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Your Yak Or Mine? A Day In The Life...

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On: Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 11:17AM | By: Mel The Guide

We are back from the Jersey Shore; we spent the holidays with my daughter and son-in-law, and our two lovely grand daughters. Cassie, 17, is the captain of the cheerleaders; Brielle, 14, is a freshman on the JV basketball team in Point Pleasant. My wife and I love going to the games to see Cassie cheer and Brielle play. It’s always so nice to visit the family. However, this year we also had a bunch of SNOW—the largest snow storm in recorded history. We stayed for about three and a half weeks. And had four snowstorms. My wife loves this and to me it only reminds me why I live in the great state of Florida.

Now, let’s get back to paddling, here in paradise. Often I am asked, “what’s it like to be Mel, The Guide? What a great job you have.” So, come with me through a typical day as Mel, the Guide:

Since snow is still on my mind, the plows, the dump trucks, the dozers up and down the road and the BEEP, BEEP, BEEP as they back up, but then a slap across the chest, a large heavy arm? What’s this?? Oh, it’s my wife beating on me to shut off the alarm. The vacation is over.

So, I drag myself out of bed, shower, and take my meds with a protein shake. Pull the car out of the garage, and park in the driveway. Look, the sun’s just starting to rise, the weather report is for the low 80s and sunny. The Honda Gold Wing (Pearl) has not been started in a month. She sits in the back of the garage calling to me to be taken out for a ride. So, I suit up with my road amour and orange reflective vest, and turn the key. She starts—a pleasant sound. I pull out the drive and look right into the rising sun. “Thank you, Lord, for this day; give me the strength to make it through it.”

At the base camp in sunny Matlacha, I open the shack and put out the open sign at the end of the driveway. Tom and Rose are already at the bait shop where the King (the weenie dog) is all stretched out on the hot cement. When I get to the dock I pull my Native Craft from the rack, put in the seat, get my paddles and a few bottles of water, and ease it into the canal.

Today we have six going out at 9 am. I get the kayaks, lay them out at the dock and wipe them down. My guests start to arrive about 8:30. We get in our kayaks and I ask who has paddled before? Four have and two have never been on the water in a boat. I assure them they will have a great day. We then go over some simple paddle strokes, which they pick up quickly. I tell them this is an eco-tour and not a race; we are going out to see whatever Mother Nature will share with us. You must keep you eyes and ears open to find the wildlife. Within the first ten minutes of our adventure we came across a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphin—two adults and a baby. The mother was flipping a fish in the air, and the baby was chasing it. It looked like dad would chase a school of fish to mom and she would stun one and flip it to the baby, teaching it how to fish. We observed from a distance so as not to disturb them in their natural environment.

We saw some American brown pelicans diving for some of the fish the dolphins were chasing. As we paddled on we saw many different shore birds and a nest of osprey high on a platform someone had constructed in his yard. We came behind a few oyster beds and saw a small flock of oystercatchers, with their long red beaks. “Manatee,” one of the paddlers yelled out, and, yes, we saw a small herd of them making their way upstream to the back canals of Matlacha Isles. I tell the folks that last year was a very bad year for the manatee. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said close to seven hundred died from the extreme cold, collisions with boats, structure death, and the toxic red tide. There is a non-profit organization called Save The Manatee you could contact at for more info on how to help this helpless beautiful mammal. The dude who started this group is Jimmy Buffet.

We came across some turkey buzzards in the trees; maybe something had died farther back in the thick mangrove forest. We were a party of six going at a leisurely pace, one behind the other in a canal far back in the mangroves. The canal was only about twenty feet wide, and some times even narrower. As we made our way through this maze of downed trees and new heavy growth, I spotted on the sunny mud bank a six-and-a-half-foot gator sunning himself. He looks healthy and well fed. I stop a few feet away from him and tell the folks, “We have a gator on our left; please continue to paddle slowly by, and don’t make any loud noise.” Therefore, our first kayaker goes by and he says in a LOUD voice, “Oh, !@%#- I have never been this close to an alligator in the wild.” I remind him that, yes, this is the wild and the real deal and to keep his voice down so as not to disturb the animal, and please keep paddling. As the rest of the tour paddled by, the gator stayed still and did not move a muscle. Then as I passed him he raised his head, turned it towards me, and let out a low strong hiss. He did not move any more and held his ground. He was not giving up his sunny bank, and that was fine with me.

I caught up with the rest of the tour and led them to a spot where I knew there would be more manatee. Each year they come back to the same old hangouts. It was nice to see them back again.

We had a great paddle and were blessed again by the family of dolphins close to the base camp. Everyone had a fantastic adventure and it was good for some of them to be out of the cold north. Having such a good tour the tips were good. I heard them all say they would be back again, but with more family to share this wonderful tour.

I washed the boats and vests and put them back on the racks. The afternoon sun was getting hot, and it was nice to ride Pearl back home. She just hums on the long ride. It’s a thirty-mile trip each way, but I don’t mind, as I love to ride my bike in the sun and fresh clean air under a sky of blue and white puffy clouds. It sure beats New Jersey’s gray sky.

Once home I shower and get ready to go out. My wife is just coming home from the gym and her daily workout. I ask what she wants to do? Cook or go to grab a pie? She always opts for the pie. It was two-for-one on the drinks and the merlot went down easy after a day on the Back Bay.

So, as you can see life is good being Mel, The Guide. I hope God gives me the strength to do this for many more years. Who knows I may see you on the water next time. Thanks for paddling with Mel the Guide.


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