First full day: Day 2

Day 2 of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition began at the Joe River Chickee. At least three of us (Carlton, Elam and Joe) awoke from a sleep of over four hours for the first time in weeks. The morning light came up and we saw that we were in a bowl of water about 1/4 mile wide. There were fish jumping near the base of the red mangrove trees all the way around our bowl. The sky was clear and there was no wind. It was humid, and the dew was as heavy as it would normally be in the wet season. Without much discussion, the morning took on a relaxed pace. We were all a little fried from the mental stresses of the preparation for our Expedition. It felt good to have left those worries behind, if only temporarily. We made breakfast with flatbread and Nutella and cream cheese with bananas. Elam tended the coffee press.

Mallory and Elam paddled out first around 11, while Carlton and I packed more slowly. As we got under way I fished a jig up next to the mangroves and caught a 12″ speckled trout. A slight north wind picked up. We made our way slowly. We stopped to follow a pair of dolphin smashing baitfish against the mangroves. Carlton fussed with my phone and its poor service. Several times he got far ahead of me during our paddle. I decided that I still needed to work on loading my kayak properly since everyone else was faster than me. It wasn’t until later that Carlton told me that he’d been frustrated with the wind and the poor service and that his speed was due to his “paddling emotionally.”

We caught up with Mallory and Elam at the second Joe River chickee, where we’d planned to eat lunch. They’d been waiting patiently for us for some time. The next leg would involve crossing a broad stretch of Oyster Bay, where we expected to get spray from the northwest across our boats. We were running behind after Carlton and I had spent too long on our first leg. I changed into rain gear, not wanting to arrive in the dark in wet clothes at a place where we could not build fires. We set out paddling and made good time across the bay. A small-ish leatherback sea turtle bobbed in the waves between the bow of my boat and Mallory’s boat. I stood up to get a better look and the turtle disappeared under water.

We arrived at the Oyster Bay chickee in short order. It was sheltered from the open bay by a narrow island of red mangrove trees. A juvenile yellow crowned night heron stalked sullenly across the elevated platform of the chickee as we drew near, and finally flew as our boats bumped the supports. As Elam was unloading his kayak he lost balance and toppled into the water. He was unhurt, and he’d already off loaded all of his camera equipment, so we all had a laugh as we documented the first casualty, including Elam.

Before sunset Mallory and I jumped aboard Travis 18′ Action Craft. We skimmed out across the bay as the sun was setting, blue and orange arching over a tall stand of mangrove and buttonwood trees that jutted out into the water. James McMurty played on the stereo. We made a few casts in a narrow creek hoping to find a snook or tarpon. It was a good time to be on the water, and I relished the idea of spending many of the next 100 days on the water at dusk.

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