The original plan was to paddle the Silver River in Ocala on Saturday. Tropical Storm Debby changed those plans, though. We didn’t want to drive almost 2 hours if we were going to be rained out, so we instead decided to stay close and just head to the Wekiva River. The weather was overcast, a humid 90°, and drizzling lightly. I packed my cheap NOAA alert weather radio and we launched from Katie’s Landing, heading Northeast toward the St. Johns, right around 3pm.
The river was very quiet – we didn’t see another soul on the water the entire trip. Well, not a human soul, anyway. Lots of wildlife, LOTS OF GATORS. Gators around every bend. Swimming across our path, staring at us from logs and marshes, and splashing into the water every couple of minutes. Most of them were small-to-medium-sized, but a few of them had to be over 8 feet in length.
We stayed in the main channel on the first half of the trip, past the homes on the right bank, past Wekiva River Haven, into what I call the “pure wilderness area”. At one point, a very large gator splashed into the water, creating a wake you’d expect from a ski boat. We didn’t see how big he was, but based on the splash and area he came from, he was probably the largest one of the trip. It was around this point where I started chanting “Hare Krishna”…
Gators weren’t the only wildlife we saw, though. We saw quite a few birds. I was able to identify most of them, which is kind of cool.
The trip back was mostly uneventful, which likely clouded our judgement. We reached a fork in the river – left would have kept us in the main, wide channel, along the bank with all the beautiful houses, the same path we took on the first leg of the paddle. “Wanna go right this time?” my partner asked me. I checked the GPS, and while it confirmed a narrower channel, it did appear to be navigable. We pressed on. A great “twofer” photo opportunity immediately rewarded us – a Great Blue Heron and a Pileated Woodpecker:
The path narrowed. Only room for single file with the ‘yaks. My partner was ahead, and got hung up on a log. She glanced left when her paddle got stuck, and looked right at a gator, about 3 feet from her at eye-level on an adjacent log. I thought her disturbed look was just because she was stuck. She didn’t tell me about the other part until I was through. She thought I had seen it. It’s probably better that I didn’t.
I then slipped past her and took the lead. There was a tiny path in the marsh ahead of us – around 6 inches across. I’m not nuts about paddling with marsh on both sides of my boat. Gators hide in marsh. I prefer to give them their space. We took a breather, and confirmed that turning back wasn’t really an option. Right around this point, a tiny gator swam across the 6 inch path between the marsh in front of us. Tiny is bad, because mom is never far, and is very protective of her young. We discussed our options again – turn around and go back past the gator on the log 3 feet from our only path, or forge ahead into the unknown, creating a path through the marsh. I started singing the theme song from Super Mario Brothers, dipped my paddle into the water, and wedged my boat into the marsh, creating a path for my partner to follow. It must have been quite a sight from behind me, wet foliage flying into the air with every paddle stroke.
After much singing and a little cussing, we made it through without becoming reptile dinner. The path widened a bit.
The next several yards of the path were meandering, so we didn’t really know how much more we’d have to overcome before our comfort would return. We certainly weren’t turning back, so lack of options had my anxiety levels pretty high. “We’re ALMOST to the main channel.” Hooray for the GPS. Hopefully the stress was behind us.
Finally back to the main channel, just off of the launch site. A small gator crosses our path once more, just for good measure, I’m sure. Back at the launch, all body parts intact. A somewhat harrowing paddle, but definitely no regrets!
Here’s the map, paddled 3.34 miles total.