The Florida Keys Challenge at a Glance:
Dates: January 15-22, 2014
Capacity: 100 paddlers
Distance: 70 miles
Registration fee: $800/person, includes meals and shuttle from Key West to trip start
Registration deadline: January 2
Official Outfitter: Florida Bay Outfitters
More information: www.paddleflorida.org
Start the new year with Paddle Florida’s fourth annual Florida Keys Challenge. From January 15-22, paddlers will take a 70-mile saltwater adventure from Long Key to Key West. The trip explores the Florida Keys, with its shimmering turquoise waters revealing the richly diverse sea life below. Paddlers have the opportunity for close encounters with starfish, corals, sea turtles and an abundant array of reef fish.
The Florida Keys Challenge features nightly camping at state parks and private campgrounds overlooking sparkling ocean waters, musical entertainment, educational speakers, campfires and camaraderie. Nightly entertainment is a big attraction on these trips. Back by popular demand, Rod MacDonald will perform at Knights Key on January 17. Regarded as a prolific songwriter and a gifted folk singer whose music strays into rock, pop, country, light jazz and blues, Rod showcases his obvious passion and personal commitment to communicating political and social events that effect and shape society. Local historian and paddling guide Monica Woll will deliver the colorful history of the Keys and Henry Flagler’s overseas railroad, once nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Paddlers will get a view of the railroad few tourists see as they paddle under beside it. And, Paddle Florida’s friend Don McCumber, who served as the lead kayaker for Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Key West, will share his incredible experience with Nyad’s Xtreme Dream.
The 2014 Florida Keys Challenge offers adventures and memories for paddlers of all ages and skill levels though previous open water experience is recommended as well as kayaks with a rudder or skeg and a spray skirt. Florida Bay Outfitters, located at MM104 in Key Largo, will provide any needed boat or equipment rentals – single and tandem molded and composite sea kayaks and accessories, as well as delivery and pick-ups of boats.
Paddle Florida staff takes care of everything but the actual paddling. The trip fee is $800 per person which includes all meals, shuttle from Key West to the trip’s start, camping, a t-shirt, a boat decal, maps and water descriptions, evening entertainment, and vehicle support for all camping gear. Paddle Florida Lite offers four days or less: $120/day (includes meals) + $50 for end-of-trip shuttle for paddler and boat. Lead and sweep boats guide paddlers on each day’s journey and the Coast Guard Auxiliary will be on hand for an added measure of safety.
The Florida Keys Challenge has been one of Paddle Florida’s most popular trips, so early sign-up is advised. The registration deadline is January 2. For more trip details and registration, visit: http://www.paddleflorida.org/keys13/keys.htm.
Remaining Paddle Florida trips this season include:
February 16-21, 2014: The Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee
Beginning at Lake Panasofkee, paddlers will thread their way through one lock, hardwood swamps, and clear spring-fed streams on a 60-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The trip fee is $275 per adult, $250 for seniors or college students, $225 for youth 8 to 17, and children 7 and under are free. The meal package is $150 and the shuttle is $25 per boat and $25 per person. Local outfitters, Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak and Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company, can be contacted for boat rentals and needed gear. Registration deadline: February 3.
March 15-21, Dam to the Bay on the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River, explores part of Florida’s most remote statewide river trail system. In a region known for wild Tupelo honey and fresh Gulf oysters, this six-day paddling adventure winds through state and national forest lands on 76 miles of north Florida’s Ochlockonee River and concludes at Bald Point State Park in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip fee is $300 per adult, $275 for seniors or college students, $250 for youth 8 to 17, and children 7 and under are free. The meal package is $175 and the shuttle is $25 per boat and $25 per person. The local outfitter, The Wilderness Way, can be contacted for boat rentals and needed gear. Registration deadline: March 1.
April 4-6, 2014: Suwannee River Paddling Festival
Paddle Florida’s second annual Suwannee River Paddling Festival will take place at Suwannee River State Park, which sits at the confluence of two beautiful north Florida rivers—the Suwannee and northern Withlacoochee. Paddling options will be available on both rivers throughout the weekend with boat and paddler shuttles provided. The festival will feature Paddle Florida’s favorite musicians with concert proceeds benefitting regional waterway and springs protection efforts. The festival registration fee is $125 per person and $200 per couple and it includes camping, meals and shuttles to paddling sites. Registration deadline: March 21.