Day 1: We set off on our epic 7 day Florida Keys Kayak adventure with great anticipation of what stories and experience lied ahead. Our first destination was Tavernier Key off of Islamorada and Key Largo. We hoped to pay our respects to “Christ of the deep” but because of the winds and currents we were unable.
Given that it was our first day, we didn’t make the best of time and arrived at Tavernier Key at sunset. The good was we got to see a beautiful sunset, the bad was we had to establish camp in the dark! We eventually found and setup camp and everything worked out great. The first day and night was full of clear waters, beautiful sunsets, making new friends with the group and hanging with the ship rats on the island that scurried around all night.
Day 2: According to the original float plan, our destination was Little Rabbit Key on the bayside, but as with most adventures and as is life, plans change. We first stopped at a dive spot called Hen and Chickens. Hen and Chickens reef got its name because of its physical layout. There is one main reef with several smaller reefs. The seas were about 2 to 3 feet and proved to be challenging when mooring and snorkeling. We saw sea turtles, barracuda, sergeant majors and the most fun and frightening – an 8 ft shark which breached less than 100 feet from our dive site! The group was excited but also tired from diving so we decided to paddle up to Lorelei’s on Islamorada for a much needed refreshment before we continued on to find campsite #2. The day’s paddle totaled about 17 miles with highlights of giant shark, sea turtles, a lost fishing pole, night paddling with millions of stars, a great watering hole and the reeling in of a black tip shark by the most unlikely of candidates in our group! Awesome day!
Day 3: Total miles paddled thus far is 29 with almost 80 more to go! We woke up before sunrise at 5am, made some breakfast and tried our luck of shoreline fishing near one of Islamorda’s southern most bridges. With no luck we decided to paddle off with a planned stop at Indian Key State Park on the Atlantic side. This island (Key is what they are called in the Florida Keys) was a unique treasure. We had no idea of the interesting history the Florida Keys beheld. Indian Key is only accessible by boat and once housed a small village complete with a blacksmith (who was also the dentist – ouch!), a post office, a wrecking/salvaging business and even a town center. This beautiful key was an unexpected experience we will never forget. http://www.floridastateparks.org/indiankey/
We ended day three at Long Key State Park which we paddle up directly in front of our campsite. We were tired but excited for day four! Highlights were catching a needle-nose fish, Indian Key, perfect winds, a beautiful sunrise, another great watering hole and a hot shower at Long Key State Park!
Day 4: This was a short day of only 11 miles so we took our time in order to prepare for the 20 mile paddle for day 5 and the 7 mile bridge. Highlights of day 4 were many fish sightings, starfish, hundreds of moon jellyfish and a chance to rest!
Day 5: Our toughest day! We got up and most of ate double portions of breakfast. We knew what lied ahead of us – 20 miles and the 7 Mile Bridge with strong currents, wind and open water with no escape! After 12 miles we reached this epic stretch of water and we became concerned. It seemed as though no matter how hard we paddled, it felt as though we went backwards! Luckily our Guide let us know to watch the buoys that SLOWLY went by. We eventually made it to Molasses Key and halfway. This is the key that you see off the “port” side if you were driving south on the 7 mile bridge. Generally you wouldn’t say port in a car but as the group learned “Port” meant “left” and the easiest way to remember was to recognize there are 4 letters in each word. We ended the day paddling up to the beach at Bahia Honda State Park, where we camped for the night and ate probably the best microwave cheeseburger we ever had. Highlights were the feeling of accomplishment for the hard paddle, the girls that just happened to be on the beach at the end of our paddle, the cheeseburger, a beautiful beach called Sombrero Beach in Marathon Key (Best in the keys) and the relentless raccoons that stole our dry bags and dragged them deep in the woods. Luckily we were smart enough to not keep food in them.
Day 6: By now most of us were shocked that our butts didn’t hurt more and we were getting so accustomed to our kayaks that we often referred to them as “home”. Here was day 6 and only two paddle days left to Key West. Some of us had mixed feelings – sad it was almost over but also excited and anxious to get there. Sometimes life or an adventure is not about the destination but about the journey. Our experience so far has been epic, filled with many emotions and beautiful sights. It always felt great to tell people what we were doing when they asked. We got the same shocked reaction but once in a while we would get no reaction as if we said we were driving to the grocery store to get some ketchup. This was funny to know that some people are so chill in the keys that nothing surprised them. The day’s destination was Monkey Island (Lois Key). It was called Monkey Island because of a legend or folk lore involving “monkey fishing”. Obviously a terrible thing and probably not true but an interesting story. The marine life was awesome this day and provided for some of the best highlights of the trip. We sighted 3 Manta Ray – one jumping within yards of our kayaks, many shark and even a Queen Conch shell with the live Conch. Queen Conch are rare to find nowadays because of over harvesting through the years. Locals are sometimes referred to as Conchs as well.
Last Day: 23 miles! Our longest day but with the finish line in mind we paddled faster somehow. We left camp without breakfast and before sunrise. This was to get across the channel while the waters were still calm and to avoid stronger winds in the morning. It was a beautiful sunrise to watch as we made way at 6 mph! Currents and winds favored us. We finished at 2:30 in Key West with tired, rugged, sunburnt, scruffy, dirty and smiling faces with a new vigor for life and readiness to party Key West style! After an awesome dinner we hit Duval Street to take part in Key West’s favorite activity, the “Duval Crawl”. We got our picture at the Southern Most Point and celebrated because we deserved it and because we adventured out and did something very few have ever done!