Suwannee Solace Part 1 of 2

The prospect of leaving sunny Florida for chilly Minnesota is much more palatable knowing stops are being planned along the way; especially when stops include some warm weather adventure.

So when the opportunity arose to spend time in the Panhandle with a native Floridian, how could I resist?

My colleague and new friend Paula had just experienced a devastating loss, and was more than ready for a distraction from her world. She invited me on an excursion to visit her property “up north”, and it quickly turned into a full blown adventure!

Friday we left Sarasota with my three hairy kids riding shotgun, my trailer in tow and her following behind in a truck loaded with kayaks and bikes, and headed north to Mayo, Florida. The weather was perfect and the drive pulling the Toy Hauler was a breeze. The Suwannee River winds all through the area, and a quiet little place at Convict Springs is where we planned to set up camp for the duration. We arrived around dinner time. We had had a rocky departure from Sarasota that morning, so after getting the Toy Hauler situated and everyone fed, we turned in for the night.

The next morning we woke to another beautiful day. There’s something very freeing about being away from ‘the routine’. We found ourselves decompressing at the picnic table, soaking up the morning sun; she with her tea, me with my coffee, smiling and enjoying honey drizzled zucchini bread, letting the stress of last week melt away. The plan was to quickly walk the dogs, then head out early to Holton Creek Wildlife Management Area, to see her little slice of private heaven. From there, she had a couple other places she wanted to show me. If we didn’t go soon, we wouldn’t make them all.

The dogs got their walks, we prepared for our day trip and headed out of camp. Our hour drive was scenic, rustic, and suddenly a 4 wheel drive challenge. I was simply a passenger (wow, that’s a first!) and I trusted my friend completely, but I admit I was becoming a little nervous.

“Paula, are you sure we are going the right way?” I finally peeped as we joggled down the unmaintained excuse for a road.

“Well I’m pretty sure this is right. That doesn’t look familiar, though.” She replied.

There wasn’t anything to GPS, so the guessing game went on for another 30 minutes before she somehow identified a tree off to the left or something like that and announced “there it is, we are here!” and she pulled off to the edge of a thick woods.

I looked back at the road we came in on. It wasn’t much of a road. I have no idea where we are.

She leaped out of her truck bursting with energy, and dove into the woods. I jumped out, and followed close behind as she forged through thick brush, along over grown trails, and hiked up and down several hills (Oh my! Florida has some hills!). The terrain is much different than down south around the Gulf. More oak trees, pine trees, and virtually no palm trees or palmettos. It almost looks like Minnesota. Especially with those deer tracks…

She was a woman on a mission. Determined to find and face her land on her own terms. She chattered excitedly about plans she had for the land, new ideas, and old dreams. We walked the land for an hour, through the woods, and along the edge of the high river bluff, as she tried to recall where the property lines were. Finally she uncovered the evidence she was looking for. A giant game feeder, hidden in the brush.

There were deer tracks everywhere, and spent shells. Wow, this was the ideal hunting haven.

She touched the feeder, then followed an invisible trail over to another, and then another, recognizing each in its own right, as though she expected them not to be there.

My heart broke for her as she stood by the last feeder. “He was more concerned about feeding the deer half the time than shooting them.” She sighed.

The woods became very quiet. Our eyes met. She had never been to this land without him. It was good that we were here. She looked around with misty eyes, then quickly turned and headed back on another trail as I raced to catch up, giving her plenty of space to feel what she needed to feel.

SweetSuwan4Once we found the truck, we continued down the “beyond rustic” road that eventually lead to a campground. The road was there for emergencies and the camp host to have access. The campground is designed to only be accessed from the water, hosting a dozen or so primitive camp sites for paddlers to rest at while working their way down the Suwannee River. Florida sure has a strange perception of what “primitive” campsites are. There were modern bathrooms with flush toilets, showers and heat and air conditioning, and the campsites were actually screen houses raised off the ground, with electricity, lights, and grills. WHAAAAT?  Apparently this was one of many such campgrounds along the Suwannee.

We explored the entire property, marveling at how pristine of a campground it was, and how empty it was. They even provided heavy duty carts to haul gear up from the elaborate canoe launch, stairway and ramp. This Minnesotan was highly impressed!

We made our way back to the truck and back down that minimal road, on to our next stop of the day: Big Schoals State Park.

There weren’t any attendants on duty. We breezed through the entrance and drove straight to the parking area. Only a couple cars were there. We got out and wandered around the picnic area, looking for the hiking trail. Her mood was improved, she had a little spring in her step, and she was determined to take me to a special place. We found the hiking trail, and began our journey.

SweetSuwan5Within 20 minutes I was in a state of shock. WHO’D A THUNK there were actual rapids in Florida!? Paula brought me to a park that boasts the largest white water rapids in the state, an impressive Class III Rapids with 80 foot high Limestone bluffs along the river. Simply amazing. We snapped pictures of breath taking views, and marveled at the powerful Suwannee River waters surging downstream. SweetSuwan3The hiking trail could have brought us through another 25 or more miles of wooded wilderness, quite a different scene than the Gulf area. But we opted to head back and on to our next destination—the hunting camp.

Once again we were on the road, this time following coordinates she obtained from somewhere that would hopefully bring us to the hunting camp. We drove at least an hour on paved roads, but then it was back to the Florida back roads. We drove at least another hour down what she swore was a road, (but I think it was an oversized animal trail) that at times we had to keep the windows up or we’d be whipped in the face by branches. We pummeled through mud and water, over deadfalls and squeezed through some very narrow areas of the “road”.

“Paula, are you sure we are going the right way?” I finally peeped as we joggled down the unmaintained, animal trail excuse for a road.   We could barely drive 15 miles per hour safely.

“Well I’m pretty sure this is right. That doesn’t look familiar, though.” She replied. “And neither does that.“

The GPS didn’t seem to be reading correctly, so the guessing game went on for another 45 minutes. Finally she somehow identified a tree off to the right or something like that and announced “there it is, we are here!” and she pulled off to the left of a Y in the road.

I looked back at the road we came in on. It wasn’t much of a road. In fact, where the hell is the road? It had evaporated into the bushes. I have no idea where we are.

She slowly pulled up to an old steel gate across an overgrown fire road.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, this is it! But just wait here, and I’ll go check.” And with that she bailed out of the truck, sprinted over the gate and down the fire road.

I sat waiting at the truck. My mind starts to wander.

Dang, is this where they shot Deliverance?

We’ve got about 2 hours of daylight left, tops.

Dang, my phone isn’t picking up a signal.

What if she is wrong?

Dang mosquitos! Good Grief!

What if she doesn’t come back?

Dang we slid through a whole lot of mud back there.

Suddenly she was back, and digging around in the foliage looking for a hidden key for the gate.

“I don’t understand, it’s always here.” She mumbled. We decided to leave the truck there and hike in.

Yes this is it. Look, a BATHROOM! I made fast tracks to the can.

So this is the hunting camp. Paula was engrossed with searching for something. I did not ask her what for. Perhaps it isn’t anything in particular. Her searching became more determined.

“Are you looking for something specific? Can I help?”

“Richards stuff. Where is his stuff?” she seemed anxious.

Everything in the hunting shack was beyond neat. Unbelievable neat. No way could this be a place where men hung out. It was just too neat. Or, maybe her late husbands’ buddy has already been there and gone.

Again, my heart broke for her. She canvassed the entire inside of the cabin, looking more and more distraught. Then she picked up an object.

The cabin became very quiet. Our eyes met. She had never been here without him. It was good that we were here. She just wanted something of his to hang on to. She stood in the middle of the main room with the object, looked around with misty eyes, then quickly turned and headed out the door as I raced to catch up, giving her plenty of space to feel what she needed to feel.

SweetSwuan2We walked the property in silence as the sun began to set. Where ever the heck we are this certainly is a great hunting camp! There were feeders and treestands and carefully trimmed trails for close shots with the bow. She talked about how much time he spent managing the two properties, and how they would come up together and fill the feeders, look for sign of wild game, and just relax.

We had to head out, or we’d never get out in the dark. Racing the sun at a snails pace, we made our way down that rough and tumble animal trail road–through the water and mud and deadfalls and brush and eventually hit pavement. We drove back to our camp in quiet resolve, sharing just enough small talk to keep us both awake. I sat silently in the passenger seat, realizing something epic took place today, and I was honored to have been a part of it.

Oh dear friend, I can’t imagine your pain! Losing your best friend, your childhood sweetheart, your husband of 40 something years….oh, I am so sorry for your loss!

Tomorrow will be a new day with a new adventure.

Thank you for reading my post. Was it inspiring? Scary? Funny? Unbelievable? I’d love to hear your thoughts! All comments are greatly appreciated. Life is an adventure—and it begins today! Why wait for an invitation to live an amazing life full of great experiences? There are lots of inspirational stories under my blog category, “PRs Amazing Outdoor Adventure Update”. If you like what you see, please let me know by “liking” my website. You can even join my tribe to automatically receive new postings ‘hot off the press’.

If you find yourself spending your time not doing what you love, I invite you to contact me for help to create your own, amazing adventure. As always, please feel free to share with others who may find meaning and value in exploring limitless possibilities with PR Brady AdVentures. Thanks again!

 

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