The 2009 trip report is courtesy of Team Navigator, Bob Linfors.
If My Boy Says He Can Eat Fifty Eggs...
Castaways Against Cancer June 6-12, 2009
The tenth adventure of the Castaways Against Cancer began with the finest send off we've had. Well more than forty people attended the early morning launch on the beach near Virginia Key. A welcome sun lit up of the skyline of downtown Miami behind us quelling fears of a wet start. A long drought had recently ended in spectacular fashion as Miami had seen sixteen straight days of monsoon rain. At the planning dinner the night before at Black Point Marina we ate in darkness because the squall over the restaurant had knocked out its power. Yet there we were, nine guys loading our kayaks with gear for a seven-day paddle from Miami to Key West: Skipper Steve O'Brien, First Mate Patrick Linfors and the rest of us; Jeff Croucher, Greg Trainor, Craig Engler, Pedro Almeida, Chad Forbes, Heath Harwood and Bob Linfors. Chad planned to stay with us until our Alabama Jacks stop on Day Two and Adam Scholer would meet us starting on Day Three.
DAY ONE - Virginia Key to Elliott Key
A typical day one: little sea life and a few laughs. It was the day to get into the saddle and begin to get sore. The morning went well: bright sun, flat seas, and a smooth passage across the flats from Cape Florida to Soldier Key. The initial good feeling usually wears off about ten minutes after leaving the lunch break at Soldier Key.
Several reasons play into this:
The wind swung about and hit us dead in the face as we paddled across the second open water stretch of the day from Soldier Key to the Ragged Keys. And we were ragged when we got there. When we reached Boca Chita, we met a friend of Chad's and Craig's who gave us some cold ones and offered to take Chad back into Miami away from the maddening wind. And bugs... we obviously ignored this warning sign.
- it's the first time the seat hurts and there's a long way to go;
- it's the first time we always see dangerous weather and there's a long way to go;
- and we know what demons await us on Elliott Key in June and there's a long way to go and face them.
After a short stop at the Sands Cut sand bar to witness the normal Saturday afternoon speed boat muscle flexing, we continued on into the four o'clock blue towards Elliott Key. And the bad news was... we made it there.
DAY TWO - Elliott Key to Key Largo
- Superlative needed! Last night was our worst night ever! Terrorist Chinese mosquitoes (Chinese because there were billions of them) and ground zero smokestack lightning and better than two hours of drenching rain. Not a single waterproof tent is waterproof. If not for my Thermarest (camping mattress) I'd have slept in water... and urine. My pee bottle tipped over in the melee and was a spicy addition to my interior lake. We hauled our tents undercover to sleep on cement. In puddles. With screaming scared raccoons. We should have known when the ranger pulled in about eight pm and sprinted to his air-conditioned house without so much as a wave.
- Me to OB after he asked how I enjoyed our night on Elliott Key - "I'm going to dedicate the rest of my life to building a time machine so I can go back to 1998 and punch you in the mouth."
- Alabama Jacks provided us with a fine meal and added a round of beers on the house.
- Barnes Sound laid down today and we had a pleasant crossing. Saw a pod of six dolphins! Four adults and two young ones. I was able to follow them for about five minutes. That's the closest and longest I've followed dolphins before. I could have touched them with my paddle. What a sight... six fins arcing at the same time.
- Minutes after seeing the dolphins, a cigarette boat on a high plane roared through the Sound disturbing the peace for miles in every direction.
- A tiny nurse shark swam about our feet when we took a break at Card Point. Saw a ray slowly cruising in murky water at an earlier break.
- Our older brother, Eric, who is in central Florida, told Patrick he heard on the emergency weather radio last night that a butt-kicking storm was headed to Elliott Key. Then he had a good laugh at our expense. At least the weather report was right.
- We stopped at Gilbert's Resort, and when they heard our story from Patrick, they offered us three rooms at a discounted rate. So no camping tonight! Much needed as all our camping gear is wet and nasty with mosquito carcasses. It puts us an hour behind schedule but is well worth it. We're getting laundry done and for the first time in thirty-six hours... I'm dry.
DAY THREE - Key Largo to FBO to Holiday Isle on Islamorada
- Bright sunshine on morning three. We're at Florida Bay Outfitters rapping with Frank, waiting for Adam and the coffee.
- Eight hours of sleep for the crew after a healthy protein filled dinner (burger and fries). I bunked with Greg and Craig: two non-snorers.
- Excellent day three. After the FBO break, two Paradise Paddlers joined us through the Dusenberrys and into Tarpon Basin. We were at our lunch break at noon. Twelve miles to go at noon. We made it Toilet Seat Pass, put up the new seat, pulled through Snake Creek and paddled the low-tide crawl to Holiday Isle... and pulled in at five pm. That's serious paddling.
- At lunch we had a small nurse shark join us. It ate some stuff under a rock while we ate tuna and mangos. Jeff was able to film it and since signing the release it will be featured in his next Castaways video. Later I saw a three to four foot nurse shark. This morning I saw two manatees in Blackwater Sound but didn't get close before they disappeared in a cloud of bottom debris.
The toilet seat newly erected in Toilet Seat Pass is a beautiful piece of artwork. Not something one writes about a toilet seat but once in a lifetime I suppose. Jeff had it designed in Mississippi and had to put up with a bushel of raised eyebrows on the airplane. This is the second CAC toilet seat; the first a victim of vandalism. True story: some losers couldn't find adequate mailboxes so did their deeds on Toilet Seat Pass angering the local populace enough for it to get some media coverage. Jeff even put a time capsule cartridge on the back, so I wrote out a dedication and jotted the names of all the team members on a paper, dated it, ripped it out of my journal, and stuffed it in.
DAY FOUR - Holiday Isle to the Gulf View Resort on Grassy Key
- Six-thirty am up and trudging. The weather, seas, and wind seem to be favorable today.
- Nine-thirty arrival at The Hungry Tarpon. Saw a huge tarpon earlier. Then a gray ray and later three beautiful spotted rays passed, going in the opposite direction, between Heath and me, in flat glassy water.
- We had a tough paddle this afternoon across the Long Key Viaduct as we were in the teeth of the current. We crabbed all the way across. Then we had another hour and a half fight, getting in at six. The folks at the Gulf View, hospitable as always, welcomed us at their dock.
- Crossing Channel No. 5, just past Anne's Beach, we saw the largest tarpon in the history of the world. An immense school. All of us just kept shouting, "Look at that one! No! Look at that one!"
DAY FIVE - Grassy Key to Bahia Honda State Park
- Yesterday we had aquarium water and today, so far, we've had crocodile water. Still we made Sombrero Beach by 10:45 am. Now onto Molasses Key along the Seven Mile Bridge. Look out for Moe!
- The Almeida Family met us at Bahia Honda with an enormous feast of fine Cuban food.
- Nine pm in a hot tent. The brandy is making me hotter but it might help relax all the muscles.
- The day of critters: three turtles and some tarpon (babies compared to what we saw yesterday). I told Hailey, my six-year old, about the turtle that popped up right in front of me, and she asked me if it was a boy or a girl turtle. I said, "I don't know, a boy probably." She said, "Yeah, all turtles look like boys. Girl turtles are hard to find."
DAY SIX - Bahia Honda to the Sugarloaf Lodge on Sugarloaf Key
- Day six was only seventeen miles but it was an awful kick in the face. My seat came out of its mooring at the beginning of a long stretch and I couldn't get it back in until I could find a place to get out of my kayak. But by that time, my back was twisted up in pain that didn't abate until well into the second rum runner.
- Steve Moorman flew back and forth over us in his two-seater airplane as we paddled along the Newfound Harbor Keys. Peter Baljet, my brother-in-law, sat in the co-pilot's seat and snapped pictured of us.
- Had a pleasant conversation with a couple from Houston in a sit-on-top tandem off the beach of Little Palm Island.
- Since when do tarpon fishermen being poled around in open flat-boats think they own the shallows? Mostly an arrogant bunch. Starched Columbia shirts?
- We had a nice team dinner at the Lodge's fine restaurant.
- Greg said at the bar, "The deification of one's soul is the rejuvenation of one's life." OB had asked why Greg competes in triathlons. The deification of one's soul is the rejuvenation of one's life... Or something like that.
DAY SEVEN - Sugarloaf to the Casa Marina on Key West
The 10th journey is over. We had a fine last day paddling: saw a nurse shark, a bonnet head shark and a smallish turtle. I'm gassed. Like no other year I am tired. It was good to see my girls on the beach. A nice welcoming party of ACS people, family, and friends.
- A man on Grassy Key yelled out asking us if we were the dudes paddling for cancer and when we answered yes he stood and applauded with his hands over his head until all nine boats had passed. I guess that's the closest I came to tears this year not counting the wreath ceremony which gets to me every year.
- OB wore a Cubs hat. Story is a student was going to Wrigley Field in Chicago and asked OB if he wanted something. OB said, "Bring me a Cubs hat." And the kid did: it's navy blue with a "B" on it. To OB it's a Cubs hat and to the rest of the world it's a Boston Red Sox hat.
- We're always referencing Cool Hand Luke. The opening scene when the warden explains the rules and what punishment is enforced when one is broken - "A night in the box" - is our most frequently quoted line. Elliott Key, for example, this year, was the penultimate 'night in the box.' Well, I think it was on Molasses Key as we enjoyed a break amidst crossing the Seven Mile Bridge that someone mentioned something about our trip that borders on the impossible that made me say, "I can eat fifty eggs." Somebody else questioned that. Heath without a pause said, "If my boy says he can eat fifty eggs, he can eat fifty eggs!" With his Southern drawl, a soft-flat Mississippi one, we all lost it in laughter. And a new Castaway was born. We call him Creak because his boat and shoes creaked like an old wooden boat in sore need of new pitch. On Saturday in Key West, he got our logo tattooed on the inside of his left forearm. Castaway for life.
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