Our first XF500 Conservation Paddle
took us to the Florida panhandle to traverse the 107-mile Apalachicola River. This waterway has deep cultural and historical significance here in the state, as it was once a major transportation route during the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars, and the American Civil War. At the time, the peninsula of Florida was nothing but undeveloped swamp, so the panhandle was it. The Apalachicola River cuts this panhandle in half, beginning at the Florida/Georgia border to the north and winding south all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This historic and wild waterway provided an excellent setting for our first paddle.
Our journey lasted a total of seven days and covered the entire river from start to finish. In preparation for the paddle, we actually learned we'd be the first stand up paddlers to traverse the entire length. Many kayakers have done the trek successfully in the past, but because the river is so remote with very few stops along the way, it's not common to see stand up paddlers making this trip - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we were the first to paddleboard any part of this river.
Day 1 and Day 2 of the trip were exhausting. Our team covered a total of 41 miles with solid headwinds in our face the entire way. We were expecting a downstream flow of anywhere from 2-4 mph, but unfortunately we never saw it and that meant we needed to cover some extra ground each day. The conditions were stacked against us and left little room for down time; in fact, if we'd stop paddling in many areas we'd begin drifting upstream. This made for an endurance test out there in the brutal Florida heat, and we struggled with a bit of dehydration these first few days. Along the way, we did manage to stop at a few historic sites, cool off in some spring-fed creeks, and catch fresh fish for dinner. We camped on a sandbar along the water's edge on Night 1, and we stayed at a small boat ramp in Estiffanugla on Night 2. Our friends from the Apalachicola Riverkeeper surprised us that night by showing up to camp with a hot meal and cold drinks; one of our team members, Monique Walker, was only joining us for those first few days, so we said goodbye to her before departing on Day 3. - Justin Riney