It sounded like a good idea at the time. Take off by myself in a sea kayak and paddle from Chokoloskee to Flamingo along the edge of the Everglades, one of the roughest stretches of wilderness in Florida.
The year was 1993, and at the ripe old age of 32, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Great Outdoors. After all, I'd been a lifeguard, Boy Scout and seen every episode of the television series Daniel Boone, all six seasons.
I didn't let the fact that I had never actually paddled one of these strange-looking fiberglass boats stop me. Canoe? Kayak? What's the difference? They float. You paddle. What else was there to know?
But somewhere southeast of Pavilion Key, as the sky turned an evil shade of purple and veins of lightning danced across a wall of clouds that appeared ready to devour every living thing in its path, I began to have second thoughts.
I tried to turn back, but I couldn't because of the wind and waves. So I headed to the nearest patch of land, where I crept deep inside the mangroves and slept with the land crabs.
The next morning, with the wind still howling, I accepted the fact that I was lost. Well, I knew I was somewhere on the southwest coast of Florida, but for all practical purposes, I was up the proverbial creek, but fortunately, I still had my paddle.
Five days later, sunburned and caked with salt, I emerged at Flamingo, looking like Robinson Crusoe, minus the goatskin suit.
I had done my best to prepare for the adventure. I brought a map, compass and safety flares, as well as an assortment of Grateful Dead cassettes and a pint of Jack Daniels in the event of a snakebite.
But 17 years ago, there was little information available when it came to long-distance expeditions in small boats. The scene, however, was quite different in 2001, when a local paddler named Steve Isaac organized the first Everglades Challenge.
Isaac had formed the WaterTribe, a group of watersport enthusiasts, to promote expedition-style, canoe/kayak/sailboat racing. The first "Challenge" drew an interesting mix of paddle and sail craft.
A friend and I entered the event in a two-person sea kayak. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, I insisted we paddle the boat at least once before the race.
As is the custom, we chose WaterTribe names. My friend Jon Willis, a former rubgy player from the United Kingdom, picked the nickname Cornish Jon. I chose the nom de guerre Hombre de Agua, a tribute to my boyhood hero Aquaman, with a nod to my affinity for Corona, the Mexican beer I enjoy with a slice of lime.
On this second kayak trip, I was much better prepared. We had a Global Positioning System unit, which only Cornish Jon knew how to use, and six dozen energy bars, which we ended up throwing at each other three days into the trip.
Somehow, we made it 300 miles, all the way from St. Petersburg to Key Largo. Isaac, a.k.a. The Chief, built on the lessons learned in that inaugural race (bring lots of Desitin for diaper rash) and codified it on his Web site (www.WaterTribe.com).
"I tried to make it simple enough that anybody, with enough time to prepare, can complete one of our challenges," he said.
Since then, Isaac and other WaterTribe members have taken much of the guesswork out of expedition-style small-boat adventure.
On Saturday, 95 intrepid souls will leave the beach at St. Petersburg's Fort De Soto Park on an adventure that could last anywhere from 12 hours to 30 days.
The first group, 26 paddlers in 20 boats, will race 68 miles to Boca Grande in the Ultra Marathon. The second group, 61 paddlers in 42 boats, will continue on to Key Largo in the Everglades Challenge, a total distance of 300 miles. The third group, eight solo paddlers, will continue up, across and down the peninsula, another 900 miles, in what is billed as the "Ultimate Florida Challenge."
Some of these paddlers are seasoned veterans; others are rookies, but hopefully they are better prepared than I was that stormy day in 1993.
You can check out the boats and talk to the paddlers today at Fort De Soto's east beach or stop by Saturday at 7 a.m. for the start. Perhaps you will be inspired to plan an adventure of your own. We all have to begin somewhere.
Terry Tomalin, who has been on or in the water 62 of the last 64 days in pursuing his New Year's resolution, can be reached at (727) 893-8808.