Upper River Trip Report
at extreme Low Water

On the Suwannee River,
Okefenokee Sill to the Fargo Bridge.
September 8th and 9th, 2002
By Sandra Lambert

You might prefer to lower the volume on your speakers.
CLICK on photo to enlarge  -- 'Back' to return to normal.

( Water Levels -  Fargo 93.15 -  White Springs   50.8)

With a pyramid of three kayaks perched on top of the car, Mary, Jackie and I drove from Gainesville, Florida to Griffis fish camp. We were a few miles down from the sill or dam where the Suwannee River originates out of the Okefenokee Swamp. We put in by 9am, but headed upstream since Jackie and Mary had an urge to start at the start. I accompanied them for about an hour and then turned around and had a leisurely trip back on my own.

On either side and often in the middle of the river were sandbars that had been dry so long that they were covered with flowers like a meadow. There were magenta colored rhexias, yellow eyed grass, swaths of tall wooly headed bloodroot, and some plant whose leaves were so regular off a ruler straight stem that it looked like a zipper. I stopped often to watch the action around the blooms...swallowtails, sulphurs, skippers, aptly named smokey rubyspot damselflies, and a variety of chunky, muscular dragonflies. I picked up beer cans, lingered at the curves of the river, and at one point stretched out in my kayak for a lovely midmorning nap. Around noon we all met up back at the fish camp where I heard the tale of their winding trip to the sill and how they thought the fourteen foot alligator lounging under the "No Entry" sign was more than enough warning. We loaded our camping gear and arranged for Mr. Griffis to meet us at 2pm the following day at the Fargo bridge.

By 1pm we were on our way downstream...and ran into sandbar after sandbar. How low was it you say? Well, it was so low that Nike and Reebok had set up competing outlets on the river bank....it was so low that we emptied out our drinking bottles to raise the water levels....it was so low you could see the alligator's toenails. (This last one is true.) Sometimes we poled our boats over the bars, sometimes we got out and floated them behind us, and sometimes Jackie volunteered to stand and haul us through the narrow gaps. We accompanied her labors with the Erie Canal barge song and started calling her "Sally the Mule." But eventually we became skilled at spying out the best path among the choice of rivulets, although any lapse of attention and our boats would be beached or perched up on a log. And our attention did lapse, mainly due to the extreme beauty of the river. I had never seen tupelo trees before. Jackie had been trying to get me to this stretch of the Suwannee for years, telling me how amazing the trees were, sending me pictures in the mail, nagging, nagging....but I kept saying it was too low, too hot, my shoulders wouldn't take it. Finally we decided it didn't matter, we couldn't wait for the drought to end and we would just do it. And as I sit here icing my shoulder, I have to say it was worth it.

There was a substantial breeze at our backs almost the whole trip, enough cloud cover to rest our eyes from the sun and Ogeechee tupelo trees.
          Tupelos have multiple trunks that twist around each other in slow, fat curves. The shapes evoke images of everything from bunnies and wolves to all the body parts a human has. Under them, stretching towards the water, is a maze of roots. Hanging from the branches and laying thick on the ground are lime shaped fruits, from green to a purple red. We bit into the green ones and licked off the tart juice whenever we needed a pick me up.

We pulled over about 5pm and had begun to set up our tents when we heard gunshots nearby. Mary started singing loudly. I personally thought that the choice of "Old McDonald Had A Farm" was problematic, especially when she started making quack, quack sounds. However, by the second verse we heard a truck start up and drive away. It wasn't even full dark by the time we were set up, fed, and after a final dose of anti-inflammatories, tucked into our tents. Late that night I got up and looked at the stars in the dark, new moon sky. There were almost no mosquitoes, a gift of the drought.

The next day by 9am we were on the river and once again our paddling was interspersed with frequent shoving, scooching, and rocking. It makes sense that we didn't see another human being the entire trip. Mary picked up more beer cans, half a fishing pole, and a collapsed umbrella and put them in the hatch she keeps empty for this purpose. We stopped often and imagined how higher water would change the view. How far apart would the banks be? Which trees would be immersed? Would there be a fast current? We got to Rives Landing at 1:30 and knew we were going to be late for our pick-up still three miles away. We decided to send Mary on ahead. She's got the longest, sleekest kayak and loves the chance to go fast and rescue people. Jackie and I ambled along after her in the now deeper water. (2feet - maybe.)

Mary ended up getting to the bridge about 2:30 and had just returned from driving Mr. Griffis back to his home when we pulled up. It is an easy, flat take out. Right beside the bridge it looks like the state is doing some sort of development down to the river's edge. Does anyone know what is being planned?

So to wrap up - it took us ten hours of paddling (not counting the upstream part of the trip) to do what was described as a five hour trip. This is what we had figured on, although the low water did throw our estimate off by a couple of hours. We're pretty proud of being perhaps the slowest kayakers in the world. And we'll be back. I've got my computer linked to the water levels for the area and - as soon as the drought ends...

                                                                                                                                        Sandra Lambert
                                                                                                                                         Gainesville, FL

Webmaster note - have no idea where - or who told her it was a 5 hour trip.   At normal water levels,  in canoes, we leave Griffis Fish Camp at 8 AM and usually arrive Fargo between 4 to 5 PM.  Knock a couple hours off that for Kayaks.