Tag Archives: Kayak Expeditions

Everglades Challenge, Segment 4: Indian Key to Highland Beach

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Across Chokoloskee Bay

Start: Indian Key, Ten Thousand Islands, Wednesday, March 5, 2 AM.
Finish: Highland Beach, Thursday, March 6, 3:30 AM.
Distance: 40 nautical miles (46 land miles).
Paddling time: 19 hours.
Stopped time (Chokoloskee, Everglades City…): 6.5 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.1 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 3: Magic Key to Indian Key

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Nap on the beach

Start: Magic Key, Estero Bay, Monday, March 3, about 4 PM.
Finish: Indian Key, Ten Thousand Islands, Tuesday, March 4, about 10 PM.
Distance: 52 nautical miles (60 land miles).
Paddling time: 24 hours.
Rest time: 6 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.2 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 2: Cape Haze to Magic Key

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Along the Intracoastal Waterway

Start: Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze Marina, Englewood, Sunday, March 2, about noon.
Finish: Magic Key, Estero Bay, Monday, March 3, about 9 AM.
Distance: 45 nautical miles (52 land miles).
Paddling time: 19.5 hours.
Rest time: 1.5 hours.
Average paddling speed: 2.3 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, Segment 1: Fort De Soto to Cape Haze

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Sparkling in the sun

Start: Fort De Soto Park, Mullet Key, Saturday, March 1, 7:00 AM.
Finish: Checkpoint 1, Cape Haze Marina, Englewood, Sunday, March 2, 2:10 AM.
Distance: 55 nautical miles (63 land miles).
Paddling time: 18 hours, 10 minutes.
Rest time: 1 hour.
Average paddling speed: 3.0 knots.

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Everglades Challenge, the Days Before: Preparation and Gear Check

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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IMGP2973 cropped small

Our preparation for the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge actually started more than a year before the event itself—in January 2013, when we decided that this time for sure, we were going to participate in EC 2014.

But it kicked up considerably following our Everglades Shakedown trip in December 2013. After that trip, we put together a detailed timeline covering everything from gym training to logistics to food and gear purchases—and more or less stuck to it. As we’ll detail later in “Reflections: What Worked, What Didn’t,” I started a serious lifting and high intensity workout routine in January, and tapered down in the weeks approaching the EC. And we found that dropping alcohol and coffee in the weeks before the EC—along with getting plenty of sleep—made a difference in our stamina and responses to hypothermia.

Meanwhile, we made lists and checked them off… purchased equipment… made hotel and plane reservations… got our SPOTs and PLBs, registered, and tested them… And of course, did training paddles when we could, though the Polar Vortex kept us from doing more than two moderately long trips in NYC.

But Murphy’s Law has a way of stepping in, and due to some work challenges I was concerned that at the last minute, I might need to cancel, despite all the planning. It wasn’t until the Friday, a week before the event, that we were sure we could make it.

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Everglades Challenge: Gear We Love

By Johna Till Johnson

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Gear in action

You can’t make a trip like the Everglades Challenge without relying heavily on your gear. And the quality of that gear varies. Some poorly-designed products break reliably. We haven’t yet found a “waterproof” headlamp that actually lives up to its name, for instance. And we’ve been through almost half a dozen in the past year. (So we make sure to carry plenty of backups.)

There are also those products that perform as they’re supposed to, day in day out. (Everything Kokatat makes comes to mind.) You rely on these products to do their jobs, and never think further about them.

But there are also are a handful of products that either perform infinitely better than you expect, or fill a need you didn’t realize you had.

For these products, you whisper a silent “thank you” to the manufacturers every time you use them.  I’m an engineer, so  I never lose sight of the fact that when there’s a product I love, it was conceived, designed, and tested by other engineers. And for the products below, I am devoutly grateful to the humans who created them.

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Everglades Challenge, Overview

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Sunset over the Gulf

Start: Tampa Bay.
Finish: Key Largo.
Distance: 262 nautical miles (301 land miles).
Total time: 7 days, 14½ hours.

Our route

Our route

“Kayaking in Florida? That sounds like a lovely relaxing vacation!”

That was the common reaction when we told folks we were planning to participate in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile adventure race from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. When you think about paddling in Florida, you probably imagine sunny skies, gentle breezes, and turquoise waves lapping softly against white sandy beaches.

And true, some parts were like that.

Then there were the other parts:

—Paddling down the Gulf of Mexico in pitch-darkness, with a fantastically realistic hallucination of an old English forest on your right. Every so often you glance into the grey, ghostly “trees” and see lights twinkling among them. Then you look down… and your headlamp illuminates a pair of sharks silently crisscrossing under your boat. You realize with a jolt of fear that they are no hallucination!

—Getting both boats stuck at low tide in the tangled mangrove roots in the deceptively-named “Broad Creek”. (If this was the broad creek, we don’t want to know what the narrow one is like!) You spend a few minutes wondering if you’ll have to wait hours until the tide rises. Then with a final maneuver you’re able to break free…

—Being hammered by a massive thunderstorm as you paddle toward a chickee to perform boat repairs…

—Surfing 3-foot breaking waves in Oyster Bay in the 20-knot tailwinds after a storm while navigating by starlight and GPS and struggling to stay awake after a total of only 16 hours of sleep over the past four days…

—Tumbling into the sand, pillowing your head on your PFD and pulling your hat over your face to grab an hour or two of sleep on the beach as you wait for the current to change…

Lovely? For sure. Relaxing? Not so much. Exhausting, exhilarating, challenging… yes, all those.

In this writeup, we divide the 8 days it took us to get from from Tampa Bay to Key Largo into 6 segments, because we usually paddled late into the night, or overnight, before we finally stopped to get a few hours’ sleep. Each “day” stretched to 30 hours, 36 hours, or longer…

The trip roughly divides into “before front” (Segments 1-4) and “after front” (Segments 5 and 6). Before a strong weather front blew in, wind and sea conditions were (largely) not an issue. We took the most direct route and paddled as quickly and consistently as possible. Our primary challenges were sleep deprivation, dealing with the extremes of heat and cold, and night navigation—tough enough, but something we quickly learned to handle.

Once the front began to affect us, wind and sea conditions dictated our route. To avoid, or at least minimize the impact of, the conditions, we took a longer round-about route and so slowed down considerably in our progress toward the finish. Cumulative sleep deprivation was also now taking a major toll. “After front” was definitely the most challenging, but also the most gratifying.

Here are the links to each segment of the race, as well as a few other relevant topics. We’ll activate the links as we complete each post.

GearGear We Love



The Days BeforeThe Days Before: Preparation and Gear Check



Segment 1Segment 1: Fort De Soto to Cape Haze



Segment 2Segment 2: Cape Haze to Magic Key




Segment 3: Magic Key to Indian KeySegment 3



Segment 4Segment 4: Indian Key  to Highland Beach



Segment 5: Highland Beach to Flamingo

Segment 6: Flamingo to Key Largo


Reflections: What Worked, What Didn’t

A few photos from the entire race were here.

Next in Everglades Challenge —>

We Made It!!

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Down the outside on the first day

We completed the 2014 WaterTribe Everglades Challenge in 7 days and about 14½ hours. We set no records—in fact, we were among the last to finish. But in a race in which many worthy competitors don’t finish, simply completing the course within the 8-day time limit felt like a “win”. (Plus, we got snazzy sharktooth necklaces to commemorate the event!)

As expected, it was quite an adventure: Bright sunshine, dark nights, wind, rain, laughter, tears, friendly and scary creatures, sleep deprivation, hypothermia, hallucinations… and water, 300 miles of it. We made friends and discovered many things that worked, and quite a few that didn’t.

Our writeup is forthcoming, but meanwhile, here are some of the photographic highlights (click on any photo to start slideshow):

Update March 17, 2014: Our writeup begins here.

And We’re Off to the Everglades Challenge!

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

A front is coming our way!

It all depends on the weather! (Actually, a front like this, with a nice northerly tailwind, would be very welcome during the race…)

After years of dreaming, eighteen months of preparation, two training trips, countless hours paddling and at the gym… we are finally off participating in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile adventure race down the Gulf coast of Florida, starting at Tampa Bay and ending in Key Largo.

It’s an unsupported, expedition-style adventure race, meaning that (from WaterTribe’s description of the event):

The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on your course selection. There is a time limit of 8 days or less. Your safety and well being are completely up to you.

Unsupported means that there are no safety boats or support crews to help you during the race. Expedition style means that you must carry the same type of equipment and supplies that you would carry on a major expedition lasting 4 weeks or more. Camping equipment, food, water, safety, communication, etc. is required.

The warning that we are required to sign, written in inimitable style, makes fun reading! It culminates in:

By entering any WaterTribe Challenge or event, you are agreeing that all the people, companies, and agents associated with the event owe you nothing nor do we owe you duty of care or service or any other duty. We promise you nothing. We do not and will not even try to make this event safe for anyone. This event is not safe for anyone. This is no joke. We won’t even try to warn you about every known danger or hazardous condition, whether we know about it or not. If we do decide to warn you about something, that doesn’t mean we will try to warn you about everything. If we do make an effort to make some aspect of the event safer, we may not correct other aspects, and we may even make matters worse! We and our agents may do things that are unwise and dangerous. Sorry, we’re not responsible. We may give you bad advice. Don’t listen to us. In short, ENTER AND PARTICIPATE IN THESE EVENTS AT YOUR OWN RISK. And have fun!

Our goals are simple. The main goal is to finish, period (well, to finish in time to catch our flight home from Miami). The “stretch goal”—as they say in sales—is to finish within the 8-day time limit.

We’re not being humble. Some years, 60% or more of Challengers don’t finish. We could very well be among those, especially if the weather turns against us. But whatever happens, we hope to learn quite a lot about ourselves and our capabilities—and enjoy the ride.

We won’t be blogging for a while, but you can track our progress in (almost) real time. We each have a SPOT tracking device (required for the race)  that, over a satellite network, sends its current location every few minutes to a web page. Vlad’s is here, and Johna’s is here.

If you want to track everyone in the race, it’s here. You can select individual Challengers using the dropdown menu. Vlad is SeaHare, Johna is ZippyChick.

The race starts at 7 AM on Saturday, March 1.

See you all when we get back!

(Update March 11, 2014: Our individual SPOT tracking web pages retain the tracks for only a week, so if you read this post at a later date, the tracks will be gone. The common WaterTribe tracking page retains the tracks more permanently, although not indefinitely either.)

Everglades Shakedown, Day 6: Headwinds and Homelessness

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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IMGP2317 cropped small

Start: Little Rabbit Key.
Finish: Sunset Point Park, Key Largo.
Distance: About 24 nautical miles.
Paddling time: Roughly 11 hours; average pace 2.2 knots.

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