A Drifty in the Everglades
Some called it Type 2 Fun. Others said the word “fun” had no place in the description of this adventure. All we know is that long stretches of the Drifty Everglades were miserable. Teams struggled across open water and ultra-flat roads under the uneasy gaze of crocodiles and vultures. We heard as many curse words as we heard laughs. All of the Pioneers finished; most came in at dusk.
When the chaos came to a close (but before their bums could recover from 60 rainy miles on a bike seat) we asked our soggy Pioneers what they thought. How does it feel to cower, wide awake for hours in a tent during an earth shattering thunderstorm? Get a flat tire did ya? Did the trip live up to what you saw on the brochure? Why are you crying?
“Dear Pioneers, tell us what you really thought,” we said.
They let us have it…
“If this event was a high school coach I’d describe him as, “Stern… but Fair.”” – Slackers
“Just the right level of chaos.” – Andrew C
“They said it may be impossible. It probably was, but the spirits of The Gator Queen and the Florida man himself gently guided us into good times city on a rising tide.” – Shannon aka Ditch Witch
“Drifty Everglades was the adventure of a lifetime! Just like the Everglades, is was beautiful, scrappy, intense, wet, perfectly offbeat, challenging, filled with gators, and rewarding as f*ck.” – Ms. Wildbuns
“Hard. Holy shit.” – Team Chiquita
“Everything I never knew I wanted in one brutiful endeavor.” – Team Slacker
“The Drifty Everglades was challenging but totally doable! I never would have done anything like this without Lost Travel Co.” – Carl
“Sometimes it’s better to hang back and let other people make the mistakes”” – Mr. Boofar
“The Drifty Everglades is no joke. It will challenge your endurance and your spirit but you absolutely will come out on the other side like “world, come at me!” and that’s a pretty great feeling.” – The Self Sustaining Scallop
“Never underestimate the ability of a daring, inexperienced idiot(s) to complete a task that any well-informed person might deem totally unrealistic.” – Mr. Shrek
“Pretty intense mental and physical challenge that you don’t want to miss out on.” – Andrew T
Before we get into the meat of things, we want to take the moment to tip our adventure caps to each of these fine companies.
Were it not for them, participants wouldn’t have had food, beverages, bikes, kayaks, or a place to document this nonsense. Drifty Everglades would have been merely a walk in the park.
Drifty, meet South Florida
Drifty Everglades was the first time we took our unique brand of pedal-y, paddle-y lostness to a kinda tropical climate. About half of the pioneers had never done a trip with Lost Travel and 100% of the pioneers didn’t know what they were in for.
We warmed things up with a kickoff party in a cramped room on a busy street of Miami beach. The setting was quite possibly the furthest thing from what the participants would be experiencing over the next three days. People pored over maps between servings of Cuban food, good beer, and poorly timed jokes. A lot of words were said and nobody was the better for it.
The only useful instruction came from Captain Blake, our resident Floridian. The group peppered him with questions about ‘Florida Man’, crocodiles, and fishing tales during an Ask-Me-Anything session. His sage advice about the ‘glades was so tightly interwoven with humor it was hard to tell fact from fiction, just liked your favorite college professor. As we were finishing up, he reminded everybody that what they were embarking on was deemed “crazy” by the local paddling community. Then, he informed the group that he wouldn’t be taking part in the paddling portion of the event.
People sauntered off with apprehensive excitement.
Drifty Everglades came to life on the shores of Blackwater Sound. There was an air of energy and nerves as the teams wandered toward the vessels with their bags in tow. The row of sea kayaks looked like a spilt box of crayons, just waiting to be put to use. Some teams had gallons of water; some had none. Some had dry bags, some had hefty bags. We saw donuts, oranges, red bulls, and trail mix being hastily eaten. The Slackers were overheard discussing how feasible it was to blow up the inflatable dingy they brought to use as a refreshments cart.
Just as teams were about to set off, Captain Blake came in with some late breaking news: He politely informed everybody that there are in fact sharks in Florida Bay. With that reassurance, the Pioneers gathered their wits and shoved off into the bay. Single file. Like a bunch of crayons trying to go through a boba straw.
Mr Andrew pushed off with the calm demeanor of a two-time Drifty Pioneer. Seconds later, he turned 180 degrees and paddled right back to the start line. His rudder cable separated from the rudder (and important connection we’re told) within 2 meters of the start line. We may never know if it was user error, sabotage, or a bad omen. This would have set him back except that (a) this isn’t a race and (b) he was still ahead of 60% of the participants.
People were split up from the moment this adventure started. Some chose the Boggies route; open water for 4 miles, into the wind. Some chose a route nearer to shore that wove through mangroves which were likely infested with crocodiles.
One hour after the cow bell rang, Lost HQ received the first report from the field.
“send rum” – Self Sustaining Scallop [1/30/20 12:31:55pm]
The paddling was beautiful. Minus the headwind, lack of water, and absence of roadside rest stops with flush toilets. The Amphibious Three pulled off a near perfect execution of the mangrove tripod maneuver; a tactic used to relieve oneself when (a) no dry land is in sight and (b) the fear of crocodiles prevents you from just getting into the water. Remarkably, nobody got wet.
Nearly everybody learned important lessons about where to stow important items like water, maps, and sunscreen. Andrew C claimed he “accidentally” packed away all his water and therefore he was “forced” to drink only beer in order to “survive.” Safety First. The Toronto Tandem got their first taste of open water navigation by paddling a mile out of the way towards the wrong key. They justified it by proclaiming that they “saw birds” when they arrived at our camp on Nest Key.
The teams cracked open their remaining Athletic and MIA beers and just as the sun set, a pod of dolphins swam by. The planning for the following day began by the light of the campfire. At this point it became apparent that at least half of the pioneers had yet to look at a single map of the area.
The second day was one we all knew we would come but still nobody anticipated. The plan was to paddle roughly 30 miles which, given the current and lack of wind meant paddling for 11 hours, with out stopping, and without making navigational errors.
The pioneers started stirring around 5am. In the dim light of dawn one team was rigging up a kayak sail, somebody else poured rum in their coffee, and there was a general murmur as tents were packed. The first paddles hit the water by sunrise.
At this point teams were faced with the realization that the paddling was more akin to open water paddling than the ‘weaving in and out of mangrove swamps’ typically associated with the Everglades. The day could be boiled down to aiming for specks of mangroves on the horizon with names like Black Betsy Keys, Pass Key, and End Key (which was nowhere near the end) and then just paddling towards them. For hours. When they are reached, the Pioneers would try to guess which key was which (obviously there are no markings) based on their water soaked map, the sun’s position, and corroboration with whomever was in earshot. Then, they would look to the horizon and repeat.
This method of navigation had a fatal flaw: corroboration.
“It’s quite possible that five people agree on the direction to go, and all five are wrong.” – Mr. Andrew
The Pioneers’ morale took a turn the worse before the noon sun was overhead. The adventurers found themselves about 2.5 miles off course, with no clear indication of how it happened. The compass heading had been followed like a dog tracking a rabbit. Also, more than one person had agreed, on more than one occasion, that the minuscule gap in the mangroves on the horizon was the channel they were aiming for. But it wasn’t. It was solid land set back just enough from the adjacent keys that it looked like a channel to 10 untrained eyes. Getting back on track meant paddling either north or south for an undetermined duration in order to get around the Key in front of them.
(It wasn’t until the finish line party that they learned exactly how they ended up in this situation. It had something to do with the unsophisticated way in which compass headings were hastily drawn out, in the dark, on Nest Key.) Moral of that story; trust no one, including yourself.
After that mess, motivation was hard to come by. The Pioneers did what they could with what little they had. Ms. Wildbuns and Shannon aka Original Ditch Witch kept themselves entertained by singing literally whatever song came to mind. Some people drank beer to celebrate milestones in the day. Some just drank beer. Teams saw flocks of roseate spoonbills, sharks, crocodiles, tarpon, massive flocks of pelicans, countless other species of birds, jelly fish, and no humans.
The hours slogged on. The skies became overcast and muscles were aching. Team Chiquita’s rudder cable broke about 60% through the paddle which is arguably the worst time for something to go wrong. They paddled for another two miles in a glorious zig zag. It must have been the ultimate test of a marriage.
“You’re a grown man. Figure it out.” – Melissa, thoughtfully issuing encouragement to her husband.
Fix it they did. At Mosquito Point, Melissa held onto a mosquito swarmed mangrove to stabilize the vessel while Jason (aka Mr Luftegrof) crawled over stern. They MacGyver’ed a rather impressive fix with a crappy little carabiner and some soggy paracord. Then, they got back to paddling because… there was still 5 more hours of paddling.
The second half of the day was rock bottom for morale, energy levels, and the tide.
“I’m ded.” – Lost Tracker Report from Carl, sent while stuck in the mud at low tide.
“We’re scrappy, badass bitches who can do anything” – Ms. Wildbuns and Shannon aka The Original Ditch Witch’s go-to chant every time the going got tough
“When times got a little hard on the paddle my bow paddler (girlfriend) told me multiple times she was scheming how to best feed me to the pelicans and take my food and water. “ – The Self Sustaining Scallop
”During our time in the shallows I was thinking…. “This is literally the dumbest fucking thing…. Just leave here… Let the sea take me… God must hate me…. That bird keeps eyeballing me…. I had no idea sharks could swim in 4 inches of water… Fml.. “ – Slackers
“This is where I die” – Said at least a dozen times by Melissa of Team Chiquita
”Made it to the flamingo campground. 30 miles of paddling through what felt like wet cement” – Carl
The Pioneers did in fact make it to dry land. They hiked about a mile through what must have been the annual mosquito convention to their campsite. And then, just as the sun went down, a massive storm slammed their tents. It was dubbed the “worst storm in the history of camping storms” and most definitely the worst Drifty storm we’ve encountered. All night tents were heaving. The winds and rain were so strong that water was blowing underneath rain flys and pelting our Pioneers in their faces as they cowered in the self-contained puddles in their tents
The morning was overcast and it promised more rain. It also promised a cool 55 miles of biking. If day 2 was back and arms day. The third and final day was saved for the legs.
There were vultures staring at their tents when the Pioneers rustled themselves awake. It was unnerving to the point that some Pioneers asked themselves, “Am I Dead?” Surely the vultures assumed that one of our weary Pioneers hadn’t survived the night. We are happy to report that we had no carrion to give. The vultures did, however, come quite close to stealing a rain jacket and made off with some random bits of rope.
The Pioneers wasted no time in taking off. They pedaled past alligators, more vultures, dwarf cypress groves, saw grass marshes, and more than one bewildered tourist. The teams were already 15 miles in by the time that most people back at civilization were settling into their second brunch mimosa.
It rained nearly the entire day and they struggled up a total elevation change of just about 3 ft. Want to get a taste yourself? Put a stationary bike in the shower, turn the water to cold, put 40lbs on your back, and then pedal for 8 hours. Then add in a flat tire or two.
“I seriously underestimated my biking abilities” – Melissa, saying outloud what everybody was thinking
The teams were racing the sunset. On their way to the finish line in the Redlands, a few had time to stop at a brewery. But mostly, they just pedaled. They barely beat the sun. Remarkably, given all that they had been through and all of the bag and bike malfunctions that happened on the final leg, everybody finished within an hour of each other. They were so cold that some of them requested hot CS Coffee instead of beer which is… shocking.
All in, the teams paddled for a total of 38.36 miles over two days and biked 54.52 miles in a single, rainy day.
The Drifty Everglades turned our batch of Pioneers into tired, raisiny versions of their former selves. Yet, when the storms had passed and the quads stopped aching, their smiles returned.
“This trip taught me that navigating with map and compass is really fun and not as hard as it seems, that binoculars really come in handy at sea, and that I’m a powerful, strong, scrappy wilderness rat that loves a challenge!” – Ms. Wildbuns
“That the Boot Camp Instructor at my local gym who made us work on “grip strength” was not, in fact, a half-cracked crazy old hippie, but a messenger from the Kayaking Gods.” – Slackers
“Drifty Everglades taught me that I can kayak 30 miles in a day through sharks and 6″ deep water sludge and somehow it was not only fun but elevated me into a higher plane of existence.” – Shannon aka The Original Ditch Witch
“It taught me that sometimes the destination is all that matters and to push through the pain.” – Mr Boofar
“Yes.. it is possible to spend 12+ hours in a kayak and not lose your sanity…” – Slackers
“Did I learn anything? I learned what low tide is. And that I should have brought a compass.” – Self Sustaining Scallop
“A marriage CAN survive a 40 mile tandem kayak trip, even with a broken rudder!” – Team Chiquita
After reactions like that, how could we not do it again?
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