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5 MILES, 2 HOURS AND A KAYAK

Need a challenge? A new course provides several, and the lurking specter of alligators.

Florida has long been known as a haven for flatwater kayakers - atop beautiful bays, along ocean shores, through the Everglades.

Largo is promoting its own kayak adventure, a challenging 5-mile urban trek that begins in the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve and twists to Lake Seminole Park.

The route winds kayakers through back yards and under city roads, providing challenges like near-impasses, the less pleasant smells of urban life and brushes with alligators.

I met Times photographer Ted McLaren at the 31-acre nature park - home to more than 130 species of birds, otters, red fox and, yes, alligators - at 9 a.m. at the kayak/canoe launch. Though not finished, it was usable and will eventually feature a wide step-down with shale as infill.

I started paddling through shallow, algae-covered water. Soon, the narrow channel gave way to a wider waterway filled with lake grass. Either turtles or otters kept diving from just under the surface to the bottom, making the water around us appear to be boiling.

As we passed through the East Bay Country Club golf course, I heard a thunk and realized that whatever was under the water had just hit my kayak. Thoughts of Jaws started flying through my mind.

We soon reached the first of four underpasses. A small bridge at New Haven Drive in Largo gave us about 3 feet of clearance under the road.

The next underpass would be much more daunting. As we crossed beneath Donegan Road, the underpass had a horrible smell. Then a manmade obstacle, a yellow floating water barrier like the ones around construction sites, stretched from one bank to the other. Working together, we put enough pressure on the float to cross the water.

A CSX engine chugged across a train trestle as we continued to the next challenge: Ulmerton Road.

To cross under the four-lane road, we leaned back low. With barely 3 feet of clearance, we used our hands to walk along the bottom of the busy lanes of traffic.

On the other side, as we paddled our way through Grosse Pointe Mobile Home Park, someone from the shore shouted: "Watch out for the alligators."

The sun beat down on us as we continued through the canal and neared a waterway that snaked along the east side of Lake Seminole.

We continued for another 45 minutes. In less than two hours, we made it to the end of the trail at Lake Seminole Park.

My arms felt as though they would fall off. My head was dizzy from the heat and rowing.

We steered over to the green, grassy bank and pushed our kayaks on shore. As we stood under the shade of a live oak, we read the sign next to where we landed: "Beware of Alligators."

If you go

TIP: This is a long course, and you'll be happy if you parked a car at the end so you can drive back to your starting point.

ROUTE: The kayak trek begins at Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, along busy East Bay Drive and Highland Avenue. It ends at Park Boulevard in Lake Seminole Park. There are a few near-impasses and the threat of gators.

WHAT WE PACKED: Two bottles of water, two ice packs, sunscreen, Teddy Grahams for photographer.

WHAT I WISH I'D PACKED:

More water, wide-brimmed "safari" style hat, extra arms.

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