Wekiwa Springs

Taking a break from my wilderness semester blogging to catch ya’ll up on a more recent excursion!

From 12 May to 13 May my dad and I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is in the Orlando area. The park boosts paddling on Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, camp sites ranging from RV hook ups, tent sites with water and electricity available, to primitive sites that can only be accessed by canoe or kayak, an educational nature center, hiking and horse trails, and a spring-fed swimming hole.

My dad and I arrived around 5pm, set up our hammocks at our campsite, and went for a swim in the spring water. The water was crystal clear and 72 degrees, which is where it stays year round. Because this park is so popular a small beach has been built around the water and there are steps that can be used to enter the water in order to make it more user friendly.

Our campsite was very populated with tents as well as campers and RVs, there was even one refurbished school bus. Every campsite had been reserved for the weekend so we had may neighbors.

For dinner we had Good to Go meals, which are dehydrated meals you add boiling water to and then eat! Not quite as satisfying as cooking over a camp stove, but definitely better than an MRE. After some chitchatting around a would be fire if not for a state-wide fire ban we each climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed.

For breakfast we had tea and coffee courtesy of an MSR pocket rocket and oatmeal, which I made bearable with a handful of craisins and some Nutella.

Wekiwa struck me as a very family friendly and easily accessible place to camp and hike. People of all outdoors skill levels and interests could find something to do here. I cannot speak for the primitive sites, but the sites with water access and electricity hookup were perfect for someone looking for an easy car camping trip.

Though being very populated and therefore noisy with much artificial light it was a nice place to sleep outside for a short, quickly planned one night camping trip. However, for someone looking for a more authentic wilderness camping experience I would recommend a less popular camping area or checking out a primitive site.

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Underwater selfie game strong

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OLDS: White Water Raft Guiding

Ah, the river.

Honestly, this was the most stretching section for me.  I am not a big water person anyway, but water that is 45 degrees, moves quickly, and is littered with hazards makes me even less of a water person.

We spent eight days on the Nantahala River learning to guide and also completing a Swift Water Rescue Level 4 Certification (SWR). This involved a lot of time spent in wetsuits practicing rescuing people and trip after trip after trip down the river in our rafts.

The week began with a short lesson in the classroom about all the hazards of white water, and consequently how to avoid them, or what to do if you can’t avoid them. Then we went to the water and learned rope throwing and spent time getting accustomed to our wetsuits before actually beginning training in the water. We even voluntarily went into the water just to check it out.

Throughout the week we learned how to rescue people and boats in trouble through the sequence SRTHRGH, which means Self Rescue, Reach Out, Throw, Row Out, Go, and Helicopter. In every rescue drill we went through we would have to go through this sequence before deciding how to rescue the victim. We started with throwing ropes to the victims and then progressed to going into the water ourselves. Another part of the SWR certification was learning how to make anchors, vector pulls, and the knots that go along with them.

We then took turns guiding down the whole river. The Nantahala River is a class three river (the scale being from one to six). The guide sits in the back of the boat and is responsible for steering the boat away from obstacles and hazards. I developed this really weird habit of speaking in a British accent whenever I was guiding. Straight lines are not my strong point, so we ended up stuck on rocks and in the bushes quite a bit when I was guiding.
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This section held many metaphors and lessons for me.

It is not an understatement to say that I was terrified of the water; I didn’t even want to get in it during the slow moving portions. Deep down I knew that if I fell in just once I would probably be fine, and then I’d know that certainly a caution was necessary, but I did not need to be afraid. Well, low and behold, on one of the first days the boat hit a rock just right and into the water I went. As I had predicted, I was just fine and this ended up being one of my favorite days rafting (it also helped that earlier when I was guiding I caused us to lose one of our paddles so for a good chunk of the day I just chilled in the raft, but that’s besides the point).
If you’re scared or want to do something you think you can’t accomplishing it can be as simple as just falling in. Rarely do things turn out as bad as we think they might, so the best option is to just go for it. This isn’t a perfect metaphor, as I only became slightly less afraid of the water and would still sit in the middle of the boat in rough parts, but the lesson still remains: go for it!

I was really uncomfortable this week. Wetsuits aren’t the most comfortable clothing in the world, I hurt my left pinky finger pretty badly on day two, I fell in twice, I cried A LOT, tied my brain into knots while learning knots I didn’t understand, scraped my feet up, blushed and sweated from embarrassment often, and was just in general afraid of what I was doing and wanted to be doing something different.
Despite this rather long and dragging list I learned many valuable things. Even though I was uncomfortable and just in general pretty bad at guiding I was pushed out of my comfort zone, which is exactly where I needed to be that week because being there taught me lessons I would carry over into the rest of OLDS and back into the frontcountry. This is a rather cliche topic, but guiding down a class three white water river well before I was ready made me realize that I can accomplish more than I think I can, and even if you get stuck on every rock (basically) and go down the wrong side of the fork you can still finish strong, even if you cried a lot in the middle and at the end. This also taught me that not every situation of value is an enjoyable one; you could hate every second of something and come out with valuable and life changing lessons.

And most importantly, it taught me to loosen up. Every time I was the guide I found myself incredibly tense and stressed out. Everyone else in my boat would be singing river songs and trying to grab leaves with their teeth as we passed under trees and I would be fuming about how miserable I felt and about how bad I was at guiding compared to everyone else. The week would probably have been much more enjoyable had I relaxed a little and gracefully excepted the fact that I will likely never be a world class river guide, but I could still have fun anyway.

In the end, none of the hazards of the river killed me (though I am 98% certain I tumbled through a hydraulic), no one was harmed too bad while I was guiding, everyone passed their SWR certification, we got grilled cheese for lunch one day, and I never have to river guide again if I don’t want to.

During this section we took a break from Ephesians and had several sporadic teachings and attended a few services.

Some highlights:
1 John 1- Jesus is the light and to live in Him, truly, we cannot keep sinning and doing wrong in the dark; we have to bring it out into the light and let Jesus deal with it for us.

Genesis 1&2- God is community, therefore we need community. In that community everyone has a part and we have to find out what our part is.

The message of the gospel is offensive, but that does not mean that we are to be offensive

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The whole gang 

Summer Camping

Camping in the summer? In Florida?

Definitely as crazy as it sounds, yup.

Although not terrible 🙂

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27-28 May 2016
Withlacoochee State Forest, primitive campsite

My dad and I packed everything up on Friday and walked 4 miles into our campsite from the state forest parking lot.

We stayed at a primitive campsite, meaning there was no water source or close neighboring sites. We had a picnic table, fire pit, plenty of space for a tent, and almost perfect hammocking trees.

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After setting up camp we hiked over to the river (Withlacoochee River) in order to cool off. The river had a nice sandy shore and down a little from where we were a rope swing hung above the water. The water was murky and had an orange tint from the trees. Lots of bubbles attached to unseen river life appeared on the surface mysteriously.

 

After swimming we came back to camp and had a dinner of MREs and a fire building lesson. After hanging out for a bit we went to bed. It was terribly hot, almost too hot to sleep, but our insomnia was awarded with the nostalgic sight of fireflies lighting up the night sky.

On Saturday we hiked a ten mile loop off of our campsite. Hiking in Florida in the summertime is not necessarily something I say I recommend. The heat was almost unbearable, making the hike a lot less pleasant than it could have been. I also got a number of blisters from my hiking boots…not the best day spent on the trail.  Following another lunch of MREs and some more hanging out in our hammocks (ha ha, get it?) we packed up camp and headed home.

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2o-21 August 2016
Withlacooche State Forest, Crooked River campgrounds, site 63

For this camping trip we opted to stay in one of the tent only campgrounds, meaning each campsite was marked off with a number and came equipped with a potable water source, a place to park your car, a picnic table, a firepit with a removable grate, bathhouse access, and the potential for neighbors.

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On Friday afternoon we set up our tent and hammocks, but this time we had bugs nets for our hammocks as well. We hiked a trail right along the river, but I am unsure of the mileage. The trail was very canopied and the sky was a little cloudy and it was almost evening time, so the weather felt very pleasant.

After finishing the hike we attempted to build a fire. We started out with a cottonswab soaked in vaseline (it works, I swear), tinder, and twigs. Following that we added more twigs and then bigger pieces of wood, stoking the coals and flames along the way. All things considered, it should have been a great fire, but all the rain we’ve been getting had made everything damp so the flames never quite caught the bigger pieces of wood. We worked at the fire for almost an hour, adding lint, steel wool, more wood, trail maps, several more matches, and even toilet paper, but it never become a solid, roaring fire. However, we did manage to get enough flames to make a few s’mores and thats really what matters most.

After s’mores we had an MRE dinner and then played a couple hands of a card game called Spit that I learned at summer camp from some campers. Around nine we climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed (the tent was set up incase it started to rain at night). After about an hour of reading Harry Potter with my headlamp I went to bed. In my hammock (ENO double nest) I had a small inflatable backpacking pillow and a woobie, which is a poncho liner that is standard issue in the army. Essentially, its a poncho liner that can also be a blanket, rain tarp, insulator, something to sleep on top off, etc. Its thin and light but also warm and rain resistant. 10/10 would recommend getting one off Amazon.

I slept very well in my hammock. The air was cool so I wasn’t hot, the wind was minimal, and it didn’t end up raining after all. The moon was so bright it practically lit up the whole sky.

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The next morning after an MRE breakfast and coffee and tea courtesy of a small portable camp stove we packed up camp and drove to our next hike location. We hiked a short 2 miles in another part of the Withlacooche. The heat and bugs were killer, so we hiked short and then drove on the dirt roads cutting through the woods before going home.

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Camping in Florida in summer might be slightly insane, but, despite heat and bugs, not summer is complete without a camping trip.

 

Weeki Wachee River

Kayaking on the Weeki Wachee, 25 March 2016

The Weeki Wachee is located in Weeki Wachee, FL and boasts crystal clear spring-fed water that is 72 degrees all year round.  The clear water allows you to see the bottom of the river, swimming fish and turtles, and maybe even manatees.

The wilderness on the banks of the river is characteristic Florida nature- thick and swampy with many different bird species making it their home.

It is 7.4 miles in total, but most people do a 5.5 mile paddle, from Paddling Adventures (a canoe/kayak rental shop and launch site) to Rogers Park. //

Specs:

  • No manatees spotted
  • Lots of fish, turtles, and birds spotted
  • Photos taken on Ricoh WG-M1
  • Lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and pitachips
  • One rope swing swung off of (not by me)
  • One person dunked into the water (me)
  • Minimal sun and bugs
  • Two yellow kayaks, one red, one blue, and one hoopty blue canoe
  • Three college students, two parents, and one adopted parent

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