I worried about the permitting process. The campsites on the 99-mile-long waterway, part of Everglades National Park, are widely spread and have limited occupancy, allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. But the earliest you can reserve is 24 hours in advance, in person at the park office, so it was impossible to plan the trip before it began. Given that adverse winds and tides could turn a four-hour paddle between campsites into a desperate 12-hour struggle to make dry land before dark, putting together an itinerary could be a high-stakes gamble.
I worried about provisioning. The sea kayaks we’d be renting were narrow torpedoes of boats, with tiny forward and aft storage compartments that would have to hold tents, sleeping gear, clothes, food and five gallons of water per person.
I worried about bugs. We’d chosen an early spring departure because in most South Florida winters, there’s enough cold weather to decimate the bug population. But this winter had been unusually warm. My old friend Gregg, a Miami native, had just been out in Big Cypress Swamp and reported the bugs as homicidal. When I asked him for an anti-bug strategy, he responded, “Suicide.”
My wife, who most emphatically was not coming on a trip where the nearest plumbing would be miles away, focused her anxiety on reports of escaped pythons, whose population had begun to explode in the ’Glades. I knew that, among all the potential dangers we might face, constriction by giant snakes ranked in the “not going to happen” category. Far more realistic was the possibility of getting lost. The waterway is short on man-made markers, and the endless chains of mangrove islands and bays create a labyrinth, with jigs and jags in the apparent coastline that make the difference between a pass and a dead-end impossible to distinguish even up close. I was planning on navigating with a two-decade-old sea chart and a compass, a task made more challenging still by having to study the chart from the cockpit of a moving, wind-and-wave-buffeted kayak.
In the days before departure, I lay awake strategizing, woke up realizing that I’d left something essential off the provisions list, spent the day obsessively hunting for tips in online discussions among waterway vets.
Seem like a lot of anxiety over a “vacation”?