The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
An Adventure On The Peace River
Our trip started around 6:30 on Friday evening. We had packed the car, got some cash from the bank and gassed up our little Honda Civic. We were ready to go. Mapquest had given us a route I was unfamiliar with. The back road highways of central Florida. I soon found that much of the way there we would be on two lane, high speed, country roads. Every so often a car would pass us by swerving into the oncoming lane and pushing the pedal to the floor. We were already going 5-10 mph over the speed limit, so I didn’t feel too bad about that. I think the cars who were passing us were asking for a ticket, or an unfortunate accident.
Around 8:30 we rolled into town, otherwise known as Zolfo Springs. Although we had a light snack before we left, we were both pretty hungry and I have to tell you, once we had driven 20 minutes west of our house and 95, we hadn’t seen a single Mc Donald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Hardees’s, Sonic or any other fast food joint you can thing of. Central Florida is a very strange place. It’s almost like being in another world; so, we had to settle for the next best thing. Gas station food.
Now in these type of areas, gas stations are much more than a place to fill up your tank and grab a soda. They actually have small hot food take out. I think it’s to make up for the lack of the usual fast food restaurants. Luckily the Stop-N-Shop had a small Hungry Howie’s in the back. Hungry Howies is a very cheaply priced pizza joint typically found in low income areas. We ordered a pepperoni pizza and filled up a jumbo, anti green, Styrofoam cup with Mountain Dew before heading across the street to Pioneer Park.
When we first pulled up to the gates, we found them closed and padlocked. I wasn’t sure if I needed to be let in, or if there was another unlocked gate somewhere else, so I decided to call Scott, the leader of the Outlanders. Sandy, a member of the board answered his phone and after a few minutes was able to give me some directions. We had to enter from another street.
In no time at all we found ourselves inside the park and after a short drive, I spotted the Outlanders truck. We parked the car, grabbed our pizza and soda, then headed towards the campfire for dinner. We didn’t really know anybody there; but, Sandy was very friendly and made us feel welcome right away. Scott was Kayaking on the river and as it turned out, he was the only one we knew on this particular trip; however, that didn’t matter much to us. The Outlanders are a very friendly bunch and we always seem to make new friends every time we camp with them.
After pizza, friendly chatting and roasting marshmallows, we all decided to work our sleeping arrangements. Sandy asked us if we minded sharing a tent with another single mom and of course I said that would be fine. One of the things I like most about the Outlanders is making new friends and this trip met all of my expectations. Sharon was great and Justice really liked her son Dustin. It was a perfect match.
I don’t normally sleep well at night and camping makes things even harder. I never expect to get a great nights sleep in the woods; however, Friday night was worse than usual. The smoke from the fire really aggravated my asthma and I was just getting over a cold. As we laid down to rest, Justice was tossing and turning due to the excitement and I was tossing and turning because I couldn’t breathe. Fortunately somewhere around the middle of the night or early morning, I mercifully drifted off to sleep.
All to fast, the sun rose and our day began. We walked over to the bathrooms, brushed our teeth, then made our way over to the “kitchen”. The kitchen was a blue and white Coleman canopy, a couple of folding tables and a few hard plastic containers which held various pots, pans, cooking utensils and more. Sandy was helping Scott get things going and after asking what there was to do, I decided to help prep the lettuce, tomato’s and onions for the subs. Of course we didn’t have subs for breakfast. We had fluffy, scrambles eggs, grilled bacon and toasted bagels and English muffins. The subs had to be made and packed into coolers for our 4 hour canoe trip.
Everybody did their part to help make breakfast and lunch as well as clean up, then we were on our way. We had a 30 minute drive to the Canoe Outpost and decided to carpool. Justice and I rode with Art and another fellow. It was an uneventful trip and everybody got their in one piece.
Once we were there it seemed to take forever for us to get started. All of us with small children had to check in up front and fit them with special life vests, then make our way back to the group. After that we stood around for a bit longer while the children shot each other with a few over sized water guns. Of course they were not paying close attention to where they were shooting and had to be chastised from time to time. Soon the bus arrived and the guns had to be put down- at least for a little while.
We all loaded onto a blue and white bus which strangely resembled the prison buses of central Florida. If you’ve never been to Florida, that’s where we keep the prisoners. In the middle of the state. We keep the ocean front property for the law abiding citizens. It works out better that way.
Once we were all sitting the bus got underway. BUMP, BUMP, BUMP we went as the bus lumbered down the country road, past the orange groves and cattle ranches. It was packed to full capacity and everyone was eager for their adventure to begin. After about 30 minutes we reached our destination and the bus came to a stop. Everyone jumped out and almost instantly the trailer holding our canoe’s was unloaded.
The boys who worked for the Outfitters slung the heavy aluminum canoes over their heads and schlepped them down to the river bank with more grace than I could muster on my best day. We all grabbed paddles and cushions for our bottom’s, then a few members of our group brought our lunch filled coolers down to the canoes and placed them carefully in the middle.
Justice and I ended up sharing a canoe with another Outlander and with a little protest, Justice sat in the middle while I took the front and our friend manned the rear. He gave the canoe a little push we were on our way. Our adventure had begun. The river was shallow in most spots which was encouraging because I could see the bottom, which made me feel much more secure. I don’t like not knowing what’s beneath me.
As we paddled along, we had to be very careful not to run into any logs or extremely shallow areas for fear of being tipped over. The river was beautiful and the houses that lined it ranged from large to small. A few of them were real eye catchers like the one below. It was shaped like an octagon and it was built on stilts.
After what seemed like a long time, we all pulled over to have some much needed lunch. We had undoubtedly burned off all the energy provided by our eggs and bacon that morning and were in need of a refill, if we were going to make it through two more hours of strenuous paddling.
We had missed our designated lunch spot, so we decide to crash another Canoe Outpost spot. Apparently they also offer overnight trips where you can canoe to your camp sight, sleep, then finish your trip the next day. That’s a little more outdoorsy than I like to engage in. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hot showers and toilets.
After lunch, we piled back into our canoes and began the second half of our trip. This half was much more eventful; but, not in a positive way. We were paddling along minding our own business when we heard the hum of an engine growing closer and closer. Soon we saw a large redneck in an airboat.
At first I was excited to see something so different; but, my excitement quickly gave way to fear and trepidation when he geared up and sped past us. Almost instantly I saw large waves coming towards us. We all braced ourselves and hoped for the best. The first wave came and went and we almost tipped over. The second wave came and we went with it. Well, not all of us went, just the grownups.
Justice was sitting in the bottom of the canoe and the Outlander who was paddling in back said he was holding on for dear life. He was convinced that if the canoe had gone completely over, Justice would have been stuck to the inside just like Spiderman. We were not so lucky.
My first thoughts went to my digital camera. I had brought it on our trip to try and get a few shots along the way and was sure it had been destroyed. It took me a few seconds to realize that the canoe was still upright and the camera might not have been ruined. Our paddler in the rear, who was now standing in four feet of water, called out to me and said to bring the canoe to the riverbank. We needed to get the water out and regroup.
We were all pretty ticked off at this point and a couple other members of our group had stopped to check on us. The offered to call the police; but, we didn’t see much point. We hadn’t caught the numbers on the boat and did not think the police could do much without more information. It was a bad situation; but, we had to keep going.
As we continued to paddle, I kept looking over my shoulder nervously. I was on edge and it showed. At this point Justice really wanted to paddle; but, he just wasn’t old enough yet. He made his little voice heard; but, I kept telling him no. I don’t think he was thrilled with that answer; but, he didn’t have much choice in the matter.
The 4 hour trip proved to be very taxing and by the last half hour, we kept looking anxiously around each bend hoping for the end. After passing under the railroad track’s we found what we were looking for. The end. It gave us a small burst of energy and we paddled faster to reach the dock. It felt good to crawl out of the canoe and walk on dry land.
Justice and I headed up to the outpost and mingled with the group while we waited for the rest of our group to reach the endpoint and disembark. We were sharing our tale of horror with the group when I heard Scott calling for me down by the river. I heard the familiar hum of the airboat and came running. This time we got the numbers off his boat.
The woman who ran the Outpost had made sure to get the numbers as well. As she wrote them down on a sheet of paper, she told me about this boater. Apparently he has been running up and down the river recklessly for a while and the authorities in Tallahassee have been wanting his registration number, so they could do something about it. I vowed to write letters and call anybody and everybody who would listen to me after my final on Wednesday
With a little bit of satisfaction, we headed back to the campgrounds to shower and get dinner underway. At this point I was exhausted; but, Justice was anything but. I decided to relax and let him play while I watched him. Of course, things didn’t stay calm. The boys spotted an alligator in the river and in no time at all a small crowd had gathered.
It was a thing of beauty on the river. It’s eyes and snout were just above the surface and it was watching us intently. The boys and men were making noises, trying to coax it a bit closer to us. Slowly, it inched forward. I think it may have been fed by campers in the past which is a big no no. It teaches them to associate humans with food. Nothing good comes from that.
The oldest teenager began throwing sticks into the water and at that point, I decided to get Justice out of the area. I didn’t agree with what was going on. After doing some volunteer research work with chimpanzee’s at Lion Country Safari, I gained an awesome respect for wild animals and want to keep them that way. Wild.
Luckily nothing bad happened and dinner was served. We had a real feast with fettuccine Alfredo, Italian grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, garlic bread and salad. As Scott would say it was the “usual camp food”. Because I had not helped prepare dinner, I decided to chip in and help wash and put away the dishes.
Not long after that, we all gathered around the campfire by the river and got ready for service. Kelly handed out song sheets and we were treated to a guitar and saxophone duo. We sang 5 or 6 songs then Brian gave the message. It was really nice even though Justice and I were so tired we were fighting to stay awake.
As soon as things ended, I gave Justice a ten minute warning. He could eat all the marshmallows he wanted; but, when time was up, we were going to bed. I think we were the first one’s in the tent that night. I didn’t mind.
This night was much better than the previous night. My airways were clear, the night air was cool and crisp and we were snuggled up on an air mattress beneath a velor blanket and a down comforter. Our heads were laid down on memory foam pillows and the lull of trucks from a nearby road provided all the white noise I needed to sleep soundly.
The next morning we woke up happily, well rested and ready for another adventure. Everybody gathered for pancakes, bacon and ham then pulled together to get the campsites packed up. It didn’t take long to get the tents packed up and the kitchen put away, then most of us headed over to the wildlife preserve within the park.
There was a nominal charge of $2 per person to enter and it proved to be a very nice little attraction. There was a nice boardwalk with a few covered platforms for us to walk on and some well placed plaques informing us about the animals we were viewing. The ostriches were tall and proud and the raccoons were quite active. Further along the boardwalk we saw a panther sleeping in a tunnel and a few bears playing in a pond. The whole park was covered with vultures, who were no doubt squatters hoping for a free meal.
We saw a bobcat hiding behind a log, enjoying a morning siesta and across from there were a few peacocks up in a tree. None of us knew they could climb trees; but, I’m guessing they flew up there. After that the tour ended with a real Florida bang. Alligators. There was a large algae covered pond with a plethora of gators and turtles. The were motionless on the water edge. They were like majestic statues in the warm sun. It was easy for me to see why Steve Erwin found cold blooded creatures like gators and crock’s to be so beautiful.
With that, our camping adventure came to a close and we were headed off on another small trip. We were going to Solomon’s Castle. Although a few members of the group had expressed interest, only one decided to join us; but, you’ll have to read the next post to find out what happened.
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