Monday, November 21th
USA Expedition Blog: Everglades kayak Mormon Key to Chokoloskee Island
by Dan Cullum
That is one of the incredible things about being on an expedition with Mike Horn:
Plans are only there to be changed.
After already having traveled some 160 kilometers by kayak for the past five days, our goal today was to venture deeper into the Everglades and camp out for one more night as the distance was too far to make it to our final destination (Everglades City) in one day
However we found out just before bed that we must all be awake at 5 AM to set out before sunrise from our campsite on Mormon Key to utilize the incoming tide to take us through the final 40 kms to our destination, in one day, not two.
The most spectacular moment of the whole expedition was this morning. In Everglades National Park the sun rises majestically behind the mangroves. Everyone had a story to share about their experience with that sunrise this morning– almost all of them about being grateful for being alive and blessed to experience that moment together.
Today was also the first day that we ran into the trademark wildlife of the Everglades: the American Alligator.
Found in the blend of salt and fresh water, this specie is the quintessential spokesman of this unique region. Aya and I took our kayak within ten meters of the first alligator, but I was still a little apprehensive about being so close to such an infamous predator.
However, the second alligator that we saw really opened my eyes to what we were here to experience: a chance to get as close as possible to nature, to let it be, and to appreciate it on a whole new level. We maneuvered our kayak until I was only two meters away from it and I could look it in the eye. It was never going to attack me, it was curious just as I was and as we respected each other, I believe we both learned a little more about another world that is not our own.
The final six hours of paddling were the toughest of the whole trip for me. I could barely unwrap my fingers from my paddle or get them out of my gloves. My lower body which had been locked in the same position for the last six days was screaming out for some land to walk on! It took the support of my fellow Young Explorers to enable me to lift that paddle again and again and push them through the water for the final stretch through the winding channels and intricate inner waterways of Florida's "10,000 Islands".
Once we reached our final landing dock on Chokoloskee Island (just down the road from Everglades City), I rinsed myself off quick with a hose pipe and fell asleep almost immediately on the pavement of the marina parking lot. We had made it.
We picked up our kayaks and carried them over the road for a quick paddle to Chokoloskee Island Park where the kind manager Lynda welcomed us visitors and pointed us towards the campground’s warm showers: heaven! Mary and Luke hitched a ride into Everglades City with Kevin (one of the Park’s kind staff members) and came back sandwiches for all of us. Real food! No more daypacks!
Covering almost 200 kms (120 miles) in five days, over open ocean, beside the mangroves, through the wet rain, hot afternoons, cold storms and swarms of mosquitos. I had some serious doubts on the first day whether or not I would be cut out for this expedition, but I said a prayer that lasted for the rest of the expedition, and with the inspirational Young Explorers fueling our unwavering determination, we put one paddle in front of the other and reached our goal.
The day ended with a van shuttle drive back to Key Largo (our initial point of departure and where the kayaks had to be returned to Florida Bay Outfitters). Some complications with the dinghy that was to take us back to Pangaea resulted in a night camped out on a wharf, falling asleep looking up at the stars, and an overwhelming sense of gratefulness
Such a journey teaches you many things, about how far you can push yourself, how important it is to do things as a team, how little you actually need to survive and be happy, how important family and loved ones are. Being so isolated and pushed to the extremities of what you can handle brings perspective, clarity and yet again, gratefulness.
Distance traveled Monday: Mormon Key to Chokoloskee Island via Pavillion Key 10,000 Islands inner waterways – 4.5 + 7 + 3.5 + 6 + 4 = 25
TOTAL distance traveled (5 1/2 day total) = 120.5