Despite our conceptions of Great North Woods canoeing as the archetype of paddling -a pristine wilderness setting on a clear running waterway far from the maddening crowd, urban paddling can be real delight, surprisingly enjoyable, and enjoyably -or not so enjoyably! - Surprising as well
Let me tell you about one of our recent aquatic adventure in tropikill" Florida.
In Miami, on US 1 near LeJeune Road is a blue City of Coral Gables fire station, just a tad south of where LeJeune crosses South Dixie Highway in the middle of developed Coral Gables. The CG Firefighters have traditionally sold Christmas trees on a lot across the street there since maybe about 2 BC. Riviera Drive, a posh Gables address if there ever was one, crosses US1 just south of the fire station.
Metrorail runs parallel to US 1, alongside the highway, about 50-60 feet in from the roadway. Also paralleling US 1, Ponce at that point also runs along side South Dixie, about another 60-90 feet beyond the Metrorail guideway. Now the Coral Gables Waterway (yeah -it's just a fancy canal with the right address) runs parallel to Riviera, perpendicular to US 1; "upstream" it goes farther into the Gables, and downstream, travels seaward till it empties into the Bay.
Right behind the Fire Station there's an ex-boat ramp sloping down into the Waterway, right along side the Riviera Drive-Ponce intersection. You can no longer launch a boat there because they've stuck steel posts into the ramp -but there's plenty of room to slide a kayak between the posts and into the water. So Sally & I threw the fleet on top of the Jeep, drove the 2 miles down the highway, and launched into the Waterway.
Because I'd already (singly) been down the Cocoplum/Biscayne Bay side, I suggested we head north and deeper into the untamed wilds of (dum da dum dum!) (shhhhh just barely whisper it!) ***C - O - R - A - L G - A - B - L - E - S*** !!!! (dum da dum dum DUMMMM!!)
So off we go, paddling along, peering into peoples' back yards:
"Get a load of THAT!"; "Hey, check THAT place out!"; "That place is HUGE!"; "Jeez, with all the money these people just have to have, they sure have a junked up back yard!"; "GROWL!!! WOOFWOOFWOOFGROWL!!! (Translation from a dog the size of a VW: 'Get OUT of MY back YARD! BACK OFF, FOOLS, BEFORE I TAKE A CHUNK OUTTA THAT FUNNY BOAT, BUSTER!!!'); "Helloooo down there! Good Morning!" Hi! how are you doing this morning? Nice Day! By!" (Whispering between us as we stroke away: "Gawd ! That guy ought to put a shirt on -that's disGUSTing! When is he due???"); "Wow, that place looks like a palace!"
We stroke northward, taking in the generally beautiful back yards and the boat houses and lawns and the surprisingly infrequent boats tied up to backyard bulkheads, docks, and piers. About a half hour or so later of leisurely paddling we glide beneath Blue Road, under a pretty arching white cement bridge. We take a bend in the Waterway, follow the right fork, and continue past stately and stateless back yards, paddling north towards Bird Road. We paddle under Bird Road, and
Its a GOLF COURSE! Its the Biltmore Golf Course! How can I tell? There's a lot of white round things in the 35' deep water! "HEY, SALLY!" I inform my wife, paddling ahead of me," ONE A THEM'S MINE! " Actually, if I would have brought my ball retriever, I would've cleaned up AND sunk the kayak! No -not really, but there WERE quite a few, and I'm sure one of' em (at LEAST! One!) WAS mine (probably recycled a few dozen times since...!) The Waterway runs through the grounds, between holes 6 and 7 at this point, making golfers' approaches to the two holes' respective greens even more treacherous... Not to mention any hapless kayaker who isn't wearing a hard hat when a high handicapper hits! So we soak up the morning sun and paddle on.
When George Merrick "invented" Coral Gables, he made sure to put a fancy hotel (the world class Biltmore, with the (then in the 20s) world's largest indoor pool) in the middle of the place, and he made sure to put a fancy "natural" coral rock pool in the middle of things (Venetian Pool), and he decided to romantically connect things not only with mundane (and, dare I say it -rather "pedestrian" roads), but with canals, Uh, sorry, I mean "Waterways", and not just any old waterways! These were patrolled by gondolas. So, if you wanted to cruise the canal a waterway, and the waterway sliced across (or hooked around, we show no favoritism here!) its way through a golf course, and golfers had to cross the waterway, why, you built old fashioned, elegant, high arched steel bridges over which the golfers could walk (climb; and heaven help the poor cadies!) and under which the gondoliers could ply their trade and pole the gondolas - and passengers -standing.
And low and behold, we proceed between parallel holes 6 and 7 still bisected by that very same waterway upon which we, some 75 years later now paddle, The waterway opens up into a sort of pond, in the midst of which there is a lovely single spout fountain throwing a geyser of cool (its 95 in the shade and there AIN'T no shade at this point) white sparkly water some 35-40 feet into the clear blue sky, splashing down into the typical brown/dark green of murky (3-4' visibility) canal water. A beautiful contrast, that roaring jet of water against the background of brown water, green fairways, and clear blue sky. And, there, in front of our kayak bows, about a hundred feet away, is one of old George's big old arched bridges. Beautiful... Just beautiful! So we keep going, on our way to paddle beneath the pretty iron struts of the old bridge, and see the rest of the WHOA!!!
Alluvasudden BAM!!! There's this roiling of water about 2-3 inches off my right hip. It's not brown or dark green, but it BOILS greenish white, and mounds up about 6 inches high, and, quite literally, rocks the boat, and scares the stuffing out of me! Well, lets just say I'm happy that the water was already brown. And in an instant later, I see bolting away, proceeding along where we wanted to go to the next bridge, parallel to the axis of my kayak, a wake... a wake about 2 feet wide, with crests and troughs about 3 feet apart, traveling FAST!!! Sally, who was ahead of me and somewhat sideways to me, but off to the side, actually saw a dark shape as it rocketed away from me and crossed her bow, heading for the bridge. So we shake for a second or two or three, and I kinda laconically suggest we conduct a dignified retreat. Sally agrees, but it's just taking forever to get moving! Me? If I were her, I'd a broke the worlds kayaking record, but no, not her... She taking these itty bitty baby strokes and is barely mov ...OH! Riiight!!! LISSEN UP!, you old fool: DON"T put the darn paddle too dern deep or you're going to try for your very own version of "man overboard" or "tippy canoe and the paddler, too!" scenario of your own!
So we reversed course, and actually were rather pleased with ourselves: we got one heckuva a cardio workout even trying, without any exercise, without even going anywhere even slightly near a gym!
I later called the pro at the Biltmore, and he said well sure, there's a gator in there. Uh, well sure? You say well sure?!? Sure,, there's a gator in your water hazard??!!? Is THAT why they call it a HAZARD? But, he says, its barely 3 feet long.
Sally asked me how long my kayak was, after we cleared the property and were well on our way, before thinking a moment and venturing SHE thought it was maybe 4-6 feet long and dark, whatever it was, as it streaked by her.
So anyway the pro says yeah its only 3 feet long. And later Sally says well, OK, so if its only 2 or 3 feet long...WHERE'S MOMMA?
Good point... Gulp!) All right uh, lets not go there, OK?
We met another kayaker on our way back (he was a "real" kayaker -he paddled a long, narrow, sleek sit-inside, and his paddle had its blades rotated 90 degrees away from each other: now that's a REAL kayaker...!) and he ventured that it might've been a gator, but could also have been a manatee or a BIG tarpon. (Oh please, yes, let it be a manatee) And the golf pro said that even though there WAS a 3-foot gator there, and it really wasn't manatee season (typically winter months, from November through April) they'd spotted a cow and a calf there about two weeks earlier. (YES! MANATEE!) But I wondered about just how fast these things go. I mean, they're always getting run down by boats and all, and for crying out loud -literally!! -boats aren't quiet, and the manatees ought to be able to hear a Miami Vice wannabe a mile away, right? and then keep an ear out and get out of the way, But noooooo, they just sit there (float there? swim there?) and get those 'run down/vegematic' feelings and scars and endangered status. O the other hand, the "REAL kayaker" said he knew they really can move pretty dang fast in spurts. Well, I guess that it was a manatee close to the surface, and came up on it pretty silently, and hit it with my paddle blade, and it spooked and took off
Now you know why I said the wilds of Coral Gables... So we had our little kayak adventure. And lived to tell about it. And I'm glad I made that long story short.
Funny, isn't it. We paddle in the Bay -and barracuda? morays? sharks? Idiot boaters & jet ski cowboys? Nope, naw, nada. But we stroke the very proper Coral Gables Waterway, along the shores of the staid Biltmore Hotel and Golf Course, and Yikes!
Ah yes, urban paddling in Miami Home of surf, sun, palms, and things that go bump in the DAY!