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The trip began when we left Lexington, NC for Valdosta, GA to spend the night on Feb 17, 2007. The first mistake was assuming that the motel we were getting had a fold-away bed, so two of us would not have to share a bed. As it worked out, myself and fellow paddler, Wayne Charles had to share a bed and Myron Whitley, who made the reservations and drove the long distance had a bed to himself. Needless to say, Wayne and I both slept with one eye open, with him hugging the side of the bed and me hugging the wall. You really have to be sure of your manhood to do this.
The next morning after breakfast we were off on the road again for the trip to Suwanee Canoe Outpost at the Sprit of the Suwanee Music Park not far from Live Oak, FL. We had a nine o’clock appointment for them to do the shuttle for us back up above Valdosta, GA.
Our put in was Section A of the Paddlers Guide to Southern Georgia (PGSG) on Hwy 37 between Adel, GA and Ray City, GA. Now the copy of the PGSG is a second edition dated 1995. Little did we know that there would be a new bridge still under construction? Our shuttle driver from the Canoe Outpost, Graham and his friend, Rose were very helpful and after going next to the new bridge he found a route on a construction road. We were still uphill and about a hundred yards from the water and also entailed going down a dirt-rutted hill and around a silt fence. Thanks to Graham and Rose for helping us get our gear down to the water and canoes loaded, we were finally off on our week long journey.
This section was one of the prettiest sections on this upper part of the North Withlacoochee. It was small, had cypress trees, oaks, tupelo all draped in Spanish moss. The gauge, which is downriver below Ray City, GA on McMillan Rd near Bemiss, GA read about 5.50 ft with a cfs of 325. We had a definite channel and several trees to cross over or portage around.
After our “Each man for himself” lunch, and a few hours later, we lost the channel and the river went into a swamp. For the inexperienced paddler this would have brought panic however we just kept following the current weaving in and out of trees, backing up and around cypress knots. After about a couple of hours we made it out to the main channel again, but it was getting late and we needed to find a campsite. This was a desolate section and we did not see our first river cabin until after 5 miles. We saw deer and beaver on this section. Finally after 6.3 miles we found a suitable campsite on river right and it was getting dark fast. After tents were set up and firewood gathered the charcoal was started for supper, which consisted of marinated pork chops for me, steaks for Wayne and Mryon with broccoli and cheese over a boiled potato. That night the temperature dropped to freezing and when we woke up the water bucket had ice on it.
Feb 19 - After breakfast of sausage, potatoes, peppers and scrambled eggs, we were packed on off again. We paddled another 6 miles before lunch of tuna, beenie weenies, and salami sandwiches for a total of 12 miles (Note: all mileage will be total mileage from the start). We passed the GA Hwy 122 bridge at 12.1 miles and the Franklinton Bridge at 16.4 miles and finally made camp after a total of 17 miles. This was a nice campsite on river left. After going through the usual routine of pitching tents, gathering wood, supper was started once again, steaks, teriyaki vegetables, and boiled potatoes.
Let me digress and say that the first three suppers we grill some type of meat as we sill have ice to keep it cold in the coolers. Yes coolers, one advantage with a solo canoe. Sitting around the fire that night we heard what sounded like a stampede coming through the palmettos. What emerged was an armadillo who just looked at us and then after about a minute decided we were not food and promptly left doing about 45 mph back into the palmettos.
Feb 20 – After Myron cooked breakfast of sausage, cheese grits, and baked some cinnamon rolls we packed up and left camp. We passed Skipper Bridge after 19.9 miles, ate lunch after 22.4 miles, passed GA 41 Bride after 25.9 miles. This is where the trash started piling up in the river plus we had many trees to cross over, go under, portage around, or cut through.
After 28.8 miles we paddled under a railroad bridge and at mile 30.4 we paddled under Interstate Hwy 75. We passed our last bridge, GA 94 at 31 before making camp and camped at 31.5 miles. We pulled out to camp due to a downfall that would be difficult to go through and it was easier to pull out and camp and put the next day below the downfall. Supper that night was steak and potatoes.
Feb 21 – Wayne prepared breakfast consisting of pancakes and side meat. For all you who (I dare not say Yankees) are not familiar with side meat, it is like bacon, but salt-cured which requires no refrigeration. After leaving camp, a beaver slid down the bank and swam next to us as if he had not ever seen a paddler on this section until he realized he was outnumbered and finally submerged.
After 32.1 miles, the larger Little River joins the Withlacoochee and the whole river becomes a different setting going from about 35 to 40 feet wide to about 90 to 100 feet wide. We stopped for lunch after 40.7 miles, and went through some mild rapids or shoals, which were too small to be a problem. At 42.6 miles we crossed under the Hwy 84 Bridge and 43 miles we crossed under a concrete arch bridge no longer in use and a rare site. After 51.6 miles we found a suitable campsite on the right. This was our first night where we start taking turns cooking supper, and Myron whipped up some beef stroganoff and then baked a blueberry cake.
Feb 22 – I cooked my last breakfast this morning with scrambled eggs, grits, and side meat. We left camp and paddled under the Clyattsville Road Bridge at mile 57.6 and somewhere between there and lunch we crossed into Florida. The Withlacoochee crosses into Florida, then back into Georgia before finally going back into Florida.
We ate lunch at a boat ramp near an old abandoned wood railroad trestle, which only went about one-third the way across the river at mile 66.4. Below this bridge down river we encountered a large rapid or shoal, and I almost lost it going into a rock sideways.
We crossed under the Fl 145 Bridge 66.4 miles and then up in Georgia we crossed the Bellville Rd Bridge at 71.6 miles finally camping at 73.8 miles. This campsite was difficult, as most of the banks were 4-6 feet high and we settled on pulling up on one of the many limestone shelves and finding a suitable place after whacking down briars with our machetes. Supper that night was cooked by yours truly consisting of noodles with quesadilla sauce and chicken from a pouch. There was no room for a fire that night due to the tents, canoes and limited space.
Feb 23 – The next morning, while the coffee was brewing, I decided we needed a fire, so we built a small one on a slope. Myron cooked breakfast, which was supposed to be waffles with his cast aluminum waffle iron and country ham. The waffles stuck to the waffle iron but Wayne ate one in pieces and I opted for a pancake. After dishes and packing we were off again.
We passed the gauging station listed at Pinetta, FL but I did not get the mileage. The river gauge read 9 feet. We passed by Hardee Springs at 76.3 miles and the Florida Hwy 6 Bridge at 85.3 miles. After crossing under the bridge on river right is Madison Blue Springs Park. The spring was like a swimming pool and as we paddled up to the beach you could see fish about 2 feet long in the water. This is where we ate lunch at one of the picnic tables and restocked our water supply.
We passed Pot Springs at 86.5 miles and made our last nights camp on river right at 93.5 miles. This was not a perfect campsite (or four-star, as we call it) as there was a dirt road on a bluff above us and that evening after Wayne cooked his famous red beans, rice, and summer sausage we were visited by a family who came to fish. Later that night around the fire we had hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and also some Baileys Irish Cream in the cups.
DAY SEVEN – LAST DAY
Feb 24 – Wayne cooked the breakfast that morning of country ham, cheese grits and stewed fruit. We packed and headed for the Suwannee, but not before calling the Canoe Outpost to let them know we would be at the take out about 11 am.
We crossed a bridge at mile 95 and at mile 97.9 the Withlacoochee ends and runs into the Suwanee. We had a short paddle up the Suwanee River to the Suwanee River State Park boat landing and our shuttle was there waiting for us. Total distance was 98.2 miles.
Wayne as part of his usual river ritual of collecting fishing bobbers on these trips, collected a record of 314 bobbers with Myron’s help and a little help from me. Each day Wayne and Mryon said we needed to make time, but I suggested that there were two impediments to this: one was the downfall encountered in the upper section of the Withlacoochee, and the other was the various bobber nests collected against trash piles and trees in the river.
Many thanks to Steve Baxter and his staff at Suwanee Canoe Outpost for the shuttle and helping us load the gear off and back on the trailer. The trip back to Lexington, NC took about 11 hours and we were really tired. Next year who knows what river sirens will beckon us to come and paddle.
There was plenty of wildlife seen on the river and the upper section of the Withlacoochee, before it joins the Little River, is not a trip for novices due to the many downfalls and the swamp where the channel disappears. Also we could not have made this trip with too much lower water in the upper section however the lower section would probably had sandbars to camp on.