I sensed movement off to my left, just behind reeds that lined the Juniper Spring Run. I drew my paddle back into the water, quietly, cautiously. As I came around a bend, I felt my pulse quicken. There, just a paddle length away was the biggest alligator I had ever seen. He stopped moving, just on the brink of the clear water. His massive body seemingly ready to use his legs and tail to jettison off the well-worn dirt shore and into the spring run. The urge to spin around in the current and try and capture his image passed as I saw Brad come up from behind me on his kayak. Not wanting to startle the beast, I simply nodded my head to the shore, and said, “Gator.”
Brad and I were camping for a few days in the Juniper Springs Recreation area. Our site was beautiful and private with a fire ring we stoked up to smoke some ribs over, followed by the requisite S’mores for dessert. The site also featured a storage locker for your food, so as to not let the other creatures that roam the park enjoy your provisions while away. The first night we were there I heard the dense foliage crack and shift. Was it bear or the wild turkey that were prominent in the park? I’ll never know.
When we learned of the 7 mile Spring Run, considered one of the top 25 kayak/canoe runs in the country, we knew we had to figure out how to work through the logistics of the trip. There is no official ferry service any longer from the end of the one-way run back to the launch site. Brad initially suggested that we dump the kayaks at the start, drive our Jeep with our kayak carrier to the end of the run, then bike the 9 miles back to the start. All well and good in my book, with the exception that the 9 mile bike ride back was along major highways with a narrow shoulder. I think if we’d gone that route this post might be titled “Death by Distracted Driver.”
I got my research brain working and found a woman who transports paddlers from the end spot to the start for $40. We were lucky, for someone else had already booked her and she charged us just $20. I would have been happy to pay the original amount, especially when Brad told me that she informed Brad that the intersection of Route 19 and Highway 40 is one of the deadliest in Florida. Yikes.
While Brad drove the Jeep to the end, I waited with the kayaks. I struck up a conversation with a younger couple getting ready to launch. I wished I hadn’t. The young man’s words were so cautionary that I began to question my paddling abilities and whether it was safe to even attempt the run.
“You know it’s quite a challenging, narrow, waterway with a fast current,” he said.
Yes, I was aware.
“It’s tough to navigate, not ideal for everyone.”
My husband and I are proficient paddlers, I responded.
“There’s quite a few gators, snakes and spiders on the run,” he said.
As his words brought about a bit of anxiety, I thought about how we can all be guilty of being naysayers. As a mom with two adventuresome adult children, I’ve tried to bite my tongue when they share their upcoming endeavors. Better yet, I have asked to have them tell me after the fact.
It’s probably just as well that they heard about this adventure afterwards.
Especially after seeing that gator.
One of the dozens of turtles we saw on the Jupiter Run.
We came upon the young couple on the run while they were stopped along the bank. I think the young guy was rather impressed that I’d not only managed to navigate that far without being eaten, but was also bypassing him. I intentionally paddled hard and strong down the run as we went past, missing the first gator sighting. I wanted to prove to this obnoxious young man that I was quite capable. As I paddled away, I said, “Haven’t seen any rapids yet.”
This was the first gator on the run…I missed it because I was too busy trying to prove myself.
“Oh, they’re coming, trust me. And, by the way, your paddle is upside down.”
Note the upside down paddle. I didn’t start that way…the many twists and turns often required a twirling of ones body and paddle to avoid running into trees or the bank. Just sayin’.
It was about fifteen minutes later that I saw the huge reptile. He watched me with his dark, black eyes, perhaps weighing whether I was worth the effort to slide off the bank. I knew that in colder temperatures alligators metabolism slows. I was hoping he’d had a good meal recently. I was amazed at how calm I felt, given that it would probably take just a nudge of his snout and a slap of his huge tail to capsize me.
This isn’t the actual gator we saw on the bank, but his size was similar. Seriously.
I paddled away, and he stayed.
And those rapids I was supposed to be so afraid of? They were maybe a level 1, the easiest of rapids. I think I’ve seen bigger waves in the swimming pool during annual family cannonball contests.
My story doesn’t finish with me meeting my end by Death by Alligator.
But I never did see that young man finish the run…