encounter swimmers, canoeists, and kayakers. It was just about the perfect fall day for those who love the Suwannee.
Upon reaching the boat ramp, Charlie went to the Canoe Outpost to arrange the shuttle details which had been reserved earlier. It is a pleasure to deal with the outpost. The shuttle was about ready to leave, so the canoe was loaded, everyone climbed into an old Ford van of which the condition appeared somewhat south of the Suburban Profane, and headed to White Springs. Charlie and Diane were the only ones in the loaded van taking out. The other passengers were all fraternity brothers from Valdosta State, and Tanner Jenkins from Moultrie was one of them. They were unloaded at the US 41 boat ramp, and then Charlie and Diane were taken to the state park to unload the boat, pack the Suburban, and head home via the scenic route (SR 6 through Jasper and Jennings.) It was a marvelous trip, and the King does not apologize for not asking everyone else to come along.