September 8th: Big Sabine to Fort Walton

Clouds building up..
Clouds building up..
Those puffy clouds turned into this approaching storm.
Those puffy clouds turned into this approaching storm.
The storm finally arrives.
The storm finally arrives.
Don't let my crummy photo fool you. Juana's pagodas is awesome. It is located right next to the public boat ramp in Navarre.
Don’t let my crummy photo fool you. Juana’s pagodas is awesome. It is located right next to the public boat ramp in Navarre.
Military tower...looked like something from war of the worlds. I believe it was designed to deal with the Cuban missile crisis.
Military tower…looked like something from war of the worlds. I believe it was designed to deal with the Cuban missile crisis.
Look closely...see the enormous barge taking up the whole back of the picture?
Look closely…see the enormous barge taking up the whole back of the picture?
Fort Walton Spoil Island sunset
Fort Walton Spoil Island sunset

I left early from Big Sabine and eased into a 25 mile paddle to a spoil island in Fort Walton. The water was still and the heat was unbearable. I got to the point where I could only take a few paddle strokes before stopping to drink. I crawled past miles of sand dunes shimmering in the morning heat and watched small puffy clouds billow up into towering thunderheads. I wished that a gentle rain might cool me off. I got my wish…but at a price. The thunderheads released a downpour of ice cold rain and revived me. Unfortunately, my wonderful rainstorm began to produce huge bolts of lightning which struck the water off in the distance. This was an incredibly dangerous situation so I raced off the water and made it to a small restaurant in the town of Navarre.

The restaurant, Juana’s Pagodas (http://www.juanaspagodas.com/), turned out to be the prefect haven from the storm. I’m not sure if it is listed in the newer edition of the circumnavigational trail guide, but it should be. There was a soft sandy beach to pull the boat up on and the people there were incredibly friendly and accommodating. I stumbled into the restaurant dripping wet, slightly dazed and very dehydrated. The waitress immediately sat me down at a table with a power outlet so I could charge my phone and brought me an ice cold tea…and another tea…and another. I probably drank about two gallons of tea and my glass was never empty. The food was great and I was able thankful for the break. The storm outside worsened and I was worried that I would not be able make my campsite. The manager offered to let me weather out the storm at the restaurant and even said I could pitch my tent there if it got too late. I had a great chat with the people at the restaurant and watched as the storm finally cleared. As I was getting ready to leave, the waitress topped off my empty 3-liter bottle with ice cold filtered water. Awesome!

Feeling happy and rested, I had a wonderful evening cruise down to Fort Walton. I watched dolphins and sharks hunting in the channels and passed miles of pine forests lining the shore. I passed the end of a runway and a huge military cargo plane took off right over my head, making the boat shudder in the water. As I approached camp, I watched a small motor boat zoom up to the beach. A dog jumped off the boat and the man on board backed the boat out into the channel. He gunned the engine at full throttle while shouting across the water. The dog ran across the island and then jumped into the water and swam across the next island. He ran across a second island before jumping into the water to swim back to the boat. Apparently, this was the dog’s evening exercise routine :)

The sunset was beautiful and a full moon rose over camp. It was so bright that I didn’t even need my headlamp. I tied the boat off to the tent in case one of the huge barges going by created a huge wake. Fortunately, it turned out to be a peaceful evening.

plane taking off

 

September 7th: East Perdido to Big Sabine

Long hot paddle down Santa Rosa Sound.
Long hot paddle down Santa Rosa Sound.
Storm rolling into camp at Big Sabine.
Storm rolling into camp at Big Sabine.
Big Sabine Sunset
Big Sabine Sunset
Lots of sting rays cruising the beach in the morning.
Lots of sting rays cruising the beach in the morning.
Moonrise over the sand dunes at Big Sabine.
Moonrise over the sand dunes at Big Sabine.

This was the day that Andy headed back home and I was officially on my own for the next week. I was incredibly sad to see Andy go. He has helped me in so many ways.

I was a nervous wreck when I paddled off and watched Andy disappear off into the horizon. However, as I eased into the steady rhythm of paddling, I felt better and better. I cruised down Santa Rosa sound over mirror calm water. The heat was brutal and I stopped at a jet ski rental place to get some ice cold drinks.

When I arrived at Big Sabine, a huge storm was brewing off in the distance. I hastily set up camp and was treated to a spectacular and terrifying lightning show. I found out later that this storm had produced hail and that the lightning burned down several homes. The wind was howling across the water and my tent strained against the stakes. I was thankful for the deep stakes that Andy had given me the day before for just this kind of situation. It finally drifted off to sleep and awoke to calm morning.

This photo was taken at night. The lightning illuminated the entire sky.
This photo was taken at night. The lightning illuminated the entire sky.

September 6th: Big Lagoon to East Perdido Key

Signed the circumnavigational trail's logbook at the beginning of my trip.
Signed the circumnavigational trail’s logbook at the beginning of my trip.
barge at big lagoon
Giant Barge passing the Observation Tower at Big Lagoon State Park. I will have to deal with many of these huge barges during my trip.

Launch day! It was a bit…chaotic.

Decals on my gorgeous Epic 18x Sport kayak in the Expedition layup.
Decals on my gorgeous Epic 18x Sport kayak in the Expedition layup. Thank you Epic for giving me such a fantastic boat!

Andy and I got up early and got ready to head to the launch. As I was getting into the car, my sunglasses broke. Crap! Andy drove me to the nearest CVS, where I was able to pick up two cheap pairs of sunglasses. Andy bought me a pool noodle to use as rollers to get the heavily loaded kayak up the beach.

We made it to the kayak launch area and began loading the boats. I had practiced loading but had added a few more dry bags of stuff. I ended up having to leave some of my stuff behind. The heat was brutal and I was frustrated that I could not get the boat loaded. Finally, we crammed everything in. I put the decals on my beautiful kayak which I have named ‘Lotus’. The kayak was sponsored to me by Epic and I was excited to have a new boat to take me around the state.

Loading enough food and gear for a three month expedition.
Loading enough food and gear for a three month expedition.

I hastily signed the Florida Saltwater Circumnavigational trail log book and we launched around midday. We paddled to the West to the Alabama border so that I could officially paddle from

Launching from Big Lagoon State park! First stop Alabama then headed for Georgia!
Launching from Big Lagoon State park! First stop Alabama then headed for Georgia!

state border to border. We then turned back East and headed for East Perdido Key. As I crossed back into Florida, I watched in horror as my charts from the beginning of the trip to Tampa slid overboard and sank into the deep channel. I wish I could say I handled it gracefully, but I was pretty upset with myself. I should have had the charts tied on better. Andy was once again my knight shining neoprene. He paddled back to his car and drove and picked up some charts for the local area. I had  lost all my notes but at least I was able to navigate. After a short paddle, we made it to the beautiful East Perdido Key campsite and camped amongst the dunes. I was finally able to chill and try and get myself ready for the following day’s solo paddle.

First sunset of the trip! Taken at Perdido Key.
First sunset of the trip! Taken at Perdido Key.
Welcome to Florida! I plan to paddle from state border to state border. This is the spot where my charts went overboard. If you find them, I'd like them back :)
Welcome to Florida! I plan to paddle from state border to state border. This is the spot where my charts went overboard. If you find them, I’d like them back :)
Crab at East Perdido campsite. He was crawled all over our stuff and then tried to hide under my tent.
Crab at East Perdido campsite. He  crawled all over our stuff and then tried to hide under my tent.
Andy walking the miles of beautiful deserted beaches on East Perdido Key.
Andy walking the miles of beautiful deserted beaches on East Perdido Key.

September 5th: Pre-Launch

September 5th: Andy and I made the long drive up from Tampa to Big Lagoon State Park. I was so nervous that I was sick to my stomach. A few tears were shed as I contemplated the enormity of what lay ahead of me. 1500 miles of paddling and three months away from my friends and family. Once we reached the park, my fear was replaced by excitement. Andy and I climbed the observation tower where I got my first glimpse of the waters I’d be paddling. The coast looked wild and beautiful. On our way to the campground, we encountered a poisonous cotton mouth snake cruising the road.  Of course, I had to get a picture with it :)

That night, we went to the famous Florabama restaurant.  It was a crowded beach bar the looked like a strange cross between Skipper’s in Tampa and the Lani Kai in Fort Myers. The bar scene doesn’t do much for me so I wandered out onto the moonlit beach and watched the waves coming in.  Andy and I then had some pizza and headed back to camp.

Cotton Mouth at Big Lagoon
Cotton Mouth at Big Lagoon
Florabma