Submitted May 20, 2009

A decision I'll never regret

My name is Gene Couch. I'm from Central Florida. This is a true story and can be confirmed by contacting the Kissimmee Park Services and/or the Osceola Sheriff's Dept. My wife and I love to go kayak fishing and have kayaked several rivers in Florida, including the Alafia and the Hillsboro rivers and many lakes, fishing (with gators, which is another story).

One day, in May ('06), we decided we'd go over to Kissimmee, FL (next to Orlando) and kayak the Lake Kissimmee area, as there's 3 lakes that are connected by canals, to make a triangle. Our plan was to kayak around the 3 lakes, through the canals, in one day, so we knew to bring enough water and granola bars (and of course, sunscreen and bug spray and a cell phone) for a day trip. We got there around noon and saw that the journey started at a boat ramp and then the first canal to the first lake.

The "adventure" started right away, as the canal was overgrown with Hydrilla, but being the "troopers" we were, we decided to push on. So, we're literally pushing ourselves through this foliage with our paddles, only occasionally finding bare spots to paddle through water. Snakes and turtles and gators were brushing up against our kayaks as we startled them as we pushed through the "jungle". Three hours later, we made it through the canal and into the first lake - Lake Rosalie. We found ourselves in some tall reeds coming up out of the water, so we fished the area a bit, but they weren't biting as it was in the middle of the afternoon, so we decided to push on. The lake was huge, probably 6 square miles, but we stayed close to the shore, as we were looking for the canal, connecting us to the second lake - Tiger Lake. We found the canal and these are small canals, probably 20 feet wide and the current was flowing against us! Now, we'd saw some air boats zipping up and down the lake, but paid them no mind. However, when confronted with those monstrosities in that small canal was terrifying (of course, how else did they get from lake to lake.) We had to pull over to let them pass and they barged through the canal like no one else was there. Needless to say, those V-8 car motors with aircraft propellers made quite a noise and wind!

Half way through the canal, we decided to pull over and take break. Our idea of a break is to fall right into the water and cool off. Oh, it was heavenly! The water was clear and cool and running at a slow current - wonderful! We 'banked' (put the kayaks most way up on land so the current don't take it away) the kayaks and enjoyed the water, fully clothed (we learned the best way to cool off is to get wet clothed and the evaporate effect goes a long way to stay cool - for hours.)

Now, while I was enjoying the "break" in the canal, I saw something in the water to my amazement- clams! Sure enough, fresh water clams everywhere! So me and my wife started collecting these clams. This was great! As a matter of fact, upon looking around, on both sides of the canal was flat land with fern for ground cover and standing trees for shade. This was perfect! Note to self, we need to come back here and camp out sometime! But for now, we need to push on, as the park closes at dark and we need to get back, so we put all the clams (we had about 10lbs) in the mesh bags we carry all the time for just about everything (guys, put your beer in there and trail it in the water behind your kayak and they stay COOL!) and trailed them (tie them to the kayak, with about 12 feet of paracord so they stay in the water and live) and pushed on. We finally made it to the second lake - Tiger Lake, at about 6pm. Now we know why they call it Tiger Lake, 'cause it is SO ROUGH! A barge would have a hard time! I'm not kiddin', the wind was blowing in our face at 20mph and wakes 3 ft high! We thought the Hydrilla was hard! But we had to press on to get back! So we kept paddling! We paddled and paddled and paddled and paddled! And we made it to the second canal - to the third and last lake - Lake Kissimmee. The sun was setting now, so it was time to take stock and make a decision. We thought it was time to call somebody So we took out the cell phone and called 911, but apparently the cell phone got wet and didn't work! That can't be! It's dead, who knows, it didn't work. So we paddled on to the next lake.

And it was HUGE! Bigger than the other two lakes put together! We could not see the other side. All I knew was to stay close to the shore and keep paddling. It was dark now. Night time. Stars are out dark. We can't see diddly squat (note to self, get a battery flashlight, maybe two of them, one for me and one for the kayak). The airboats are still zipping around the lake. I hope they see us before they run us over! I see a spot light way off in the distance. I tell my wife, we need to "go to the light!" So we paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle to this light ... and it's a pole with a light. But we hit land and find another canal, so we go into the canal, sure that this is OUR canal (but it isn't). So we paddle and paddle and nothing look is familiar. Finally, my wife vomits from fatigue and I make the decision to pull over right then and camp for the night. A decision I'll never regret. I take the kayaks and lean them against a fence for cover. Then we lay some blankets down to lay on, underneath the kayaks.

But, one thing everyone who goes to the South and gets near water needs to know ... MOSQUITOES WILL CARRY YOU AWAY! They are bad, really bad, really, really bad! So I built a fire....the wind was blowing off the water and under our kayaks. I built the fire (note to self, get better fire making stuff) by breaking dead branches off the trees and found moss hanging in the trees, so I pulled the moss off and put it in the fire and it smoked and kept the mosquitoes off my wife. The night was spent with my wife sleeping and me sleeping through bouts of smoke and mosquitoes ... I'd then get up and find some more moss and "blow the fire up" and more smoke ... sleep and then mosquitoes ... fire ... smoke ... sleep ... mosquitoes ... fire ... smoke ... sleep.

We got up the next morning to a barrage of airboats going out for the morning. I stoked up the fire and "found a beer can", filled it with water and started it to boil. I got the clams we collected and put them in the boiling water. we had a nice 'breakfast' of fresh boiled clams and they were delicious (my wife says, note to self ... collect 10 times more clams!) We put the kayaks to the water and paddled into a camp, which happened to be having a fishing tournament that weekend, banked our kayaks, and walked back to the park by road (1 1/2 miles). We walked to the front gate, the kind Park Rangers gave us a ride to our van (they'd noticed our van, last night, called the Sheriff, had a helicoptor looking for us all night) and we went home. We stopped at the first place and got a bucket of KFC chicken. This is a true story, so help me.

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