1) Where are you from? Your profession? I am a happy paddler from Ontario, Canada, where currently my home is in Port Colborne, which is at the Lake Erie entrance to the Welland Canal, part of the St. Lawrence Seaway. That puts me only a half hour from Buffalo, NY, where I cross the Niagra River via the Peace Bridge as I snowbird my way to my favorite home, Florida. I roost from the end of October to mid-April on the Gulf Coast, about 45 minutes north of Tampa, in New Port Richey. I started my working life as a teacher, then moved on to aviation, becoming a flying instructor. These were the best working years of my life. With the birth of my daughter, a more stable career and source of income seemed called for, so I got on with Transport Canada, now NavCanada, equivalent to the FAA, in Air Traffic Services as a Flight Service Specialist. FSS provides flight safety information by radio or during pre-flight, by phone or in person to pilots, including weather briefings, flight planning, flight plan following and alerting service, and the initiating of overdue aircraft search procedures. After 25 years of service, I am now retired and my new life is underway.
2) When and how did you become interested in paddling? At 18, I worked with the Ontario Department of Natural Resources for a couple summers in the bush of northern Ontario. That set the course for my life, a love and appreciation for forests and open places, lakes and rivers, and the wildlife of our planet. There I learned the basics of canoeing and, to this day, the canoe is my favorite for day trips and multi-day paddles in Ontario's vast northland. It allows comfortable, roomy seating for long days of paddling, ease of entry, and the capacity to carry the camping gear needed to reach out-of-the-way places. Portaging is actually not difficult once you get the hang of it and adds to the trip as one plods along narrow winding trails with new discoveries at each turn. I started kayaking here in Florida during the winter of 2011-12 and haven't looked back since. I'm absolutely hooked. Now, from April to October back home in Canada, I count the days to when I can come back down to Florida to get back on the water.
3) Where is your favorite place to paddle? Right here in Florida, where I don't have to drive for half a day or longer to get away from the cities, and where the weather is almost always suitable for paddling. Of that, my favorite is the (southern) Withlacoochee River, which fortunately I live fairly close to and which is so incredibly diverse and rich in wildlife. But I must share that spot with the Florida Keys, a long drive from home, but which stands alone in its semi-tropical climate, clear waters, and stunning vistas.
4) What's the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? I guess being "baptized" on the Ochlockonee River could be considered. It was certainly memorable, educational, and in retrospect, even humorous. But paddling on the Halls River, which flows into the Homosassa, surrounded and followed by a small pod of dolphins for more than a half hour as they did their fishing thing, was the top. They were surfacing right beside my kayak, even bumping into it nearly capsizing me, and cavorting about making it look as though they were playing. Such beautiful creatures.
5) How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where? Four so far: last year's Florida Keys Challenge, Dam to the Bay on the Ochlockonee River, and the Wekiva/St. Johns River Ramble. I just completed the longer version of the Florida Keys Challenge this January.
6) What keeps you coming back? The people. Traveling with new acquaintances, overcoming adversities, sharing experiences, and making new friends is what makes long duration group paddles such fun. Paddle Florida does all the research, all the planning, provides all of the support, and is the focal point of the trip. Our kayaks could not possibly carry all the gear and food needed for multi-day trips. Knowing where we will camp each night, having breakfast and dinner brought to us each day, and having great educational and entertaining presentations each evening, all pre-arranged for us, allows us to simply enjoy, to have fun on the water.
7) Can you describe a particular Paddle Florida trip highlight? Paddling day 3 of the 2013 Florida Keys Challenge stands out. It was the most perfect day, sunny skies with just enough high, thin, white clouds to take the edge off the sunburn, a light breeze creating just enough ripple on the water to let our kayaks cut freely through the water, and that seven-mile bridge right beside us. It was a conquering experience. It gave one such a lift to have done it, that which at first seemed so foreboding. We were way out there in our tiny vessels, we went from island to island, and then we followed the beautiful, unspoiled coastline on to Bahia Honda, with a wide variety of sea creatures to enjoy in those shallow, clear waters. For me, it even topped some of my quiet evening paddles, drifting silently in the setting sun in our northern streams or lakes as the loons, ducks, beavers, and muskrats come out, and the otters play as deer come out to drink.
8) What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? Don't spend too much time considering. Pick one and just do it. You will not regret it, even if now and then the weather may not cooperate. That you will find is easy to overcome. The experience, and hence the joy, never ceases.