Today, I had the pleasure of kayaking my favorite creek in Florida located just a few miles from my place of birth. My purpose for the trip down to Punta Gorda was actually two-fold. For starters, I hadn’t been out on Shell Creek since early spring. It’s been so hot this summer in south Florida that kayaking during the day has been out of the question, however this morning it was a brisk 70 degrees when I left my house! I also wanted to see my parents before leaving for Costa Rica in 30 hours. *grin*
The creek is about an hour’s drive south of my house, and I arrived there around 8:30 in the morning. The launch is located at Hathaway Park. Due to the rainfall over the last couple weeks, the water level was about 4-5 feet above where it had been the last few times I’d been out on the creek. Also, I could detect a slight current—unusual considering I was only 3-4 miles upriver from a dam.
The weather was perfect and within about 20 minutes I noticed some variety of blooming vine I had never seen before. Upon further inspection, I was thrilled to find it was a type of Hoya that was doing remarkably well. Hoyas are my favorite type of flower, and they aren’t native to Florida. Normally you would have to go to a botanical garden to see large specimens like this one.
Shell Creek is one of the least developed in south Florida, and after paddling about two miles upstream all signs of civilization completely disappear. I was determined to see just how far upstream I could get. On previous attempts, I managed to get about 5 miles upstream before the creek became too shallow for even my kayak. With the higher than usual water level I was certain I could get further—into the heart of darkness!
I was wrong, as usual. When I first started upstream the current was just barely noticeable, but after about 2-3 miles the creek had become quite narrow and the current was getting stronger. I felt like I could fight it a bit more, and ended up power stroking for another 2-3 miles. When I got as far as I could manage, I checked my gps and realized I had made it the exact same point that I had previously made it to in the spring. At this point the river was 10 feet higher than my last visit, and the current was just too much to fight. I stopped for a few minutes to eat lunch and take some video before beginning a leisurely float back downriver.
Once again, I was wrong. My trip back downriver was anything but leisurely. The current was so strong, it was nearly impossible for me to steer, and I was repeatedly thrown into low-hanging limbs and palm fronds. Spiders were literally raining down into my yak, and I nearly tipped on a couple occasions frantically trying to knock them off with my paddle. After a couple miles, the currents died down a bit and I was able to actually float for a bit, thank god!!!
As I drifted silently downstream I was finally able to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. On the way up, my robust paddling scared most of the wildlife away before I got a chance to see them up close, but on the way back down I got amazingly close to a couple large alligators, a red-shouldered hawk, and lots of fat turtles.
Even with the spider attacks and epic currents, the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and is a must-do for anyone interested in kayaking in Florida. Kayaks can be easily rented from local outfits, so there is no excuse to miss out on this piece of old Florida!