Every year, the Miami Springs Power Boat Club journeys to Arcadia, Fla for their annual campout and paddle down the Peace River. Justin's father and several family friends are in the club and it's a trip many of the members look forward to, especially the young families. They make the pilgrimage to "Old Florida" with their RVs, ATVs, fossil hunting supplies, well-stocked coolers and water cannons. Ironic, right? They wouldn't want to admit it, but it's definitely a form of glamping. Lodging is at Peace River Campground - it's a big change from their clubhouse in Stiltsville, but it's always a good time.
Justin and I couldn't make the campout, but we woke up at 5 a.m. and drove two hours west from Stuart so we could make it in time for the 8:30 a.m. canoe launch. We brought our stand up paddleboards, water, some rum punch, snacks, and our sense of adventure.
We were the only ones not renting a canoe or kayak from the Canoe Outpost located right next to Peace River Campground. This operation does a great job and I highly recommend renting from them if you don't have your own vessel. If you do bring your own, try to arrange your own drop off or a ride back to your vehicle because the Canoe Outpost charges the same rate for transportation as a full rental.
The canoes and passengers were delivered to the launch at Brownville Park in north Arcadia, about 8 miles upstream from the Peace River Campground and Canoe Outpost. We followed in our our own vehicle - we would get a ride back to our car from the campground.
Brownville Park is beautiful - 75-acres of big mossy Live Oak trees with a large boat ramp and canoe launch. The park also has 12 campsites with water and electric, and 12 with water only. There are bathrooms with showers, a playground and nature trails. We parked in the shade right by the ramp and unloaded our gear.
Our paddle started out peacefully in the warm morning sunshine, despite the hoards of people arriving in buses and shoving off in aluminum rental canoes. The tea-colored river has about a 3 mph current, so in theory, you could simply float down the river. It winds around through Cypress trees and ancient Live Oaks with only a few homes along the bank.
As we rounded a bend, we saw what we southerners like to call "Florida rapids." The canoes were making it though just fine, so we decided to shoot the calmest section of water on our SUPs. We dodged some rocks and shallow areas and almost made it though unscathed, until my fin caught a rock and my board came to a very sudden stop - and I went flying into the gravelly limestone covered by about 6 inches of fast flowing river. I quickly moved my board to a deeper spot and hopped back on, despite the throbbing in my left knee and shin. I stood up on my board and looked down to see a nice sized patch of river rash and a trickle of blood below my knee. I'm lucky to have avoided this fate for so long. I think it's a SUP rite of passage - the old fin in the kelp/rope/submerged branch. It's bound to happen eventually. It's not fun unless someone gets hurt - that's how the saying goes, right? ;-)
At the next questionable area, we didn't take any chances. We hopped out of the river before it got too shallow and carried our boards along the shore until we reached deeper water. I highly recommend bringing water shoes on this paddle - there are some really rocky areas and depending on the water level, you may have to hoof it.
We inspected my board and fin for damage from the rogue rock. The board was fine, but the fin was a little scratched up and had been forced to the back of the fin box. Justin tightened it up using part of the buckle from his watch, washed off my bloody leg with some water from his hydration pack, then we hopped back on the river. (Note to self: stash a fin key in hydration pack, along with some Neosporin.)
The rest of the river was fine - the shallow areas were all encountered within the first mile or two south of Brownville Park. We made several stops along the way to hunt for fossils, snack, and socialize with the group. We found a fair amount of shark teeth during one of our stops - see the slideshow for a photo of our peace sign made of shark teeth from this trip. There are a lot of sandy beaches that make great stopping points, just be sure to avoid the areas that appear to be private land or gator territory. And of course, leave nothing but footprints.
We saw lots of fish - some huge alligator gar, birds, and three alligators that were all within a couple yards of each other near the last 2-3 miles of the paddle. There was a 3-4 footer that hopped in when we got about 25 yards away. The largest one (between 5-6 feet long) was the bravest and sat on the bank until we got about 10 yards away, then swung his tail around and splashed into the river. As we were paddling past the spot where the medium gator had been, I looked back to see a baby gator less than one foot long emerge from the tall grass and slide into the water.
Towards the end of our paddle, the water gun and cannon fire began to intensify. As the lone SUPers, we were easy targets on top of the water; thankfully, the water blasts were refreshing. As we took our last break at a sandy beach by the train trestle, several of the club members began plotting an attack on the approaching canoe flotilla. I can't begin to describe the carnage that unfolded - you'll have to watch for yourself. Viewer discretion is advised:
Peace River Campground notes: The sites lack privacy, but the amenities are plentiful. They have full hookups, sites with just water and electric, and primitive sites. There are lots of shady oaks, a pool, ATV trails, golf cart rentals, bike trails, laundry and LP gas, camp store, playground and game room. But the REAL attraction is the river.
Justin got a ride from his dad back to our car at Brownville Park and returned to load the boards. We showered at camp and Justin doctored up my leg with some antiseptic and triple antibiotic ointment, then we said our goodbyes, and hit the road back to Stuart.
It was a great day on the river with friends and family. We're already planning our 2015 trip to Peace River Campground - we'll be sure to bring the Riveted Roost next time!
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