Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Close to Home

We haven't decided where we're headed this summer, but probably not back to the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania where we spent three months last year. One thing is certain, we are going to enjoy what we've got here at home while the weather is great. We'll do it without driving too far. But, what to do in southwest Florida in January? Why does everyone come here in the wintertime? Is it just because we don't have snow or sleet? Would children rather make angels in the sand than in the snow, especially if they're wearing only bathing suits? There must be something to do here besides sit and bake in the semi-warm sun, especially when the occasional Red Tide makes the beaches unbearable. We decided to act like tourists, driving not more than a hour's travel, for kayaking or biking, or whatever else would make us feel like newcomers to our state.

We decided to do both biking and kayaking. That would give us a chance to try out our new bicycles, the ones we picked up to replace the bicycles that were damaged when our bike rack on our camper failed and we dropped both of them in the middle of US 41 out in the Everglades, and to see if our Pungo kayaks still float after a summer of non-use. We decided to start with one of our favorite fresh-water paddles, Shell Creek, not far from near-by Punta Gorda.

Shell Creek Boat Ramp at Hathaway Park, Punta Gorda, FL

Our fourteen-foot Pungo kayaks were easily cleaned and loaded on our small boat trailer. That's only after a I mounted two new tires, though. I checked the dates etched into the sidewalls before I started preparing the kayaks and determined the tires were manufactured in 1988. That meant they were twenty-five years old. They showed brittle, cracked signs of aging, so they got replaced. I repacked the wheel bearings on the little trailer, as well. Well, one of them, anyway. The inner bearing on one side deteriorated and fell out as I slid the hub off the axle. Better here than on the road. So, another trip to my favorite trailer fix-it shop, and after throwing money on the counter, I headed back to reassemble my trailer. I shouldn't complain, they had the tools to knock out the race (part of the bearing that is pressed into the hub) that I would still be banging on, so it works out well: I give them money and they give me a trailer that works.

Ilse under way in her Pungo 140

It used to be our daughter's Laser sailboat trailer, back in the old days when she was a teenager. She's forty-one now and has a trailer of her own. We still hang on to a lot of the old stuff. Memories of grand times, I suppose. The trailer still works, though, so there is no real reason to abandon it. I've modified the old trailer to carry our two kayaks, and if need be, our seventeen foot canoe as well. The trailer takes up space in some kayak launch or parking areas, but it is so much easier than trying to lift the kayaks to the top of the tall Toyota Sequoia. I swear it gets taller every timer I try to lift something up there. Besides, we can take the canoe with us as well in case we have friends who want to paddle with us, and we did again this time as our friend and neighbor, Beth, joined us with her son, Franko, visiting from upstate New York during spring school break. We'd all act like tourists.

The only gator seen on this trip, being watched by a wary Green Heron

We put in at Hathaway Park, where the Pay-to-Park ticket dispenser again failed to work. Poor Charlotte County, all the expense and hassle of installing a ticketing system that really sucks. Sarasota County saves money by having free parking at all county parks, but poor, misled Charlotte County still jumps through vendor's hurdles trying to grasp that elusive dollar and seventy five cents, or whatever, from all park attendees. At Hathaway on this beautiful day, there were three cars. I'm sure they missed the small fortune they would have collected had the system worked. There were four cars in the parking lot by the time we left. The machine was still broken and no one had yet paid. Big deal. No one comes out here to check anyway. They can't afford the gas. All the county does is aggravate the locals and really make the tourists mad. But, on to the creek and another great paddle.

Several new houses line the otherwise quiet banks of the creek, the main water supply for the city of Punta Gorda. We still enjoy the quiet of the creek after passing under the only highway bridge. We didn't see old Al, or old George, the huge iconic alligator that everyone knows lives there. His name depends on who tells you the story about the fifteen foot, sometimes sixteen or even seventeen foot long 'gator that has been there as long as Methuselah. I've scared him off the creek bank once in the past, but this time he is nowhere to be seen. The only time I've seen him was when I was with a German friend of mine, Dr. Hans-Jörg Lucas, who was paddling Shell Creek for the first time. Mecki didn't say a word as the huge alligator slammed into the water just a few feet in front of us, but he did turn and give me a look that said in no uncertain terms, “Are you sure we're safe?” Yes, we were, and we had a great time.

Big George, but this one resides at Shark Valley, not Shell Creek  - photo © George Mindling 2012

Big George, but this one resides at Shark Valley, not Shell Creek - photo © George Mindling 2012ut this trip we see only one little 'gator sharing his creek-side log with a green heron. Turtles, of course, are everywhere.
We have a nice paddle, heading upstream for an hour and a half before turning around and casually paddling back to the take-out ramp at Hathaway. Quiet and beautiful, with overhanging trees filled with bromeliads, and the occasional palmetto sticking up in the middle of the creek. Not found on any travel brochures, but still one of our favorite paddles.

A 5 minute video of Shell Creek is on youtube at:

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