Paddling…just like riding a bike

As I mentioned last time, we here at Camp Granola have been up to all sorts of adventures the past few months. And way back in November, you know, before all the holiday hubbub, I took Fred and George on an adventure first for them…paddling.

I hadn’t really considered how long it’s been since I’ve done any paddling of note myself but the good news is that it comes back quickly…just like riding a bike. The boys were quite accommodating to their rusty mom who was trying to remember the finer points of canoeing as we slid through the mysterious and captivating Okefenokee Swamp.

okefenokee swamp - val in real life
Rush hour on the Okefenokee.

Another first…

We at Camp Granola tend to embrace independent travel so to join The Georgia Conservancy for their Okefenokee paddle was a departure for us. It probably wasn’t an adventure I would have thought to undertake on our own but with all the details planned out, right down to the food, it seemed like a no-brainer.

And stepping outside of the Camp Granola norm paid off. It was a great bunch of people to hang out with. From the other participants, to the Georgia Conservancy staff, to the fabulous naturalist, Cathy Sakas, we were nothing short of delighted with our unusual adventure.

Fred refreshing his geocaching skills on Billy’s Island.

Long time, no see…

It’s been years, nay decades, since I’ve been to the Okefenokee and it did made this granola mom’s nougatty center all warm and gooey to take her boys on this adventure. Sure, they’ve seen the edges of swamps and wetlands before but this was their first true immersion. There’s something quite different about exploring in a canoe versus skirting the edge on a hiking a trail or boardwalk. Their imaginations ran wild in a landscape they’ve never quite experienced before, certainly not like this anyway.

And I will say the the timing of the trip was spot on. In early November, the insect population was negligible, making camping at Stephen C. Foster State Park easy as pie. Plus, as Cathy pointed out, the gators were done feeding for the season, putting young paddlers minds at ease. Bonus!

Fun with methane…Cathy showing us the Okefenokee’s deepest secrets.

Little Naturals…

It turns out my little minions were pretty decent at paddling. I was quite pleased with how quickly they go the concept…even with good ol’ mom barking orders at them. I was also very pleasantly surprised with their paddling stamina. And although they did tire out, leaving an aching mom to pull the hard work, it was not a bad first showing overall.

Unfortunately I’ll have to go ahead and admit that we must have looked like something out of the Three Stooges on the final day when they were wiped out and the wind decided to throw down the gauntlet. With little front-end assistance, my ability to keep us straight and steady amidst a true witch of a cross wind was negligible which means we basically zig-zagged our way up and down river, probably doubling the necessary paddling distance. We’ll just chalk that up to a good workout of muscles I haven’t used this millennium.

It’s not all about gators, there are many other surprises in the Okefenokee if you keep your eyes peeled.

Real Learning…

So our guide for this Okefenokee exploration was the fabulous Cathy Sakas. She’s an absolute gem of a naturalist. Deftly weaving history and nature knowledge, she created a marvelous tapestry of the Okefenokee for us newbies. Given my bias towards mountain environments, I have to say I’m impressed with how well Cathy roped me in to appreciating the Okefenokee and it’s wonders. (If you can’t tell, I get off on people who are really good at what they do and Cathy is top-notch.)

For Fred and George (and people in general really), you simply can’t beat hands-on, experiential learning. They take away more from an weekend adventure like this than weeks of detached book learning. Having been there and taken it in with all of their senses, they carry with them a deep and lasting appreciation for all aspects of a place. And when you’re lucky enough to have a leader on the level of Cathy Sakas, well then all the better.

Other goodies…

In between paddling, the good Georgia Conservancy folks had lots of other activities planned for the little ones, including building bug houses, geocaching (yippee!), and Cathy Sakas’ fun with animal skulls. Between those activities and the meals, we were busy enough not to be bored and not so busy we couldn’t relax. Call me Goldilocks, but it seemed just right.

Georgie passing the time until the paddling fun.

Prior proper preparation…

That covers the high points of the trip but I thought I should share one of the lessons I learned. So without further ado we have your feature presentation from the Foibles of Planning Department.

See, one of the little details I’d meant to handle before we departed was getting a dry bag for my camera gear. Well, busy homeschooling mom that I am, I ran out of time to check that off the to-do list. With great folly, I headed off to a swamp with absolutely no protection for my beloved camera and lenses from a watery grave in the tannin-stained depths of the Suwanee River. Yep, I jumped into a canoe with two young, novice paddlers…and lots of expensive, sensitive photography equipment. This is one of those situations where I could be called either incredibly brave or irretrievably stupid.

So setting out on our paddling adventure, I presented Fred and George with a simple logic regarding our time in the boat as follows: 1) They can swim. 2) They have PFDs. 3) They’ll dry out, no worse for wear.

Since none of those things could be said about my pack full of camera gear, I felt quite justified in explaining to them that, barring one of them being injured, I would be saving my gear first should we find ourselves capsized. Of course, my confidence that I would be able to save my gear in the event of a sudden canoe overturn was basically nil so, despite my proclamations of “gear first,” my nerves were still on end resulting in a very edgy mom while we were in the boat.

Fortunately, all worked out with no kinks. My gear was never put in jeopardy, however, my constant concern over the matter certainly overshadowed my enjoyment of the outings. But of course, I was too stubborn just to leave the gear behind and enjoy paddling so I’ll just tuck that lesson away for later use.

Let’s play spot the gator…and be relieved he’s not hungry.


In spite my personal silliness, we had a groovy time paddling the Okefenokee. Many thanks and much appreciation to The Georgia Conservancy for showing Camp Granola a good time. And if you have a chance to take a trip with them, by all means, do so. Whether your a Georgian or just passing through, they make the trip worthwhile.

And now for your moment of green…

Way down upon the Suwanee River…a visit to the land of the trembling earth.


  1. A job well done with the boys. Canoeing continues for another generation

    1. Yep, seems all that childhood paddling paid off for me. Now to get them on some whitewater!

  2. Your posts continually remind me how little time we’ve spent in your part of the country and how much I want to go there. Jackson is really into alligators right now. He’d love an adventure that included spotting them!

    1. Well if you ever get over this way, I’d be happy to show you guys around. Lots of great stuff to see and do here. And I’m sure we can find an alligator to amuse Jackson!

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