The Gull Reef Club

3/28/2018

Adventure Log: Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee Swamp

Filed under: — Jaime @ 2:12 pm

Destination: Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee Swamp

Dates: March 13-16, 2018

Monday 12th – We were supposed to leave this day, but nasty weather came in Sunday night and lingered into Monday. Fortunately, I had the whole week off, so we had enough flexibility that we could just leave Tuesday.

Tuesday 13th – On the road by 9:06a.m. 197 miles from our house to SCF. We have started a tradition of stopping at the Dunkin Donuts at the I-95 exit in Kingsland adding just a few extra miles. The coffee is (almost) always worth it. They have, apparently, discontinued coconut donuts, which was a great disappointment to me.

We arrived shortly after 1pm. It was bright, sunny, and in the low 60s – I think. We didn’t bring a thermometer with us (note: put one the list for next time), and we had no way to check the weather. The park is completely without wifi that we could find, nor could we get any cell signal of any sort. We were truly remote. It’s always a refreshing feeling. I feel bad for people who get anxiety if they turn off their electronics, and disdain for people who think they are so important that they can’t.

We got the tent up in short order. Inside, while setting up, I saw the shadow of two butterflies fly over the tent. Burned that image right into my brain. Turns out they were two swallowtails and they hung around most of the day. Welcome to camp!

We had dinner early. Cheese steaks, apple sauce and chips. Yes, somehow we managed to pull cheese steaks off in the middle of nowhere. It was kind of impressive.

Because we had eaten before the sun went down, we had a little time to try to fish the boat basin. We had to stock ourselves with some freshwater fishing tackle because we’re geared up for saltwater at home. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Those fish in the basin, which we saw plenty of, did not want anything we could throw at it. Not really a surprise. It was a beautiful way to enjoy the sunset. Back at camp, we lingered around the fire until bed.

Wednesday 14th – We planned to let ourselves ‘sleep in’ this day, and were up by 8:30a. The wind was already blowing and gaining strength as the sun warmed things. High winds can make kayaking unfun, however, so we planned to head down to the boat basin and check things out. Indeed, it was windy and felt cooler than Tuesday.

We opted to take a short paddle toward Mixon’s Hammock. We wanted to check it out again, not having been there since our magical Christmas Eve night 2016. Technically, we weren’t allowed to go stop at Mixon’s because we didn’t have permits. It just so happens we met the very people who did for that day/night right there at the basin. Dan, and his son Maximillian, were packing up their canoe getting ready to go out. We got to chatting with them, and they invited us out to see the island. In return, we, ok fine – Mike – carried a load of firewood for them in his kayak. It was going to be a cold night and they were pretty loaded down as it was. Pretty fair exchange, if you ask me.

Mixon’s Hammock was as lovely as ever. The water level was certainly higher than last time making it much easier to get in – especially over that one big log you have to paddle over right before you get there. I hated that log much less than last time. The campsite was pretty much the same, although sans the snazzy improvised log bench Mike made. We suspect someone burned it. It can be difficult to scavenge firewood on that small of an island.

We paddled back, and while we enjoyed it, we were glad it was going to be the only paddle of the day. We had a quick lunch at the boat basin to ensure we were on time for the 2pm tour.

The tour was a perfect way to spend the chilly, windy day. The tour was informative, and I learned and re-learned a number of things about the swamp. For example, I can’t un-see mistletoe growing in its parasitic way on its host tree. (How did I not see that before? It’s everywhere).

Yes, we saw alligators – every day we were there. It was too cold for them to move much. They don’t bother you even when they do move much. I’ll spare you my diatribe about Florida tourism and it’s damage to people’s perception of gators, but remind me. I’d like to rant on that some time.

The highlight of the tour were the white ibis. Thousands of them. Shortly into our tour, masses of them flew over the boat, heading in the direction we were heading. They roosted in the trees ahead of us. We eventually landed near the shore. We watched them some more as some roosted while others waded down low in the grasses away from the shore. The sun was so brilliant, with no clouds, that their white feathers seemed to glow. Seeing them was magnificent and unforgettable.

Back at camp, we had dinner. This night it was chicken gumbo. Mike made it the week before, froze it, and vacuum sealed it. It was the perfect dinner for what was shaping up to be a chilly night. Nothing beats a nice, spicy filé gumbo. We followed that up by a kick ass campfire. Mike really out did himself with that one. We warmed up by the fire with a cup of cocoa (for me) and hot tea (Mike).

Then bed. Remarkably, it wasn’t all that cold that night in our tent. We have pretty warm sleeping bags, and a space heater. It is a little weird wearing a hat to bed, but sort of fun, too. All in all, we both slept well enough.

Thursday, March 15th – Big paddle day. We had hoped to get up and out on the water early to maximize our time. We were up by 8:30a and on the water just before noon. Probably a little later than we wanted, but still plenty of time. Our first destination was east to Billy’s Island. This was a quick, easy paddle – just over two miles. Once at the island, we walked the entire trail. Seeing the remnants of some abandoned logging equipment was pretty cool. Of course, it inspired me to watch numerous, early 20th century logging videos once I got home to try to figure out what I was seeing and how it worked.

There was also a little cemetery on Billy’s Island. I believe it is called the Lee Family Cemetery. It was a bit old, with the few interred there having passed in the later 1800s/early 1900s. It was surrounded with a very tall chain link fence, and there were a few downed branches inside. I had to resist every urge not tear down the fence and clean it up. Chain link fences have no business on a historic island like that, especially surrounding a cemetery. I get that they are trying protect the cemetery, but there has to be a better way. It was garish. Those buried there deserve better. Regardless, our time at Billy’s Island was pleasant and a nice first stop for the day.

We continued our paddle by heading back west on Billy’s Lake, and made the turn north toward Minnie’s Lake. We made it as far as the Minnie’s Lake Day Shelter before turning around to head back to camp. I hold precious memories of the Day Shelter on Minnie’s Lake. During our first trip to the Swamp in November 2014, we made a stop at the Day Shelter. At that time, there were abundant yellow flowers all in bloom. It was so bright and such a visually overwhelming scene. I remember feeling true serenity there. Coming back to a place that I held so dear, and seeing it in a different season, was so grounding. I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that I get to feel a true sense of belonging. In ‘society’ there is always someone or something that makes me feel awkward, annoyed, uncomfortable, or simply an outsider. There, for that late lunch break at the Day Shelter, I was where I belonged, completely comfortable, completely me. I desperately want to return.

Quick question – which one of you graffitied the Day Shelter to say ‘Kayak Naked’ – and…did you???

The paddle back to camp was pleasant until we hit Billy’s Lake again. On the open water we experienced the roughest paddling all trip. The winds were pretty gusty and blowing against us, not to mention the current, what little of it there is, was also against us. Fortunately, we have experience paddling the Skidaway and Wilmington Rivers here in Savannah, which are tidal, and can be rough even on the nicest of days, so this wasn’t too bad. Knowing that it was the last paddle of our trip certainly didn’t make it any easier.

We made it back to camp a little later than we wanted, meaning dinner got started late, which is never good when you’re famished. Adding to the un-fun, we learned our air mattress had sprung a leak. Mike went into his zone and worked to get the fire started, dinner started, and fix the air mattress, all while I showered and then started packing things to leave. Unfortunately, the air mattress was not patchable. Insert a little while of extreme stress and frustration here. This absolutely sucked; It was ugly there for bit. That is all I plan on saying about those hours of stress. It is not really worth dwelling over, because within three or so hours, we were past it. We finally managed to eat some dinner (Dublin coddle), and made up for the rest of the evening with an amazing fire and kick ass smores. No night is ever ruined if it ends with a relaxing fire and smores.

We got to bed pretty late this night. Nearly 2 am, if I recall correctly. Yes, we slept on the ground. Well, technically we had the flattened air mattress, then blankets that we put down, then our sleeping bags. We also had the space heater so, all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t even all that sore when we woke up the next day to take down camp.

Friday, March 16th. Packed up. Went home.

If you look at a map of the paddle trails, it doesn’t seem like we covered all that much of the swamp. We calculated that we paddled about 9 miles on the second day. I feel pretty confident that we can make farther trips into the Swamp, and try some more overnighters that are farther away than Mixon’s Hammock. Mike and I have discussed our desire to paddle across or more fully navigate the entire Swamp. Seems like a lofty goal, but one I think we can meet. It will take some planning, but that is part of the fun. I wonder how many people can lay claim to having traversed the entire swamp? I want to be one of them.

Counting the minutes until we can return.

The Gull Reef Club