Day 7. You couldn’t script it any better as we woke up to a rainbow over our camp that final morning. It was as if Mother Nature was testing us, we’d endured, and now she was giving her stamp of approval. What a great sign that was, and we had stellar weather for our final 14 miles. For all I know actually, it could have been raining – Gabe and I were on cloud nine the whole paddle. We got an early start to the day so we wouldn’t be late for the welcoming crew, just in case we hit that afternoon thunderstorm again. The landscape and vegetation began to change as we approached the Gulf of Mexico – the wildlife, the types of fish we saw, the smell of salt in the air – the coastline was quickly approaching, and we were fired up. To signify the official end of the journey, the Apalachicola Riverkeeeper kayakers have a tradition they passed on to us that you must tap the 98 bridge post when you finish, which is considered Mile 0 of the Apalachicola River. I’ve never been so stoked to touch a bridge post in my life when Gabe and I paddled up with excitement. As promised, Tom greeted us along the water’s edge to guide us to Up the Creek Raw Bar, where we had a huge welcoming crew excited to see us make our final approach. It was such a rewarding feeling: the Mayor of Apalachicola came out and prepared a wonderful speech to welcome us and the project, we had multiple media sources there covering the trip, the Apalachicola City Commissioner came out, representatives from the state joined us, our friends and family were there, and even our friends from Wewahitchka showed up to greet us with their younger boys. We celebrated with raw oysters, cold beer, and shared stories the entire evening with excellent company and new friends. It was such a fitting end to our journey.
This first paddle was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. We learned a ton along the way and without a doubt gained valuable insight into fine-tuning our own processes for the road ahead. We also raised a ton of awareness for this beautiful waterway and the conservation work that the Apalachicola Riverkeeper is doing. I was proud to hear that the mayor of Apalachicola said our journey inspired him to do something special for the city to celebrate the state’s 500th anniversary next year. We made a lot of friends and learned a great deal about the river, and we got firsthand experience in the backwoods of Florida – an area we’ll be spending a lot of time in during second half of 2013 when we turn inland. Our training is off to a great start with four more XF500 Conservation Paddles ahead, and then beginning January 1st it’s 365 days on Florida waters with Expedition Florida 500!