It is easy to see where I get my sense of adventure. My dad is always getting me to go explore these hard to reach, partially unnavigable waterways. This trip was no different. We set our sights on the Sopchoppy River, not the stretch that many paddlers know, but north of where the paddling trail starts at Oak Park Cemetery Bridge. Look for FR13, which is accessed via Arran Road in Wakulla County; that is where we began our excursion.
You never know what to expect on waterways, which makes the paddle that much more interesting and alluring. On this trip, we opted for small, plastic sit-on-top kayaks. They are easy to climb in and out of for portaging and tough enough to withstand the beating that would ensue.
The river this far north is a series of braided twists and turns within the Bradwell Bay Wilderness area, an area where Florida Trail hikers sometimes dread due to the swampy terrain. We were met rather quickly with our first obstacle, a dead pine laid across the river, luckily it was high enough that we were able to limbo under; this became a common occurrence. Then the decision making started. Around every turn we were faced with the daunting task of choosing the “best” route as the river broke into several branches. Trouble was, each route looked just as menacing as the next.
We crashed our way through the low canopy and log jams--often times balancing ourselves on a downed tree as we whipped the kayaks up and over. My dad yelled, “follow the flow!” as he disappeared around the corner, faced with another decision. As I hoisted my kayak over the fallen pine, I thought to myself, how easy the water makes it look, following the path of least resistance so peacefully and unadulterated and here we are crashing and bumbling our way down the river. I couldn’t help but think it might be easier to just drag our kayaks alongside the river. But then I plopped back into my kayak, where there is no time for daydreaming for I must stay alert and ever ready for the river’s next task.
This went on for several miles. Slowly the banks began to grow in height and the river widened. Although the current quickened, the pace seemed to slow. There is time to think. For the first time we are able to relax and take in the beauty, and wow, was it ever worth it! Aside from the occasional cypress knee garden, which made for some tight squeezes and fast water, we floated in silence, taking it all in. We watched the Longleaf Pines dance in the breeze overhead and awed at some of the gigantic Cypress Tree stumps—oh if these trees could talk. Some of the root systems from these trees were equally impressive. Pine roots exposed from an eroded bank like a cross-section of the Earth where the roots fought so hard to uphold. Saw Palmettos loomed over us from the sandy bluffs above, reaching out to us. All of this could be seen as we stared into the mysterious, black water reflecting all from above.
Our trip finally drew to an end. Tired and sore, we made the last push up the short, steep, sandy hill at the take-out along FR329, some 8.5 river miles below our put-in.