Cone Bridge to Canoe Outpost
River level: 51.5 feet at White Springs
|Day One, February 23rd--7 hours "paddling"
I put in at Cone Bridge boat ramp at 11:15 a.m. I seem to be blessed with good weather when I do these long trips, and it was beautiful for
the entire trip. I took advantage of another chance to "decompress" by floating more than paddling, and by snacking on cookies and
strawberries for about an hour while I drifted.
As a result of my laziness (which can be a good thing on the river), it took me over seven hours to get to Big Shoals--only about 11 miles down
river! It would normally take about 5 hours.
When I go on these long solo trips, I don't try to be a mountain man or some kind of hero, although there's a place for that in life. I'm there to enjoy
myself, simply and purely, and to experience beauty along the way. The Suwannee is the perfect place for me to do this. See?
To me, sandy beaches, tupelo trees, and the quiet scenery of a sunlit river are experiences that recharge me and allow me to be more
still. The world has too much hustle and bustle for me to worry about that stuff out here. I don't bring it with me; I leave it in the van--or, even
better--I release it into the air so I don't have to return to it later.
I arrived at Big Shoals near sunset. Here is a picture of the sign on river left that warns paddlers of the shoals coming up. You sort of have to be
looking for it, but the sound of rushing of water over the rocks ahead is a pretty good sign to be on the lookout. The takeout for the portage on
the left is easy at this level, and the 200-meter portage to the campsite isn't too difficult. Nice and flat, and covered with pine needles.
I camped at the Shoals for my first night. I was alone, and the previous night's campers (whom I had put on the river earlier in the week) had left
sufficient fire wood for me to make a fire, cook, stay warm--and steal an armload in the morning. (I left plenty for future campers.)
My rest was surprisingly rejuvenating. I tend to store stress in my back, which had been hurting on my first day. When I got up in the morning
(after sleeping on the ground), my back felt fresh and strong--no pain at all.
I credit sleeping with the soothing sound of the Shoals in the background for that bit of healing.
Day Two, February 24th--6.75 hours paddling
I intended to paddle 18 miles on my second day and camp at the Canoe Outpost's 9-mile trip put-in, which we call "Dusty Road." There's a
nice, long beach there, and even though I wouldn't camp there on a weekend (because it's a local swimming/fishing spot with road access to the
beach), I thought it would be secluded during the week.
I hit the water at 9:45 a.m. The put-in after the portage at Big Shoals was nasty at this water level, but I made it okay. The main things I had to
deal with were the slippery clay bank (which always seems to be wet) and the many exposed rocks at this low water level. The rocks made
navigating my canoe impossible without getting out to maneuver the boat. Fortunately, I had planned ahead and didn't wear my dress shoes.
The stretch of river from Big Shoals to Little Shoals is beautiful, like the rest of the Suwannee. Little Shoals is a stretch of about a half-dozen
shoaly areas within about a mile of river just above the White Springs boat ramp (our 22-mile trip put-in) at the U.S. 41 bridge. I got out
here with the intention of walking to the Dollar General store in town to get some warm socks. When I pulled in, my fellow outfitter Wendell was
putting in a group for a day trip. He gave me a ride to the store and I bought a few pairs of acrylic dress socks. (They were out of wool-blend
socks, and I didn't want to wear cotton on my feet since they would be getting wet. Cotton is the worst "warm" fabric to wear when it's wet.)
I walked the 1/2-mile back to the boat ramp, enjoying OLD Genesis tunes (with Peter Gabriel, not Phil Collins, singing) on my mp3 player. In
all, I was off the river for about 45 minutes.
My next adventure came when I encountered an adversary on the river. I don't have many enemies, and I chose this one deliberately.
I had been collecting trash on my trip, and I saw a large, yellow object on river right. It was made of plastic. Here's an account of my battle. (It's
worth the short read.)
Not long afterward, I took a picture of the last tupelo tree that I saw. These are the gnarly, knotty-looking trees whose presence gives the Upper
Suwannee much of its charm and character. Perhaps the tree wanted to communicate to me Nature's approval of my recent victory over man-
made ugliness. The tree seemed to shine at me.
Not long afterward, I passed Swift Creek on river right and then went under I-75 a few miles later. Forgive me for not sharing pics of the highway
bridge. Instead, enjoy the river shot below the Swift Creek pic.
About three miles below our 13-mile put-in, which we call "Pine Grove", is Woods Ferry River Camp. You can't miss it. If you wish, you can stop
here and sleep on one of the screened-in sleeping platforms, complete with electrical outlets and ceiling fans. You can also take a hot shower
and pee in one of their automatic, self-flushing toilets. There is a camp host here and barbecue pits. Alcohol isn't allowed, though.
I took a picture of it (see the link in the previous paragraph) and continued another mile to my chosen beach. It had taken me about 8 hours to
paddle 18 miles. And I obviously wasn't rushing. I even found time to compose a short parable about river canoeing.
It was my first time camping at Dusty Road. The place is beautiful, but I could hear I-75, four miles up river, quite clearly. Sound carries on the
river in sometimes interesting ways. There are places closer to the Interstate that would have been much quieter because of the way sounds
bounce off the river bank. But I enjoyed my stay there nevertheless.
Day 3, February 25th—about 4 hours paddling (and several more playing)
I just started drinking coffee in January. On my last day paddling, I perfected the art of making camp coffee. I just dumped the ground coffee
into my mouth, filled it with hot water, and swished it around in my mouth until I felt awake.
Just kidding. I put the ground coffee inside a filter and tied off the open part to make a structure that resembled a tea bag. I soaked this in hot
water until it looked dark enough. I've found that coffee can really make the morning more pleasant. Or it can screw it up, like I did the morning
before at Big Shoals, when I think I burned my coffee. (At any rate, it sucked.)
I was joined on my last day by my friend Giia (pronounced with a "g" like in "Gandalf," not like the "j" in "Jedi"). She was responsible for many
pics of me and much river scenery, as well as her own toes.
There are numerous large, sandy beaches to camp on between Dusty Road and Suwannee Springs (about a 7-mile stretch). This is the
largest concentration of beaches on the river that I know of, except maybe for the Fargo to Roline area (see that trip report).
Giia and I ate lunch across the river from our 6-mile put-in, "Crooked Branch." From there, it was about three hours to the Canoe Outpost.
This stretch includes Suwannee Springs, which is always a popular place for paddlers to stop, rest, and enjoy life.
Cone Bridge to Big Shoals: 7.25 hours
Big Shoals to White Springs ramp: 2 hours
White Springs to I-75: 3.5 hours
I-75 to Canoe Outpost: about 6 hours (I played a lot, so it was much longer)
ABOVE: Panoramic composite photo of Big Shoals at low water (approx. 51 feet at White Springs), February 2007.