We spent day 63 camping at Cul Pepper Bend near the mouth of the Econlockhatchee River, which flows into the St Johns River just south of S.R. 46. Our St. Johns River journey is in its second week. We arrived at Lake Winder last Tuesday.
Thus far the St Johns has been smooth. The weather has cooperated. For weeks, it seems, we have had to contend with the wind whenever we took to the water. The wind has lain down for us this past week. We are heading downstream now as well (the St. Johns flows north to Jacksonville).
We appear to have planned our route through the serpentine, many-channeled upper basin pretty well. We have camped almost exactly where we intended to camp when we drew the route back in October 2011. (This never ceases to amaze me about the expedition. I will always remember Carlton and I at 3 am night after night, sitting trance-like in front of Google Earth and cursing nonsensically at the difficulty of routing oneself through 1000 miles, 100 yards at a time). We looked for places with water and trees. We imagined the scene at daybreak and dusk. It appears to be working.
We also appear to have planned our food fairly well, which is notable only in that we organized that aspect of the St. Johns trek without Mallory, who is our most reliable food planner. Mallory’s father, Laurence Dimmitt III, is kayaking with us, however, and his food appears to be perfectly rationed and delicious. Expeditioning just runs in the family, we think. The three of us speculate that Laurence is reporting to Mallory on our various ineptitudes.
We spent yesterday kayaking a portion of our route with Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi. We met Mr. Putnam and Ms. Bondi at Hatbill Park in mid-morning yesterday. A gathering of friends and family was also there to join in. After scarfing a couple creme-filled from Dunkin Donuts, we headed off downstream with our guests. It was a day long in the making. Carlton first met with the Commissioner about the Florida Wildlife Corridor in 2010, not long after the first map was commissioned. Ms. Bondi has been aware of the expedition since early 2011, before her election to AG.
Fittingly, the day was brilliant. The river was alive with birds. Roseate spoonbill, white pelican, bald eagle, meadowlark, white ibis, black-necked stilt and red-wing blackbird were in the mix. We wound our way north, with the oak palm hammocks just visible far to the east and west. The banks of the St. Johns are surprisingly shallow. I imagined the river in wetter times, spreading out over a vast shallow plain, filling the space between the distant treelines and gathering wading birds and waterfowl by the millions.
Our expedition cabinet members seemed to fit in, kicking off shoes and putting some muscle into paddling. The scenery was spectacular, and the fact that none of us have much experience with the St. Johns added to the general feeling of adventure. It is a comfort to know that these two prominent public servants have an understanding and appreciation for the interconnectedness of Florida’s natural systems. Mr. Putnam and Ms. Bondi demonstrated their committment through their presence yesterday.
We continued north until we reached the mouth of the Econlockhatchee River, which runs east out of Little Big Econ State Forest. We made our camp a little under two miles from the confluence, in a beautiful spot with a broad white sand beach rising out of one of the Econ’s characteristic oxbow turns. Here the river is lined with sentinel-like cabbage palms. In the turns we find holes 12 feet deep. This morning I caught a fat 3 lb. largemouth bass, her belly full of roe. This is easily one of our better camping spots. It will be hard to leave.