And when I refer to Gators I do not mean those fun-loving college students dressed in blue and orange, but the big scaly creatures of the swamp.
This Sunday was spent kayaking at Juniper Springs over in the Ocala National Forest. My dad and I joined a group of about 10 friends for the 7 mile stretch, armed with kayaks, food, drinks, and of course our bathing suits. While most of the people in our group had single kayaks, my dad and I shared our mellow-yellow 2 person sea-kayak. This meant we had more man-power but were required to work as a team which I think we are getting better at since we started working together (sometimes you can find us biking to the gym in matching outfits! Father-daughter teams rock).
The car-ride was long (about 2.5 hours) and there was some issues with parking and boat transport. After an hour of dealing with those issues, we eventually loaded the kayaks and got on the water at about 1pm. And so began a leisurely, or so we thought, ride down the river. Turns out, the water level was much lower than usual which meant regular encounters with shallow water and fallen trees. Instead of slowly meandering down with the current, we were forced to paddle forcefully and deftly maneuver the endless twists and turns of the river. I was up to the challenge and put my muscles to work, letting the beautiful scenery distract me from the burn.
However, the weather was perfect, not too hot and the water was delightfully cold. I enjoy fresh water so much more than salt water, less stinging! Total it took us about 5 hours to get down the springs and honestly, I was EXHAUSTED. We did stop several times to refuel with sandwiches and cold beverages. I even went swimming! Boy was it chilly, but so refreshing.
Ocala National Forest is so beautiful and wild. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember the wild beauty of Florida when you live in the more developed areas. Drifting down the springs was quiet, peaceful, and calming. I wish I could be immersed in nature like that all the time. Maybe it would help sort my jumbled brain.
Speaking of the wild… we saw so many animals! We not one, not two, but THREE alligators. Two were big boys, about 6 feet long, and one was cute little baby. Don’t worry, we kept our distance. We also encountered at least 25 turtles along the way. They were hilarious, always standing completely still and posing with such defiance. Another cool encounter was with a hawk that was sitting on a branch maybe 7 feet from us. It sat there for a good 5 minutes, almost oblivious of our presence before it flew away in a big swoop. Also, the water was so clear that we could see mullet and other fish swimming upstream in little schools. We should have caught some for dinner! Hmmm I think that might be illegal though…
Overall, it was an incredible day. I really want to go on more outdoor excursions like this in Florida. There are so many hiking trails, springs, and campgrounds just waiting to be explored. Sometimes you need a little push to get out of your comfort zone and do new things. Hopefully next time won’t involve gators….