Friday, May 15, 2009

Paddling to Fort Myers


I left Commissioner Mann's house yesterday morning and walked the 2 miles back to the Franklin Lock where to board my kayak for the day. I stood on the edge of the water for about ten minutes scanning the shoreline for approaching kayaks. It felt like something our of a very different era. I finally saw a few kayaks headed my way from the other side of the river. Betsy and Wendy from the Calusa Blueway were going to be my guides for the next two days, and my good friend Nathan was joining up too. He'd flown in from New York the night before to boat through Florida with me for a few days and help with filming. Also, Andrew from the the News Press was paddling along for a bit too and taking some photos for the newspaper, (which you can see here).


I boarded a tandem kayak with Nathan and we started paddling the Calusa Blueway. It's a 190 mile trail for kayaks and canoes, and in the next two days we'd be exploring around 30 miles of it. I've gone kayaking a few times before, but I'm far from being an expert. Wendy gave Nathan and I a few tips for paddling efficiently, and we noticed a marked difference after we synchronized our strokes and held our paddles properly. Wendy also explained how the Caloosahatchee River was straightened about one hundred years ago. It originally meandered around the area as rivers tend to do, until the Corps of Engineers came along and plowed a straight line through the state in the name of commerce. The original curves are still there, often marked by the little islands that now separate them from the main channel. It was fun to kayak into these smaller channels and check out the mangroves and diverse wildlife.


We stopped for a snack and to stretch our legs at Sweetwater Landing and bid farewell to Andrew before heading down the Caloosahatchee once again. Betsy pointed out a white-spotted island we were quickly approaching. It was covered with roosting wood storks, who are pretty rare now though still quite plentiful in this area. As we got closer, their calls and squawks were surprisingly loud, but they certainly didn't mind us paddling by.


Wendy also pointed out a statue of a manatee, who are pretty common in the area. Betsy spotted one early on in the trip, but it swam away before I could get a good luck. They move downstream this time of year, so we may have a better chance of seeing them tomorrow.


Pretty soon the Fort Myers skyline was visible, and just in time because my arms were starting to get sore. It was an interesting contrast- paddling through the beautiful natural environment and then kayaking right under heavy-traffic bridges and towards a city skyline


We brought our kayaks ashore and Nathan and I headed to the Indigo Hotel, our home for the night, to clean up a bit. Then we were off to the old courthouse to meet up with Commissioner Frank Mann one more time. I wanted to get a few of his stories on camera and see where he works. The Commissioner warmly welcome us into his corner of the courthouse and pointed out some of his awards and photos lining the wall. He's certainly accomplished a lot of amazing things in all his years in office.


Then we were off to explore downtown Fort Myers and do a few press interviews with the local TV news stations.


And now we're getting ready for the 16 mile kayak ahead of us today. Hopefully we'll reach South Fort Myers before the predicted rainstorm hits...

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