Because the route is generally within view, it’s hard to get lost in a kayak. On a lake, a river or in the ocean —there’s always a landmark or watery path to guide the paddler. While surprise thunderstorms and hail can be problematic (yet another story), to actually lose one’s way seems almost impossible. But it can be done.
When we paddled out from Islamorada last month, we had two destinations. The second one was visible to the northeast under and beyond the Overseas Highway: Indian Key State Park. First however, we planned to explore the extensive mangroves to the southwest of our launch point. Slathered with sunscreen, armed with an old map (the rental shop had run out of the updated ones) and prepared to make a day of it with drinks and a picnic lunch, we launched.
Stingrays, horseshoe crabs and schools of fish danced freely beneath us in clear cyan blue water. Sea birds perched on weathered posts, and mangrove shoots dotted the placid surface. We rechecked the map frequently to be sure we didn’t overshoot the entry points for the water trails and aimed carefully for an orange trail on the furthest western side of the mangrove map.
After a few false turns (which were just as fascinating and enjoyable as the correct ones), we found what had to be our orange trail. It looked a little too easy though. No overhead canopy, no leaning in or ducking down to avoid entanglement with branches and vines. We couldn’t see fish anymore either as the water appeared to have dramatically deepened. The chief navigator (me) looked at the map again and finally deciphered the orange trail to be a blurred sentence: DO NOT ENTER! There were more slurry indecipherable words, but by then as double deck ocean cruisers approached from both sides, abruptly cutting their motors to chug on by our diminutive kayaks, we figured out that we’d wandered into a boat channel. None of the boaters said a word. But we got the message and quickly pulled ourselves back into the twisting mangroves just as the fourth boat cranked up its speed to make up for lost time. Embarrassing? A little. Funny? Uh huh.
Since I had painstakingly aimed for the one place forbidden to us, I’m not sure that we were actually “lost.” It was more like we were missing from the correct path. And since it was all within the same ocean, I’ve simply filed it all as a minor technicality —and a great adventure.