Shakedown Kayak Expedition Through the Florida Everglades: Overview

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

IMGP1086 cropped small

Florida paddling!

Our route

Our route

Last month, we headed down for some kayaking in Florida over the Christmas holidays. Nothing unusual about that—this time of year, plenty of people head south for the sunshine and warm water.

In our case, though, the goal was what the Scouts call a “shakedown expedition”: A trip you take before the expedition itself, to get a feel for the environment and its challenges, and decide which equipment is truly necessary. (The usual mistake is to pack too much, which is where the “shakedown” part comes in…)

As many readers know, we’re planning to compete in the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge in March. It’s a 300(ish) mile race for kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. The details of the route are left up to the participants; the only route-related requirement is checking in at three specified checkpoints on the way. (Other requirements include carrying some mandatory gear, and managing your boat and gear without external assistance.) To complete the challenge, you have to finish in 8 days or less, though the awards ceremony is on the afternoon of the seventh day, and if you anticipate placing, you’ll want to finish much earlier!

We don’t take it lightly—a trip like this requires careful planning as well as physical endurance. We’re no strangers to long-distance paddling, but until last year we hadn’t spent much time in the Florida waterways. So we went on our first “shakedown” expedition in April…

…and in six days of paddling, made it just a third of the way, a bit past the first checkpoint.  (We’re still writing up that trip, but we described the first three days of it here and here.)

Obviously, more practice was called for!

Now, there were mitigating circumstances—I was in an extra-slow boat (a 12’10” Feathercraft K-Light, my Baby Vulcan). Plus, early in the trip we decided to take it easy and just get a feel for the Florida land- and seascape. So we weren’t too upset by our slow going in the first shakedown expedition.

But one thing we noticed was that we spent an inordinate amount of time making and breaking camp—partly because we were still overpacking, but also because we weren’t as tightly organized as we needed to be.

Through tortuous creeks

Through tortuous creeks…

Through shallow waters

… and shallow waters

So the goal for this trip was twofold: Optimize our organizational skills, and gain a feel for the Everglades, which present what could be called unique navigational and environmental challenges. (That’s a rather bland way of putting things, as you’ll see…)

For this trip, I planned to rent a long, fast boat from the ever-fabulous Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Pete, which as far as I’m concerned is the premier watersports outfitter in all of Florida.  (Thanks again to Russell and friends!) Vlad would take his trusty Red Herring. And we’d launch from Chokoloskee, the second checkpoint, and paddle to Key Largo. That would still make for a much slower pace than in the actual challenge, covering only about 40 percent of the distance over 6 days of paddling. But it would be enough, we hoped, to test-drive our newfound organizational skills and learn how to handle the Everglades.

The short version? It was—and then some! To make the story a bit more readable, we’ve broken it down into several sections. Click on the links below to read about what we learned, both overall and on each day of the trip:

OverallOverall: Challenges and Lessons Learned




Day 1

Day 1: Headwinds and Night Navigation



Day 2

Day 2: Barking Vultures, Beaches, and Bugs



Day 3

Day 3: Wind, Waves, and Chickees



Day 4

Day 4: Portage, Paddling in the Pitch Dark, and Fending Off Furious Crows



Day 5

Day 5: Navigating the Shallows



Day 6

Day 6: Headwinds and Homelessness



A few preliminary photos from the entire trip are here.

Next in Everglades Shakedown —>

25 responses to “Shakedown Kayak Expedition Through the Florida Everglades: Overview

  1. Pingback: Everglades Shakedown: Challenges and Lessons Learned | Wind Against Current

  2. Love the hazed/fazed horizon in your opening photo.


  3. That’s an impressive voyage. I’m awed and will be interested to read followups. I hope you have industrial strength insect repellent! Gorgeous pictures.


    • Thanks, Marilyn! More coming soon.

      Actually, although the chemicals clearly had an effect, the protection didn’t last. They didn’t do as good a job as simple physical barriers—covering up every square inch of skin.


  4. I love that descriptive “shakedown” trip: my husband and I always wished we’d been able to do ’em for each of our European journeys.We never failed to take too much!


  5. the sky so blue. It’s look like there is border of sea and the sky.


  6. Pingback: We’re Back! | Wind Against Current


    If this was the shakedown and you were this prepared I can’t wait to read about the actual trip!


  8. “OMG, you guys are nuts!” that was my first thought when I saw the map! But that’s just for a little humor :D

    I think it’s amazing that you are so dedicated to this sport, I have found kayaking to be an amazing experience every time I did it. And to go such a length is certainly not a light play. Also, great photos!


    • We did bring nuts with us… ;-)

      We like the expedition aspect of kayaking—and the Everglades are the perfect location for that, since the only way to see the Everglades is by small boat. And once you decide to go, you might as well do the preparation and get it right :-)

      Glad you like the photos!!


  9. Sweet as a Picture

    Hmm… Overpacked? I’m sure you could have used everything you brought with you. Did you end up leaving things behind?


    • Well, we always return from such trips with a number of items that we never used. But I think we are getting our packing down to the point where those items were still essential to bring, because they were essential backup or we would have needed them in a situation that was quite likely to occur, but in the event didn’t. And of course, we brought all our gear back to New York—ready for the Challenge itself in a couple of months!!


  10. Good luck with your adventurous trip, Vlad. I’m sure those insects are just waiting for you. Sounds as though you’re ready for them though. :)


  11. Thanks for leaving me a “Like” on this week’s photo challenge…
    and wow… what a great adventure you’ve got here, with some great photos!

    I’ll definitely be coming back to see more.


  12. Pingback: Paddling in the Florida Dusk | Wind Against Current

  13. Pingback: Everglades Challenge, the Days Before: Preparation and Gear Check | Wind Against Current

  14. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! | Wind Against Current

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