Paddling into the Real Florida
My love/hate relationship with the Sunshine State slanted squarely toward love yesterday during a day trip along Rock Springs Run, a beautiful Central Florida river about 30 minutes from downtown Orlando. But here’s the thing about Florida – to get to the loveliest of places, it almost always requires driving through some pretty eye-assaulting spots of the raze-and-ruin sprawl that defines much of the state. Case in point, the trip from downtown Orlando to the spot where we started our paddle. The city-to-country road we drove along is called Orange Blossom Trail. But rather than being lined with citrus trees in bloom, it’s an all-out billboard battleground of religious signage (the Muslims have joined the Evangelicals in big banner prosletyzing), ads touting laser hair removal, countless calls for laywers and endless home foreclosure references (stretches of OBT also count as Orlando’s unofficial red light and drug dealing district, where more than one local politician has been busted for nefarious pursuits ). Then, suddenly, the seedy hotels, strip bars, big box stores and complete lack of trees give way to the live oak-lined road that dead ends at Kings Landing, the launching spot for the paddle from Rock Springs Run to Wekiwa Springs State Park. And what a beautiful meander that lost waterway is. We signed a waiver surrounded by taxidermied gators then set off in a flotilla of kayaks and canoes to paddle through a wilderness of swampy underbrush that sucks at your feet when you venture onto the banks and greets you with great herons, snowy egrets, raccoons, deer and sunning turtles all along the way. There are usually alligators, too, but on this particularly chilly winter day they must’ve been cozied in the water, which stays 72 degrees year round. To spend five hours paddling the eight-mile run in this dreamy world and then emerge back onto Orange Blossom Trail is pretty jolting. For one afternoon, at least, I felt like I’d secreted something of the real Florida away for just me and my friends.