Photo by Sean Neilson
In the Everglades of Florida, wooden platforms on stilts substitute for dry land. In some areas, these are the only places available for camping. A few friends and I were two days into a four-day kayaking trip and camped on one of these "chickees" up a winding creek far from the main waterway. Dinner was settling in our stomachs and we were just sitting around talking, disappointed that there were no stars and wondering if the cloudy skies were going to bring any rain.
Then it happened. A few drops here; a few drops there. But it wasn't the raindrops that were so special, it was what they did as they gently hit the surface of the water. They flickered and glowed a fluorescent green. Drop by drop, the water lit up with the repeated glow of bioluminescent organisms.
Excited by the light show, we looked closer -- fish were swimming through the water, leaving green trails behind. A fish jumped -- luminous water stretching from exit to entry. Magical.
On another extended kayak trip, I came upon a mass of twisted, dead mangroves, the result of Hurricane Andrew's passing a few years earlier. But it wasn't the eerie mangroves that had me excited; it was the hundreds of snowy egrets perched on the sun-bleached branches. The farther I paddled into this secluded creek, the greater the spectacle -- great blue herons, white ibis, roseate spoonbills, osprey and three bald eagles. Awesome.
For me, whether in Florida's Everglades or off the coast of Washington, expedition kayaking has always been a natural extension of my unquenchable desire to explore and experience the world on the most intimate of terms. Kayaking itself offers this intimacy--a closeness to the water and its creatures and an immersion in nature that creates a temporary isolation from the human world. Expedition kayaking--multi-day trips--simply expands this experience by taking you farther into the wilderness. I never would have experienced the overwhelming beauty of all those birds or the spectacular bioluminescent light show had I not been on an extended trip.
Because expedition kayaking typically takes paddlers farther into the wilderness and beyond immediate help, however, it requires special preparation to make it safe and enjoyable.
The key to proper preparation is research. Do your homework. Find out as much as you can about where you're going. Particularly, don't leave home without knowing:
- Weather conditions for the time of year you will be paddling
- Water conditions
- Tides and currents
- Potential hazards (rocks, oyster bars, shipping channels, etc)
- Availability of fresh water
While these may be some of the most important points to know from the perspective of safety, you will also need to learn about camping regulations, put-in and take-out points, the availability of shuttle transportation, campfire regulations and equipment rentals.