The Transylvania Times -

River Trip Provides Escape, Shines Light On Cause

 

Last updated 3/1/2021 at 4:04pm

The four discovered tranquility on their trip, away from the constant chatter of social media. (Courtesy photo by Nelson Stegall)

To some, the idea of giving up modern comforts such as indoor plumbing, Wi-Fi and clean sheets for three weeks isn't exactly their idea of relaxation.

But to local couple Clyde Carter and Jayne Fought and friends Nelson and Angie Stegall and their hundreds of followers, a 22-day, 330-mile paddling expedition across the state of Florida turned out to be just the escape they needed from today's times.

Clyde and Jayne, known by the trail names Action and Adventure, and Nelson and Angie, known by Yukon and Bean, recently returned from their near month-long adventure.

They chronicled the trip on Facebook under the page The Great Florida Traverse.

What started as a loose suggestion to take a trip to Florida together, turned out to be an adventure with a mission for the couples to raise awareness for the need to protect the Okefenokee Swamp from a proposed titanium mine.

As the four began planning the trip, they began learning about the proposed mine and the potential harm it could cause the swamp and the two rivers they would be paddling, the St. Marys River and the Suwannee River.

"When we started looking at doing this trip, Nelson had found an article from American Rivers, and they had listed the St. Marys and the Okefenokee as their number eight most endangered river," Angie said. "I ended up calling Ben Emanuel from American Rivers and talking to him about that, and it was because of this titanium mine that's being proposed in Georgia on an area called the Trail Ridge."

The couples' trip would take them from the East Coast of Florida, where the St. Marys River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, upstream and west following the Georgia-Florida border into the Okefenokee Swamp and then out on Suwannee River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, near where the Florida panhandle curves into its peninsula.

The mines would impact each waterway if the project gains approval.

According to www. protectokefenokee.org, the mine would involve digging 50-foot pits in an area called Trail Ridge, which borders the swamp, and effect the hydrology of the area, impairing the movement and storage of water within the swamp.

This would threaten wildlife, decrease the health and flow of the Suwanee and St. Marys Rivers and threaten fishing and recreation in the popular waterways.

Coincidentally, the four paddlers would be passing through an area in Georgia called Trader's Hill the same date as the Georgia River Network would be conducting a river trip.

They were able to speak to a group of 40 people interested in protecting the waterways about their trip (outside, distanced and masked, of course).

The serendipitous timing of that meeting was just one of many happy coincidences the four encountered on the water.

While meeting with the folks from the Georgia River Network, they were able to solve all of their logistical problems, such as places to park cars, camping locations and shuttle drivers. One post on The Great Florida Traverse Facebook page, Bean (Angie) described losing a pair of sunglasses on the river only to find another pair further downstream.

In another post, Yukon (Nelson) gave thanks to a man named Gene and his dog, Booger, for giving the group shelter from the rain, right at the moment they were about to set up a tarp to make lunch.

On each post, excited followers chimed in on the conversation to offer thanks to the couples for sharing or to share their own similar experiences. At a time when social media is more contentious than ever, The Great Florida Traverse offered a positive contribution to folks' Facebook feeds.

The four unanimously said, every encounter they had on their trip was overwhelmingly positive.

"Coming out of this divisive election season, where the country seems so divided, we didn't sense any of that with the communications we had with people. We didn't know what their politic brand was or they ours...we had people buy us meals, give us rides, help us anyway they could, let us stay on their property," Clyde said.

"It's so funny because it makes me want to say, 'Get off social media,' but then that was our main source of sharing this information," Jayne said."So, I'm so conflicted. I don't know what to say about that. So, maybe just use social media wisely."

The trip, though often unrelentingly rainy and unusually cold, offered everyone a chance to revel in the simplicity of the expedition.

The issues before the group were all solvable.

Questions like where to camp that night or what to eat all had an answer, and everything they needed was packed inside their boats for the entire three weeks.

"You didn't have to worry about what you were going to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime or anything," Nelson said. There was nothing. You read your book...You just sit there and stare off at the river and watch the birds go by. The trip itself, and just the simplicity in the day-to-day life – that is just so simple, when you do a trip like this. I don't think at any point in time I was worried about anything."

Other than using social media to post periodic updates on their trip, the four said they all deliberately checked out from the news and social media throughout the trip. It was a welcome break.

"I thrive in that simple routine," Jayne said. "You don't have to sit and go, 'Well, what are we going to do today?' It's like, Ok, I'm going to get up. I'm going to have breakfast. I'm going to pack up camp. I'm going to paddle around 20 miles or so. I'm going to set up camp, and I'm going to eat dinner, and I'm going to go to sleep. And in between we're going to tell stories, and we're going to laugh a little. And what are we going to do tomorrow? We're going to do the same thing, and I love that."

Additionally, checking out of an online presence allowed the four to be more present with each other and the environment.

The group had run-ins with alligators, manatees, birds, turtles and raccoons (one was so startled by the paddlers it fell out of its tree), and they all four said they viewed the time in nature as restorative.

Angie said one of the things she most appreciated about the trip was how it facilitated deep con-versations between the friends.

"I loved our evenings sitting by the river," she said. "The four of us would have our chairs together. We would be prepping dinner, cooking dinner, eating dinner, and somebody would ask a question about the day or about your thoughts. Suddenly, we were having deep meaningful sharing – real vulnerability and real introspection just about life.

"That's always been one of the reasons I love being outdoors with other people. There's just something about that lack of distraction, whether you're all together around a campfire or, in our case, around camp stoves, you're just having real conversations with people. It's one of my absolute favorite things about the outdoors."

The friends initially bonded over their love for the outdoors and adventure, and clearly through this latest trip, they strengthened that bond.

In just a few weeks, one half of the group, Clyde and Jayne, are planning to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Last year, Clyde announced his retirement from teaching wilderness leadership and experiential education at Brevard College after 31 years.

Though he's officially retired, he seems to be as busy as ever. Jayne is also busy, running wilderness guide company Island Ford Adventures. The two will be chronicling their trip on Facebook under the page Action & Adventure Hike The Appalachian Trail.

Nelson and Angie also chronicle their adventures on their Facebook page, Yukon and Bean.

Angie is a business and life coach and owns the company Angie Stegall Executive Wayfinding.

Clyde Carter and Jayne Fought, and Angie and Nelson Stegall recently made a 330-mile paddling trip together. (Courtesy photo by Jayne Fought)

Nelson is a photographer and will be posting and selling photos from their trip on his website, http://www.nelsonstegallphotography.com.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Okefenokee Swamp and the effort to stop the proposed titanium mines may visit http://www.protectokefenokee.org.

 
 

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