Week Five – The surprises and kindness of strangers, now friends.
I woke up at Adventure Marine before most people were moving. I ate breakfast and then launched back into the water. Destin was a short distance way. I moved along and cored the East Pass into Destin Harbor. The wind and chop made for an interesting time. Then the incoming tide was trying to push me back into the bridge as I passed under it. The harbor had a tight entrance and I had to wait for a larger ship to come in. Once in, there were some people on the patio decks cheering me as I made it in. They must have been watching me struggle across the pass. I went all the way in to a bar called Boschamps. I met the owner in Colorado last ski season. He gave me a card and invite me in if I actually made this trip. So, I pulled up to the beach outside the bar, pulled my kayak up and headed in to eat. He was not there, but I figured I would get a burger this day anyways. I sat at the bar in some of my wet clothes. I ordered a burger and it was one of the better ones on all my adventures. When I am back in this area, I will be stopping by here.
After lunch, I headed back out. There was a smaller pod of dolphins moving at my speed as I headed out. That is something that never gets old. They went out with me and met up with a pod outside the harbor. At this point there was another boat or two out watching them. There were two dolphins out jumping over each other in the air. After the bridge, the boats backed off. I just kept paddling. They were going the same direction I was heading. Then I saw two baby dolphins in the big pod. They were as cute as you can imagine. I simply smiled in between paddle strokes and enjoyed that moment. They pushed up to the bay and I continued on my course. I paddled until I hit Point Washington. Along the way, I stopped at a dock I could get out onto and changed into some warmer gear and to have some food. I was planning on paddling into the night.
I reached Point Washington and entered into a quiet bay before entering into the ‘ditch’. I was looking at the stars above me in the calm water. I past some houses before checking my map. I wanted to make sure I would have a place to land once entering the ICW (ditch). I looked back and saw a tug was entering into it. I knew it would be tight, so I just waited for it to pass. It spotted me with its lights as I sat there waiting. I waved at them and watched them move forward. I paddled in behind them as close as I could get to use their light as they moved throughout the waterway. This waterway is a man made dug out ditch connecting the ICW. It had walls about 20′ up on both sides with very little landing zones. The tug pulled away from me when I watched it swing really wide on a corner. They mush have been tired because they almost grounded their load and the boat. A little further down, they turned around. They saw me and I just waited because I did not know what they were doing. Then a deck hand came out and asked if I knew a place for them to tie up for the night. The whole crew was sleepy. I couldn’t help them, so I kept paddling hoping they would not continue. They found a place to tie up and I had the ditch to myself. There was little to no moon light. The water was glass. I could see the stars below me as they reflected from the sky above. I felt like I was paddling through the stars. Unforgettable. It was not long before the fog I kept hearing about o my VHF radio came rolling in. It came in quick and I could not see beyond 20′ even with my good lights. I pulled up to an embankment with some sand on it and just sat there deciding if I would push on or if I would call it a night right there. As I sat there, I heard two dolphins pass me. You just know the sound when you hear it. I decided to call it a night there.
I pulled my kayak up and realized the ground had a steep pitch to it. I spotted a place where I would set up my bivy sack. I took my paddle and pulled out sand to make a flat surface to sleep. My kayak was high enough and I crashed out. The fog lifted and the stars were back out for the night. I woke up once in the night when a tug was moving through the ditch. The next morning, I headed out. I was simply enjoying each and every moment. The colors in the water, the sand, and the trees kept my eyes busy. I was just feeling fortunate. I had about 15-20 miles to meet my friend Aimee’s mom. She lived in the Panama City area and had a condo for me to take a day off to rest. I got within one mile where I was going to meet her. The tide was coming in and so was the headwind. That last mile took me close to an hour. It was worth it. Once I got to where I could see Delinda, I saw Aimee. She had come down to surprise me. It worked. It was such a treat to see a friend from Denver. She moved to Birmingham, AL but wanted to surprise me. It worked. They talked to a local right there and he offered to watch my kayak while I took a day off. I pulled it up, locked it to a tree and put my gear into the car. We drove to the condo where I got a shower before heading out to get some food.
We went to Dusty’s bar. I had some wings, which were amazing, and a burger. I was a little hungry. I chatted with Aimee and Delinda at the bar and then we headed back to the condo. WE talked, I talked, until everyone was tired. They took off for the night and I crashed out. I had a bed and that was enough. I was happy. The next morning, Aimee came back over and we went to get breakfast. I ordered what the waitress thought was a lot of food. It was not that much. It was something to hold me over for a few hours. I am not the smallest cat doing a big trip. I take a certain level of pride being a big guy and being the only one doing this expedition. I want to be able to say to kids, regardless of your shape and size, focus and determination can go a long way. We stopped by the grocery store and a tourist shop for giggles. We headed back to the condo where we traded adventure stories and sat out watching a huge line of thunderstorms come through the area. My friend, Aimee, is a wandering free spirit much like myself. I offered her tips about life and for her future adventures. She headed back and I had the night to relax and simply enjoy.
The next day, Aimee came back over and we loaded up the car. We stopped by Chipolte so I could get some food before getting back on the water. Once we got the boat loaded back up, I said I will see you again soon. We both adventure and we will cross paths again. I took off and put up my Windpaddle sail for the first real time. I entered West Bay and had a strong tailwind. The sail was up and I was moving. At one point, five dolphins joined me. Three to my right and two to my left. I was not sailing super fast, but I was moving. The came up by my side and joined me for awhile. That was another first (sailing with dolphins). I made it into the Upper Lagoon as the sun was setting. I was looking for a place to land because I wanted to get off the water. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping. It was going to be a cold night.
I landed on a guys back yard beach. The house was under a lot of construction and I could not reach the owner. I went next door and met Judy and Walt. They invited me in for a few and offered me some water. They told me I could sleep in their back yard. I thanked them and headed back to my kayak. Then the owners son, who was watching his parents place during construction, came out with his big dalmatian on a leash. He asked if he could help me. He was sketchy about me even after I explained what I was doing. He told me his father was a real grouch and he could not ‘authorize’ me to sleep on the edge of his lawn. He kept saying that it was private property. I was thinking he was more the problem than his parents. I said thank you and moved my kayak to Judy and Walt’s beach. I set up camp, made dinner, and crashed out for the night. I used my kayak as a wind block during the windy night.
The next morning, Judy came out to check on me and let me know that she would have breakfast wait ing for me when I got up. That made me smile in my bivy sack. I got up and headed up to their house. She made me five fried eggs, a bowl of grits, some bacon, sausage, and biscuits. I was stuffed and happy. That breakfast would go a long way that day. I left St. Andrews Bay towards the Gulf of Mexico. I was going through the rock jaws and the water was changing. It was going from an olive green to a true emerald green. I turned the corner to some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen. It was clear and a soft emerald green. I can see why they call this the emerald coast and why the beaches are some of the best in the states.
I hugged the coast past Tyndall Air Force Base. I had the pleasure of watching F-15’s performing exercises all day. I made it past the base and landed on the beach that night. I think it may have been part of the base, but there was no one out checking it. I had a beach to myself. I set up camp, ate, enjoyed the sunset, and slept well that night. The next morning, I woke up on an empty beach. It reminded of the many times I did that on the west coast. I did not know what to think about that. I just smiled and though that in 20 years, I will look back on these times and smile.
I set off to the St Joseph Peninsula. I aimed to make it a strait shot. I hugged the beach until I thought I should head out to sea to hit it. I had a tail wind for about 20 minutes and then it changed and was coming out of the north. It was quite strong and it reminded me that the sea conditions can change in a moment. I held on to stay the course to get to the peninsula tip. The sun was dipping out quickly that day. I was fighting to make it in. I missed the sunset, but there was still enough light to see where I needed to hit. I pulled up on this steep beach and the wind was howling. I pulled my kayak up the beach a but to tuck in behind a sand dune. It was not much protection from the wind, but it helped.
I positioned my kayak to help build a wind block. I filled in the underside of my kayak with sand to prevent a blowing draft from coming under my kayak. I set up camp and began to make my dinner. I was on the beach alone again. I began to think. I was covered with good gear and staying pretty warm. I looked out over the water and to the stars above. This is the type of life that I had sought out to live and experience. It is not always the easiest, but it is the life I have chose for the time being. I was fortunate to be able to do what I am doing. I am forever grateful for that. I ate dinner and jumped into my bivy sack. I smiled at the stars before zipping it up. I was wrapped up in a bag that was my home for the night. I had a million stars above me and the sound of the surf and wind to lull me to sleep. This is adventure.
Never. Miss. A. Moment.