The decision was not made lightly. Do we go to Disney World, or do we go camping, kayaking, and four-wheeling? After spending eight days without power, we figured we had already done the camping thing, but we decided for Ocala National Forest over animated mice.
We packed up the convertible and headed out at 6:00 AM for the three hour drive to Ocala. We had to be on the river by noon, so time was crucial. As we drove into the campground, I felt as ill-prepared for a camping/paddling trip as ever – no sleeping bags, no capilene, no wettsuit, no drybag, and not enough changes of warm-clothing. Couple that with the plethora of RVs, ATVs, kayaks, and trucks, and I felt like a clueless snowbird pulling up in his fancy Audi.
We made it to Juniper Springs in time, and rented three aluminum canoes to go with the two kayaks we already had. Our party consisted of Amy & Karl, Karl’s brother and wife, and their three kids – five craft in all.
The Juniper Run is listed as a technical, seven-mile run. Since I was used to whitewater rivers, I wondered how a flatwater run could be listed as "technical." I soon found out. The current was quite strong with multiple channels, twists and turns. The ability to manuver a canoe was a crucial skill, especially since there were multiple deadfalls that required limbo skills.
The river starts off through a forested area with vines and cypress everywhere. There was plenty to see, but it was impossible to sightsee without hitting a low limb. It took awhile for me to switch from kayak to canoeing, but soon Laura and I were working as a team, albeit not without a few mistakes along the way.
Lunch was shades of Indiana Jones, as a huge wolf spider crawled along Laura’s back. We ate on the boats, since wading and walking on the bank was not allowed. The river is fed by springs, and there are deep holes that could be hazardous.
Shortly after lunch, Laura and I took the lead, and after the two-thirds mark, we entered an open area with lilly pads and multiple channels. We decided we didn’t want to be in the lead, so we waited for the rest of the flotilla. It was at that point that we learned of Karl’s new nickname – Hiawatha. Such nicknames are earned in Karl’s family for actions of questionable judgement in a canoe. In this case it was misjudging the height of a limb and managing to spill his canoe.
The remainder of the paddle was through a mix of grassland and forest. By this time we were exhausted, so fighting occasional headwinds was not pleasant. One very low bridge, and soon we were at the takeout, three hours later. As we loaded canoes and kayaks onto the shuttle, everyone dumped the excess water except for Laura and me. We’re proud to state that the only thing that came out of our craft was dry leaves.
Back at the camp we had a fantastic meal of grilled ribs, then collapsed.