When my alarm clock rings at 3:45 a.m., I think it is a mistake. Even the dog at the foot of my bed just lifts her head, looks around, then goes back to snoring. Nobody in their right mind gets up at that hour unless there's money involved. For me, however, it's all in the name of fun. The weather has been unseasonably hot. I break into a sweat just walking from my office to the car. I wish I could be like sensible folks and stay inside during the hottest part of the day. But being the outdoors guy, I can't avoid the heat and sun.
Or can I?
The numbers game
During the day, the thermometer may read 95 degrees, but out on the water, where there is no shade, it feels like 110. Most anglers just suffer through it. After all, if the fish are biting, who cares how hot it is?
Standing on the deck of a boat, waiting for a line to go taut, doesn't require a great deal of caloric output. But once a fish hits, and the fight begins, the sweat pours off me like a waterfall.
So forget about any nonstop, rhythmic activity such as hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding during the day. You must curtail such activities if you want to avoid heatstroke.
Unless, of course, you become a creature of the night.
Head out on the water at 4:30 a.m. and you will find it's cooler. Some might even consider it comfortable. Unfortunately, most people value their beauty sleep more than adventure. But as you can see from my mug shot, I don't have that problem.
Standing on the bank of the Anclote River in the predawn darkness, I expected to be savaged by mosquitoes and no-see-ums. The air, however, is bug-free. The biting insects are obviously still asleep.
The river is quiet at this hour of the morning. Even the sponge boats are still as our kayaks glide silently with the outgoing tide.
A pair of headlights lights up the shoreline, then disappear from view. Maybe a newspaper carrier is on his morning rounds.
A little farther downriver, a light goes on in a fish house. I can hear the sound of ice being shoveled into a cooler. The waterfront is getting ready to go to work.
Off in the distance, a dog barks. A light goes on in a kitchen and I wonder if I paddle over would they share a cup of coffee.
Then, without warning, the water erupts in front of my kayak. Something big did not hear or see me coming. Shark? Manatee? Tarpon? Whatever it was, it got my blood flowing a lot quicker than a shot of caffeine.
Here comes the sun
Three miles later, as the first hints of light show on the eastern sky, we find ourselves at the mouth of the river. My paddling companion and I debate whether to press on to Anclote Key, another hour there and an hour back, or do we find a sandbar to stop and eat breakfast?
The air is still cool, but we both know that as soon as that sun gets above the horizon, the mercury will begin to creep up, one degree at a time. In a couple of hours we will be dripping with sweat. Why not quit while we are ahead?
So we paddle over to a county park and pull up on the beach near some picnic tables. Five minutes later, we've got hot coffee and scrambled egg burritos that we've prepared over a camp stove.
Fishermen with their boats and trailers are lining up at the ramp to begin their long, hot treks offshore. I hope they make it there and back before the afternoon storms kick in, because by the looks of the clouds forming over the Gulf of Mexico, it is going to be a rough one.
In the distance, I hear the deep rumble of what sounds like a garbage truck. I stop talking and listen more closely. That's no truck. That's thunder. So we pack up our kayaks, climb back in and paddle straight into the raising sun.
It's not even 8 a.m., but I felt like I've been gone a whole day — or at least a good part of the night.