BRAVE IT: PADDLE 'ROUND FLORIDA
The Florida Circumnavigation Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,500-mile aquatic version of the Appalachian Trail, begins at Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, runs south along the gulf coast beaches, around the Florida Keys, then up the east coast to Fort Clinch State Park near the Georgia border. Diehard paddlers call it the "CT" for short and only a few dedicated kayakers have actually made it all the way around the Florida peninsula. But if you try, you will encounter every type of ecosystem in Florida, from the towering sand dunes of the Panhandle to the mangrove jungles of the Ten Thousand Islands. The trail is divided into 26 segments, some longer and more difficult, some short and ideal for beginners. In areas such as St. Petersburg or Miami, you'll never be too far from civilization. But down near the Everglades or up in the wilds of Big Bend, you will be on your own. You can paddle for a few hours, spend the night in one of the trail's designated campsites, or spend a week or even a month living out of the seat of a kayak. The camps are spread within easy paddling distance of each other, so there is no need to worry about where to make landfall. Paddling around the state does sound nearly impossible, at least for those of us with jobs and families. But many paddlers approach the challenge of the CT the same way hikers think of completing the Appalachian Trail, one segment at a time.
HISTORY LESSON: SAN MARCOS
Four flags — Spanish, English, American and Confederate — have flown over San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park at St. Marks on the Florida Panhandle. The site traces its history to 1528 when the conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez traveled through the area with 300 men. In 1679, the Spanish built a fort at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers but it was later destroyed by a hurricane and the garrison drowned. The U.S. general and later president Andrew Jackson passed through the area in the early 1800s and years later, the Navy began construction of a hospital to treat sailors with yellow fever. Confederate troops renamed the structure Fort Ward during the Civil War. Thursday, visitors can watch a video that explains the park's colorful history. The picnic area, overlooking the two rivers, is a great place for lunch. Bring your fishing rod because you'll catch redfish, trout and even the occasional largemouth bass. To learn more, go to floridastateparks.org.
RACCOONS: THE MASKED BANDIT
In the wild, raccoons are skilled hunters that can catch most of their meals at the water's edge with their quick, nimble hands. Unfortunately, these opportunistic omnivores are also lazy and will take a free handout from humans whenever they can get it. Raccoons are most active in the later afternoon or at night. Problem animals, those that have been fed by humans lose their natural fear and invade a campsite. But remember, it is illegal to place or offer food or garbage in a way that it attracts raccoons and creates a public nuisance. When camping, make sure you secure your trash and keep food stored in hard, lockable containers.
FLORIDA FIND: COOL PANTS
Kuhl started off making clothing for skiers. The same materials that work well on the slopes — light, durable and quick drying — are also ideal for Florida's hot, humid climate. If you can only carry one pair of pants, make it the Revolver. Ideal for camping, kayaking, canoeing, backpacking and all other outdoor activities, you'll find Kuhl products and excellent addition to any kit. To learn more, go to kuhl.com.