About Me

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Columbus, Ohio, United States
A project manager by day, but an outdoor enthusiast 24/7. Desired profession....KAYAKER! My boats include a red 14' Wilderness Systems Capehorn, an orange 11.5' Dagger Blackwater, and a lime green Dagger Approach 9'. One more boat and I think I qualify as a livery. My other toys include a Specialized Allez Sport road bike and a Jeep Wrangler to hold 'em all!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kayaking the Florida Keys

Many of you know that I'm crazy enough to try anything, but you may not know I'm also smart enough to know my limits.  Yes...I do have them!  Solo kayaking to a remote island off the Florida coast to primitive camp was considered, but after some research I decided to go with an outfitter.  Paddling on the local rivers that have a definite "path" is one thing, but traversing wide-open waters where every island looks the same from afar is totally different.  Ending up in Cuba would not be my ideal vacation.

So I discovered Burnham Guides, LLC, a husband and wife team - Bill and Mary, that lead trips in the Florida Keys.  They hail from the Eastern Shores of Virginia (and also lead trips there in the Summer), but spend the Winters leading trips in the warmer weather of the Florida Keys.  They originally are from Upstate NY and are just plain GOOD people.  What does that mean....you just got to meet them...and their dog Cocoa too!  So I signed up for a 3 day/2 night paddling/primitive camping tour of some remote islands off the Lower Keys.  Loaded my boat and headed South!

WHAT an incredible experience!  If you think you've seen the most beautiful sunset, try viewing it standing in blue-green Caribbean-like waters off a white sandy beach with not a sole around (except for 5 other kayaking pals who are in awe as well).  No city lights, no traffic noise, no distractions.  Might I add that a delicious dinner of grouper and hogfish with mango salsa topped with cilantro was served just after sunset by kayaker Dave, founder of SouthEast Expeditions in Eastern Virginia.  The other two tourists, Andrea and Hamilton (Mother/Daughter paddling team) brought wine for the occasion.  Mary and Bill had real smores for us.  YES...all this in a kayak.  I ate better on this trip than I do at home!  And after dinner as darkness fell upon us....just on queue, the stars emerged uninhibited.  The brightest and most stars I've ever seen. To top our evening off, a shooting star spit across the midnight sky.  I made a wish....think we all did.

Now that I have your attention, I'll share more of the trip details below. And more pictures.

Put in/take out:  Sugarloaf Marina
Paddled Great White Heron Wildlife National Refuge 
Overnight 1:  Snipe Key
Overnight 2:  Marvin Key
~6 mile one-way paddle out
Sunny most of trip
High 70's during day/high 60's at night

Day 1:  Paddled 3-4 miles out I think with the wind pushing us along.  Dave tried out a kayak kite...boys...always fiddling with some new toy.  Unfortunately it didn't work so well this time for him.  He caught up with us via the old fashioned way...paddling.  We paddled up Snipe Key a bit and then pulled over for lunch.  Mary had a delicious curry chicken with sunflower seeds and organic New England cranberries served in lettuce wraps or tortillas.  Hit the spot!  The sand shark must have also liked our lunch as he stopped by to say hello as we all were standing in about 2-3 feet of water having lunch.  I thought it was way cool, but since our guide Bill jumped a bit and said he's used to being in his boat seeing these guys, I seconded that comment.  So off we went paddling another couple hours before landing on the Westernmost Snipe island.  The tide was going out and so the water levels near the island beach was a little shallow.  We beached our boats, scoped out our tent sites, and set up camp.  Unfortunately, the sand fleas ruled this island particularly where I pitched my tent.  They affected me so bad that I ended up at Urgent Care the day off the water to relieve the itch and clear up the skin irritations.  All-in-all, though, I didn't let that ruin my trip! 

Day 2: After a night of listening to the peaceful lapping of water within a few feet of my tent and falling asleep looking up at the stars, I was unexpectedly up by 6:30 am.  I usually sleep in longer when I'm working!  But I was just in time to watch the sunrise.  Another unbelievable moment in life watching the sun mirrored off the water.  By now Mary and Bill were up and I had complimentary hot green tea in hand as I explored the many critters left behind in the sand when the tide moved out.  I'm fascinated by the tide waters and how "predictable" they are.  Up North on my rivers, all I need to worry about is the flow (cubic feet per second) and not the wind direction, water temp, wave height, high tide, low tide, etc.  Although I will always love my river paddling, everyone...even non-paddler types should experience this once in their lifetime. 

Whelk shell? with live critter

Hermit Crab hiding in shell

Red Coral left by the tide

Reddish Egret fishing

After a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs with chorizo sausage, red onions, green peppers we relaxed on our little Snipe Key island swimming, snorkeling, and soaking up the rays while the tide came back so we could set off on another days adventures.  While snorkeling I saw a 15-18 inch bonefish and lots of 4-6 inch white fish with yellow tinted backs.  I also saw 2 horseshoe crabs left by the tide, but I didn't get a photo of either one.  I didn't want to leave this island, but by Noon we packed our boats and headed out with the high tide.

We headed toward Marvin Key.  On the way there we saw a rookery of Great White Herons nesting.  There was at least 4 adult herons and as we approached the island 2 of the herons, squatted down in the grass barely noticeable as if they were protecting their nest.  Also a little further back on this island, 2 Osprey perched proudly high in a tree.  The Belted Kingfisher seemed to enjoy this island as well, although we'd been seeing these talkative guys the whole trip.  After leaving this island and paddling across the clear blue-green waters, we saw a 4-5 foot fish...possibly a barracuda.  Then when we split up in threes and circled Marvin Key island to find a good lunch spot we saw a ray scoot barely under the water.  On the one small beach there was a 4 foot turtle shell which was pretty amazing to see.  Bill took a GPS coordinate so as to let the marine biologist know about the carcass.  How sweet it would be to be a marine biologist or professional diver working in the Keys.  Ah....perhaps a 2nd career one day. 


Turtle carcass

After scoping out Marvin Key, we decided to beach our boats have another delicious lunch of salmon lettuce roll ups and set up camp.  This time I pitched my tent close to the open area hoping the slight breeze would scatter any sand fleas.  There was hardly any seaweed grasses washed in with the tide and so that helped keep the sand fleas away.  Thank goodness!  We beached our boats on one side of the island where an old hard coral reef attracted terns, pelicans, and other birds.  There was a little path leading to the other side where as the tide went out it created a gorgeous white sandy beach for us to explore and relax on.  We had yet another amazing dinner.  For starters, Mary made us an appetizer of creamy tofu topped off with sliced candied ginger drizzled with soy sauce.  It was so delicious.   Summer sausage, crackers, and cheese was also served.  Sipping on our wine, we watched another amazing sunset. 

After the sun went down, we sat around while chef Mary and Bill prepared the main course, a tofu stir fry that was chocked full of scrumptious vegetables and rice.  I couldn't get enough.  We joked that they should have their own cooking show on the Food Network...geared toward camping meals.  After dinner, I was helping to wash up the dishes and as I stood ankle deep in the clear waters, a blue crab came up gently nipping on my achilles tendon.  Apparently I was in his way.  So cute.  With the dishes washed up, we all sat around reminiscing about the day when Dave and Bill jumped out of their camp chairs (and slightly screamed like little girls I might add).  We had a visitor.  A creepy little rat hanging around.  At one point he was on my kayak.  I didn't care for him at first but after a little more wine, I became more brave and he was kinda cute.  We all sat a little closer now fending our campsite from a barely 16 ounce rodent.  The tide came in again about midnight and flushed the rat to higher ground and spread out our kayaks as the water retreated by the break of dawn.  We tie the sea kayaks together and then to a tree so they don't go too far. 

Day 3:  Up early again as the sand flea bites kept me awake itching all night.  I thought perhaps I brought them in my sleeping bag from the previous island.  My mind quickly shifted to yet another beautiful sunrise and exploration of the marine life left behind by the tide.  I walked the "Living Room" beach as we tagged it.  Saw a live starfish, a whelk moving slowly through the shallow water inlet left by the tide, more red coral, and another Reddish Egret searching for food.  After a leisurely morning on Marvin Key and one last swim in the blue-green waters, we headed out for a strong paddle back.  After about 3 miles of paddling the open water, we stopped on a small island for lunch of sardines and cheese on crackers, apricots, oranges and apples.  The final mile or so push lead us back to the mangroves where we started.  We explored the red mangroves weaving our way through narrow channels trying to stay upright as the limbs reached out to grab us....holding us back as if to say don't leave.  We popped out into the bay by the marina where a little Jack Russell Terrier Chihuahua mix sat at the bow of his master's boat earnestly barking and exclaiming his readiness to go boating that day.  My Jacks would have done the same.  I don't think another trip could be as amazing as this one was though.  Just perfect!  Amazing experience that I will truly cherish the rest of my life. 


....you can probably see why I did not want to return to the mainland!

Picture of me paddling...taken by Dave!
The Paddling Gang....awesome picture Dave!


....many thanks to Mary and Bill Burnham for an experience of a lifetime. 


  1. Wow, Wendy, thank you so much for joining Burnham Guides and for this awesome blog! Amazing photos! We feel like we have new a paddling friend and hope to see you again, either in the Keys or on Virginia's Eastern Shore this summer! check out www.southeastexpeditions.net for trips there

  2. We have room on several backcountry trips in February and early March. check www.BurnhamGuides.com for more info