Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

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Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby Briggsy » Wed Mar 12, 2014 7:10 pm

Our annual canoe trip for 2013 was a little later than normal. Deb and I bought a "fixer upper" near Sarasota Fla., so I invited the usual suspects down for some warmer weather canoe paddling. The Suwannee River starts in the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia and travels over 200 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico and is one of longest undammed rivers in the US.
According to my research usually in early Feb the water is low and we would probably have to start our trip somewhere around the Live Oak area at mile 150 (mile zero being the Gulf of Mexico and Mile 206 being the FL/GA state line.).
So this is the story of our trip "Way down upon the Suwannee River......."

Day 1. Breakfast at our place with Jeff and Mike then an hour drive to Tampa Airport to pick up Brian who arrived on time. From there it was a 3 hour drive north on I-75 to the "Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park" where the Suwannee Canoe Outpost was located.
We checked in with the Outpost. Steve, the owner, told us that water levels were way up and we could start at the swamp, but riverbank camping may be soggy or we could start at the boat ramp in Fargo, Georgia, a little further downriver or we could do as originally planned and start right there at the Outpost. I had read that the best parts of the river are the upper reaches so after a discussion we opted to start at Fargo. We set up our camp next to the Outpost. It was a cool night disturbed only by some hoodlums driving a golf cart with a sub woofer past our site at 3 in the morning!
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Day 2. Up early to thick fog. Loaded up my canoe and the gear onto the Outpost trailer and van. We were renting one of their aluminum Grummans for Jeff and Mike and we set off with another group who were doing a 2 day trip. We got a break on the price of the shuttle as we were dropping the other guys off on the way. An hour and a half later we were at the boat ramp in Fargo, GA, still surrounded by thick fog. Well practised at loading our pickle bucket dry storage bins we were soon on the water and moving pretty fast. I was looking forward to not having to navigate much and not having any kind of plan as to where we stopped. In Georgia, landowners own right up to the center of the river, However in Florida, the land is technically owned to the high water line so there would be plenty of sandbars to camp on. The sides of the river were pretty swampy for sure and we were glad we had started where we did as there were no dry patches for quite some time. A lot of places there were swamp and Cypress trees for as far as you could see. The fog slowly burnt off and the temp soared. We weren't looking to break any speed records so we stopped mid afternoon on a nice long sandbar that Brian named the "Bahama beach". We collected a huge stack of dead firewood and enjoyed the rest of the evening. Fog rolled in after sunset but it was still warm.
Packed up and ready to go, Fargo Ramp
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High water
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"Bahama Beach"
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River cooler
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Brian ready for bugs
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evening fog
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Day 3. Up early again to more fog but not as cold. After a leisurely breakfast we packed up and continued our journey. My original plan was to start further down river so I had no real map of where we were other than a basic map Steve had given us which didn't include river miles or any real scale! We weren't sure if we were in Georgia or Florida. A mile later there was actually a sign indicating the state line and there were a lot less "No Trespassing" signs on the banks. The river was moving along at quite a clip still and without really trying too hard we were cruising along at 5 miles per hour. Weather was still warm and we were all glad we weren't back on the Cape. We passed plenty of great camp sites, usually on the inside of the windy river bends, but of course when it actually came time to look for somewhere to stop they were few and far between. Finally there was a large flat area just up on the bank, sure enough it was a perfect spot with plenty of downed wood. I had been experimenting with a GSI hard anodized dutch oven all summer so tonight was the night for dutch oven meatloaf using all fresh ingredients. It came out pretty good, a nice change from the Mountain House sodium overload meals that we used when we first started our annual trips.
Florida/Georgia State Line
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Lunch stop
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Another great camp site
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Dutch Oven in action
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River sunset
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Day 4. Too warm for the sleeping bags overnight and another clear day ahead. We were about 15 miles from Big Shoals State Park which is where Floridas only class 3 rapids are located and required a portage, so we planned to camp after portaging the rapids. After an easy paddle we could hear the rapids before we saw them. The guidebook we had said "there may or may not be a white or brown sign indicating the portage on river left" so with that information we were scouring the banks for anything, then there it was a huge bright red "STOP" sign. And sure enough it was only another 30 yds or so further to the point of no return. Conveniently it was lunchtime so we set up the kitchen for marinaded steak sandwiches.....oh the joys of canoe camping !
The portage was a very easy 150 yd wide dry trail that literally ended at the bottom of the last 3 ft drop of the bottom rapids, so tomorrow was going to be pretty swift first thing. We camped at the portage camping area right above the rapids, it was a noisy night, but a million times better than a golf cart with a sub woofer at 3 am !
Foggy morning
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Fog soon burned off
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No chance to miss this sign
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The joys of canoe camping
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Portage Trail
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Jeff checking out the Big Shoals rapids
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Tomorrows put in
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tarp camping above Big Shoals
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Someone really did "Leave only footprints"
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Day 5. It had been hot and humid all yesterday afternoon and all night so a good indication in Florida that its gonna rain soon. We loaded up carefully and shoved off into the current just below the rapids. My GPS recorded over 7 mph without paddling. It soon eased up and we were doing our usual 5mph. The map showed more small rapids at Little Shoals so we were looking out for them in case another portage was required. Before we got there it started sprinkling, then raining, then pouring, then really pouring, then it rained so hard you could only see a few feet ahead, before we knew it we were zipping through Little Shoals which luckily was no more than some large riffles. The rain lasted quite some time and we took a break at a boat ramp with a picnic area and shelters. We looked at the map and saw that one of the Suwannee River camps (Woods Ferry Camp) was within our reach and would be a good place to spend the night and dry out. The camps are run by various agencies and consist of a number of screened in platforms, picnic/cooking shelter and restrooms with HOT showers. Surprisingly they are FREE. When I called the Suwannee Wilderness Trail HQ to find out about them months earlier, I told the girl I couldn't believe they were free. Her reply was " Nature is free !" Fair enough. We were sure glad of the hot shower after a day out in the rain. Here's the info...
A BIG Spider under Jeff and Mike's tent
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Sheltering from the rain at a boat ramp picnic area
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White Springs
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Brian's Selfie
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Lunch stop up a secluded creek
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Paddling upstream exploring another creek
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Woods Ferry River Camp, just in time to get out of the rain
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Perfect place to get out of the rain
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Screened sleeping shelter
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Home Sweet Home
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Evening fog again
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Day 6. After a freezing night (really) we took our time to get going but finally loaded up and shoved off. Long pants and fleece jackets were the order of the day. It was clear but crisp and the wind was chilly. As the day wore on, clouds appeared and thickened and we knew we were going to be in for another soaking. At lunchtime we found ourselves back at the Suwannee Canoe Outpost boat ramp. Steve was there and he agreed to drive my truck down to Suwannee River State Park where we anticpated we would end up at the end of tomorrow. He was very flexible with our arrangements for the whole trip and gave us a good price on shuttles and rentals. He is a great guy and worth using for any similar trips. Sure enough the rain returned but we had just arrived at Holton Creek Camp when it really poured. We manged to get all our gear up and under cover just in time. The camp warden warned us not to leave food out as a bear had been in the camp the previous night and had ripped a hole in one of the trash cans looking for food....nice to know. The Dutch oven was put to use again for Mikes favorite...Pineapple upside down cake.
Warming up after a freezing night
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Loading up
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Taking a coffee break on a beach
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Checking out Suwannee Springs
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Arrived at Holton Creek Camp just in time
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Mike pouring the cake batter
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Day 7. No bear sightings overnight and another cool morning. It was an easy paddle of 13 miles or so down to the ramp at Suwannee River State Park. The river had got a lot wider now and there were more cabins and houses on the river bank. From the time we left Fargo, it was 48 hrs before we saw another person and had really only seen a handful of people the whole trip, but now we were seeing more signs human habitation. Steve had told us that the upper section of the river is easily the best part and he was right. The truck was there as promised. We checked into a site and drove the rented canoe back to the Outpost.
After 5 nights alone on the river it was a weird feeling to crowded into a campground with a bunch of RVs.
Riverside cabin defying gravity
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Limestone riverbanks
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Post showing river flood heights over the years at Suwannee River State Park
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Day 8. Final pack up and 3 1/2 hr drive back down to Sarasota.
We had paddled 96 miles in 6 days, another excellent adventure!

Words by Briggsy
Pics by Brian
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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby norm » Wed Mar 12, 2014 9:19 pm

Nice trip report Dave and tell Brian he takes excellent pictures.

Did you and Brian sleep on the ground or did you use hammocks under the tarps?

And what's that stove you're using, no Trangia alcohol stove this trip?


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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby kayakerjnj » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:13 am

Trip looked like it was blast!

Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby Chip » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:42 am

Great trip report. I wish nature was that free up here.
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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby Ken R » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:19 pm

Great report and pictures.

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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby Briggsy » Thu Mar 13, 2014 1:29 pm

We slept on the ground under the tarps.
The stoves are MSR Dragonfly and an ancient 40+ yr old Optimus 111B which runs on white gas (same as the Dragonfly) that I got from ebay. I read somewhere that the 111B's are very low maintenence stoves so I got a beat up one, fixed it up and we used it as the main stove for the trip giving it a good test run!! All parts are metal and while it starts better with the pump, you can actually start it without the pump....the heat of the stove causes the pressure to build up in the tank so you only really need 10 pumps just to get it going, then doesn't require any more pumping. Without the pump it may take 2 attempts at priming but it will start.
By comparison, the Dragonfly puts out the same amount of heat but has plastic pump parts and an extensive repair kit.The potential for breakdown is there with all those o-rings etc.

No trangia alcohol stove for these trips. With 4 people you need something a little beefier and the largest Trangia is good for 3 people max, the pots aren't big enough. I tried it the first year but cooking for 4 on one trangia took forever. We used a Coleman double burner propane stove for a while but on a cold and windy trip to Moosehead Lake, the thing didn't have the power to boil water for coffee so 4 years ago I got the Dragonfly.
You can never have too many stoves !!!

Those FREE sleeping platforms are reservable too !!


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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby NorwayLady » Fri Mar 14, 2014 8:54 am

Thank you for posting, Dave. Really enjoyed your travelogue and seeing all of Brian's photos.
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Re: Suwannee River, Florida. 1st to 8th Feb 2014.

Postby baron1701 » Tue Mar 25, 2014 11:57 am

Great report - lots of pictures. I really enjoyed reading through.

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