North Nest Key - Thanksgiving 2006

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Karen Friesner | Paradise Paddlers
Published Monday, November 27, 2006

It is said that an adventure is only an adventure if there is an element of risk or danger involved. Our recent kayak trip to North Nest Key over Thanksgiving 2006 just might qualify. You be the judge. 

The Nest Keys (there is a north and a south key) lie in the eastern side of Florida  Bay, approximately eight miles from Key Largo. They are part of Everglades National  Park (ENP) and North Nest Key (NNK) is a designated primitive backcountry camping  site. The name Nest Keys apparently came from the presence of numerous Osprey nests  found there. 

The most frequent question I'm asked is “How did you find out about this place?”  The answer requires a little explanation of our becoming involved with the sport of  kayaking. My husband and I fell in love with kayaking about sixteen months ago. We  started with 9.5ft Old Town Otters, read, studied and tried several others until we  decided on Necky Chathams, his a 17 and mine a 16. We considered our intended uses  and the Chathams seemed a perfect match for us. They truly are a joy to paddle. 

Our experience is limited to intracoastal waters, estuaries, and river paddling,  although I must add that over the sixteen months, we averaged 4-6 full days/month on the  water, practicing strokes, safety measures, and equipment use. Our teachers and guides  were popular websites, books, and trusted shop owners, each willing to share their  knowledge freely and passionately. We soaked it up like sponges! We have planned in  the future to invest in actual class-type instruction to supplement the little we have  accumulated correctly and, perhaps incorrectly on our own. 

Ed from South River Outfitters in Stuart, FL helped us decide on the best boat for  our intended use and is always eager to give colorful stories of his many adventures, tips,  and tricks. Thanks, Ed! 

However, our decision to go to NNK was given birth as a result of a visit to Florida  Bay Outfitters (FBO) in Key Largo, and their extremely friendly staff. Frank and Monica  have always been accepting and encouraging of our limited experience and new found  love of the sport. Our frequent visits to their website led to the discovery of a guided trip  to the Nest Keys, and so off we went to the web to find out all we could about NNK. The  information we found was scant, but did get directed to Nigel Foster's book, Guide to Sea  Kayaking in Southern Florida, which offered a trip route and was by far the most helpful  info we found. We followed his suggested route nearly as he described it. Calls to ENP  rangers, back-country fishing guides, and the use of Google Earth rounded out the  underwhelming reservoir of just what we might expect at NNK.

A goal has two essential components: what do you want and when do you want it, so  the question for us became when to make the trip. The answer came immediately-  Thanksgiving! Last year we had our Thanksgiving dinner on Little Munyon Island in the  Intracoastal Waterway, near North Palm Beach. We had thought then, that it could  become a tradition for us-a different island every year, and we were one-in-a-row! So,  NNK would make it two! 

We had our date, Thanksgiving 2006, with cooler weather and fewer mosquitoes,  and a burning desire. There it was, the makings of a goal. We would leave from FBO  Wednesday morning, stay overnight on NNK Wednesday and Thursday, and return on  Friday. The anticipation mounted and the goal was committed to paper. 

There's something about writing goals on paper. It's sort of like a contract with  yourself. Somehow we believe what we see written. The planning commenced. After  all, there now was something to plan and we had a deadline. As the little boy said in the  movie Hook, “It could happen!”, and we believed it! 

The lists, oh yes, the lists-from camping equipment, home-made Thanksgiving  dinner, snacks, water (there is none on NNK), vitamins, required permits, clothing,  radios, safety equipment, first-aid supplies, float plan, personal items, reading and writing  materials-each changed almost daily, as we envisioned different possible scenarios. It  seemed the more detailed the planning (another essential to a goal), the more confident  we were that we could pull it off.

The week before the trip was an emotional roller-coaster. The one variable, over  which we had no control, was just that-variable! The weather forecasts ranged from  winds from the north at 15-25, bay waters rough, with a small craft advisory, to 5-10 with  a moderate chop. We viewed Keys webcams and checked 3-6 different weather sites on  the web daily, and went from near-depression, to the kind of excitement that keeps you  awake at night! With the shallow, open crossing to NNK, the higher winds could create  conditions beyond our limitations and we knew it. After 2-3 days of the vacillating  reports, we realized that Florida Bay waters extended clear to the west coast of  Florida and it might be possible that the cold north-northwest winds certainly would  affect the western part of the bay, but perhaps, we hoped, might be less, if not nonexistent,  in the sheltered eastern part of the bay. Some weather reports at Key Largo  were actually quite favorable and the webcams seemed to show hardly a chop near  Islamorada! We decided to go as planned on Wednesday AM, and if it looked like more  than was reasonably safe, we had a secondary campsite in mind and would paddle in  protected waters near Key Largo. 

Well, Wednesday, November 22nd came. We had packed the Jeep Tuesday night, so  all we had to do was load the kayaks, coolers filled with dry ice and foil-packed  Thanksgiving dinners, eat breakfast and head south. Surprisingly, we slept well until  2:30 AM when we awoke a full 30 minutes before the alarm. We were to meet our good  friend, Dean, at FBO at 7:30. We were prepared and the morning last-minute details  flowed perfectly. 

As we rolled south on the Florida Turnpike, it was like a scene from Dumb and  Dumber! I actually looked at Ted and said, “We're really doin' it, Harry!” We were  really on our way! The stars were out and there was virtually no wind. As we neared  Miami, the beautiful Florida sun showed its face to a cloudless, clear-blue sky with a  temperature of 47 degrees.

By the time we arrived at FBO and began unpacking the car and sorting the gear out  on a tarp, we weren't cold at all. Dean arrived at 7:30 as planned and Frank and Monica  arrived at 8 AM to open FBO where Dean, with only one prior kayaking experience, was  to rent a Current Designs Storm and some dry bags. By the way, the water in Blackwater  Sound was mirror-flat and winds were maybe 5 from the north. Perfect…just perfect.  Monica seemed to share our excitement and was eager to hear our reports about  conditions on NNK upon our return. What a joy to meet a person with the ability to  genuinely share another's anticipation! She is a very gifted person.

The practice run of packing our kayaks during the previous week was invaluable.  As we tossed plastic-wrapped mini-muffins into small spaces, water bottles low and near  the cockpit to keep the boat controllable, and everything else as we had practiced, it all  actually fit…except the small disposable grill that we needed to heat the foil-packed  Thanksgiving dinners! Dean to the rescue! He only had his cooler in front of his footpegs,  and the grill fit perfectly on top of it! Destiny! It seemed as though everything we  needed to happen, just happened as we needed it! I'm not sure how you would account  for it, but I figured it all came together because we did what we could and God made up  the difference…more than we could ask or think. I should quit being surprised when He  does that, but I do think He likes to delight me! He is so…God! You know what I  mean? 

Off we went at 10:30, waters in Blackwater Sound and Dusenbury Creek green from  an algae bloom, through Tarpon Basin, Grouper Creek and Little Buttonwood Sound.  Exiting Little Buttonwood Sound, we headed 305 degrees to Porjoe Key, and as we  rounded the north end-there it was, our first glimpse of North Nest, across open water  two miles away AND aqua water! Another gift!

It was an easy paddle to NNK, although because of earlier winds the 4-5 ft. deep  water was turbid. As we paddled heading 284 degrees to NNK, the southern coast of  Florida off to our right appeared like ink dots along the horizon. It was captivating. We  decided to paddle between North and South Nest and our original plan was to camp on  the south side from the public dock. A helpful ENP ranger suggested it, as it was  shallower on that side and thus, might be quieter with less boat traffic for picnics, etc.  We passed mangroves full of pelicans straight to the south side, landed on the shell  beach around 1 PM, stepped out of our kayaks and sank up to our calves in white muck!  I had to leave my shoes in it and retrieve them with my hands, the suction was so great!  So much for the south side! Maybe that's why most people do not camp there. So off we  went around past the dock, which must have been newly built after the hurricanes of  2005, and had perched neatly on its end, two bright blue Porta-Potties-somewhat of a  sore-thumb in an otherwise uninhabited, untouched little piece of paradise. 

We paddled around to the north side and picked two likely “campsites”, mere  clearings in the mangroves. Once our tents were up and the boats stowed, we realized  that we were starving! Lunch at 4 PM consisted of my sister Bev's Sloppy Joe, heated in  our amazing Jet-Boil stove, on hot-dog buns, along with chips, energy drinks and  blueberry muffins, one with a candle for Dean's birthday. Delicious! “We were doin' it,  Harry!” 

After dinner Dean and I paddled around to the potties and upon our return to camp, with  the sun setting, I captured Dean paddling, silhouetted against a blazing sky. Back at the  camp, we got out of the yaks and decided to walk to the west end for pictures of the  sunset, as it was south of west and beyond the view from our camp location. Again,  picture perfect, with a few clouds across the sun as it sank below the horizon, leaving an  afterglow as a souvenir. 

We all turned in at 6:30. It had been a busy day. We went to sleep to the rhythmic  lapping of the waves. We awoke to silence at 10 PM, got up & went out. There was no  wind, the water was like glass with maybe a little fog, a bazillion stars, some shooting  across the sky. We called out to Dean and he was up also. We talked, star-gazed,  dreamed and built memories. We went back to bed and slept soundly until midnight  when we were awakened by very strong, cold north winds blowing through the tent,  causing us to don the fleece pants and jackets for the remainder of the night. The winds  stayed strong through the 4:30 potty break and began to subside around 6:30. We got up  and had a hot oatmeal breakfast with muffins, tangerines and steaming hot French-press  coffee in the amazing Jet-Boil. As I was cleaning up the dishes, we noticed a motor boat  coming toward us. Until then we were the only human inhabitants on the island. The  next thing I saw was Ted and Dean doing “YMCA” on the beach. They later told me that  they knew it was too shallow for the motor boat to come ashore and that they were both  sure that the dog would head straight for our tent for his morning “pee”. Anyway, the  boaters must have realized the water was too shallow, or feared the crazies doing their  YMCA thing and left for a deeper or perhaps less bizarre landfall. We laughed, another  memory created. 

Ted and I decided to paddle around to the east side of the island. Dean chose a nap.  As we paddled past the dock and toward the east side we saw pelican-filled mangroves,  then turning north along the east side watched herons and egrets vying for dominance on  a single mangrovewhile horseshoe crabs romanticized together beneath the clear,  shallow water. A magnificent sight greeted us as we neared the northernmost point. An  American Bald Eagle, in all its glory, flew through the cloudless blue sky, prompting us  to think of our freedom and again be thankful for yet another gift. 

We retraced our route back to the south beach, where we re-examined the area we  had originally intended to camp. We found a firmer area to land, so we paddled back to  the north side and told Dean. We decided to move our camp over there and perhaps  avoid the cool north wind we experienced the previous night. Plus, we would be able to  observe the sunset from our campsite on Thanksgiving evening. 

We broke camp, paddled around past the dock and arrived at the south side at 4 PM.  The sunset was supposed to be around 5:30, so we had 1.5 hours to set up camp and fix  dinner. Perfect. Ted and Dean took care of setting up camp while I lit the small  disposable charcoal grill, then heated the foil-packed Thanksgiving dinners, each  consisting of generous portions of turkey, dressing and gravy. Along side, I heated a can  of sweet potatoes with orange juice. Add to that canned black olives, Gouda cheese,  cranberry-orange sauce and three-bean salad.

By the time the guys had finished setting up camp and securing the kayaks, the food  was hot and we were hungry. We gave thanks, and then ate our dinner by the most  beautiful candlelight any of us had ever witnessed, as His sun set and left a crimson  horizon, just for us to enjoy our pumpkin pie and coffee, both topped with real whipped  cream. It was another memory etched indelibly in our minds.

Like the credits scrolling down after the final scene of a movie, the moon chased the  sun past the horizon, turning a ruddy-red as it sank, the screen fading to black, signaling  The End to Thanksgiving Day 2006. We turned on our headlamps, played cards, and  then went to bed around 8:30, the night cooling down and becoming wet with dew.  Ted and I talked for a while, read and then Ted fell asleep and I wrote in my journal.  Lights out was at 10:30 and I contemplated the day's experiences. I was again in awe of  how everything seemed to go so well. I was serenaded to sleep by some critter nibbling  on the charcoal grill we had left outside to cool. I'd bet he was thankful, too. We slept  well. 

I awoke on Friday morning at 6 AM and it was beginning to get light. I jumped up,  grabbed my camera and went outside. It was flat calm with very little wind, although I  could hear the wind blowing from the other side, as it did the previous night. Our  decision to move was a good one. I walked eastward toward the brightest part of the sky,  past some mangroves, for an unobstructed view of the birth of a new day. Ted followed  shortly thereafter. Dean was still in his tent.

The distant mangroves were silhouetted against a ROY G BIV sky and the sun  seemed to be waiting just for me to get a front row seat, to witness its introduction and  debut. Directly in front of me, very near the shore, was some sort of mollusk, perhaps a  whelk, his entire body outside his shell. I thought he had come out for the show, too.  Maybe he was having his breakfast. Nevertheless, he and I shared the moment. I took  several pictures of him with a backdrop of colors in an ever-changing morning sky. I am  delighted again. I feel I know The Producer. I'm sure He knows me.

The sun rose as I watched. It seemed to get up slowly just like I do on a lazy day, as  though stretching with its rays, touching a group of Ibis flying in a vee across the sky. I  wondered how many people ever, in their lives, get to be a participant, not just a  spectator, and how at just this moment was I so fortunate to be here, now…in today. I  was, we were, and I am grateful. 

Breakfast was cereal, muffins and coffee, followed by a short paddle for Dean and  me near our camp to try out each others kayaks, then breaking camp and packing out, all  unhurried and each of us already beginning to entertain thoughts of the next trip. 

“It could happen!”

It is said that an adventure is only an adventure if there is an element of risk or  danger involved…

I'll leave this one to you.

Last update Friday, September 18, 2009

Cmt North Nest Key - Thanksgiving 2006Login to Post   
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patsal818 on 9/18/2009 6:12pm
Waw.... I was reading your amazing story and i felt like i was there, even drinking that coffee, I want to try and camp at this location, thank you for the trip!!!!