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It All Flows Downstream

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

So I finally managed to get 96 hours straight off from work for the first time since we swapped to a 48/96 schedule at the firehouse and I was beyond excited to escape the political driven insanity. Greatest job in the world without question, but politicians are horrible, dirty, self-serving, narcissistic puppets of the string-pullers (well, at least most of the ones I've met😉) and when they muddle with the fire service it eviscerates my very soul. There is only so much that you can shoulder until you must seek an escape and a couple of days afloat with my pups and my girlfriend, an idea that I still need to put to paper to help those that know me understand how I found myself in this spot, seemed perfect.

Ever prone to wanderlust I contemplated, on Google Maps of course, the possibility of taking all four days for this trip and going somewhere further from home that was spring-fed, crystal clear, and more remote, but a shakedown float seemed more inline with the Universe to be honest. Terri hadn't been canoeing since high school she said, let's just say that's been a little more than a smattering of time, and was likely more nervous than she would admit with my crazed idea of 170 plus pounds of German Shepherds and a six pound Chihuahua, gear, food, etc., and the two of us jammed into canoes and afloat with no real plan. It is an absolute plus that this girl seems game for any adventure I can throw her way and I just knew she would ultimately have a great time.

We headed north on November the 19th to a small riverside park known as Filligim Landing on the Perdido River. It is often a quiet little place with a canoe deck, a few trails, and a sandbar or two if you can go during the middle of the week, or winter. In the summer however, it is a madhouse of rednecks, dogs, kids, beer, bikinis, madness, bologna sandwiches, generic potato chips, a few bad ideas, and a good time for most I suppose. Bob had agreed to drop us off and pick us up a few days later at another park downstream known as The Pipes and he helped us off load the two canoes and gear and then headed back home. It was official that our only option now was to float and take on this mini-adventure!

The canoes were finally in the water pointed upstream and secured to the edge of the dock. Terri got in the front of our canoe and honestly seemed a wee bit nervous with the step down and the deep, swiftly moving, dark, and cold water relentlessly heading south just inches below her. The little beast, aptly named Herman, was settled into the neck hole of a lifejacket and seemed utterly terrified as this was likely the craziest thing he had ever encountered. Abbie, ever the adventure dog, jumped into her spot in the canoe and as I turned to help the monster Meathead into the canoe I couldn't help but giggle a bit at the death grip, white knuckled, terror hold that Terri had on the dock. She was game and that is half the battle, but I did find it amusing. Shortly there after I hopped in the back of the canoe and we paddled hard on the right to kick the bow into the current and we were off. I own a 16' aluminum Grumman and had borrowed a 14' fiberglass from my senior guy at the firehouse for the gear to haul the gear in.

It was a little late in the afternoon as the sun does set early in mid-November, but thankfully we didn't have too far to float to reach our intended campsite for the night. Last year Alex (my then 15 year old chocolate Lab), Abbie and I had done a similar float trip as one last great outing with Alex kind of thing. We spent a few days on the river and had a great time with the craziest dog I've ever known. Alex was an incredible friend for 16 years and I miss her daily. The thought was to stop at the same campsite, if it was unoccupied, for that first night. The last float through this section showed very few sandbars that weren't accessible to people coming from land to help with our solitude.

To our advantage Hurricane Sally did some remodeling of the riverbank and coupled with the lack of rain in the weeks after her the water level had dropped a good bit so there were numerous sandbars to choose from. I actually had a hard time recognizing the point that the campsite meets the river and sadly had to resort to Google Maps on my phone and their satellite view. Soon after we found that spot that the three of us had used last year, but it turned out someone had reserved the spot and driven down to the site. As I mentioned there were a few sandbars to choose from and we soon chose the bar next to the trail that led to the campsite. I felt we would be fine here as the other group had driven down and so we would be out of their way, plus they had access to the river from the trail about ten yards away.

Camp was established and we quickly gathered some firewood and settled in on the edge of the river to relax while witnessing her relentless march. Wonderful night with an amazing sunset, perfect conversation, and some happy puppies.

In the past few years I've started to really love sleeping in my ENO Hammock and had bought Terri one before the Shenandoah trip. Last January while backpacking with the pups on Meathead's first travel adventure with his new pack I froze my ever-loving ass off sleeping in the low 30s in a hammock. Learned a very painful and valuable lesson about the need for hammock insulation and cold weather. A 20 degree down bag didn't stand a chance without insulation to block the breeze from pulling what little heat was left straight out of my backside. Felt for sure we would be find with just a top cover as temps were scheduled to be in the 50s. Was not the case 🥶!

So the night started off amazingly beautiful as I lay there in my hammock, with Terri on the set of trees just to my right, and the pups curled up underneath me, looking up at the Universe on full display while being gently lulled to sleep by the peaceful drone of the river's march. I could just barely hear the campsite a few hundred yards away as I succumbed to the otherwise serene setting and drifted off. I was quickly woken by both Abbie and Meathead aggressively barking and placing themselves between us and the intruders and their million candlepower LED night destroying beams of terror as they tried walking through our campsite! The group from the campsite above us had decided to walk down to the riverbank to stargaze. Turns out we weren't as far off of the trail as I thought and it was just the family that had wandered off the trail and were taking the straightest path they could find and didn't know we were hanging in the trees. Given that I was now awake and realized how bloody cold my feet were I decided to get up and put the hammock insulation on. SO much better, but my feet remained icicles the rest of the night.

Morning finally arrived with the beauty of the warming rays of sunshine piercing though the trees and illuminating our little riverbank slice of solace. French press coffee and honestly the best oatmeal I've ever eaten were on tap to help warm us up. Though it is hard to find in stores Better Oats makes a Blueberry Muffin Oatmeal that is incredible. Whole flipping oats are so much better that the saw dust mush of commercially produced oatmeal. Do your self a favor and buy this stuff. Tasty 😀

Soon after we had cleaned up any trace of overnight stay we were launched again and headed south. Canoeing with two huge beast is an occasional challenge as they have enough mass to capsize the canoe if they both decide to check out something on the same side. I spend a lot of time afloat just counter leaning the pups and a little bit of time rocking the pup with the pups so Terri thinks we're about to capsize. That will be our little secret so nobody tell her 😉

I had seen an island on Google Maps close to the midpoint that I felt would be perfect for the second night. What's not to like about islands right? Warm tropical breezes, beautiful flora and fauna, amazing rum, crystal blue waters, etc. Not today obviously, but warmer weather than expected, cool tannin laden river water, white sand, and acceptable bottle of pinot noir were going to have to do.

We arrived "on island" sometime late-morning. The river had fallen so much that the front half of the intended island was steep and eroded away and the back half was a large mud flat, but thankfully another sand island was now present in the river. Perfect. We launched the chairs, humus, grapes, and seafood salad (didn't think I was only going to survive on oatmeal I hope) and set up for lunch in another state. The Perdido River is line between Alabama and Florida, so we has lunch in Alabama while decided what state to sleep in 😉. We decided on the sand island across from us as we knew it was good and had no idea of what lie further down the river. We had many hours until evening time, but the beauty of traveling without itinerary is taking the day as it unfolds. We frolicked around the island for a bit, gathered some fire wood, rubbed some puppy bellies, and just generally wasted the day away. It was awesome!

No trees for the hammocks and we had talked about just flopping out in the sand, but instead opted to string up the hammocks on the huge pine tree that Sally had a laid across the stream bisecting our island from the one I had seen on Google. Worked out great and was smart enough to rig up the insulation and wear socks this time.

Plenty of time to gather more firewood, even some from Alabama which we loaded in the canoe before launching back into Florida, proved to be perfect as we had wonderful evening. Some great conversations, that well-traveled bottle of pinot mentioned earlier, and a truly relaxing evening. I spent some quiet time that night thinking about the rivers that have been part of my life in many forms and their simplistic and unrelenting view of the Universe. Ever changing in the simple fact that are never the same river twice, as observed by Siddhartha through the mind of Herman Hesse nearly 100 years ago, yet always the same in the continual and unrelenting flowing downstream being drawn toward the sea.

The next morning rose to the occasion quietly and without much fanfare as we slept in a little bit. The fire pit was still warm enough to let off some steam when extinguished after coffee and more of the ridiculous oatmeal. Seriously, you have to try that stuff.

Bob was going to pick us at two o'clock so we leisurely floated with the river and enjoyed nearly uninterrupted peace and beauty of nature. Though it was only a few days, and it was really close to home, getting out and away from the trappings of responsibilities and obligations was perfect. The company, the conversations, the solitude and freedom, made my aching knees and sand worn feet worth every minute. We should all get out more and live a life discovered.

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