Category Archives: Florida Film Production

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part V: Baptism

January 12th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

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Houseboat on the river (Photo: Joey Dickinson)

Tuesday, December 10th: Day 6

I woke up sore and tired. Slowly we got ready and headed down the river. It was cloudy today with a chance of rain, and it was supposed to get cold tonight and colder the following night. As of yet, we had been pretty lucky weather-wise. For December, the temperature was mild and we didn’t get much rain. We had a mix of cloudy days and sunny days with a few days being so warm that I had to put on sunscreen and attained a slight tan.

Our first stop today was at Sand Mountain. The mound of dirt is at a sharp bend on the river and for many years the Army Corps of Engineers dredged sand out of the river to allow for barges to slip through the hard curve. We climbed to the top and took a few pics and filmed a few sound bites. Thunderclouds rolled in and it began to sprinkle. Nervous about being on a high place with an approaching storm, I shimmied down the sand and hopped on my kayak, headed towards Ft. Gadsden.

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Joey, Nic, and Elam on the top of Sand Mountain

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Storm Clouds and Sand Mountain (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

We paddled the day and stopped at Ft. Gadsden that evening. We arrived in the early afternoon and had time to let our gear dry out in the afternoon light and charged up some of our electronics on the solar panels.

That evening we sat around the campfire, relaxed after a lighter paddle, and told ghost stories. A few stayed up later to roast leftover donuts that Mom had dropped off (Joey declared that, “this is the best way to eat donuts! They are warm and crispy on the outside but still moist and fluffy on the inside”).

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Sunset over Fort Gadsden (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

That evening I bundled up tight in my sleeping bag and put wool socks on my feet and hands and a beanie on my head to keep from getting too cold. It dipped down into the low 40s that evening (yeah, I’m sure some of you folks from up North are chuckling at this Florida boy’s reaction to such “cold” weather). Glad I bundled up!

Wednesday, December 11th: Day 7

BRRRR! It was cooooold out! Shivering worse than a hairless cat outside on a windy day, I headed over to Dad’s tent to start making my coffee. That was the first thing I wanted—warm oatmeal and hot coffee. Dad, the seasoned expeditioner, had tried a lot of gear the previous year from his expedition traveling the peninsula of Florida from the Everglades to the Okefenookee Swamp. One of his favorite finds was the JetBoil. It is a canister with gas in it that you connect a line to that heats up your food really fast. It has all kinds of attachments—a metal cup to heat up liquids and a pan with lightweight grills attached underneath to quickly heat up food. Yep—here is my unpaid plug for a gadget that actually works. Check it out.

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Mad Hat Hair (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

After breakfast we had a little paddle of fewer than 10 miles where we stopped at a spacious sandbar early afternoon. With the day stretching ahead of us I hung out wet clothes to dry, aired out my tent, and cleaned up. I left a bar of soap on the back of my kayak (a trick Dad taught me—if you take a bar of soap, after you are done using it, it will stick to your kayak after it dries. Neat, huh?) and peeled it off to take a river bath. The water was crisp and the air cool. I stripped down to my skivvies and stood waist deep in the water. It was a clear winter day and as I slowly scrubbed clean I thought to myself: tomorrow was our last day on the water—I had paddled almost 100 miles in 7 days with a few last miles to churn out tomorrow. I was proud of myself. I had started off in the beginning afraid and nervous—could I do it? Did I have the gumption, the “grit in my crawl” to complete such a journey? I started off not knowing most the crew—and now I can call them friends. I learned more about the river I grew up on—in an intimate way. To do it all in one stretch, that is the definition of integrity. It is in one integer, one unit: whole. I continued to scrub my body and soul clean. Dead flakes of skin and negative thoughts floated down the river, washed pure, baptized in the muddy water. I sank down on my knees and rinsed off my face and head—purified. With a smile on my face I returned to the crew, back to the group. I can do this.

That evening we sat around the campfire and chatted. We swapped stories and shared thoughts about the trip. All of the guys agreed that this was a really special experience. We are each very different from each other, but we overcame our differences and worked together as a team to accomplish our mission. And just what is that? What was our mission over these nine days? I think everyone had something a bit different. Sure, the main goal for all of us was to paddle down the Apalachicola. But, each of us had a unique individual goal. For me it was to conquer my fears and follow a dream, even though it appeared big and insurmountable.

E. Pluribus Unum. Despite our differences, despite the age spread from 20 to 57, we all came together and worked as one unit, one team. And for this to happen, for such a time to take place where everyone works together with no one holding back—this is quite rare. And valuable. I think we all knew this and, as our last night together out on the river, we wanted to savor this moment.

The nine of us were gathered around the fire. I looked at the other eight faces and the firelight shining in their eyes and the flames forming shadows licking back and forth. The warm glow spread outward and inward, baptism by fire.

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Baptism by Fire (Photo: John Ruskey)

Thursday, December 12th: Day 8

We took our time this morning waking up. Two cups of coffee drunk slowly in small sips. We shared breakfast—bountiful leftovers courtesy of John’s crew.

Last day on the water—beautiful, clear, and only half a day away from a hot shower and a warm bed! That morning I talked with Justin, the two of us ambled along letting our conversation drift with the river. We talked about life, our future, and what was next for both of us. This was a pivotal moment for him as he was finishing one project, Expedition Florida 500, and was about to begin another, Riney Ranch. It was good to speak with someone who desires to impact this world through art and positive change.

After a break we began to paddle into the bay. Because the water was choppy and the current not as strong, paddling was difficult. I soon fell behind the others. Not wanting to be the last one to finish, I yelled at Dad to slow down. He waited until I caught up and we paddled the last bit into Battery Park. I did it! We did it!

We arrived, and I was cranky and exhausted. I faked a smile amongst the whoops of happiness…my butt was cold and wet from water splashing up in my kayak, and I wanted to change into dry clothes and pee. I thought to myself, “Aren’t you supposed to feel glorious and ecstatic when you finish an expedition?” After about a half hour Mom and my cousin, Ashley, arrived to pick us up. We loaded up the gear and headed back to Blountstown, home. Paddle, paddle. Fin.

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The guys loading up the Grasshopper at Battery Park (Photo: Esther Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part VI: The Aftermath

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part IV: The Hump

January 11th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

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Cypress stump on the Dead Lakes (Photo: Joey Dickinson)

Monday, December 9th: Day 5

I still felt like crap. The last two days were hard, slugging days of 20 miles apiece. By now I was tired, grumpy, and desperately wishing for hot food, a hot shower, and hot ladies. Preferably perfumed ladies. Low on morale and cologne, I smelled, the guys smelled, and I wanted to see clean faces for once. I talked to Dad that morning and he promised today was going to be a light paddle. Good—a light paddle. Expectation set. I can do this.

We met up with my mom at Gaskin Park in Wewahitchka—she came with bountiful goods—fresh chocolate milk from my aunt’s dairy (I call it “chocolate crack.” It’s just that good), homemade Christmas candy, and frosted doughnuts. A sugar lover’s wet dream.

I did finally get to use a bathroom here. I walked into the bathroom happy for a pleasant experience other than using the woods and…oh no…this was terrible. The bathroom was dirty and had remnants of Sunday night excess splattered over the toilet seat. I gagged in my mouth. But I wanted to use the toilet. So bad. So, I pulled out my wet wipes and cleaned off stranger’s vomit and took care of business. Ahh. Nice. I went to flush and…nope. After being spat on and shit in, the toilet was being uncooperative. It rebelled and refused to flush anything down. I slowly backed away, a criminal. “What have I done?” I screamed existentially. Embarrased, I left the toilet in shame and headed back to the group heavy in heart and light in bowels.

Mom was dressed in her work clothes ready to head to the E.R. after leaving us. I was happy to see her again and visiting with her boosted my spirits. I was ready to get out on the water and, restless, I grabbed Joey and the two of us began kayaking Justin wanted to see the Dead Lakes today, so we were going to take a detour off of the Apalachicola into the Dead Lakes via the Chipola Cutoff.

A bit on the Dead Lakes: The Chipola river flows through the Dead Lakes on its way toward the Apalachicola river (Locals call the Chipola the “little river” and the Apalachicola the “big river”). You know the scene from “The Lion King” where Simba and Nala visit an elephant graveyard? This is a cypress graveyard with tons of dead cypress trees all throughout the lake. It is haunting and majestic—a hidden treasure of the Florida panhandle. Also, it is a great fishing spot and locals guard their spots jealously.

Joey and I were the first to begin the trek into the Dead Lakes. It was an easy paddle and a welcome diversion from the last two grueling days. Sun out and light paddle—now that is my kind of kayaking! We made it to the Dead Lakes and the others caught up with us there. I looked around: Rippled bark whispered stories of old and Spanish moss swayed in the breeze. The fading afternoon light caught in the crevices and corners of tattered tree-skin. Branches arced heavenward and trunks flared downward deep into the murky depths. Hard to describe in a word. “Ancient” is a good start.

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Wind through Spanish Moss (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

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Exaltation (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

From here we turned back around towards the “big river” through the cutoff. As soon as we hit the cutoff, though, I knew we had a problem. Uh-oh. The current. The current! That is why it was such an easy paddle into the Dead Lakes—the current from the main channel that was funneled through the cutoff was pushing us in. Now, to get out, we had to push against it.

For five days I had been paddling with the current—this was the first time I had to paddle against it. Two miles against the current. I hadn’t prepared mentally for this challenge, so I was caught off guard. I would paddle for about five minutes and stop. I’d drift back about half of what I had paddled. Oh no—this wouldn’t do. I grabbed on to a branch and gathered my thoughts and mustered courage—damn it! I had gotten myself in here, I will get myself OUT! I began to paddle, deep strokes twisting my lower back with each one for increased torque and power. Usually the last, I passed Joey and my Dad. I stopped once to eat a Slim Jim and half a Clif bar and continued. I was upset because I had been promised a slow day today—how could it be?! Today was the hardest day yet! I paddled and paddled—for ages. I would make a bend, thinking it was the last, only to see another after it. Finally I saw the last bend and made it out into the main channel. I laid my oars on the kayak and drifted for a bit—I spotted Justin on the side of the bank waiting for us. The five guys on the canoe powered through it, so they were long gone. I pulled over and stopped next to him. We waited until Dad and Joey made it out. Tired and whupped, we ate lunch in silence. Later we caught up with the guys at our campsite.

That evening Dad and I chatted a bit. He said Justin, Kristian, and him had been talking and there was going to be a change of plans. Originally, we had planned to go for 9 days. However, Dad had bracketed for one day that was only four miles and a few other “light” days. Kristian wanted to run the river again on Dad’s powerboat to get a smooth shot of the river in one stretch for better photo quality. They agreed to lop off two days and end the expedition on Thursday, December 12th, instead of the 14th. Dad informed me that on Friday, He and Kristian would head down the river. Someone would come pick him up in Apalachicola and they would come back Friday night. Saturday morning everyone would head down to Apalachicola for a “end of the expedition celebration” and from there we would go our separate ways. I thought that sounded good. I said goodnight to the crew, went to my tent, and fell asleep immediately.

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Justin and Elam talking (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part V: Baptism

The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part III: Adjusting to River-Time

January 10th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

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Danny spearfishing by the posts (Photo: Joey Dickinson)

Saturday, December 7th: Day 3

12 miles today. I woke up this morning, unzipped my tent, and looked out. Another foggy morning, this time the 10,000 ghosts concealing the cliffs from view. We ate breakfast around a smoldering fire and, as I drank my coffee and watched the fog lift, a motorboat pulled into the sandbar. It was my Uncle Dan Yoder and his friend, Rick Wise. Best friends, the two of them were out on the river for a cruise and stopped by to see us. They supplied us with water and friendly conversation. As we loaded up and headed out together I quipped, “Uncle Dan, how ‘bout I throw you a rope and you can tow me today?” He laughed and then sped up and headed out of sight. It was cloudy today with promise of rain. With the Highway 20 bridges in sight, droplets began to spit and spatter on our jackets. Oh dear. Winter rain can be cold—and you can’t simply go indoors when you’re on an expedition. I enjoyed watching the rainfall and listen to it patter and plop into the river, the age-old cycle of water joining water. After 7 miles of paddling we stopped at Neal Landing in Blountstown where my mom, Esther, met us for resupply. We stretched our legs, used the bathroom, and refilled our water.

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Dan Yoder (far left) chatting with the guys (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

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Our “river angel” (Esther Stoltzfus) meeting us at Neal Landing (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

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Esther and Paul chatting (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

I think here would be a good time to make a quick note about facilities along the river. In short: they are sparse. This is a beautiful river to travel, but for kayaking and slow-moving rivercraft, there aren’t many points to stop and camp or resupply. Take Neal Landing in Blountstown—it is a great site, but there isn’t a campsite nor restrooms nearby. Boaters don’t need such amenities. But for people wanting to kayak down the river with access to some modern amenities like toilets or showers, these would be a welcome respite. Also, camping sites are sparse. Sure, you have the primitive camping site at Torreya or the site at Ft. Gadsden, but you must make reservations. I’m not complaining, because I was quite content with how things turned out, but some kayakers may not be interested in such a rough schedule. Just a thought.

At Neal Landing my mom came bearing gifts—Peanut M&Ms, beer, jerky, and love. After three days with guys, it was great to see a lady with a smile and no B.O. We chatted for awhile and one of my cousins brought his family out to see us and chat for a bit. Locals were out headed down the river as today was Saturday and prime fishin’ time. One of my middle school lunch ladies was heading down the river and she asked where we were headed. “The bay? You serious? Nic, I knew your dad did crazy stuff, but not you! You be careful, hon!” I smiled and waved.

By the time we were loaded up on gear and warm conversation the rain had stopped. We paddled some more and stopped at a sandbar for the night. After the long paddle and the rain I was tired and headed to bed as soon as I set up my tent and ate dinner.

Sunday, December 8th: Day 4

Okay. Today was our second very long day. We had two twenty mile days. Yesterday was one, today was the other. The plan was to go far enough down to stop at the sandbar closest to Gaskin Park in Wewahitchka as my mom was going to resupply us the following morning. The weather was fair, cloudy off and on; my mood was likewise. Cold from yesterday’s rain and tired from the long paddle, I was grumpy. Furthermore, everyone else was paddling faster than me, and I soon was the caboose. Already insecure as the least experienced paddler, I complained to dad when we arrived at our campsite that he had left me behind and, rather dramatically, I explained that, “I could have died of exhaustion. These things happen, you know.” I was pissy and wanted to go home. I didn’t spend much time around the campfire that evening, not interested in being around a bunch of happy, laughing guys and soon went to bed. I turned over to sleep and trusted that I would feel better in the morning.

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Kristian with a smile and a cup of Joe (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part IV: The Hump

The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part II: Getting to Know the Guys

January 9th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

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Morning mist by the old and new Highway 90 bridges at Chattahoochee (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

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The Crew 

Front row left to right: Joey Dickinson, Justin Riney, Paul Veselack, John Ruskey, Elam Stoltzfus, Daniel Veshinski, Nic Stoltzfus.

Back row left to right: Mark “River” Peoples and Kristian Gustavson (Photo: Dan Yoder)

Thursday, December 5th: Day 1

The plan was to meet at the Chattahoochee Landing at Clyde Hopkins Park right behind Jim Woodruff Dam where the Apalachicola River begins (the dam holds back the water from Lake Seminole, the terminus of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers). Dad, Joey, and I prepped our kayaks. Justin showed up and began to assemble his paddleboard. The last to arrive was the crew from Below the Surface. And out of the truck stepped two…three…four…five guys! There was Kristian Gustavson and Danny Veshinski from Below the Surface. The other three were Paul Veselack, Kristian’s stepdad and crew medic; John Ruskey, founder of Quapaw Canoe Company in Mississippi and builder of the canoe the guys would be paddling; and Mark “River” Peoples, assistant and fellow river guide with John at Quapaw. I was surprised—our crew was larger, but, as they say, the more the merrier!

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Justin tightening the screws on his paddle board (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

On my way to take a final nervous leak before heading out, a local stopped me and asked me a few questions. He sat in his faded jean-hued Chevy pick-up, some model from the ‘70s with a confederate flag plate on the front. He was wearing an old ‘Bama red shirt, blue jeans, and an air of sour discontent. “Son, just what the hell is going on here?” He asked me. I told him, “Well, we are headed down the Apalachicola River down to the bay.” He pointed at the canoe. “What the hell is that thing?” “It’s a handmade canoe from Missisippi; those five guys loading it now are going to paddle it down the river.” “Huh,” he gruffed, “I don’t understand. They got all this shit in their ca-new rait there and these five guys—that’s a lotta weight! How they gonna float down the river in that? It’s gonna sink. It’s gonna sink.” He pointed a gnarled finger at the camera resting on top. “And that cam-ra? It’s gonna flip right over. Buncha dum-asses.” At the time I was also rather skeptical as to how this canoe was going to float those hundreds of pounds of gear and five big guys but, hey, I had my kayak so I didn’t have to worry. I said goodbye, finished my business, and prepped the rest of my gear for the upcoming trip.

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Checking out the canoe (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

We took a group photo and started off. A few local onlookers, skeptics, friends, and relatives waved us off. Here we go! 109 miles in 9 days! My stomach still turned a few flops, but as soon as I hit the water—yep, this was the right thing to do. It’ll be okay.

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The maiden launch of the “Grasshopper” (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

The first day we kayaked around 11 miles. It was a beautiful day out; cool and sunny— perfect paddling. We passed under the I-10 bridge. All the cars and trucks zoomed by overhead as we lazily dripped by below; bay-bound on river-time. Our first night we stopped at a sandbar on the east side of the river. We were all still getting to know each other and our gear, so it was a time to stretch our muscles out and prep for the longer days ahead. A bit of a campfire chat, and then we all headed to bed.

Friday, December 6th: Day 2

Today I woke to a spooky foggy morning on the Apalachicola. 10,000 ghosts had descended on the river; one translucent white congregation. I felt great that morning and hurriedly ate my oatmeal and slurped down my coffee, eager to get out on the misty river. I packed my tent and got on my kayak and was the first to head downstream. It took the guys in the canoe longer, so I had about 2 hours by myself before they caught up to me. I passed the Torreya house on my left and was headed around Ocheeseee Landing (close to where I grew up) and there were some folks out on a houseboat and I talked to them for a bit. “Mornin’!” I yelled over at them. The husband and wife pair stared at me a bit trying to figure out just what in tarnation this figure was. “Mor-nin’,” they greeted me. “Where ya headed?” they asked me. I chirped, “the bay!” The old man grinned a toothy smile and chuckled, “boy, you watch out for them gators, ya hear? You’re a one-bite snack on that rig!” “Yessir!”

As the morning waned on the fog-ghosts lifted back to the heavens and the day cleared. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. I told the guys when they arrived that they couldn’t have picked a better time to be on the river. I have lived in the Apalachicola river valley my whole life, and this was the most beautiful fall that I have ever witnessed here—I guess it must have been because we had a cold snap early in the fall but, whatever the reason, the leaves were magnificent this year. The red maples were a violent crimson, the sycamore a brilliant yellow, and the cypress a deep ruddy red. By now most of the leaves had fallen, but one could still witness the shadows of a stunning fall.

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Red maple overlooking the river (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

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The Grasshopper and Her Merry Crew (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

Around lunchtime the rest of the crew caught up to me. We stopped at the base of Torreya State Park and hiked up to the top of the bluff. We chatted some and looked over the river perched up high; a sunny winter day. We crawled back down and headed onward. In the afternoon for a few hours the wind pushed us back but soon, out of breath, subsided. Late afternoon we arrived at our campsite for the night: Alum Bluffs. Out of the whole expedition, this was one of my favorite spots to camp.

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(From Left to Right) “River”, Paul, Kristian, Danny, John, and Justin in front of the bluffs (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Sure, the mosquitoes and bugs are a little annoying, but the view is great. The sandbar is on the west side of the river facing the bluffs on the east side of the river. It is a view that most wouldn’t expect to occur in Florida—but there it is. A yellowish-white sheer cliff, a smaller and yellower version of the famed Cliffs of Dover, juts out into the river.

John Ruskey climbed to the top of the cliffs and howled a deep river-man howl. I grinned as I snapped a photo of him at the top—this guy is truly a river-rat. That evening we made our campfire and sat around, drank a few jiggers of whiskey, and listened to John play the guitar. With a glass slide on one finger he seduced the guitar into singing in ways I had never heard—a twangy bluesy-folksy sound that was new to my ear. A riverman’s lullaby. I wanted to join in so I began to softly clap my hands. Danny tapped his right foot in the sand. All nine of us sat around the fire mesmerized by the music, warmth of the fire, and companionship. Crickets joined in the chorus and the occasional owl screeched. River music.

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A bluesman and his guitar (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part III: Adjusting to River-Time

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part I: The Unwilling Member (Me)

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.

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part II: Getting to Know the Guys

Florida’s First World Paddle for the Planet

10/25/13

By Nic Stoltzfus

World Paddle for the Planet video. Produced by Elam Stoltzfus. Edited by Joey Dickinson. Script by Nic Stoltzfus.

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Parked Paddleboards (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

On Friday, October 9th, Dad, Joey, and I loaded up our gear in our Toyota Sequoia and hooked up our boat (a custom built Scandy White) and prepared to head to Panama City Beach. We were headed to the World Paddle for the Planet event held on Lake Powell and stationed out of Camp Helen State Park. Part of a larger 4-day eco-fest, the main event was a 24-hour paddling event with paddlers from all over welcome to join. The mission of World Paddle for the Planet is “to educate and raise awareness for restoring and preserving the health of our oceans and waterways worldwide.” The funds from this year’s event went to Mother Ocean’s Expedition Florida 500. This is the first year that the World Paddle for the Planet has been held in the United States. According to the website there were going to be some special guests in attendance: Bob Purdy, the founder of Paddle for the Planet, traveled from British Columbia to boost spirits; and Justin Riney, the founder of Mother Ocean and Expedition Florida 500, also planned to paddle the full 24 hours.

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Elam Stoltzfus filming at Camp Helen State Park (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

After arrival, we checked into the apartment so graciously provided to us by Richard and Marilue Maris, and headed down to the public boat launch at Lake Powell. The weather outside was lovely––Autumn in Florida is my favorite season––and October in particular is spectacular. When we set out, it was nearing 4 o’clock and we wanted plenty of time to shoot a colorful sunset. A heron was resting on a pine branch as the sun faded in the sky, and the air cooled as a few stars started to appear.

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Elam pointing to head back to shore as Joey runs the trolling motor (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Saturday morning we put the boat back in to Lake Powell and headed to Camp Helen State Park where the 24 hour paddling event was set to start at noon. Before we started, the local Native American tribe, the Maskoke (Muskogee), blessed the event. Marcus Cloud offered up a blessing and also an admonition that this is sacred land—and we are charged with protecting it. After Marcus was finished with his speech two men dressed in traditional Maskoke garb passed around a turtle shell with incense wafting from it; a sweet rosemary scent filled the air. Each person waved the smoke toward his or her face, taking part in this sacred purification ritual. It felt like a holy communion; all present now bound together by this beautiful ceremony.

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The Maskoke paddle by with Elam filming (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The Maskoke started the 24-hour paddle for the planet in a two-person canoe and the paddlers, around 30, followed behind. The first lap around the lake was silent—SUP Radio host Leslie Kolovich encouraged paddlers to use this first lap to meditate on why they were paddling today.

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Joey Dickinson, Elam Stoltzfus, Justin Riney, and Bob Purdy discuss today’s event (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Most of the paddlers who attended the event were paddling in groups, so they would rotate off every few hours and paddle for 24 hours as a team. But a few hardcore paddlers, such as Bob Purdy and Justin Riney, would brave the entire duration.

Evening approached. We parked our boat on a sand spit by the outfall of Lake Powell and walked out to the Gulf of Mexico with our camera equipment to get some “b-roll” (supplemental film footage) of people walking the beach.

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(Left to Right) Cynthia Trone, Gabriel Gray, Elam Stoltzfus, Bob Purdy, Nic Stoltzfus, and Leslie Kolovich (photo by Joey Dickinson)

After this we moved back lakeside and the paddleboarders were headed to the outfall for a group shot before sunset. It was the “magic hour” as we say in filmmaking slang, that hour right before sunset when everything turns golden. I half-wished that I wasn’t going to bed that night. It was a beautiful evening—not too cold—and the crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds would be out in throes chattering and providing the music for the night.

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The Legacy Continues (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Sunday morning we arrived at Camp Helen around 10 in the morning, two hours before the paddleboarders would finish. To start we took some aerial shots with the remote-controlled helicopter.

About 20 minutes before noon Dad, Joey, and I set up on the Camp Helen shoreline preparing for the paddlers’ arrival. I got into the lake with water up to my chest and Joey was stationed about twenty-foot away at the opposite side of the shoreline knee-deep in the water.

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Justin “Florida” Riney and Cynthia Trone look on as Bob paddles his last lap (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

Noon. 24 hours was over and everyone paddling was smiling for the home stretch. The exhausted paddlers began hugging friends and family, and feelings of joy buzzed in the air. It was at this point that Bob Purdy announced he was going to paddle around one last lap.

Bob went around and as he came back everyone rose their paddles in the air to form the paddleboarders’ salute, a covered crossing for the warrior to pass under.

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The Paddleboarders’ Salute (photo by Nic Stoltzfus)

The first ever Paddle for the Planet at Panama City Beach was a success, and I plan to attend next year and paddle for the full 24 hours with camera in tow!

To sign up for next year’s World Paddle for the Planet visit: worldpaddlefortheplanet.com.

For more information on Lake Powell and other dune lakes in Florida visit: www.coastaldunelakes.org.