Category Archives: Travel

Freepaddling in the Ten Thousand Islands: Part Four

By Johna Till Johnson

Camp Lulu Osprey

Osprey in nest at Camp Lulu

It wasn’t until midmorning that the humorous side of yesterday’s events hit me.

I stopped at a sandy island to make breakfast, and couldn’t stop chuckling.  Of all my fears about paddling alone in the Ten Thousand Islands, the worst thing that had happened to date was my encounter with… Deranged Fart Man.

As if to make up for everything that had happened, the day was splendid: Sunny and cool, with just enough breeze and chop to be interesting. Which was just as well, because I decided I was homeward bound. Originally, I’d planned to camp on Pavilion Key in the Everglades. But the ranger had mentioned I’d be the 18th camper at the site—and after yesterday, I’d had my fill of neighbors. I decided to paddle back through the Ten Thousand Islands at a leisurely pace, and pick an isolated camp spot not too far from the marina where I’d started.

After a few more hours paddling, I found the perfect location at Camp Lulu: A secluded beach, partly facing the gulf, with a meadow and small forest behind me. Best of all, I discovered, there was an osprey nest off in the woods. The “weep weep” of the osprey parents was a cheerful backdrop as I went about setting up camp.

Night fell clear and quiet, and blissfully free of neighborly noises and smells. As I nestled into my bivy sack, I gave thanks for the soft sand. Overhead the stars blazed in a dark velvet sky. I fell asleep to the gentle sound of waves lapping.

Camp Lulu Sunrise Edited

Sunrise at Camp Lulu

The next morning I woke early, and was treated to a spectacular sunrise. I took my time packing up, succumbing to a familiar feeling: the trip was coming to an end, and I didn’t want it to.  So even simple chores took longer and longer, as I tried to delay the inevitable.

Eventually, despite all my delays, I was packed and ready to launch. I waved goodbye to the ospreys (who were no doubt happy to see the interfering human depart), and set off.

The wind was brisk, and I made good time, despite my reluctance for the day to end. To my surprise, I reached the Coon Key marker in early afternoon. In an hour or so, I’d be back at the marina, unpacking and maybe savoring a burger.

Not so fast!

It took longer than I expected to navigate my way through the mangroves to the marina. When I arrived at the boat ramp, everything looked subtly different. The main building seemed set at a different angle than I’d recalled. And the boat dock seemed… larger, somehow.

No matter. I pulled the boat up on the dock and began quickly unloading it, conscious of the fact that powerboat owners might want to use it. A friendly man, a middle-aged midwestern transplant and fellow kayaker, kept me company. We chatted as I worked: about his wife (who was pushing for them to buy a condo in the area), his son (who did technology work at Amazon), about paddling. I made good time unloading the boat, and he helped me carry it to a grassy patch near the boat ramp. Another anomaly: the grass wasn’t exactly where I’d remembered it. And hadn’t there been a tree overhanging it?

Egret in Tree

Egret or (more likely) juvenile Blue Heron (see the green, rather than yellow, legs)

But it wasn’t until I went looking for the car that I grasped the problem.The large, half-full parking lot was completely unfamiliar. “Where’s the big tree?” I asked my new friend, puzzled. “What big tree?” he replied. At the Calusa Island Marina, the helpful woman behind the desk had told me to park “under the big tree”. And indeed, the tree was unmistakeable: Over 100 years old, it towered over a circle of parking spaces. I distinctly remembered parking my white SUV in its shade. Yet it was abundantly clear that there was no big tree to be found.

Somehow I’d managed to arrive at the wrong marina.

It had looked like my marina… but then, I had a foggy recollection of not looking back when I first set out. Big mistake!

What to do? My new friend was as puzzled as I. Then he gestured to a trio of uniformed men. “The police might know,” he said.

I asked, my questioning hampered by the fact that I couldn’t remember the name of the marina I’d started from. They seemed doubtful, but finally gave me directions to “the other marina”. I needed to paddle around the peninsula we were on, go under a bridge, and there it would be.

Something about the directions didn’t seem right—I didn’t recall going under any bridges—but then I hadn’t exactly been paying attention when I set forth. We’d proven that.

I reloaded the boat, said goodbye to my new friend, and set off. As I paddled, I realized the wind and current were both with me. If by any chance this was the wrong direction, returning would be a challenge.

As I paddled, I savored the view of brightly colored waterfront cottages, tiny, but each with its own dock. Several were decorated whimsically, partly for the holidays, but partly with that quirky South Florida bohemian vibe.

Soon I pulled away from the inhabited areas. There was, indeed, a bridge in front of me—but I could swear I’d never seen it before. Surely I hadn’t been that clueless? With a deep sense of foreboding I paddled on. Ahead was a tiny boat dock, by the side of the road, with a few decrepit cars nearby.

It wasn’t where I’d started from. And now I had no idea where that even was, let alone what it was called.

This situation called for the GPS. I turned it on—and got a rude shock. It kept telling me I was at Marco Island, several miles away. And no matter what resolution I set it at, I couldn’t find my missing marina.

There was nothing for it but to go back to the marina that wasn’t mine (which I found out later was called Walker’s Coon Key Marina) and try again.

Which I did. Only paddling against the wind and current, it took me two hours to return, as compared with the 30 minutes or so to paddle out. When I finally arrived in late afternoon back at Walker’s, I was still as stumped as before.  Acting on a hunch, I continued on past the marina. Unlikely as it seemed, maybe there was another marina behind the first?

Indeed there was. If I’d only kept paddling when I’d first arrived, I’d have been at my marina within minutes, instead of taking a three-hour detour.

Moral of the story: Pay close attention to your launch point, so you can be sure to find it again!

I unloaded the boat for the second time, put it on top of the car (yay!), and left the marina, tired but satisfied, around sunset. This particular adventure was over… but stay tuned. More to come!

Edited JTJ Selfie Lulu

Looking onward to the next adventure!

 

 

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Excelsior

By Johna Till Johnson

excelsior-edited

72nd St Subway Station-Q Line

What makes photography interesting is the eye invested with feelings. That was the advice I’d gotten on finding my own photographic style. Strive not for esthetic perfection, but for conveying the emotions and narrative of the moment.

Tall order for someone still figuring out how to keep the camera steady enough to focus!

I was game for the challenge, though I suspected it would be an upwards struggle. One problem presented itself when I ventured out on a recent weekend: the world outside didn’t seem to match my feelings. It was a grey day in midwinter, but I was feeling… buoyant.

How—and where—would I find something that would convey my mood?

I took several shots outdoors before I stumbled across the perfect subject: the brand-new 72nd street subway station. Readers of the blog already know that I love subways. And I’m particularly in love with the 72nd Street station, with its high, gleaming arches, still-pristine walls, and glittering, realistic, slightly larger-than-life mosaic portraits.

Yes, I decided, the subway station would be perfect. Especially since I was taking the subway anyway to run my errands.

I had just about finished up a series of  photos when I noticed someone else doing the same thing: A young man in a puffy black jacket carrying a serious camera—with a long, impressive lens—was across the way, apparently preparing for a close-up of one of the mosaic portraits.

He had long hair and a distracted, somewhat hostile, expression. When he caught me looking at him, his eyes narrowed a bit, in that classic New York scowl. I could almost hear him thinking, “Whaddaya looking at?”

I leaned over the railing towards him. “We’re doing the same thing—only you’re a real photographer!” The scowl disappeared and his face lit up with an almost bashful smile. “I’m trying!” he said.

I smiled back and turned to leave.

Then it hit me: That was my shot. I turned around and steadied myself, hoping he wasn’t looking at me. No danger of that: he was leaning backwards against the railing,  carefully studying his subject. Carefully, quickly, I took the picture, then stepped back to frame it again.

It wasn’t until I’d taken a couple different shots that I noticed something I hadn’t previously seen: the word Excelsior in raised lettering on a concrete bar above the staircase. It’s Latin for “ever upward”, and it’s the New York State motto. I hadn’t even known it was there until I examined my photo.

Whoever elected to put it over a staircase obviously had a sense of humor. But I was delighted to discover something new in my favorite subway station—and struck by the appropriateness of the message.

Ever upward, indeed!

Weightless

By Vladimir Brezina

Weightless 1

On the first dive, a novice diver immediately encounters a new and astonishing feeling, one of utter weightlessness, of floating in space, gently rising by inhaling more deeply and descending by exhaling… I still remember how amazed I was by that feeling.

On our trip to Australia last August we only went snorkeling, but still were able to recapture some of that feeling…

Weightless 2(Great Barrier Reef, Australia, August 2015)

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Weight(less).

Transition

By Vladimir Brezina

Transition 1Exquisite sea shells, freshly cast up on the beach

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do not stay fresh for long.

Transition 2Transition 3

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They fade and break and fuse back into solid rock.

Transition 4(Belize, 2010)

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Transition.

Trick or Treat

By Vladimir Brezina

No tricks, only treats, with this one.

Trick or Treat 1

Not so sure about this one, though…

Trick or Treat 2

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Treat.

Doi Nomazi

By Vladimir Brezina

Doi NomaziIt was late December 2013, on the first day of one of our shakedown paddles through the Florida Everglades in preparation for the 2014 Everglades Challenge. We had just landed on the muddy beach behind the Everglades City ranger station to get our permits for camping in the Everglades.

As Johna tells it, “as we headed inland I caught sight of a couple of figures—a man and a woman—dressed identically in Army-green T-shirts and black pants. The woman was wheeling a loaded barrow, and I took them for park rangers.

But Vlad stopped and said to the man, ‘I know you! We’re friends on Facebook!'”

The couple were Doi Nomazi (“Two Nomads”), Adrian and Mihaela, a Romanian husband-and-wife adventure team. Even though they too are based in New York, we’d never met before, and this was the only time we have crossed paths so far.

Like us, they were on a kayak expedition in the Everglades over the holidays—but they were sailing, rather than merely paddling, their black U-boat, a double Long Haul folding kayak.

Later, back in New York, I looked to see how their trip had gone, and found that they had produced an enchanting 86-minute “video diary” of their adventure, entitled “Echoes of the Eskampaba—2013”.

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“Echoes of the Eskampaba” remains my favorite among their videos, perhaps because it features many of the places in the Everglades that we, too, visited on our trip (such as the lovely but mosquito-plagued Highland Beach, where Doi Nomazi camped a few days after us).

But that’s just one of their videos. There are now 28 of them. Once or twice a year, on their vacation, Doi Nomazi visit some fascinating, remote corner of the world. The resulting video is as well-produced as any commercial movie, and more watchable that most. (It’s perhaps not surprising to find that Adrian has a rich resumé as a journalist, cameraman, and film producer and director.) In addition to the Everglades, Doi Nomazi have paddled in the Black Sea, in the Gwaii Haanas of British Columbia, in Greenland, in Alaska’s Glacier Bay… And it’s not all paddling, either: they have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, driven through the back country of Africa and Australia

Here is their latest video, from Glacier Bay:

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Doi Nomazi say that “we have no special training, we are not athletes and we are not seeking any records.” Perhaps not, but their thirst for nature and adventure, and their willingness to endure the inevitable discomforts and hardships, are extraordinary. An inspiration to us all!

Below

By Vladimir Brezina

We are floating offshore in the Coral Sea, about twenty miles out from Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia.

What lies below the surface?

Below 1

The Great Barrier Reef!

Below 2Below 3Below 4Below 5Below 6(more photos still to come…)

A contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Below.