5 Tips For Navigating Unfamiliar Territory From BioLite's Community Manager
“You know the Everglades is the one place where alligators AND crocodiles live in harmony, right?”
“Isn’t there a huge anaconda problem there?”
“I’ve never seen so many mosquitos in my life!”
That’s just a sample of the commentary taunting me as I packed for a paddling trip in the Everglades. (Really reassuring for someone who’d never spent more than 20 minutes in a kayak). Ignoring the warnings, I headed down to the Florida Everglades and outside my comfort zone to spend three days paddling the park. Spoiler alert - I survived the trip and brought back five takeaways that will be helpful for anyone adventuring outside of their comfort zone this summer.
1. Speak Up When You Need Help.
Upon launching our Oru Kayaks into the water I discovered that the Everglades, contrary to the way I pictured it, is full of vast bays not narrow, winding creeks. As we attempted to cross the bays the wind forced my kayak in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. After the 3rd bay I thought my left arm was going to fall off. Murmuring curse-words under my breath, I paddled my hardest but went nowhere. I struggled at the back of the pack feeling defeated. Just as I was thinking, ‘great start to the trip’, my travel companions took turns coming back to help me. They taught me proper paddling techniques and encouraged me to push through. By the 4th bay I started to get the hang of it (though it didn’t make my arms feel any less sore).
I completely underestimated the difficulty of this paddle and my unpreparedness was visible. At first I was scared to ask for help thinking that would be an inconvenience. But, the crew I was with included numerous guides who were more than happy to teach me their tricks and build my confidence. Don’t be shy when adventuring outside your comfort zone! Ask for help when you need it - it will result in less time being frustrated.
2. Going Off Plan Is The Plan.
After a full 8 hour day of paddling, I turned a bend hoping to find everyone docked on our Chickee Stand for the night but to my horror I saw everyone crowded around a map. We’d missed the turnoff and much to my arms’ displeasure I had another three mile paddle ahead. At this point we were in alligator territory. I cringed watching them slide into the water or submerge near my boat into the 4 feet deep water. But honestly, after paddling this far I could care less about the alligators, my mind was focused on one thing alone, finding the Chickee stand. Rather than getting defeated, our guides rallied together and pumped everyone up to get back on track. When you’re adventuring things rarely go according to plan - keep that in the back of your mind and don’t let yourself get surprised when things go off track - embrace it.
When I saw our Chickee stand I was beyond relieved and even more proud of myself for paddling nearly 18 miles in one day. I stepped onto the platform to begin preparing our meal. With the Florida sunset in the distance and arms of jello, I snuggled into my Firebelly quilt and fell asleep instantly only to stir to the sound of alligators splashing around our kayaks at midnight.
3. Good Meals Go A Long Way.
The next morning I woke up scared - the idea of getting back in the boat made me a nauseous. But to my surprise, with a breakfast burrito and cup of coffee in my belly, I was fine. I lowered into my boat and with the wind at our backs, we cruised.
A good meal can make you feel right at home no matter how unfamiliar your surroundings. Cooking delicious meals after (or before) a long day is a great way to relax and refuel. No pizza has ever tasted so good as the cheesy pies we fired up on our PizzaDome that first night (yes, someone actually strapped a PizzaDome Bundle to their kayak).
4. Find Time To Pause.
Surprisingly, on day two I felt stronger and took time to notice my surroundings. I was in an amazing, what felt like untouched land. I watched as sting rays jumped through the air 50 feet in front of my kayak and laughed in disbelief as a dolphin followed our boats into the ocean. Somehow today, crossing a rough patch of water wasn’t debilitating as it had been the day before, it was exhilarating.
The first day I was so focused on reaching our destination that I didn’t take the time to look up. On the following days, I enjoyed myself because I took short breaks (not just to help my arms rest) but to breathe, check in mentally and pump myself up. Pushing your physical limits is rewarding but it’s worthwhile to take the time to appreciate the land you’re exploring.
5. Reward Yourself.
This experience was difficult for me physically but building in time for celebration made it easier. Whether it was cracking a warm beer, snacking on M&M’s, or relaxing in a hammock, making myself feel comfortable was key to waking up happier and ready to go the next morning. So, blow up that sleeping pad, grab a comfy blanket and make time for plenty of sleep, snacks and fun. Oh yes, a reward can be as simple as remembering to take an Advil after a long day.
Our final paddle started right before sunrise, the water was calm, the breeze cool and the ‘glades at peace. I took the time to really be in the moment and take stock of the nature around me. By the time we touched mainland I couldn’t believe it was over. I felt a huge sigh of relief but at the same time a ping of sadness, our time together was over. I left Florida feeling empowered and in disbelief of myself. I’m so thankful for the support and camaraderie of all folks involved, they really got me through the trip. Even though parts were painful, I’ve got to say, seeing the Everglades by kayak is arguably the most intimate and cool way to explore the park.
Slinking into my airplane seat completely exhausted, I smiled -- no one in the office was going to believe that I got no mosquito bites, saw no snakes and paddled 40 miles with alligators all around me.
Words by Hayley (BioLite’s Content and Community Manager). Photos by Christin Healey (BioLite ambassador and paddling companion on this trip).