I am going to preface this post by saying, I have been asked by Rob not to beat myself up too much in this entry. I had a bad day and still feel badly about it, but we all have those days. Just keep that in mind.
So, I noticed a couple of months ago that some geocaches were published along the Alexander Springs run. It is the river that comes from the boil at the Alexander Springs State Recreation Area (not a state park, mind you, so no stamp)...not sure if it has a real name or not. Not sure how far it goes, either, but the route we planned, in an attempt to find the 4 caches accessible only by watercraft, was roughly 5.99 miles. I suggested putting in at the downstream end, paddling upstream to the last cache on the run, and then turning around and coming back with the current. Easy, right?
We arrived at the launch bright and early, amazed at having seen a black bear on the highway during the trip there. All of us, having lived here for so long, had never seen a bear like that before. It was amazing. Chris, Randy, and Xandra...our paddling buddies for the day...were delayed in their arrival...read: 'lost'...and we got to know our surroundings a little bit:
In this last picture, Olivia was trying to catch one of the little fish in the river. She was singing 'The Itsy Bitsy Spider' to entice them, and it was so sweet. They came pretty close to her, too!
So, everyone arrived, gear was sorted, and we launched. Upstream we went, and I anticipated a leisurely paddle, hopefully calm and shaded:
Don't get me wrong...it started and ended that way. What we had in the interim was more like this:
The only way I can describe it is a sea of grass. Lilypads, too. Some of the going was clear, but lots of it was...to me...having to really dig in to make forward progress. And the current wasn't even that strong! At this point let me point out that my paddling technique is less than stellar. I know. At no point should my hands or back have been hurting, but it didn't take long for that to happen. I am very tense in a kayak because of my fear of the water. But keeping that in mind, I made a concerted effort to ease my grip on the paddle and loosen up, period. By then, though, the damage was done and I just had to deal with the pain.
I also had to deal with another pain:
Let me 'splain it to you like this: Olivia is petrified of spiders. I knew she didn't like them, but I had no idea she'd scream like....wow...like a little girl if one got near her. And wouldn't you know that every single blade of river grass and every single lilypad came with its very own spider? And wouldn't you know that they kept getting into our kayak?? Every single time it happened she screamed as if her leg was getting cut off (thanks for that one, Rob!). And let me tell you, it gets on the nerves.
And so onward we paddled.
There was some geocaching mixed in there too. Of the 4 caches on the run, only one had previously been found, while the other three had not. We passed by the first one because we had taken a different channel. The plan was to find it on the return trip. The next cache was a First to Find, the next one we found had previously been found, and we did not find the final cache on the run. It was late in the day and we were all hungry, so we called an end to our search and headed downstream to a bridge over the river for lunch. Oddly enough, while we were there, some of my geocaching friends launched their canoe and went upstream to find the cache we just missed.
Xandra makes a great PB&J.
Chris caught another minnow for Olivia:
We managed to miss the day's only rain while we were eating. Gotta love that. Like Rob says, we didn't want to get wet. ;)
After lunch came the return trip...and the meltdown. While Olivia and I were both mollified by lunch, it didn't change the fact that we had 5.99 miles the paddle back, plus one more cache to find. The shrieking banshee that is my child went back at it. My mood tanked. And may I add, on the trip upstream, she had been terrified when a fish...a fish!!...jumped up out of the water and hit her in the neck. As if the spiders weren't bad enough, now she's going to need serious therapy later on because of a fish.
So, Olivia was whining. I was tired. She was cranky. I was sore. She whined. I cried. She cried. I yelled. She whimpered. I cried. She cried. I screamed. Sometime then I told everyone how I really felt: I had had enough. I wanted to be off the river right then, and we had to do everything in our power to make it happen. I had crossed that sacred threshold and was no longer able to hold it together. I was done.
We continued paddling, and the most amazing thing happened. Olivia stopped crying. I calmed down. It was rough going for awhile, and then it was better. I felt like everyone hated me, and then we were back to our laughing and joking selves from the morning. The final geocache was nearby, and searching for that helped ease some of the tension. So did the fact that Olivia actually got out of the kayak to go potty in the river (and thanks so much, Xandra, for helping her when my fears kept me from being able to).
And then we were done. I guess there were no hard feelings for my temper tantrum, because we were all smiles at the end. Chris even had a little fun with the rope swing at the launch site:
One thing I haven't mentioned is the wildlife. It started with the black bear on the way in. Then we saw an otter while we were waiting for the gang to show up, and another while out paddling. Our journey was marked with numerous birds, turtles, and alligators. While searching for the furthest geocache, we had the funniest conversation with a woman and her child, who had kayaked down from the spring. When her child...and at this point, I can't remember age, gender...started poking around in the lilypads on the opposite bank, Randy warned them that we'd been hearing a gator send out its warning croak to let us know it was there. We said it sounded like a bullfrog. The lady said, "Oh! We've heard lots of bullfrogs today!" That's when pretty much all of us told her, "Those weren't bullfrogs!" She was ready to head in after that.
Some wildlife highlights:
Oh, and before I forget, I just had to share some pictures of Chris and his mad skillz:
Okay, so after ten hours on the water, we were done. We loaded up our gear as the sun was going down. And despite it all, I'm grateful for the experience. I know how much I can handle, and how much I can't. I know that we all have bad days, but we aren't bad people. I know that when a fish hits you in the neck, all you really want is a big hug from your mommy. And when you hear croaking 'bullfrogs', keep your eyes peeled and your fingers out of the water.
And just maybe, you'll leave the river with a smile on your face: