If you spent the amount of time it takes getting fancied up for a night on the town and instead spent it driving, you could reach the Wacissa River.
If you spent the amount of money it takes to buy two fancy cocktails, you can rent a canoe for a few hours and paddle up the Big Blue, one of the big springs that feeds into the Wacissa.
Basically, with a little coordination you can take your friends out to explore the surrounding nature quickly and on the cheap. No epic journeys necessary. And here's where we come to the second installment of the "Claire and Travis Actually DO Have Friends" posts.
The Wacissa is just so close to Tallahassee that it's one of the easiest rivers to find and canoe down. There are three canoe rentals on River Road, the dirt road off Highway 59 that dead ends into the river. Not only that, but there is an open swimming area just near the boat launch, Big Blue spring provides a totally chill spring to hang out/swimming area, AND if you plan your trip during June you can U-pick some blueberries at the riverside blueberry orchard.
For these reasons, the Wacissa is one of the places I like to take out of town folks to visit. It's another springfed river, with 12 major springs contributing to its flow until it reaches the waters of the Aucilla River, which then carry on into the Gulf. The headspring is located right at the end of River Road, and is the major source of the crystal clear water that feeds the river. In 2012 the Wacissa was designated as National Recreation Trail, chiefly because of its pristine waters, remote location and excellent wildlife viewing. It's in the middle of nowhere, and the river isn't used for any other purpose besides paddling, fishing and hunting.
So one Sunday I rounded up a bunch of friends (Travis wasn't even in town!) and we made the 20 minute trip out to the river. Carrie, Javin, Danielle (and Sevy) rented a canoe while me, Jess and Ixtah paddled in one I borrowed from my parents. It was a rowdy weekend down on Wacissa Beach, which is what the locals call the boat ramp park. As I said, this river is in the middle of NOWHERE, so you get a good sampling of what the residents of rural North Florida are like. There's usually some real big trucks blasting either country or R&B, plenty of bad tattoos, puppies, Budweiser, and airboats.
On this particular occasion, a man immediately came up to Javin as he was loading into the canoe and asked, "Are you sure you're not scared? You sure you can swim?" Javin surveyed the situation, acknowledged that the dude was there with a bunch of friends, and chose to waive off the racist comment without making a big deal. This is still something I don't know how to deal with, and it happens more frequently than I would expect: people you know or acquaintances who may act perfectly nice hold racist assumptions and feel like they are appropriate to talk about. I still haven't figured out how to say, "Hey! That's racist!" to someone in a casual situation in a way that is productive, not explosive. I'm open to suggestions.
Once we all loaded into the river, the paddling was easy up the Big Blue. I don't have a GPS so I can't tell you exactly how to get there. Like lots of these tucked away North Florida nature secrets, you just have someone show you sometime. The spring run juts off on the left riverbank.
You paddle up around the corner till the channel opens up into a sunny swimming hole, shallow enough to stand in the front, and cascading hundreds of feet down to the spring in the back. Every year some intrepid carpenter builds a floating dock and anchors it to the river floor, and every year Fish and Wildlife come and remove it.
Every year, some brave soul scales a tree to tie a branch overhanging the deep spring water, and every year Fish and Wildlife cut it down.
This early in the year there were both a dock AND a ropeswing, so we were set for an afternoon of Bud Light Lime drinking, sunbathing, swing splashing, and gator watching. Yeah, there was a little guy sunbathing on the edge of the spring. But he was only five or so feet long and wasn't gonna hurt anybody.
Now if you're looking for a nice, quiet nature excursion, the weekend is NOT the time to visit Big Blue. There were at least 30 other people hanging out on pontoon boats, airboats, canoes and kayaks. The floating dock almost sank a couple of times.
Among those 30 people was racist dude. He was drinking beers on a pontoon boat all afternoon till his friends were ready to paddle out of there and go home. He dove off the boat so close that Carrie said, "Wow he really almost hit the dock!" And when he emerged from the water with his face bleeding, we realized he didn't come close. He just straight dove into the dock. Well, since he was apparently okay enough to ask for another Bud Light, Danielle figured she should go ahead and document the event.
Maybe it was karma?
All in all, the afternoon was a success. I'd like to make another trip down when the blueberries are ripe (soon!), and one day when I'm feeling ambitious, I'll make Travis paddle the 10 miles down river to the Goose Pasture campground to spend the night on a river island. Can you IMAGINE all the eveningtime birdwatching for Heavy Birdin? And then when I'm feeling REAL ambitious, we'll navigate the paddling trail from the Wacissa through to the Aucilla, canoeing through the coastal swamps till we reach the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico.
I seriously can't explain to you how much I love living in Florida.