After returning from our sixth RV show of the year at the end of February, I told Linda I needed a nature break. She said "Why don't you just go up to Okefenokee and do some camping in the swamp?" Well allrighty then. :)
Ever since we visited Stephen C. Foster State Park on the western side of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia back in April 2006, I had been wanting to go back and do an overnight paddling trip staying at shelters in the pristine wilderness. That 2006 visit was our introduction to the swamp and little did we know then that we had stumbled on what we think is the prettiest, most interesting, least visited part of the Okefenokee. In years since, we visited the main entrance on the eastern side and while it is also very cool, our expectations had been higher from our first Okefenokee visit.
I started researching the logistics and looking over the refuge map showing the seven canoe trails and the ten overnight shelters. I was thinking of doing three nights and trying to figure out the best options, but a couple of the shelters were closed and I couldn't figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
So, I started researching other wilderness camping options a short drive from Jacksonville. Ultimately, I came back to the Okefenokee, but you have to call to make reservations between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Monday - Friday. You can reserve up to two months in advance, but you know I rarely plan that far ahead for these little adventures. Permits are required for overnight camping and you can't just walk-in and request them. Unfortunately, I kept missing the time frame to call and now it was the weekend.
In the meantime, Linda was getting immersed in projects at Karen & Jay's house, and we went to dinner at a couple of local establishments.
We joined Karen & Jay at the 4 Rivers Smokehouse, a Florida-based, family-owned operation that started in 2009 and now has over a dozen locations. They started out as a "BBQ Ministry" in 2004 to raise funds for charitable causes with no intent to start a restaurant. Then one thing led to another as they often do.
We arrived for an early dinner on Saturday afternoon, and there was a pretty long line. It's a casual place where you order at the counter almost cafeteria style and seat yourself. Finding a table is the biggest challenge. Brisket is their specialty, but I went with the ribs, and I have to admit they do a pretty darn good job with smoking their meats.
The next day, we met Andy & Dominique at the Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant in nearby Mayport. Andy has been following us awhile, and sent an email inquiring about getting together. Safe Harbor is a local seafood place that is also quite casual. Again, there was a long line as we waited to put in our order. Just like 4 Rivers, finding a table was a challenge, but we squeezed in around a small round one on the deck by the harbor.
Andy & Dominque have a Grand Design Solitude fifth wheel and they camp just about every month. We had a wonderful time chatting and getting to know them. They are a few years from retirement and like many others, they have concerns about health insurance, but I have a feeling we'll be camping with them down the road sometime.
So, I was up early on Monday morning and had decided I was going to do my three-night trip starting today. I called the number to get my camping permit. The nice lady on the phone said "Where are you now?" I told her Jacksonville, and she said I couldn't get a permit for Monday night because they require you to be on the water no later than 10:00 a.m. to make sure you have enough time to get to the shelters. But she could give me permits for the two shelters closest to Stephen C. Foster State Park for Tuesday and Wednesday night. I'll take 'em knowing I was fairly lucky to get them.
Permits are $15 per night per person plus a reservation fee. I paid over the phone, and I got an email confirmation. I printed out my camping permits and my parking pass, and started loading my gear in a duffel bag. I figured I'd just camp in the state park campground Monday night and get an early start in the morning. I had checked the campsite availability, and I knew there were plenty of sites available.
I was taking the truck, and Linda said "You better make sure it starts" since I hadn't started it in a few weeks. I know better and Linda was right. Batteries were dead. I got out my jumper cables and we jumped the truck with the Jeep. It took a little while, but the truck started and I let it run while I finished packing. I later found that there were two compartment lights on in the hauler bed. That little setback got me out of sync and I forgot a couple of things that I would later miss - my Bug Hat and my mini binoculars.
Eventually, I headed out for the hour and a half drive. I made one quick stop at the grocery to pick up a 3-gallon container of drinking water and some snacks. In the "What to bring" section on my permit (and in a couple of other places) I read that filtering swamp water wasn't a good idea and to carry in all drinking water.
So, I'm off on a little nature break. Details and photos to come. :)