October In The Okefenokee
Racepond, GA--The Fellow Travelers usually take a three-day trip through the Okefenokee the first weekend in October. This year the permit was for the green trail which begins at Kingfisher Landing, the first night being spent on the platform at Bluff Lake, and the second night on Floyd's Island. Take-out is at Stephen Foster State Park.
Just prior to the trip, the refuge called and warned that the section of the trail from Bluff Lake was in rough condition and might be impassible. Since no alternate route was available, the group was given permission to spend both nights at Bluff Lake if the trail was blocked. The high rainfall level also had forced the closing of Stephen Foster State Park, so there would be no facilities available there, although it would be available as a take-out.
The Fellow Travelers met at Kingfisher at 8:30 AM, and for the first time in memory no one was late. Art and Janice Shelfer had spent the night in Folkston. Roy and Eric Moye drove up from central Florida. Joey Autrey, Carla Pollock, and Charlie left Moultrie at 5:00 AM and stopped near Ellenton to pick up Donald May and his father-in-law, Preston Bell. The plan to pick up the Tim Eidson in Pearson was canceled since the Knave wimped out, as is his custom. There was even time for the usual Hardee's breakfast in Homerville.
The canoes were loaded quickly as the paddlers were encouraged to leave quickly by the mosquitoes and yellow flies at Kingfisher. Eric and Roy paddled Roy's Kevlar Mohawk, Carla and Joey took the Penobscot 17, Art and Janice rode the Canadienne, and Charlie soloed the Prism. The paddle was underway shortly after nine.
The first mile of the journey is shared with the red trail, but then the path goes left (south) along an old peat mining canal. The water level was very high due to the recent hurricane-inspired rains. Paddling was easy. A few sandhill cranes flew off to escape the noisy entourage, and there were a few white ibises. Songbirds and frogs were abundant.
The first part of the trip is through Durdin Prairie, and is pleasant but is typical of the Okefenokee prairies. The vegetation is mostly shrubbery, and the water lilies and spatterdock float in the channel. The first stop was at Flag Lake, which is hardly a lake at all but just a slight widening of the channel. After that, the five canoes headed for Durdin Lake for lunch. Durdin Lake, too, is not spectacular. There is an expanse of water, but exploring it would be difficult because it is clogged with vegetation.
It is less than two miles from Durdin Lake to Bluff Lake. Bluff Lake seems large, but it is really about eight acres. The lake is clear of vegetation and it is a very pretty setting. The group was at the shelter shortly after 1 PM, and the boats were unloaded. It was rest and relaxation time, as well as mosquito-swatting time. Art sprayed the area with Yard Guard, and that was some help. It would have been more help had he brought his fogger.
A few took an afternoon nap. Art tried his luck at fishing, and his luck was bad. He got not a nibble. But the crickets he brought for bait provided amusement for the resident platform lizard.
Since the group had been warned that the trail might be obstructed for the next couple of miles, Donald and Charlie made a scouting expedition to check out the trail leading from the shelter. It was winding, and there were lots of low-hanging branches to deal with, but it seemed that spider webs were the largest obstacles.
It did come an afternoon shower, but it did not last long. It did leave a nice rainbow for a treat. The campers sat on the platform observing a few birds including a hawk, telling lies, and fighting bugs. The sunset was terrific. The coolness of fall was yet to reach the Okefenokee, and it was hot. Preston remarked that in his Idaho home it gets cool but in Georgia it gets dark when the sun goes down.
It was the King's turn to prepare supper, so a low country boil consisting of shrimp, sausage, carrots, potatoes, corn, onions, and peppers was the fare. No one got sick, and most of it was consumed.
After supper, the group pitched tents. Donald and Preston were to stay in Charlie's Kelty tent, but it was discovered that the door had been severely ripped. So the two stayed in Donald's small tent. All the tents were pitched under the covered area of the shelter because of the threat of rain, so space was at a premium. But it did not rain. The table was moved from underneath the covered area to a spot very near the edge of the platform. Carla was able to reach Haley on the cell phone and berate her for canceling. She and Greg Baker are both in the insurance industry, and Charley, Francis, and Ivan claims kept them from making the trip. Eventually, everyone went to bed.
Charlie arose early to prepare the coffee. The stove was on the edge of the table, and Charlie stepped backward into the swamp water. He had just washed and changed into clean clothing. The only thing damaged was the King's dignity. Donald was alarmed but did not offer to help--he just called for Art to come to the rescue. But no rescue was needed, and Charlie had another change of clean clothes.
Donald and Preston served a breakfast of eggs, sausage, grits, and orange slices. Donald cooks cleaner eggs than do some other cooks.
Charlie was able to reach Diane by phone and learned that Ellen had been involved in a serious collision. She was returning home from Lithonia and was flying to New York on Monday. Fortunately, Ellen was not injured, but another lady was. Either fortunately or unfortunately, Ellen's Toyota 2003 Corolla was totaled. She had planned to leave it in Moultrie, so she is not inconvenienced by lack of a car she could not take to New York.
After breakfast, the tents were taken down, the canoes loaded, and the paddle began around nine. Donald and Preston decided to lead. Preston spent so much time clearing spider webs with his paddle that Roy thought he looked like John Phillip Sousa conducting an orchestra. So Roy and Eric decided to be lead canoe. The first two miles was somewhat challenging, but no one had to get out of the canoes to pull over logs. After a couple of miles the trail reached Territory Prairie and mostly open water. The gang took a break at that point.
There was another canopied section before reaching Chase Prairie, but it was mostly easy paddling to the junction of the blue trail and the final stretch to Floyd's Island. The travelers rested at the junction of the blue trail, and then headed on to the day's destination.
The canal into Floyd's Island had more water than it had on any previous trip, and the paddle through the canopy of trees was pretty easy. The campers were unloading the canoes by 2:15 PM. Some carried canoes, and some used Charlie's major award, the canoe cart. The hand cart was there to carry the gear.
The cabin was in good shape, and Donald and Preston elected to spend the night inside. Everyone else pitched the tents.
Joey and Eric built a smoky fire with hopes that it would drive bugs away, but the success of that was not total. Firewood was everywhere due to the winds which the hurricanes brought.
After the usual conversation period, Joey and Carla prepared a spaghetti supper. They even brought mozzarella cheese and garlic rolls. There was little left over.
Preston set the age record for the trip. He celebrated his 75th birthday on the trip, and Art cooked a poppy-seed cake.
Wildlife was not apparent this time on the island. A pair of armadillos came through, but there were no deer, raccoons, foxes, or bobcats. There was controversy concerning gaggles, flocks, and herds. The campers sat around the campfire for a long time, enjoying the tales and not enjoying the mosquitoes. Finally, all sacked out for the night.
As is custom, Charlie arose first and made coffee. Eric and Roy made breakfast, and it was up to the usual Moye standard of excellence. They called it Egg McMoyes, and it consisted of a grilled bun enclosing egg, sausage, cheese, and onions.
The canoes were taken to the put-in on the west side of the island, and once loaded the last day of the trip was underway. Again, the high water made paddling out of Floyd's Island easy. Roy entertained the group singing folk songs, and he did it quite well.The group took a short break at the junction of the red trail, then headed on. The paddle through Minnie's Lake never gets old, and the scenery was beautiful. Although the travelers saw fewer alligators than usual, there were several in Minnie's Lake. Because of the temperature, all were swimming rather than sunning on the bank. Carla almost declared war on Joey when he paddled to close to one of the reptiles.
Minnie's Lake shelter was the lunch stop. The water was the highest anyone had ever seen, and the entire floor of the shelter was under water. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant stop.
The trip through the Middle Fork Run was its typical pleasure. The cypresses reflecting in the swamp are among the most memorable sights in the Okefenokee.
Once Billy's Lake was reached, the travelers headed down the home stretch. It is only about a mile and half to the take-out at Stephen Foster. The take-out was an annoyance. The park was closed, and the park superintendent had asked Gloria May, our shuttle, to go to Fargo and wait until the paddlers arrived. She did that, so she had to come from Fargo after we arrived. The superintendent then wanted us all to go to Fargo, which would have required two trips, leave all our canoes and gear in the park, and then come in after making the shuttle to Kingfisher, which is 95 miles away one-way. The ladies at the park agreed to let us stay rather than do that. But the superintendent came and was very displeased, and was especially displeased that Janice and Carla had gone inside the restroom and rinsed their hair. But everyone waited while Gloria took Donald, Roy, and Art to Kingfisher to retrieve the vehicles. A couple of alligators provided entertainment by climbing on the boat dock.
Finally, the vehicles and drivers returned, the boats and equipment were loaded, and everyone headed home. The drive out of the refuge revealed more deer than usual.
It was a good trip despite the heat, bugs, and park superintendent. Everyone looks forward to next October.