East Cape to Flamingo to Home

Day 7-East Cape to Flamingo:    The day dawned gray and overcast.  We could have stayed at this place for another day.  We weren’t expected in Flamingo till tomorrow.  But we had decided at dinner last night to press on to Flamingo while we had enough water in the bay to paddle directly to our destination, not having to pick our way around shoals at low tide as we would tomorrow.  Besides, if it was going to be a cloudy and possible rainy day, we’d be stuck in our tents.  Much better to be out on the water.  

We were unusually quiet as we drank our coffee that morning, probably because of the dismal gray and the knowledge that this would be the last paddling day of the trip.  We were packed and on the water before 9:00 am.  I was not unhappy to be leaving this campsite.  Of the four beach sites we’d camped on (Pavilion Key, Highland Beach, NW Cape Sable, and East Cape), this one was the least attractive.  Or maybe it was just the weather.  In any case, we headed out into mild sea conditions.  And then it began to rain.

We only had ten miles to paddle to our destination.  If we were really slow that would take less that four hours.  We paddled in a steady rain for at least the last two hours of the trip.  We were all wearing waterproof paddling jackets.  That, my spray deck, and my wide brimmed hat kept the rain mostly off of me.  So it wasn’t totally miserable, except for the fact of ending our trip that way.  

I don’t remember the hour of our arrival at Flamingo, I just know it was sometime after noon.  There isn’t really a formal kayak landing that I could see.  So, following Joel, we pulled out at a scruffy beach about one hundred feet wide, sandwiched between Clusters of trees on either side.  The Beach bordered a large open field with many visible patches of standing water.  

After pulling the boats up, several of our group noticed some semipermanent screened platform tents, looking warm and dry, surrounded by raised walkways.  They headed over, hoping that something might be available to rent for the next two nights, but they had no luck.  

Our reservation at the regular Flamingo campsite was for tomorrow.  Joel found that there was no room for us there this night, meaning that we would have to camp in the flooded wilderness area we had just sloshed across.  The only good thing about this development was that we would be near our boats and gear in this location, not far away as we would be in the more formal site.

We pulled out our tents, still damp from the past two night’s weather activities, and wandered around, water squishing under our now cold feet as we hunted for a high and dry spot to camp on for the next two nights.  We each found a place more or less suitable and pitched our tents.  

It’s always difficult setting up in the rain.  I hate it.  Things that aren’t yet wet, get wet.  And things that are already wet, get wetter.  But this rain had become lighter and more intermittent.  So it was possible to slowly set up in the spaces between showers.  

Once I had things reasonably well arranged, I grabbed dry clothes, a towel, and my Dopp kit and headed for the bathroom and shower.  Now came the challenge of finding a dry path from my tent to the bathhouse.  It was not a straight line.  The shower wasn’t very warm, but I didn’t care.  It just felt good to get clean.  Then I found a sink and mirror and shaved about twenty years off my face.  Farley and Bruce and the others look good with facial hair.  I just look old.  

I dressed in clean, dry clothes, including waterproof socks to wear in my Keen sandals, the only other foot wear I’d brought besides my water shoes.  I headed back, slowly following a circuitous route to my tent area and the table where Joel had set up his bug tent (now a rain fly) and a little lunch.

By late afternoon the rain had let up.  There was a rumor that a food truck concessionaire was at the Flamingo Marina, about 1.5 miles away.  We all decided to check it out, especially the carnivore among us (he will remain unnamed) who had suffered a bit under our mostly vegetarian diet.  The hike only increased our appetites, as one by one we ordered some form of burger and fries, gathering with our junk food around a table that looked out over an inlet leading to Florida Bay, giving Joel a break from cooking.  

In smaller groups, we wandered back to our campsite.  It had been a long day.  The wine was gone, but the wine drinkers substituted beer from the marina.  No one had much interest in staying up, so slowly, we all headed for our tents and a pleasant night’s sleep.  All except Joe who’s sleeping bag was still wet. 

Day 8 & 9 - Flamingo and Home:  I was able to sleep in on this morning, which was good because it was a cold night and I didn’t want to get up and out into the cold morning.  But eventually the sun came up and I arose to have breakfast and a strong cup of hot coffee. It was February 2nd, Ground Hog Day, and my seventy-seventh birthday. I was alive, strong and healthy, happy to be quietly celebrating the day here in the wild.  

This day was brighter than yesterday, with only a few wispy clouds in evidence in an otherwise blue sky.  Between the sun and the light breeze, out tents began to dry out, but not the field we were in.  It was a long hike to the bathroom through and around the maze of squishy ground and standing water, but I made it okay, with my waterproof socks keeping my feet dry, if not warm.

Around 9:00 am, Joel suggested we take a walk through the near by camping areas to stretch our legs and see what the sites were like.  We all headed out and first toured the closest campers loop.  The grounds looked well maintained, laid out in a fashion typical of campgrounds these days.  They are really designed to accommodate RV campers rather than tents.  And the tents that were there were much bigger and more elaborate than what we had.  I was beginning to feel that we were camped where we needed to be.  Walking on, we found a second loop, similarly configured.  

Continuing down the access road and just beyond a stand of trees we spotted a third loop, this one in a great state of disrepair.  All the sites were overgrown with grass, weeds, and small trees.  There was blow down debris around all the trees as well.  It was obvious that the place had been abandoned fo no apparent reason.  Just before the access road ended we spotted at fourth loop in the same condition as the third.  Why had they been abandoned?  We never did find out.

On our way back we spotted a side trail through a scrubby wood that eventually bordered a great marshy field, light green and bright in the morning sun.  We walked along the marsh for some time before turning back, returning to our camping area.  

Sitting near my tent, relaxing, I surveyed the scene in front of me.  I compared it to what we had just seen in camper loops one and two on our walk.  It occurred to me that we were camped where we needed to be camped; close to the landing site, close to out boats, and in a wilderness area that our equipment was designed for.  Flamingo is typically the terminus of through paddlers doing the Everglades Wilderness Trail, yet nothing seems designed to accommodate their needs.  Making the landing area more visible and amenable would be a first step.  Then creating dry wilderness camping areas in the field adjacent to the landing, with perhaps a covered pavilion, tables and trash cans.  There were tables scattered here and there and we happily used a couple of them and a fire ring we found in an area that wasn’t flooded.  But the site was not designed for kayakers and wilderness campers.  Its use as such was clearly an afterthought.

About lunch time, several people got the urge to visit the food truck again and headed off down the trail toward the Marina.  I hesitated, but suddenly feeling very alone, I followed.  At the marina complex, we explored a small museum, several people went to a ranger’s talk on turtles, we watched the resident alligator lazily swim through the inlet, and eventually all ended up at the food truck for another round of burgers.  And since it was my birthday, I celebrated with a Haagen Dazs ice cream bar.

We all drifted back to camp in our own time.  I was among the last to leave.  I sat at a picnic table, looking out past the inlet to the bay beyond as the sun sank toward the horizon, enjoying my ice cream, while feeling lucky and satisfied that I’d been able to complete this trip.  

Back at camp it wasn’t long before Joel got out what was left of the hors d’oeuvres.  Folks sat around enjoying their beer and goodies.  Soon the propane burner and pressure cooker were out and Joel prepared a final meal for us.  

It was near dark when we finished eating and cleaned up. Then I found that someone had purchased firewood from the park staff for a last campfire.  Karol was intent on having that Girl Scout treat, S’mores.  Somehow the ingredients appeared and people ate S’mores till they were sick.  As a final gesture, they all gathered around the fire ring and sang Happy Birthday to me.  I loved it.

Home:  This last day, going home, would be a long one for most of us.  We were up at dawn packing everything for our trip.  We sorted out what would travel in the boats, packed other gear in bags to put in the vans, and stacked any gear that belonged to the outfitter separately.  The two Vans and big kayak trailer arrived before noon.  We loaded everything, then posed for one last group photo before climbing aboard for the four hour road trip to Everglades City and our cars.  Finally, with my boat loaded on its trailer and gear stored in my car, I said goodbye and headed out for my own four hour drive to home and Lisa.  It had been a great trip with great people, but now I was happy to be heading home for a warm hug from the love of my life.  

The Cast of Characters: Joe, Karol, Joel, Bruce, Rebecca, Farley, Don, and Phil

Last Page: Our Itinerary

 © Don Yackel 2020