January 8th, 2014
By Nic Stoltzfus
December 5th-14th, 2013. What is significant about those dates? For many, those 9 days are just part of the string of days preceding Christmas; putting up the Christmas tree, lighting the second advent candle, and generally getting ready for the holidays. But, for me, during those nine days something extraordinary happened. I was part of something mythical, like sighting Halley’s comet: something rare that only happens once or twice in a lifetime.
After I returned from Japan, one thing that my Dad said he wanted to do with me was go on a paddling expedition on the Apalachicola River. Why the Apalachicola? I grew up in a small hamlet a few miles north of Blountstown about three miles from Ocheesee Landing and the river was my playground. Also, it would be an opportunity for us to spend some father-son time together.
Unbeknownst to us at the same time Justin Riney of Expedition Florida 500 was planning on paddling the Apalachicola River in mid-December as one of his final paddles in Florida.
In October Dad, Joey Dickinson (our great intern and editor extraordinaire), and I were filming the World Paddle for the Planet event in Walton County. There, we met Justin Riney and, over the course of the weekend, Dad mentioned he and I were planning to paddle the length of the river as a father-son adventure. Justin said that he was also planning to go and Dad, being the welcoming feller that he is, suggested the three of us do it as a joint venture. Justin agreed and this started the dialogue of our December project.
As we continued our conversations, Dad mentioned to Justin how cool it would be if Google would come down and document the river with their cameras. After a pause Justin said he would make a phone call. And thus entered Kristian Gustavson of Below the Surface. His company is subcontracted with Google to work from time to time on projects such as this one.
I counted the members of the team: Justin, Dad, Joey, myself, and two members from Below the Surface. 6. Okay. A good number for an expedition.
Thanksgiving came and went. December jingled forth. I started to get restless at nights with my mind ever repeating the same doubt: Could I do this? I had only gone on six kayak trips—and four of them were in the past month. I was still a little shaky on entry getting into the water. Each trip was less than two hours apiece—how was I going to do 109 miles over nine days? Two of those days were going to be looooong twenty-mile days paddling from sunup to sundown. My mind was playing tricks on me and I was being torn down by negative mental models. “You can’t do this.” “You are an amateur.” “You’re not in shape.” I would wake up in the mornings and my stomach would be flipped, and I would take three Tums and a glass of water before eating breakfast. Gulp.