“Well, you have the kayaks until 5 o’clock …to get out of here turn left at the exit…have fun!” These were the departing words of Lewis, a guide with Tarpon Bay Explorers as he paddled away leaving our small group somewhere in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. That somewhere was the end of the Commodore Creek Canoe Trail which is Mother Nature’s version of a watery cul-de-sac surrounded by crawling mangrove trees yet sans houses with basketball hoops and other tokens of civilization. The Commodore Creek Trail is a 2.5 mile non-loop and it was only 10:30 a.m.
Hmm. I’ve never been on a guided kayaking trip where the guide leaves the group. Kayaking by myself just isn’t something I’m quite comfortable with which is why I chose a guided trip. Plus, even though the paddling trailhead was not that far from the launch point, I could not remember which direction that was. My sense of direction is horrible (just a reminder – I’m navigationally challenged) and honestly, I was not paying attention to directions because I was paying attention to what Lewis was saying and the playful cormorants.
Seems as though the cormorants have figured out kayakers encourage fish to swim a certain way and have now associated kayakers with food. At one point there were four of the dark, sleek birds swimming with us and having a successful swimming trip.
My mind raced with hypothetical situations of being lost somewhere in the refuge but was thankful I brought along my iPhone to call if I was really lost. Or maybe there is an app for being lost in the Florida wild. Alas, I did not panic and followed a couple of other paddlers who seemed to know where they were going (you know, how sometimes you’re lost on a road trip due to a detour and end up following a truck because it looks as though it knows where it’s going).
The going was going well until making the first turn around a mangrove filled bend. Reality of paddling against the current kicked in at that point. Ugh. This trip truly gave the arms a workout since it required paddling deep to advance. Turns were most challenging as I had to maneuver the kayak in such a manner so not to lose ground. This required paddling forward, then back, then forward. Giving up would have caused me to float back. There was a family of four from Germany and I looked behind me once to see the children struggling to make headway.
“Everyone’s for themselves,” I thought and paddled away without looking back. Amazingly I ended up passing a couple of paddlers who rented kayaks on their own.
“Worst case scenario is we get out and pull these kayaks back to the launch site,” I joked with the wife. She agreed. Water is pretty shallow over on Florida’s west coast and in the event of tipping the kayak over, all one would need to do is stand up.
Hitting open water and exiting the trail I instinctively headed to the right. Some of the paddlers made their way across Tarpon Bay in search of dolphins and manatees but I needed to head home. Instincts were right and made it to the dock without having to engage the iPhone.
Want to try kayaking Sanibel Island, too? I paddled with Tarpon Bay Outfitters which offers a variety of guided kayaking trips in addition to interactive boat tours, kayak rentals, bike rentals, fishing charters, and tram tours of J.N. Darling Wildlife Refuge. Be prepared for no-see-ums and as the staff told me, “No-see-ums laugh at DEET.” Bring Avon’s Skin So Soft or pick up some repellent at the shop located on site.
Tarpon Bay Explorers
900 Tarpon Bay Road
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Sanibel Island, Fla.
Tram Tel: 239-472-1351
Author’s Note: This is Part 3 in a four-part series on an October trip.