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With the first wisps of cooler, drier air finally beginning to replace our muggy, buggy summertime, some of us in South Florida look forward to more canoeing excursions. Day trips are fun, but have you ever considered canoe-camping? Canoe camping is not for everyone but can be addictive! Do you want to feel a little like Lewis and Clark? Canoes were a big part of the exploration of North America.

You can visit areas not accessible by any other means. Night skies will be dark, starry, free of light pollution. Canoes provide excellent opportunities to photograph wildlife. A canoe-camping adventure is a very good reason to get into shape. But, this should not be your first time canoeing! You will NOT be a happy camper!In my experience, there are two types of people: campers who use canoes on occasion, and canoeists who camp on occasion. The former group usually overpacks. Not as bad as “glamping”  (Google it!) but they are still determined to bring all of life’s comforts and luxuries with them. If they’ve brought too much, just let them paddle their own gear!

With wilderness areas disappearing quickly, you will most likely have to make an overnight reservation at a government-owned preserve, purchase a permit, and stay for only a specific length of time. Even the million acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota requires camping permits for overnight stays. My favorite place to canoe-camp in the fall and winter is Georgia’s 700-square-mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. I also recommend Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore, where Orange Island was a lovely place to camp after a vigorous paddle as strong ocean winds kicked up Mosquito Lagoon. In 1997, along with his son Ryan Kazo, and friend Frank Parker, my husband Tom paddled the treacherous 100-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway.

Like most things in life, when canoe-camping, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Know the area well before you make your reservations; especially the hydrology, as in, where does the water come from that you will be paddling on? Is it snow melt, salt or brackish, spring or tidal controlled? Will you have to slog through mud? Are there rapids? A heavily loaded canoe made for tripping is not as maneuverable on whitewater. Portages are to be avoided if possible!If you go far enough north, as to the Okefenokee, you will have to brace yourself for brisk cold fronts sweeping down, especially in January. Have you paddled in strong winds and choppy waves? Always prepare for bugs, no matter what time of the year, and in the SE USA, alligators and rattlesnakes.

Even if you love kayaks with all of your heart, for overnight camping, here canoes win out over kayaks. A typical human cannot possibly carry enough gear to be comfortable in a kayak. Gear includes water. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Only if you have someone provisioning your paddling route (which sort of seems like cheating to me) could a kayak be feasible.

What kind of canoe do you have? Not all are suitable for overnight trips. WRT has both tandem and solo canoes made by Mohawk, proven perfect for these adventures. You may need to rent a canoe from a local outfitter. Paddles are also essential, so don’t wait until the last minute to get familiar with yours. Even if you rent a canoe, buy your own paddles and paddling gloves. You will be a happier camper. We in WRT use both double and single paddles. If, like me, you paddle solo, a double paddle is essential; but I also keep my single handy.

Your canoe should have ropes (also called lines or painters) attached to the bow and stern, about 15’ each. NEVER get out of the canoe without taking hold of the painter. If your canoe dumps, always stay with your canoe; never try to swim to shore. The canoe will stay afloat, even full of water. In our canoes, we have attached eyelets along the inside edge of the gunwales, so that we can stretch bungee cords to hold our cargo, even if the canoe tips.

Practice getting into and out of your canoe from different heights, from docks, from beaches, from the water. Notice in the photo montage that we are camping on platforms built at least a couple of feet above the water. Paddling with a partner? Practice everything together: switch from bow to stern and vice versa.

Essential: first aid kits for humans and for canoes. We learned the hard way that antibiotic eye ointment is indispensable. As is duct tape! Everyone in your group needs to know basic first aid; the Boy Scout Handbook has good info. Visit your doctor and your dentist before the trip. Tetanus shots up to date? If you take prescription meds, keep them in waterproof containers. Pack a spare pair of eyeglasses.

If it’s cold, or you feel uneasy, wear your personal flotation device, which you’ve purchased well ahead of time, so you know it fits. Keep it handy, if you feel confident. Keep your rain gear handy, too.

Take great care to load your canoe; make sure it is perfectly trimmed (balanced), because you may otherwise have to compensate in your paddling to make up for an uneven load. That gets old FAST, and could cause you to hurt yourself. In the Okefenokee, there were no places to get out and repack for several hours. Make very sure you have a decent amount of freeboard (distance between the gunwale, or top edge of the canoe, and the waterline). If the water will be choppy, will you have sufficient freeboard? In Mosquito Lagoon, Tom had to rescue friends who had overpacked their canoe! It was not really made for camping, with much less freeboard than our Mohawks. Our friends were in great danger of drowning, once their overloaded canoe swamped in the chop and bluster of a spring cold front.

Do not assume that anything electronic will work out there. Do not rely on a GPS or cell phone. Learn how to use an old fashioned compass, and how to read a (waterproof) map. Have spare flashlights and batteries. Headlamps let you work hands-free. Add a pad and pencil to your personal gear.

Invest in a waterproof digital camera, but even then, stow your camera when boarding or disembarking from your canoe. I’ve seen some very expensive equipment ruined because of carelessness.

Water! Pack even more than for drinking; you may need to wash dishes or yourself. At least you won’t have to paddle it back! I always made sure to load the firewood, most of the water supply, and beer in my solo canoe. Then everyone looked out for me! Wildlife such as raccoons may rob your water or food supplies, and they may be more clever than you could anticipate.

Buy or borrow the best quality sleeping bags and tents. Zippers can make your life a living hell. Good quality zippers are essential! There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck inside! Down filling will stay wet longer than man-made fibers, which can also pack tighter into your canoe.

Although camping without a campfire and S’Mores wouldn’t seem right, where you will obtain fuel? Don’t assume the area where you will be setting up will have dry wood to burn. There is also risk of introducing insects into an area if you bring firewood with you. Duraflame has introduced Campfire Logs, safe for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows. Check to see that open fires are even permitted. Don’t make Smokey the Bear mad at you!

When paddling, always keep the canoe in front of you and the one behind in sight, but don’t follow too closely. Keep at least one canoe’s length from each other. What if you get hung up on a root?

Last but not certainly not least, leave no trace. What you pack in, pack out. Do not leave litter behind. Don’t cut down or chop at trees. Respect the wildlife; you are visiting their home. If there are outhouses, please use them. Further reading: How to S**t in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer.

Consider this to be a very brief introduction to the wonderful world of canoe-camping. Now grab a paddle and get out there!

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

Donna

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21-1193_03

Hello again, glad to have you back!
Welcome to Day Three out of seven days of sharing with you our Canoe View.

Today, we present to you a basic, unembellished list, in no particular order, of Wildlife Research Team’s possible future programs and products. WRT has already accomplished many of them, especially in our early, experimental years, before we put all of our time and resources into our two major habitat restoration projects which were discussed in yesterday’s newsletter.

Some will be offered to the public at no cost in furtherance of our nonprofit mission.

Some could offer sponsors the opportunity to become environmental heroes by simply donating funds.

Some are to earn revenue so as to maintain our free programs and make us self-supporting.

  • Canoe View Classroom expanded into Canoe View University (these will be discussed in future posts)
  • Excursions/classes for still photographers or photography clubs
  • Excursions/classes for videographers or cinematographers or their groups
  • Excursions/classes for artists (could include locations to set up easels)
  • Excursions/classes for plant identification
  • Excursions/classes for bird identification
  • Excursions/classes for fish identification
  • Excursions/classes for scientific research; could include field studies, sampling, hands-on experiments
  • Excursions/classes with a focus on Florida history
  • Waterway and coastal cleanups
  • Scavenger hunts with prizes (can coincide with coastal or waterway cleanups)
  • Geocaching
  • Mapping expeditions
  • Snorkeling trips
  • Overnight canoe-camping trips
  • Boy Scout and Girl Scout Merit Badge projects
  • Canoe Daycamp
  • Birthday or anniversary parties
  • Weddings
  • Stress relief/Nature Therapy trips
  • Corporate wellness and/or teambuilding
  • Sunrise trips
  • Sunset trips, some featuring the rise of the full moon
  • Nighttime trips during meteor showers
  • Picnics on the water
  • Excursions specially designed for the infirm of all ages (long-term hospital inpatients, residents of nursing homes) for a prescribed dose of Vitamin N(ature)
  • Programs focused on specific groups within the community:

~kids from the inner city;
~over-40 couch potatoes who’d like to be healthier;
~diabetics who, like Dr. Tom Kazo did, suffer from foot ulcers and have difficulty walking;
~veterans who could fulfill volunteer opportunities and/or be paid as Canoe Guides
~(I bet you can come up with some target groups!)

  • Canoe “rodeo” for both fun and skills mastery (the shallow tidal flats of Matheson Hammock are ideal)
  • Yoga or other types of exercise such as tai chi, qi gong; a group paddles to a peaceful location to practice their discipline
  • “Blazing Paddles” exercise sessions
  • Canoe races
  • Scouting expeditions to seek new routes (good for Team building)
  • Guided fishing trips
  • Provide Community Service Hours to students
  • Provide exciting and meaningful volunteer experiences on the water and on land, so that people can earn the hours to become Members even if they are not physically able to paddle a canoe.
  • Create decently-paid jobs (even if part-time) which are properly accounted for
  • Seek and develop leaders to keep WRT paddling for decades to come
  • Offer group benefits to Members

We hope the above list excites you! Our Team has worked hard over these past two decades, but we have had a heck of a lot of fun along the way. We’ve seen a lot of wonderful kids grow up in our canoes, including my own two daughters, Christianna and Jamie.

Even just one WRT canoe excursion, however, has been known to improve a child’s outlook for the rest of his or her life.
Many of these youngsters have been inspired to choose careers in science.

Gratifying? You bet!
Exponential results? Our specialty!

So all the more reason for us to get back to work after this long and frustrating dry spell.

Tomorrow’s post: Where Do We Start?

Thank you so much for your time and attention. There are no greater gifts, when all is said and done.

Hope you have fair winds and sunny skies today,

Donna

P.S. Remember you are invited to learn more about WRT before tomorrow (or at any time!), by checking out past posts on our WordPress blog and our website: www.wildlife-research-team.org, and please feel free to share our newsletters and posts with your friends.

Photo: our first two canoes, Do-er and Do-It, moored along Turner River in deep southwest Florida, in 1993, during a scouting expedition.

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12

Okay, I am not an expert on Zen, or anything Buddhist, or even Asian, really. Let’s get that straight. This is just something a girl said to me on one of our early canoe trips when I was explaining the best way for me to paddle, “Is that the Zen of paddling, Donna?” It has stuck with me for almost 16 years.

So here’s how I interpret the Zen of paddling a canoe. My decision at the very beginning of all of this canoeing with my soulmate was to paddle as excellently as possible, to make every stroke count. You are going to have to do it millions of times, might as well do it right from the beginning. So there’s a fair amount of concentration to develop form while you are learning, but that’s the same with so many things. Especially in sports; tennis and golf come to mind. Repetitive motion, with mastery of technique the difference between a champion and a novice.

My personal goal in paddling is to be as quiet as possible, to slice the water with each dip of the paddle with efficient, powerful stealth. What I always tell our volunteers at every quick pre-cleanup canoeing tutorial is to think of an Olympic diver slicing into the water without a splash, and emulate that. Don’t thrash the water as if you are beating egg whites to make into meringue. Don’t keep clobbering the top edges of the canoe, either.

I love to sneak up on wildlife, first of all. I also love not wasting energy. I especially don’t want to hurt myself, and miss out on future canoeing adventures. I really hate to see people deprive themselves of fun in the future by not getting the hang of smooth, efficient paddling. Canoeing is such a marvelous thing to do that I hate to see people in pain because of it.

Remember, it’s just not as easy as it looks. Few things are, when you do them really well. So be kind to yourself, allow yourself to learn. Canoeing is one of the few sports, though, that has the power to actually kill you, because you are deliberately placing yourself in harm’s way: rough weather, crazy people on jetskis, drunks in powerboats, alligators, killer whales…

When paddling, put yourself into a contemplative state, with the repetition of each stroke as soothing and yet revitalizing as a Buddhist chant. You also have to be sure to choose the right paddle, but that’s not our concern just now. Seek perfection in each stroke, in placement of the paddle. Feel the breath in your body, feel the sun on your skin, the wind in your face, the strength in your muscles. Be totally present, be in the moment.

Drink plenty of water and use sunblock, wear a good personal flotation device, wear sunglasses so you can see beneath the surface. Be proud of yourself when you return to the dock. Be blissful. Now just make sure you keep doing it. Like meditation, it’s called a practice for a reason. Let me know about your adventures, okay? Remember, you can learn more about canoeing on our website, www.wildlife-research-team.org.

Happy paddling!

Donna

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