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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles The Houston Chronicle
Sunday, April 4, 1993
by George Rosenblatt

Tampa Canoe for an hour or two

On the lookout for wildlife...Tampa, Fla. -- Whether you like to rough it the easy way or take it easy the hard way, a small, family-run outfit near here may have just the right idea for you.

It's a canoe trip down the Hillsborough River.

You need not be an experienced paddler, nor especially athletic. All you need is some curiosity, a little sense of adventure, a few bucks and half a day to enjoy them all in a piece of primeval Florida.

Then put yourself into the capable hands of the Faulks -- Joseph, Jean and their son, Brian -- who own and operate Canoe Escape, Inc. in Thonotosassa, about a dozen miles northeast of downtown Tampa.

Canoeing was mainly a hobby for Joseph Faulk until last year, when he checked out of a two-decade hotel career and started paddling his occupation in a different direction.

"Twenty years in the hotel business is enough for anyone," Faulk says.

Canoe Escape is his vehicle for combining his experience in the hospitality industry with his love for the outdoors.

"We see canoeing as a vehicle to see the wilderness side of Florida, and the canoe is just the way to get there," he adds. "It's kind of a throwback to what people came to Florida for 30 years ago."

The man is too modest.

On a trip as short as two hours, participants can see Florida as it likely appeared 30 centuries ago.

One of the amazing qualities of even the simplest itinerary is how quickly and completely nature captures your imagination and drains off your tensions.

Trip No. 1, for example, involves about two hours of paddling to cover the four miles from Sargeant Park to Morris Bridge Park.

Within the first two minutes, your canoe is gliding through a thick, green canopy of near-tropical foliage, funneled out of the daily grind onto a swampy, lake like variation of the Elysian Fields--a primeval paradise of dark water patched with water hyacinths.

Roadways, engine noises and other intrusions of civilization fade abruptly, yielding to the water and vegetation. Even this early in the trip, it is difficult to envision the river as the principal water supply for a major city.

With every stroke of the paddle, you seem to drift father back in time, beyond the 1769 naming of the river for a British nobleman, beyond the advent of the Spanish who called the river El Rio de San Julian de Arriaga, beyond the Seminoles who called it Lockcha-popka-chiska, beyond even preceding tribes who called it Mocoso.

Today you may well encounter a Briton or a Spaniard on the Hillsborough, as Faulk estimates that up to 40 percent of his weekday traffic comes from outside the United States. And maybe you'll meet a Seminole or other Indian. But you are far more likely to see alligators, either basking on a fallen log or periscoping their bulging eyes through the water that masks the rest of their bodies.

Judicious, gentle paddling of a canoe can let you drift remarkably close to these creatures, which have likely changed far less than has their habitat over the millennia. But judicious is the key word, for when it comes to navigating near gators, a fool and his limbs are soon parted.

Another key memorandum for wilderness wanderers is that peaceable presence is a cornerstone of coexistence. In other words, don't bug the beasts or the birds and they will likely not but--or bite--you.

That rule leaves a lot of latitude for each species to observe the other. And there is a lot to observe along the Hillsborough.

Leaving the broad expanse of waterborne foliage, canoeists paddle into the much narrower main channel of the river. At some points the river appears nearly narrow enough to jump across--with or without a booster bounce off one of the sandbars that periodically reduce the depth to mere inches.

In the shallows, the water appears almost crystal clear. But at other, presumably deeper points along the way, the water exudes a sinister murk.

The blackwater, as it is termed, resembles brewed tea in several respects, from color to the fact that it represents nature's equivalent of infusing the leaves, bark and other vegetable matter that falls or grows into it.

In counterpoint, the air holds little for the untrained nose beyond a sort of muggy purity, and little for the untrained ear, save a delicious silence punctuated by a random bird call.

The big beneficiaries of the trip are your eyes, for they see much that is unexpected in various ways.

Along the banks, they see cypress knees bigger and more abundant than preconceptions anticipate.

In some of the shallows, they spot seashells that appear to betray a big clambake, but actually occur naturally in the fresh water--too tiny for human appetites, but just right for birds.

Up a tree or up a tiny stream, they see birds--sometimes rare or endangered birds, like a heron or an egret, its white plumage almost incandescent in the gray-green light of a botanical tunnel.

And, or course, sometimes they see something they would rather not. While absorbing the primeval ambience, one canoeist dropped his paddle. His partner, riding forward, passed his paddle back to facilitate guiding the canoe until the lost paddle floated alongside.

The paddle-dropper headed the canoe into the tangled, leafless branches of a fallen tree. The impact was so gentle, it didn't ruffle a scale on the cottonmouth moccasin stretched maybe four feet along one of the branches, its head addressing the nearby bank.

"Don't you want to take a picture?" asked the helmsman-by-default.

The response took the form of a question answering a question:

"Do you want to tell the nearest emergency room staff what possessed you to gargle the wide end of a canoe paddle?"

In that enlightened context, the canoe back-paddled to achieve maximum distance from the snake in minimum time.

The presence of such reptiles is a fact of life along the river. Canoeists may see none, or they may see many. Seeing the area's wild denizens of whatever species is one of the whole points of doing the trip--although, to reiterate, healthy respect is a key to seeing them.

Respect for nature and curiosity about it are among the few things a participant need to bring along.

What you don't know about canoeing the Faulks will teach you--and it will be just enough to show you a side of Florida often lost in the shadow of manufactured amusement.

The real, natural, wild side.

Canoe Trip Glides Through the Real Florida
Florida, My Florida
Tampa Canoe for an Hour or Two
Canoe Ride Catches Wildlife Up Close
Wild Times on a Tame River
Paddle Away from all Your Troubles
Florida Canoe Trips: The Hillsborough
Taking a Glide on the Wild Side of Florida
Hillsborough River Becomes a Canoe Trail
A Peaceable Kingdom Awaits Those Who Step Into a Canoe
Quietly Taking In Nature
Paddle Into Paradise

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Canoe Escape, Inc.
9335 E. Fowler Avenue
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
ph: 813-986-2067
e-mail: info@canoeescape.com