1) Where are you from? Your profession? I am from upper east Tennessee, in the midst of a number of TVA lakes and small rivers. Our family farm was along the Holston River, which I poled but never paddled. I worked as a statistician with the USDA until I retired some 15 years ago. During that time, I worked out of a number of offices from Boston to Phoenix, as well as an assignment in Khartoum, Sudan. I took advantage of many of the outdoor activities in these locations, such as cycling, hiking, etc., but did not paddle until returning to Florida.
2) When and how did you become interested in paddling? Upon retiring to Florida, my wife and I thought we should take advantage of all the water around us. We purchased a canoe and plied many of the rivers in Central Florida. I was hooked! When my wife decided to hang up her paddle and PFD, we sold the canoe and I got my first kayak. I pretty much haven't looked back since.
3) Where is your favorite place to paddle? I prefer small rivers and streams. I paddle a lot on the Withlacoochee north of State Road 50. There are some really neat sights paddling through the Withlacoochee State Forest/Croom area. I also paddle the Wekiva River. Lots of birds, gators, and other assorted wildlife, especially north of Katie's Landing.
4) What's the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? Interesting things happen most times you put a boat on the water. For me, one that comes to mind was a night paddle section of a 24-hour adventure race years back. We were paddling up the Indian River, which can have some pretty high concentrations of phosphorus. This was my first experience with water that was luminescent. Every splash of the water would glow, including the water dripping off my paddle. Literally thousands of mullet were jumping with the water glowing as it splashed off them. I've been back to this section of the river a number of times but have yet to see it as spectacular as that night.
Equally memorable was a paddle portion of another adventure race run more recently in the Tosohatchee area east of Orlando. The St. Johns River flows through there and it is pretty much a confusing maze of channels and creeks, making it hard to find your way. My teammate and I were heading back up a channel just after daybreak, paddling a plastic canoe with kayak paddles. Rounding a turn, we saw gators making a mad dash for the water when they spotted us. It was like something out of National Geographic to see as many as a dozen of these massive gators up on all fours racing into the water. Our hope was that there was enough room for them to slide under us and that we didn't tip the boat. Toss in some airboat traffic, and that was about as interesting as I wanted it to get.
5) How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where? I have been on four Paddle Florida trips to date: Dam to the Bay on the Ochlockonee River; the Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee; the fall Suwannee River Wilderness Trail trip; and the spring Suwannee River Paddling Festival.
6) What keeps you coming back? Just a lot of fun. I enjoy spending a week with fellow paddlers. Bill, Jan, and their crew do a great job of planning these trips and taking care of us. Campsites are great, generally a state park or other public land. The caterers furnish good food and plenty of it. And the weather has been mostly good!
7) Can you describe a particular Paddle Florida trip highlight? A day of paddling is always one of the highlights of any trip with Paddle Florida. However, some of my most memorable times have been after we come off the water. Camaraderie with fellow paddlers, tiki bars, night hikes, and the educational speakers and entertainment are but a few of the highlights that make these trips so interesting and fun.
8) What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? If you like the outdoors, camping and paddling, and enjoy spending time with like-minded folks, sign up for a trip. You will not be disappointed.