Recent trips

10 things you probably didn’t know about Little Rock and Arkansas, the Natural State
Story and photos by Mary Burnham

1. A thriving Farmer's Market

Tom Gillihan makes his own peanut brittle, giving free samples and the recipe for “Tom’s Peanut Brittle Delight” to those who buy a bag of raw peanuts. He grows squash, okra and big, red tomatoes in his garden in North Little Rock.

Vu Chuy and May Houa came from Laos 15 years ago to start a farm in Clarksville, AR. Their tiny hot peppers are a colorful display, along with snow peas and an unidentifiable vegetable that looks like a bumpy cucumber.

Jane and Elaine are sisters who’ve been coming for 28 years. They usually set up their produce by 3 a.m.

A trio of young black men unload overflowing trays of produce from the Murphy & Sons truck: heaping piles of purple-hulled peas, okra and tomatoes.

Antoinette, a New Orleans survivor of Hurricane Katrina, makes straw hats with a milliner’s flare and an enchanting smile. She learned the craft in Greece from an old gypsy woman.

These are just some of the stories that go with the fresh produce at the Little Rock Farmer’s Market , open every Tuesday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., May thru October.

2. Indian Mounds

Ranger Robin Gabe shows some of the artifacts found at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, about 15 miles east of Little Rock. Behind her rises one of the state’s tallest remaining Native American mounds and baffling mysteries, built some time between 750 and 1050 AD.

Mistakenly named in the 1850s for the Toltec Indians of Mexico because their mounds were similar, the Arkansas mounds were built by people archeologists now call the Plum Bayou, the name of a local stream. Three of 18 mounds remain within the state park, ranging from 38 to 50 feet tall.

Ranger Gabe says it’s not clear why the people built the earthern mounds, but they do know that they served different purposes: some were used only for ceremonies, people, possibly VIPs, lived on top of others, and one is believed to be a burial mound.

We may never know the full story, as excavating the mounds is destructive to them. The park has a good visitor center that interprets the Native American history here, and a paved path loops around the mound complex to a boardwalk on a lake where kayaks can be launched. Take a slow walk through this hallowed ground.

3. The Arkansas River

The first settlers arrived via the river, and today it’s center stage in the rejuvenation of downtown Little Rock. The area around the River Market has been a trading post for more than a century, but as recently as the 1990s, it was not a place visitors would want to go.

The downtown district has been completely redone in just the last decade or so, with improvements ongoing, and all focused on the river and the outdoors. The Central Arkansas Nature Center will open soon, as will a unique playground designed with input from local kids. Added to the the Medical Mile and the 25 miles of bike-hike trails on both sides of the river, these additions show how serious this city is about getting kids and adults outside an active.

From a riverview room at the Peabody Hotel, you can watch the sun come up from your bed. Later, watch it set aboard a dinner cruise on the Arkansas Queen.

4. "The Rock" is Green

The Clinton Presidential Center, in addition to archiving and presenting through multi-media displays the highlights of the Clinton years, is a sustainable building using state-of-the-art conservations systems for water and energy use. It sits on a reclaimed industrial park that’s now a green space on the Arkansas River, newly planted with young trees.

Next door, the new world headquarters of Heifer International
was designed to use up to 55 percent less energy than a conventional office building. It’s surrounded by a restored wetland, with parking lots that filter water for irrigation. Inside are renewable bamboo floors, insulation of locally-grown cotton and soybeans, and carpets of recycled materials.

A short drive outside the city, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is located on a sustainable demonstration farm with brand new lodges and a meeting facility. Stunning mountain views accompany environmental education in the wetlab, barn or garden. Take an organic cooking class in the auditorium kitchen, or check out the archeological digs of Indian dwellings on this historic farm.

5. The Dining Scene

Chef Andre Poirot, left, gets ready to rumble with chef Donnie Ferneau. At center is Gregg Herning, general manager of the Peabody Little Rock. Photo courtesty Peabody Little Rock
The air was thick with anticipation. Two entire kitchens were set up on a podium in the the Peabody Hotel’s Grand Ballroom before a black-tie gathering of 400 people. Two crews, lead by two of Little Rocks pre-eminent chefs, scurried to and fro creating dishes for the panel of judges. A tuxedoed Gregg Herning, general manager of the five-star Peabody, announced the surprise ingredient the chefs would have to use in preparing a dish in 60 minutes.

Was this a taping of the “Iron Chef” show? No, it was “Diamond Chef Arkansas,” the finale show-down between Peabody Executive Chef Andre Poirot and Chef Donnie Ferneau, owner of Ferneau restaurant.

This fund-raiser for Pulaski Technical College’s Arkansas Culinary School is indicative of the excitement that is brewing in Little Rock’s restaurant scene of dozens of eateries, from homestyle southern to innovative fusion cuisine.

6. You don’t need a car to get around Little Rock

In the span of a couple of hours in downtown Little Rock:

-I walked from the Peabody Hotel next door to the Old State House Museum where re-enactors were interpreting Arkansas’ first year of statehood (1836) with political campaigning, shooting, sewing, and cooking demonstrations;

-I hopped on the River Rail’s retro electric streetcar across the river to North Little Rock, came back to the RiverMarket district;

-Got off and popped into Touche Spa for a facial. I was so relaxed after the anti-aging treatment it was all I could do to walk the short way back to the Peabody in time for the 5 p.m. Duck March.

P.S. Meeting and event planners will find downtown Little Rock an easy destination, just a 10-minute trip from the airport. Attendees can walk from the Peabody Hotel in air-conditioned underground comfort to the Statehouse Convention Center.


We didn’t see any while canoeing on the Little Maumelle River in Pinnacle Mountain State Park , a short drive outside of Little Rock. But the ranger assured us they’re there, fortunately, AFTER we got off the water. You can see a baby ‘gator in the visitor center, where you’ll find exhibits and a viewing deck overlooking the Arkansas River.

You can rent canoes in the park and paddle six and a half miles, passing towering bald cypress trees and through a freshwater lagoon of water lilies.

A hike to the cone-shaped summit of Pinnacle Mountain brings you to the top of a landmark that’s visible for miles around. You’re perched atop a once “chaotic earthquake zone,” where several plates came together creating the rough peaks and rock slides.

For a panoramic virtual tour of the peak, click here .

8. The Peabody Ducks are turning 75!

Well, the tradition of the ducks is. It started at the Peabody Memphis in 1933, and continues there, and at the Orlando and Little Rock hotels every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Every morning the red-coated Duck Master guides the mallard ducks from the elevator, down the red carpet to their ‘job’ in the lobby fountain. At 5 p.m. they march back to their rooftop ‘penthouse’ for the night. Both walks are accompanied by John Philip Sousa's King Cotton March.”

How did this endearing and unique tradition start?
The story goes…In 1933, Frank Schutt, general manager of the Peabody Memphis, returned from a hunting trip in Arkansas. After a little too much Tennesee whiskey, he and his hunting buddy put their live duck decoys in the hotel lobby fountain. They were a hit and the tradition continues every day in Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas.

9. The Little Rock Nine

You know the famous image of the black teenager in the starched white blouse facing an angry mob and the National Guard as she tried to enter Little Rock’s Central High School? Ever wonder where the other eight were? The brave 15-year-old, named Elizabeth Eckford, had gotten the time mixed up, arriving too early! What a terrifying experience that made history in the 1957 integration struggles.

A new visitors center opened near the school last year on the 50th anniversary. And the now 65-year-old Elizabeth Eckford was one of the speakers. Click here to go the Central High School National Park Website.

At left, John Deering’s life-sized sculptures of the Little Rock Nine are a moving remembrance just outside the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock. Photo by Burnham Ink.

10. Geocaching is BIG

As Trish plugged the given coordinates into a GPS, I read the clue aloud. It was our first time looking for something called a “cache,” which made us “muggles.” We walked towards the Big Dam Bridge outside Little Rock, peering at the GPS screen. It said 50 feet and kept going down. Then the number started going up again. Oops, we’d gone too far, and turned around. We were told there’s several feet of leeway, so we’d need to look around us. There – up in the crook of a tree was a white plastic shoe box! Inside we found trinkets placed by Arkansas Parks & Tourism: a small compass and a keychain with a tiny light on it. The rule is if you take something, you leave something. There’s usually a tiny log book inside to record your find.

Left, finding a cache at the Big Dam Bridge.

Jana Greenbaum with Arkansas Parks & Tourism, says geocaching is all the rage, combining outdoor recreation with technology to get kids and their families engaged and outdoors. “It’s like hunting for Easter eggs. It's a miracle cure for sedentary families," Jana proclaims.

There are several caches at the Big Dam Bridge, the 4,220-foot pedestrian/cycling bridge built in 2006 to connect 15 miles of scenic riverside trails in Little Rock and North Little Rock. There are caches at each of the six statues in the River Market district, and a creatively hidden micro-cache (a small find inside a film canister) outside of the Clinton Presidential Center. In fact, Jana says there's hardly a major landmark in the state that doesn't have one.

There are more then 5,000 caches throughout the Natural State, many of them in state parks. Arkansas started placing caches last year, and this June is launching 52 new ones, one in each state park and minting special geo-coin prizes as part of the park system’s 75th anniversary.

“It’s been successful beyond my wildest dreams."

Jana says this is the future of travel and writers and destinations better get on board. To give it a try go to or to learn more and ‘cache’ in on this growing sport.

Blog of 100-mile Book Tour by Kayak
February 2008

(scroll to bottom to read the full account of the trip in chronological order).

Toilet Seat Pass
Florida Keys
Commemorating the completion of 100-mile paddle

Near the Cowpens on the bayside of Islamorada, is a local boater's prop channel, marked in the peculiar Keys tradition with more than 100 toilet seats on PVC pipe!

There are seat commemorating anniversaries, boy scout troops, marriages and deaths.

With the help of our good paddling buddies Christine and Cynthia, we posted our very own. We named it "KL2KW" for the completion of our 100 mile book tour by kayak from Key Largo to Key West.

If you go through the pass, let us know how it's holding up!

Day 14: Final Day on the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail

The last day of paddling was supposed to be one of the easiest! Just six miles from Geiger Key Marina to our finale party at Lazy Dog Outfitters on Stock Island (the ‘gateway’ to Key West.)

Four experienced paddling friends: Cyn, Norm, Tania and Claiborne—came to join us for the trip. We checked the radar and marine radio forecasts in the morning, which showed a few thunderstorms were to move through in the a.m., but we’d have a nice window from around 11 to 3. Perfect! We knew we’d have a pretty brisk W-SW headwind of 15 to 20 knots, but we’ve done that before.

Our Campsite at Geiger Key Marina

The sky was sunny when we left, heading into that wind, which personally felt a LOT stronger than 15-20! It started to rain, so we all pulled into a small mangrove cove near the entrance to Geiger Creek. It had taken us 45 minutes to do just one mile!

As we put on our rainjackets, a huge black cloud comes over us and the wind shifts suddenly from south to north with a chill in it. VERY STRANGE. I turn on my marine radio and learn of a freak thunderstorm with predicted hail, waterspouts (small tornadoes), 40-60 mph gusting winds, and dangerous lightning, let's see, what else, locusts, maybe? Basically old weather radio man was saying, MARY & BILL: GET OFF THE WATER NOW!

Under the Bridge: Tania and Norm, who work and live at Jolly Roger Travel Park on Grassy Key (we met them on the tour!)

Fortune had it that there was a bridge just inside Geiger Creek, where we ducked in and hid during the worst of the downpour. Fortunately, the lightning wasn’t too awefully close, and the hail and waterspouts didn’t show up (although there was a tornado, we learned later, in Marathon, about 40 miles east of us). But the forecast was quite dire for the next several hours, with winds gusts up to 60 mph (Cyn called her husband Dave, who looked on the radar for us), so we had no choice but to land our boats.

Norm hitched a ride back to his truck at Geiger Key Marina. He came back with his flatbed pick-up and we loaded six boats on the back for the short ride to the marina.

So we arrived at our Finale Party by car, not kayak! But the sun came out, Micah set up to play his songs on the deck bar of Hurricane Joe’s, and friends, old and new, from up and down the Keys came to welcome us to dry land! Jeff at Lazy Dog Outfitters had arranged a book-signing for us on the deck. Thanks, Jeff! And the Hurricane Joe’s crew.

(check out Micah’s Music)

We felt slightly defeated for only a moment, but good friends, music (and the special Paddler’s Punch the bartender had concocted) soon raised our spirits. Norm made us feel really good when he said the wind, swells and tucking in under the bridge was one of the best kayaking adventures he’d ever had. Sometimes you just gotta give in to Mother Nature. The good news is that we all concurred that we’ll just have to do it again next year! This time on the Bayside and into the Backcountry! That’s the beauty of paddling in the Keys, it’s always an adventure.

Thanks folks, for letting us share it with you.

That night we got to stay in a King-sized bed with a feather comforter at the Fairfield Inn in Key West! Thanks, manager Chris (an avid paddler!) for a super-nice stay. The inn is all recently redecorated in tropical colors. Love the poolside breakfast buffet!

But we're not done yet! We're doing a "Paddle with the Authors" in Key West, then our friends Dave & Lynda are picking us up to take us back to Key Largo where this weekend we have a slide show and paddle at Pennekamp State Park, and a signing at Florida Bay Outfitters, where Bill will be taking his recertification test for kayak instruction.

How does that song go? "The road goes on forever and the party never ends?"


Click and type in a question or comment

I love that you have added the ability to click on the Image for a Larger Image. It makes it more like you are there enjoying the Trip with You! I have thought you needed to do that from when I first viewed you website. However, as far as constructive criticism goes, most pictures have the faces too dark to be able to see clearly. It didn't seem that way before ... Camera Problems? Tom Buck

Mary! I'm impressed at how you were able to take that kayak photo while simultaneously paddling to safety during the storm. Is that a UFO in the middle upper portion of the photo?? Sometimes you don't notice those things until the photo is developed. :) luv, cuz dahr

Bill you need a shave and haircut. Love ya. j

Day 13 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail (no paddling today)

A rainy day on Geiger Key brought some Maryland fishermen in for a beer! Kevin Grapes bought a book for his children, who when they are big enough, we hope will be bugging Dad to bring them to the Keys!

Geiger Key's campground and Smokehouse restaurant have been a great respite for us during some super thunderstorms (last night, over one inch of rain had us thinking we might either float away or get electrocuted by the lightning strikes!) Thanks Hope, and the girls at the bar (great breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour!)

A writing colleague from ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) came to our book-signing this evening! Thanks, Beth Rubin, hope to see you back up on the Eastern Shore!

Day 12 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail

We launched from Little Palm Island and hit the snot once again. The wind was now 25 knots with gusts (Mr. Automated Weather Voice didn't elaborate on how strong the "gusts" were!), but fortunately at our backs. Now we had a five-mile open water crossing to Key Lois (aka Loggerhead Key, aka "Monkey Key"). Water depths were on average 15 feet, plus wind, made for following seas and waves three to four feet.

This was the beginning of an excellent 17.5 mile run down the ocean side of Sugarloaf Key and the Saddlebunch Keys. Thanks to the tail wind, we made it in a remarkable 5.5 hours. Absent the half-hour lunch break and some putzing around Pelican and Saddlehill keys, we averaged about four miles-an-hour. I can tell you that, based on my GPS, there were times I was doing 7.5 mph riding the top of a four foot wave through the 20 foot deep waters off Newfound Harbor.

We tucked in the lee side of Key Lois where we found a bunch of other critters seeking shelter: bonnet head sharks, pelicans, egrets, yellow-crowned night heron, and the big bonus: five roseate spoonbills! We'll post photos and more text later today, our first day of no paddling in two weeks straight.

WE MADE IT! In fact, we had such a terrific, 20-25 knot tailwind that we skipped an entire campsite and hightailed it 17+ miles to Geiger Key Marina, putting us a full day ahead of schedule. It was a sweet ride along the oceanside of Sugarloaf and Saddlebunch Keys, but tiring just trying to keep upright in the deep water, where the swells were 3 to 4 feet!

Thank you Hope, at Geiger Key for getting us set up here.

The next 24 hours will bring in severe thunderstorms and relentless wind. But we're safely ensconced in our tent at Geiger Key Marina, and the bar/restaurant is mere footsteps away. By Wednesday, we'll be at Lazy Dog Outfitters on Stock Island for the finale party.

This trip is ending, and I'm bummed. Never fear, I'm already thinking about another one!

Day 11 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail

A wave comes from behind, swells beneath me, then rushes past. With the predictability of another breath, it happens again, where the last one began: lifting me, carrying me, passing me.

Kind of freaky considering I'm sitting at a picnic table.

If you've spent any time on the water, whether in a sea kayak or a sailboat, this may be a familiar feeling. The rhythm of waves rising and falling becomes ingrained in your body. Which is why, a full two-and-a-half hours after getting off the water, I've got this gentle memory helping me end another day.

We've been dealing with the first bit of severe weather on the trip. It started Sunday morning at Bahia Honda. Winds were 15 knots climbing to 20 out of the north-northeast. Not a problem, except that wind plus 40-foot deep water of Bahia Honda ("Deep Bay" in Spanish) equal big swells. There was no rhyme or reason to their pattern; they came from the right and left, and from behind. I sure enjoyed telling people at the state park how this trip has so far been a breeze, but hated to think they might be watching with binoculars as Mary and I heaved and pitched, to and fro, the first quarter-mile of the day's journey. Surf management is high on my list of classes this summer!

We popped out from between the bridges to the oceanside, where it seemed a bit less pitchy. We had some fun surfing the swells to the lee side of the Spanish Harbor Keys. Wheee!!!

Almost as a reward, a pod of about a dozen dolphins, including some babies, circled around us for several minutes. As is usually the case, the camera caught only shots of water, just after they breached.

We landed for a snack on Long Beach, which is wildlife refuge property, and waved to some hikers on the nature trail. Further on, we pulled up to Deer Run Bed & Breakfast
, an eco-friendly, oceanside inn run by a really cool couple named Jen and Harry. We traded one of our books for a bottle of their signature vegan wine (which is actually made at a Virginia winery, Mountain Cove!). They serve vegan breakfasts and are a certified Green Lodging by the state of Florida.

A 9-point Key deer buck greeted us on their beach.

The writing life is one of extremes, for sure. In this case, we went from sleeping on the ground to a featherbed at Little Palm Island , an island resort accessible only by boat or plane. And, as we've now established, by kayak! According to management, we were the first overnight guests to arrive by kayak, a distinction we proudly bear. Travis, William, and Emmanuel, the manager, greeted these two salty seafarers as if we were any other guests.

Folks, this was definitely a "pinch-me" evening (which, as we are travel writers, was a complimentary media visit).

We dined al fresco on ahi tuna, foie gras, and pompano, then watched part of the Grammys in the library (the resort’s only television and cell phones are banned in public places), we slept in a king-sized canopy bed in a bungalow so Caribbean that we almost forgot where we were. The guazey drapes of the bed and been loosened by an invisible hand while we dined, creating a tent-like sensation (not so far from our usual lodging, after all!). This is definitely a place to escape life, very first class, but casual.


Click and type in a question or comment

You know we're all a little jealous of the carefree lifestyle you two have, but then when you read about the thunderstorms and 5 food swells, not jealous of that. The deer is just too cute and dinner sounds great. j

Hi guys! Looks and sounds like you're having a ball! Great pictures-miss you, though! Hope to see you soon! Love, Maria (& Rusty, of course)

Mary! What happened to Bill? Is that Grizzly Adams in the photo with you? ha ha cuz Dahr :)

Hey guys... how'd the finale go! It was great paddling with you. I'm trying to come down again real soon! Steve from Canada :)

you guys look great! sorry i missed your call bill (sending this late at night 02/12/08). 100 miles is an epic journey as it goes. sure miss paddling with you guys. we just got hit with an ice/shit storm in kentucky but all is well. drinking some sake and wishing i was there with you. let me know what your plans are after this. need to catch up with you two. -josh gregory p.s. bill, the hair is big and beautiful! mary you look wonderful as always!

-JOSH! Finally! Ya know you're famous? The photo of you in Dusenbury Grottos is in our slide show and has been in the newspaper! After this, we are staying in Tavernier (with our buddy, Cyn!) until early March. Come on down! An Everglades weekend is in the making for Feb. 23.

Day 10: Little Bahia Honda
We’re staying put today (as in not pulling up camp) and doing a Paddle with the Authors for the park volunteers. Most had never paddled before, and several said they had always wanted to go out to Little Bahia Honda, just offshore. Four volunteers came up from Curry Hammock State park as well.

The wind had picked up causing a some chop, which bounced the broad sit-on-top kayaks around a bit. (Bill and I had left our sea kayaks at camp and decided for once to have a little fun with sit-on-tops.) I think it was just enough challenge to be fun, not frightening, for beginners.

Ram and Anu from Seattle also joined us, also first time kayakers. When they landed on the island they said “We love this! We are going to buy kayaks when we get home!” Music to our ears. You guys live in a great part of the country for paddling! Sorry we didn’t get to see you before we left, but who knows, we may see you in the Pacific Northwest!

Bahia Honda was one of the nicest stays on the trip. I felt so at home roaming Buttonwood Campground. Mary and I stayed here for a couple weeks back when we were researching the book. Then, like now, campground staff and volunteers embraced us. I get a warm feeling remembering Dona, who greeted us with a rendition of "row, row, row your boat" as she and her husband Fred pulled their golf cart into our campsite to say "Hi". Or Joan a few sites down peeking her head into our campsite early in the morning to see if we were ready for some fresh-brewed coffee.

Day 9: Molasses Key to Bahia Honda State Park

The tide came up to our island campsite just in time to float our heavily-loaded boats off the flats and into the Atlantic. Temps near 80, a light southeast breeze. Another glorious morning paddling in paradise!

Public domain photo from
In the flats just off Money Key we started to see huge black shapes in the water. They were spotted eagle rays, some the size of a round table for four. We see a lot of southern sting rays here, which are brown. Spotted eagle rays are easy to discern from them. They’re black, with some white spots, and white underneath their ‘wings,’ the tips of which poke above surface of shallow water and look a bit like shark fins. They’re also prone to jumping out of the water a few feet and making a huge splash! It’s quite a sight. We saw at least a dozen until we floated into deeper water.

We also saw a sea turtle! That’s four days now, and more common than we’ve ever seen them before.

We got out on the southern side of Ohio Key at a little beach next to the bridge, oceanside. Across Route 1 the island is called Sunshien Key for the campground on it, but this entire side is undeveloped National Wildife Refuge. You can walk the perimeter (the interior salt ponds are off-limits for bird life) and stretch your legs.

The tide was out, so the sandbars off of Bahia Honda Island’s Sandspur beach were exposed. Water the color of Scope mouthwash against the sparkling white sand. It’s like we’ve entered the Caribbean.

We played in the swells all along the island beach, tucked under the historic railroad bridge, and pulled into the boat basin. We found campsite #11, the only one in the Buttonwood campground with water access with a little slip of land for pulling up kayaks. (Thanks, park manager Manny Perez!)

Almost immediately we were greeted with a welcome party of volunteers and staff. Ranger Arty went to check us in at the gate, and retrieve our resupply box of food. Ranger Charlie offered technical help setting up our slide show that evening (which was attended by about 30 campers!)

Volunteers Fred and Dona came by in their golf cart, offering anything we need. Volunteer Joan, just two ‘doors’ up from us lent me her car to go to laundry (seems like I should have been doing somehwere more exciting in a red convertible Mustang!) We were invited to cocktails at Fred & Dona’s, a seafood feast at Karl’s, and in the morning, angel Joan poured us strong cups of coffee, the best we’ve had on the trip!

Day 8 on the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail. Crane Point Hammock, Marathon, to Molasses Key.

Readers will be happy to know we've just figured out how to make the maps larger!! Just click on the map for a LARGER view.

After breakfast of yogurt and granola (thanks, Monica!), Monica takes her bike out of her pick-up and heads off on an early morning ride before her meeting. Monica works for the state Greenways & Trails on the Florida Keys Overseas Trail, a bicycle path from Key Largo to Key West, and its sister trail, the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail, which we’re doing.

Reliable camping is the biggest issue for the paddling trail. One of our missions on this trip (in addition to selling books, of course!) is to bring attention to the trail and to test out how it can be done logistically, with no more than 15 or so miles between camping.

So far we’ve had great camping experiences at Coconut Cove Resort (MM84 O/S), Long Key State Park (MM 67 O/S), Jolly Roger Travel Park (MM 59 B/S), Crane Point Hammock (MM 50 O/S), and now, on Molasses Key (MM42 O/S) (more on it later). There were a couple of points, in Tavernier and Islamorada, where we stayed with friends. Right now, in lieu of camping (or wonderful friends), there are points where paddlers might need to stay in a motel, of which there are plenty (our Atlas lists paddle-friendly lodgings where you can pull up on a beach).

Elizabeth and Monica talked about the ways in which Crane Point and the Trail might work together, with the property being a stop on the trail, possibly with its own interpretive water trail. This is what it’s all about: sharing and preserving this unique environment.

We paddle a few miles along the bayside of the city of Marathon until we reach the beginning of the famous and spectacular Seven Mile Bridge. The new highway bridge parallels the historic railroad bridge.

Our first stop is Pigeon Key, a preserved village that served as work camp for the men who built the railroad in the early 1900s. There’s a little beach and picnic tables near the dock on the north side of the island, but you do need to pay $11 per person to land here. It’s a private foundation struggling to maintain this vital part of Keys history.

Sunshine bathes the long bridge in a bright glow, highlighting two distinct styles of support for the old bridge: spandrel arches and regular pilings. The arches are symbolic of Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad, classical in design, thick stanchions rising straight from the water, then curving gracefully into half-circle symmetry. The pilings, by contrast, are plain jane columns of concrete overlaid by the roadbed. I need to do some homework on why they used spandrel arches for the southern third of the bridge, but reverted to traditional pilings for the remainder. I suspect it has something to do with the depth of the water, the bedrock beneath and, possibly, money. Building the arches was a expensive, time-consuming endeavor.

We spy a single tree growing out of the old Seven Mile Bridge. It is a testament to the tenacity of nature, that a simple tree can spread roots in concrete and thrive. As my dad says, a plant's desire to live often out competes our ability to kill it. Our Keys musician friend, Micah, is writing a song about this particular spot, called "The Defiant Tree."

Another 2.5 miles brings us to our camping spot for the night, an idyllic little island on the oceanside of the bridge. This is the point where we’ll say bon voyage to Steve, who will proceed the last 2 miles or so to the take-out. Dave of Marathon Kayak will pick him up. We exchange email addresses with our new paddling friend, he double-check his safety gear, and Bill watches him through binoculars as he passes by Money Key and reaches Little Duck Key, the take-out.

We’re ecstatic to be on our own little island for a whole afternoon and night. It’s like a day off! Instead of setting up the tent right away, Bill slings his hammock and I stretch out on the beach.

Molasses Key has been good to us, both for the view it affords and its quiet sanctuary. Low tide exposes wide grass flats off the beach where we landed. Our heavy kayaks wouldn't float the last 100 feet, so we stood up and dragged the boats by the bow line. Pelicans, a Great white egret, two reddish egrets and a Great blue heron patrolled the shallow water. Long mounds of seagrass marked the wrack line on the beach. Molasses is popular with power boaters, and although none were here upon our arrival, a grill (or barbeque as our Canadian friend Steve declared) and a large fire pit marked past presence.

Places like Molasses Key are a rarity in the Keys, an uninhabited island with a beach landing, where you can stop for a rest, or even set up camp for the night.

The only downside is the broken glass and bits of trash left behind by unthinking boaters. Please, people, if you can carry your six-packs out here, the least you can do is take back the empties. The public use of privately-owned places like this can only continue if it’s not abused. Paddlers we know, like the Paradise Paddlers club, do clean-ups at places like this. And on an informal basis, we can all fill a garbage bag before we leave, leaving a place better than we found it. OK, enough with the lecture!

As high tide started covering the grass flats, bird activity increased. The reddish egrets ran to-and-fro, sometimes spreading their wings to create shadows on the water in which to better see its prey. The white egret was more patient; it stood still for long spells, then slowly lifted one long black leg, stepped forward, planted its foot, and brought forward the other. A tactile hunter, it feet feels out crustaceans or small fish, striking the water with lightening-fast stabs. Up comes the neck, and you can almost see the food slide down its gullet.

Pelicans by contrast are loud and obnoxious, crashing into the water with as little grace as possible. They were the first to leave as the sun began its descent to the western horizon. Then the white egret and the blue heron departed. For the next half-hour, we sat and watched the reddish egrets work the flats. Their behavior indicated a male-female pair. One had the distinct tuft of breeding plumage on its neck and head. It would flare this, drawing the other's attention. A chase ensued, but the flirting bird remained elusive. Back to feeding they would go, drifting apart, until the one once again drew its mate's attention with a flash display.

The ritual repeated itself time and again. The sun sank lower.

Mary and I swapped field glasses, watching closely until, upon some silent clue, both took flight. Their direction was west. Into the sun they flew, two dark specks backlit by a golden orb.

We eat our dinner of noodles and broccoli (thanks again, Monica!) while watching the huge fireball sun set over Key West. We’ll be there soon! As it gets darker, we’re entranced by the traffic of lights traversing the far-off Seven Mile Bridge. At home we’d be watching TV! This is way better.


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Hi Mary, I've been following your trip and am in awe of you and your group. I love all the pictures and the stories are great. Can't wait to see you again. Best wishes for a safe and healthy journey. Debi Schaefer from Willimsburg, actually Toano!

Day 7 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail: Jolly Roger to Crane Point (Feb. 6, 2008)

We took full advantage of our great cell phone reception at Jolly Roger to update the blog, return emails, finish up our slide show, and send a story we had due for a Virginia magazine. We didn’t leave until 12:30 p.m.

We’ll call today’s paddle a bit of a slog: 10 miles of almost entirely open water, with a beam wind of 10-15 knots, gusting to nearly 20. It became quite annoying. A head wind would almost be better.

But the highlight came at the tip of Stirrup Key: Bill spied a large sea turtle floating nearby, and then simultaneously, a dolphin breached beside it! Never seen that before. This was the third day in a row that we’ve seen a sea turtle. A great sign.

We were relieved to pull up around Crane Point by 4 p.m., plenty of time to set up camp and the evening’s slide show in the historic house museum. Crane Point Museum & Nature Center is a true jewel, a 63-acre oasis in the middle of the city of Marathon.

The property has a long history. There’s evidence of prehistoric people, and an archeological dig of a Bahamian community that thrived here. The Adderley House, the holdest Keys house outside of Key West, still exists, built in the early 1900s by Bahamian immigrant George Adderley, out of ‘tabby,’ or burnt seashells. There’s also a museum, small aquarium and creature exhibits, a wild bird resuce center, and the Crane House, built by the Cranes who in effect saved it all from development. A network of nature trails connects it all.

Elizabeth Moore is their effervescent education director who set up a great evening for us, in conjunction with Dave at Marathon Kayak, who offers rentals and tours of Sister’s Creek and the Seven Mile Bridge ( He offered a shuttle for anyone who wanted to join us for the Seven Mile Bridge Crossing, with a $20 donation going to Crane Point. Good man, Dave! Hope to paddle with you soon.

About 10 folks came for our slide show, talk, and book-signing, and while few were paddlers, they seemed intrigued by our journey and enthralled by the unique nature of the Florida Keys.

Afterwards, Dave brought us to another Marathon landmark: Porky’s restaurant for ribs!


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I ran across this today and just wanted to see how you were doing. Those were great times at Crane Point and I was so happy to meet you both. Hope we can get together again sometime and that you are doing well with your adventures. Fondly, Elizabeth Moore

Say Hi to Big Moe at Bahia Honda! See you on the 13th! Micah, Nina and Pepper Dog

Bill and Mary, I can't thank you enough for adding a very special event to Long Key State Parks schedule of programs. I haven't been that excited at work since we got our rental kayaks a year ago. Hopefully this (sunset paddle) can mark the beginning of a series of such offerings and "through paddlers" should know that I will do whatever is possible to accomadate them here at Long Key. RANGER KRUEGER

Mary and Bill.....we so enjoyed our sunsest paddle with you in Long Key State Park....thanks for a wonderful evening....Joanne and Butch from CT

Feb. 5: Day 6 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail

Left Long Key SP this a.m. with a stow-away! Ranger Krueger decided to paddle with us on his day off to our next stop: Jolly Roger Travel Park, just eight miles away.

We left the park on the oceanside in some light chop and a nice tailwind. The water was an irridescent, almost surreal green-blue-aqua. My boat plowed through a school of mullet, some of which jumped right over my boat! Bill said something about three feet long was chasing them.

After admiring the elegant spandrel concrete arches of Long Key viaduct that carried Henry Flagler’s railroad a century ago, we got a bit tired of the chop and headed beneath the bridge to the bayside where it was noticeably more calm and we could relax a bit. We headed for some a bank and some flats to see what we could see, when we spied a large sea turtle floating in front of us! He poked his head up to get a good look at us, then ducked down out of sight.

Across the shallow flats along Conch Key we saw animal after animal: large rays and baby nurse sharks. One large ray actually flew out of the water a few feet.

We arrived early afternoon at Jolly Roger Travel Park on Grassy Key where Florida Bay Outfitters was holding a kayak demo day. Kelly and Zen were putting folks in the water to try out all kinds of boats, from pedal inflatables to sea kayaks. A $5 donation went toward the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail.

We were met by Janet who directed us to the Tiki tent area, a fabulous point of land with room for several tents. It felt like we were surrounded by blue water (later we were treated to some great live music flowing over from next door!) Thank you, Janet & Joe, Tania, Norm and Angie for making us feel so welcome here on your little piece of paradise. What a great stop for paddlers (hot showers, laundry and WiFi!)

Kelly from FBO and Bill

Bill did some self-rescue demonstrations for the campers and paddlers.

Sunset from Jolly Roger Travel Park

Feb. 4: Day 5 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail

We had only 8 miles to paddle from our friend’s on Lower Matecumbe to Long Key State Park. As soon as we passed under the Channel Five bridge, we felt that we were starting the more ‘wild’ part of the trip. We’ll be camping for the next seven nights.

No sooner had I voiced this fact than Bill spotted a huge sea turtle – mostly likely a loggerhead. It was as big as a car tire! In the flats we started seeing loggerhead sponges, also as big as tires. Nurse Sharks, rays and even a couple of tarpon.

Paddler shelters at Long Key SP
We were following Long Key Point, a full two miles of undeveloped coast that’s protected by Long Key State Park. Just before the picnic area, we spied our campsite for the night, a shelter in the primitive camping area, accessed via boardwalk from the main part of the camp. (Thanks in large part to Ranger Krueger, an old paddling friend and ranger here), the shelters are reserved for groups and through-paddlers like ourselves, a terrific asset to the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail. We hope all the state parks eventually have some kind of accommodation for through-paddlers!
NOTE: Do watch out for the raccoons here. They stole my vitamins!

Janet and Jacob, who really enjoyed the critters!
Speaking of Krueger, he set up a fantastic evening event for us: a sunset paddle with about 15 people. The wind had picked up by the time we launched, which made tucking into a little mangrove creek a nice rest stop.

It so happens that we had a marine biologist along with us! John took some Sargassum weed that floats on the water in golden clumps and shook it out to see all the critters that live in it: tiny crabs, jumpy (“broken backed”) shrimp, horn shells and sea slugs. All tiny, and all vital nutrients for other sea life, like baby sea turtles that swim out to the huge rafts of the stuff out in the Gulfstream.

Bill talked about the three types of mangrove: red, black and white, and then we all rafted up for the trip back, admiring the sunset as we floated with the tailwind and chatted. Nice, nice evening. It doesn’t get much better. Our friends Dave and Lynda had come for the paddle, and took us out for a hot meal at nearby Little Italy in Layton. Back at camp, we roasted marshamallows with Janet and her son, Jacob.


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Bill and Mary.....we so enjoyed our sunset paddle with you at Long Key State Park....thanks for a wonderful evening.....Joanne and Butch from CT...PS have some good pictures that I will send to you.

Day 4 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail: Day trip to Indian Key. CLICK ON MAP FOR LARGER VIEW
(Mary is writing today) I wake up early (like 5:30, but don’t tell Bill). We’re staying at our good friend Micah’s on Lower Matecumbe. I go out on the balcony. It’s dark still. Over the crescent moon, Venus and Mars are super, super bright like stars (I know what they are only because Christine told me!). I look below and our friend’s furry dog Tamale is asleep in the sand below, enjoying the cool breeze. Another friend is asleep in a hammock strung between two palms.

Our “job” today is to take about 10 people out to Indian Key State Park, the former county seat of Dade County, a wrecker’s community that was wiped out by an Indian massacre. We depart from the Kayak Shack at Robbie’s for the easy one-mile paddle to the oceanside island, which is about 10 square miles. You can walk the ‘street’ paths, look at the rubble of homes, warehouses, and even a ‘tropical hotel’, and end at the town square. From here we took a path to a coral rock beach where some folks took a swim. It’s a really special place, and currently you can only get there by your own boat or kayak. John or Jay at the Kayak Shack can hook you up with boats to get there.

Rob & Lori from Toronto
We had old paddling friends (Sarah, Greg, Cyn, Micah) and new (Rob, Lori, John, Kristen, Joe, Mike, Deb and Tom).

Here’s a shout-out to Jay, who was with us in spirit, but at work at the Kayak Shack. A paddler for 50 years, his words remind us this isn’t all about business.

“Thank you for writing this book,” he told us. “You guys are having fun and it shows. You’re really blessed.”

Thanks, Jay. We are blessed to have met you. Paddle on.

Later that night we enjoyed the Super Bowl Keys-style: under a tiki hut on Lower Matecumbe. Good times. Peace.

Only in the Keys!

Feb. 2: Day 3 on the Florida Keys Paddling Trail Total: 10 miles. We hopscotched from oceanside to bayside (checked out the no motor zones around the Cotton Keys--awesome bird-watching!), stopped at Lorelei's for a break, went back to the oceanside to say hi to Sparrow at Bud & Mary's, and back to the bayside to arrive at the famous Robbie's Marina.

This is just one of the things that makes paddling in the Keys so extraorindary: pretty much wherever the wind is blowing from, you can find a sheltered lee either bay or oceanside.

As far as expeditioning goes, the Upper Keys can hardly be described as "remote." Unless we deliberately head for an off-shore island, Route 1 is always close at hand. We can pull our kayaks up to a restaurant for lunch. Friends feed us breakfast, help us launch, and meet us at day's end.

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. Who wants to bet I won't be listening to it on a radio sitting at a picnic table in the middle of the woods?

Good friends, old and new. Good times. Add to this the Keys’ inherent natural beauty, and you have the makings of a trip unlike any where else.

Sunrise over the Atlantic, Coconut Cove Resort
Take, for example, Coconut Cove Resort on Windley Key. I would call it a classic "keysy" place: no paved driveways, small efficiency apartments, friendly staff, great water views, lots of palm trees. Just pulling in re-kindles a laid-back, island-time kind of vibe. Am I being overly idyllic? Perhaps. But it underscores how comfortable and welcome we felt when we arrived in dirty, smelly paddling clothes, unkempt hair, and camping gear piled high on a chambermaid's cart we wheeled from boat ramp to tent site.

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Fast-forward five hours and 11 miles paddling from Windley Key down the bayside of Upper Matecumbe (Islamorada) to the Kayak Shack at Robbie's Marina. For those who don't know, Robbie's is best known as the place in Islamorada you can buy a bucket of fish and hand-feed huge(like more than 100 pound) tarpon.

John, Mary, Jay and Bill
John Simons and his right hand man Jay run kayak rentals and eco-tours from the Kayak Shack at Robbie's Marina. It is a perfect launch spot for historic Indian Key (more on this tomorrow), Lignumvitae Key State Park, or mangroves tunnels behind Robbie's. We arrived at their doorstep in our kayaks about 2:30. Our paddling buddy was Christine Clarke, logging an impressive second consecutive day for a 21 mile total. (Cynthia couldn’t come -- she had to do some real work! Hhhrrrumph!)

Before you could say "Superman," Mary and I had ducked into a portable toilet, swapped wet shorts and shirts for our dry set, and spent the next two hours talking with Kayak Shack customers. John set our books up on a paddleboard supported by two lobster traps. Micah played a set of his acoustic “Islandgrass”. Sarah and Greg were there. Folks pulled up chairs, sipped a beer and relaxed in a warm afternoon sun. Girls in bikinis flitted by, throwing out a request for Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" (Micah played it, grudgingly). Out on the dock, fishermen filleted the catch-of-the-day, their work station surrounded by an eager audience of pelicans and egrets hoping for some of the by-catch.

Earlier I'd mentioned friends both old and new. Rob and Lori are in the latter category. They sniffed us out on the beach at Lorelei's restaurant (where we made a quick bathroom pit stop). We invited them to meet us at the day's end at Robbie's. These two winter refugees from Toronto not only bought a book, but signed up for our author's paddle to Indian Key. We, in turn, invited them out to The Sea Shanty at Smuggler's Cove to see Micah and The Barstool Sailors (featuring Nick, and Greg, Micah's brother, on the djembe). And that, my friends, is how the night ended: doing a my best West Virginia two-step to "Tan Girl" with Mary, Sarah and Kelly.

People ask what the hardest part of the trip has been so far. I can honestly say, "Getting enough sleep." This is way too much fun!

Feb. 1: Day 2 on the Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail.

Hey folks! Sorry we haven't had Internet for two days! (We know Cuzin Dahr likes to have something to read with his morning coffee!)

Today we paddled 10 miles from the bayside of Tavernier, through Snake Creek to the Oceanside of Islamorada, with good friends and gorgeous weather.

We left the Elks campground in Tavernier with a send-off from our hosts, Dave and Lynda, joined by two other paddling buddies, Cynthia and Christine. From Community Harbor, we paddled south, around the entrance to Tavernier Creek and proceeded past the Cowpens and through “Toilet Seat Pass.”

Now for those not familiar with this Keys phenomenon, Toilet Seat Pass is an unofficial boat channel, marked by, you guessed it, toilet seats. This one, the original, has more than 100, posted on PVC pipe, by individuals, groups, Boy Scout Troops, family reunions, veterans, you name it. This particular one happens to be courtesy of WWOW (Wild Women on the Water), of which both Christine and Cynthia are proud members. They’re mostly powerboaters, but these two are trying to get them to convert to human-powered paddling!

At the top of Snake Creek, we encountered some baby nurse sharks, and a lone paddler, in a rental from our friends at Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters in Islamorada. We told him to say hello to JC and Kristie for us.

It looks festive, but this bunch of balloons we found floating on the ocean can be lethal to sea life. Burst balloons floating in the water look a lot like jellyfish, a staple of food for sea turtles. Same goes for plastic grocery bags, which we try to pick up as well.

Our destination for the night was Coconut Cove Resort, a great mom-and-pop oasis with a ‘nature preserve’ and tenting area. Rick and Magda welcomed us with open arms, informed us of a party, bonfire and live music going on that night and we were invited. First, we had a little work to do (laptops travel in a super drybag), then we headed to Bill Kelly’s live radio show at Whale Harbor less than a mile away. There, our friends joined us: Greg & Sarah, Cynthia & Dave (hiz honor, mayor of Islamorada!), Dave & Lynda.

It doesn’t get much better than this: Paddling Keys style!

"Life is pretty good when you travel with friends" (Micah Gardner, Keys troubador)

Day 1: Jan. 31, setting off from FBO in Key Largo (photo by Monica!)
Back a few years, Mary and I paddled the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail, a ten-day trip marked by horrendous weather and animal greeters.

What's an "animal greeter?" you ask. It could be a dolphin, an otter, ducks at Steinhatchee Landing -- any kind of animal that we'd spy in the wild, close up, that became our good luck totem for the day's paddle. We came to count on them, and animal greeters are now a personal superstition, something I look for on every trip. It's like they're saying, "I've got your back." Or, "You're with us now, on the water. Let's go."

I'm changing my tune on this two-week trip down the Florida Keys. This time, it's the great people who anchor the start and end of our days, that are giving us the "good vibrations."

At the launch, Frank and Monica Woll, owners of Florida Bay Outfitters, MM 104 B/S in Key Largo. Monica works for the state parks service on the
Florida Keys Overseas Heritage and Paddle trails. An old friend, Mike Metzger, helped carry boats to the water. Tom, who works in the shop, lent me a dry bag, last minute. Lionel mixed us handsqueezed Margaritas during a late afternoon rest stop at the tiki bar at Key Largo Grande resort. And at the tail end, Dave and Lynda Williams met us and fed us at the Elks campground in Tavernier. I wolfed down three helpings of salad and a healthy portion of stick-to-your-ribs goulash.

Dave gave us a ride to nearby Snapper's for the Turtle Club live radio show with DJ Dave. Turns out Howard, the owner of Snapper's and the oceanside Dove Creek Lodge (a fabulous paddle-friendly lodging) is a paddler and we hope he enjoys the book. Hope to see you on the water, Howard!

The day's highlights was Dusenbury Creek and a series of canopied mangrove creeks nicknamed "The Grottos." Paddling them reminded us of our friend
Josh Gregory, who showed us these gems some four years ago. He's in Kansas now, or Kentucky -- wherever. Josh, if you're reading this, call us or
post on the site. We miss you.

I'm noticing a rather dispiriting aspect to aquatic life in the Upper Keys: the seagrass is coated with algae, which is also covering and
choking the once-plentiful sponges on roots of the mangrove trees. I can only attribute this to an overall degradation of water quality. Honestly,
it's hard to be effusive about the "beautiful nature of the keys" when the grass beds are brown and the sponges are dying. It's a bellwether for fish and birds, too, which seem to be scarce.

Coming out of Dusenbury, we got our first taste of the stiff southeast wind that would buffet us across Tarpon Basin and Buttonwood Sound. I was
keen on reaching the Swash Keys -- the water here is that mythical tropical green so often associated with "Caribbean." I kept to the leeside
of the islands as long as I could, but Mary opted for the direct route, slipping outside where she waited in the shelter of a small mangrove
island. Although about a mile apart, we kept in touch via radio. Eventually, the call had to be made. We slogged into a direct wind to
reach the shoreline of Key Largo, where we enjoyed a quiet lee for the rest of the trip to the Elks campground in Tavernier.

Choppy water in Buttonwood Sound
Thursday's weather: Partly cloudy, winds southeast 15-20 knots. In Buttonwood, waves were about a foot. An occasional set washed over our boats. You couldn't tell from standing on land, but the wind was strong out on the open water.

Pulling up to Key Largo Grande for a respite at the tiki bar
Looking Ahead

Today's paddle (Friday, Feb. 1) is about eight miles, from the Elks campground in Tavernier to Coconut Cove Resort on Windley Key, Islamorada.
Our route is through the Cowpens and Toilet Seat Pass, down the bayside of Plantation Key, and into Snake Creek to the oceanside. We'll stop off at Island Grill to say Hi to Jack (and Aunt SSSandy if she's working) and then paddle the last mile or so to Coconut Cove Resort, where we'll camp.


There's a chance to paddle with us on Saturday through Islamorada. We're going to the Kayak Shack on Lower Matecumbe at Robbie's Marina, MM 77 B/S,
where we'll sign books from 3-5 p.m. Micah is playing his "islandgrass." If you like what you hear, follow us up to Smuggler's Cove via car to
catch Micah and Nick, aka the Barstool Sailors, rock out with special guest Greg Hagberry.

If you're into a short day trip, we'll be paddling to Indian Key on Super Bowl Sunday. Launch is 10 a.m. from the Kayak Shack at Robbie's Marina. Rentals are available. It's an easy trip, doable on sit-on-top kayaks. Our friend Dave Williams will regale us with stories of Indian Key's storied history.

Jan. 27 Paddle with the Authors
Garden Cove, Key Largo, FL

We’ve picked the last bit of mangrove twigs out of our teeth and combed spiny orb weaver webs out of our hair. Now I've got time to reflect on a GREAT paddle!

Thank you Cynthia, Dave W., Christine and Rick, and the super staff at Florida Bay Outfitters for having our backs. Couldn't have done it without you!

Mary, myself and four guide friends christened some 20 new "mangrove gunkers" with a light hazing through the Figure 8's, a twisty mangrove creek that proved a warm up for later in the trip. In Taylor Creek mangroves, I cast my lot for a route less traveled. We pushed through low-hanging branches and angled our long boats around right-angle turns. And now that you're all many miles away, I can admit that I'm sooo relieved the creek went through! Having to turn 12 boats back, including a massive Amaruk tandem, would not have been a happy moment (great job, btw, Cindy and Randall, for navigating that creek in the Amaruk). And no, I didn't take the few dirty looks shot my way too personally :`)