Imagine paddling your way from Largo to Seminole.
The Largo parks department offers just such an opportunity with a 5-mile water trail from Largo's Central Park Nature Preserve to Lake Seminole Park.
I decided to give it a try, despite a complete lack of kayaking experience. I don't even go camping. My idea of roughing it is staying at a hotel without a Jacuzzi.
The first order of business was to recruit strong arms. Of course, this means sweet-talking DH, a.k.a. Dear Husband. More comfortable with a soldering iron than a piece of sports equipment, he valiantly agreed.
"It's a one-and-a-half-hour trip one way with a good, hard paddle," said Greg Brown, parks superintendent. "A bit longer if you're taking your time."
Brown said two local brothers, Kyle and Shaun Gillespie, improved the trail several years ago as their Eagle Scout projects. Kyle posted markers along the waterway and created the online brochure, while Shaun built the launch dock at Largo Central Park. It sounded easy enough.
As we pushed off, we smiled at the turtles lounging nearby and reminded ourselves this was an adventure. As the day wore on, it got harder to keep those smiles in place.
I had neglected to ask about the nature of the markers, thinking they would be obvious. It took more than 30 minutes of paddling and backtracking before we understood that the white floating PVC pipes with no markings are the trail pointers. Some of them are obscured by an overgrowth of aquatic plants caused by the lack of water flow due to drought conditions.
Our backtracking had us paddling upstream, so we found ourselves tired, hot, sweaty and back in view of our starting point. Still, we persevered.
"There are two places where you have to go through drainage pipes," Brown had explained. "You have to duck down to get through."
We went through the first pipe without incident, enjoying the cool shade. Learning to paddle together was less enjoyable. I'm glad that 27 years of marriage has taught us to be nice.
After an hour of paddling I had a blister from my death grip on the paddle and I was covered with the green slime and algae I had splashed on myself. DH lacked energy for talking.
We paused at another PVC marker and determined we needed to bear right to enter another pipe. I thought we had finally reached Ulmerton Road, where Brown had assured me "it gets really nice after that — it's worth it."
The trail beneath Ulmerton was heavily covered by floating plants. We tried repeatedly to get through the vegetation to no avail. Had we been more experienced at paddling together we might have made it through, but that was not to be.
Thinking we had perhaps misread the marker, we paddled backwards through the vegetation until we could turn around and try another channel. When that came to a dead end, we decided to save our marriage and abandon our adventure. With aching arms we made it back to the Largo dock.
I still think the Largo trail to Seminole is an adventure. I wish we had prevailed and caught a glimpse of the otters, birds, alligators and mighty oaks along the way. But I think I'll need some practice before I try tackling it again.