Tomoka River, Florida (February 2006)

For my 46th birthday, I suggest to my wife that we sleep overnight in St Augustine, one of my favorite cities in all of America. St Augustine is, in fact, so wonderfully, walkably timeless that it remains a fabulous, romantic place even though it is the first city ever established in America a number of centuries ago.

We stay at the very nice Kenwood Inn. Our bedroom is very impressive. Our bed is covered with a lace canopy, and our breakfast served the next morning by the Inn is the best we have had the pleasure of eating at a bed & breakfast. We intend to return someday and enjoy their outdoor gardens. Their location is conveniently within the heart of the most walkable part of the city.

The streets are superbly, medieval-ly narrow. A pure delight to stroll with a lover, even though most of the cute little streets have no sidewalks. We enjoy a wonderful seafood paella for two at AIA Alehouse, along with pints of their stupendous, brewed-on-the-premises microbeer. Then it is off to the pedestrian mall, where we visit Café Hidalgo for an obligatory, fresh, delicious gelato.

Next morning, we opt for the "scenic route" along AIA to head an hour south to the Tomoka River. My wife is to try out the Necky Dolphin kayak I had just purchased for her on eBay.

Put-in for Tomoka is not easy. As advised by a paddle book, the put-in is near the Rt 40 bridge a half-mile west of I-95. But there is no place to comfortably park our vehicle, so we opt to park on a grassy embankment on the southwest side of the bridge - hopefully visible enough to the roadway to discourage hoodlum actions against our vehicle.

The river is about 60 yards through a narrow dirt trail winding its way through a wooded area strewn with the beer cans of the uncivil, which forces us to carry one boat at a time.

We launch our boats and head upstream, as the guidebook indicates that the upstream portion from here has "outstanding" scenery and only a very gentle current to paddle against. I had decided that upstream would be a lot more rewarding, as downstream seemed to feature a stream that was too wide and too encroached upon by boat docks and houses.

Sure enough, the upstream is gentle, and we easily, lazily paddle up. At first, the scenery is quite disappointing, as there are quite a few boat docks along the way. Soon, however, the docks disappear and we enter an extremely attractive, narrow, winding, seemingly pristine creek. The image depicts the Tomoka as it appeared over 100 years ago (1905). The portion we paddled still looks much like this century-old photo.

The guidebook has informed us that there are no deadfall obstacles in the early going. We confirm this, but notice early on that the stream starts braiding, which is somewhat disconcerting, as we could not be certain that we were still paddling the main channel, or if we'd be able to avoid getting lost on the way out. Fortunately, we soon notice the creek channel become unitary.

Downed trees begin to appear. They are infrequent enough and easy to get by, so we tolerate them. Within about an hour, however, we notice these deadfalls becoming more frequent, so we decide to turn back (threatening, blackening skies add to our decision).

Our turn-back point is a large tree trunk blocking our way. We are absolutely delighted to notice a pair of very cute, playful otters on the other side of the tree. They are poking out of the water to check us out for the next few minutes. Apparently, they are a mom and dad striving to ward us off to their nearby nest.

As we leisurely head back downstream, we come across three more otter, as well as some white-tailed deer.

I make a vow to return someday to attempt to go further upstream...


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