I lived in Northern Florida for over three years, but I wasn’t really living because I had no knowledge of the Ichetucknee Springs and River. Nestled deep in the heart of the state behind the kudzu and the oak trees are swimming holes so blue they could make Axl Rose change the lyrics to Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Before my visit to Ichetucknee State Park I was not familiar with the pastime of tubing. Tubing is to extreme sports what the Southern drawl is to a New York conversation. You blow up an inner tube, drop it in a river, plop yourself on the floatation device and let the river take you where it will. I suppose there could be excitement if the river you chose had rapids and waterfalls, but the Ichetucknee has a gentle flow, one that will ultimately take you to your destination, but not in any rush.
It takes about three hours to tube from the north side of the park to the south. You drop your car at one side of the river and a park employee shuttles you to the north end. We were the last to get on the river, so I had a private ride where I was told of the wildlife that can populate the Ichetucknee. There are sea otters and occasionally even manatees floating into the fresh water. I asked about alligators, but was told the water flows too fast for their lazy tastes.
On the river I did not see any mammals, but in the crystal clear water we could see plenty of fish swimming along with a couple turtles. Ibises and egrets flew overhead. The landscape surrounding the river was the type of green that a young impressionistic painter could have his way with.
The temperature of the water felt chilly at first as I have acclimated to the balmy Miami beaches, but in the hot sun the coldish water feels good. Only part of your body is submerged in the water anyway, though you might use your hands to propel yourselves through the slower stretches. The next day your abs will feel the weight of a thousand sit ups with the way the inner tube situates your body.
Much of the river is too shallow for swimming as your feet will scrape up against the sea grass, but we found one area that went about ten feet deep. The cold spring water flowed through the ground and you could surf the current back to the surface.
This might sound like a paid advertisement from the Suwannee, Florida tourism board, my enthusiasm for this area of the world was only subsidized by the landscape’s natural beauty. My only regret about visiting the Ichetucknee is that I had to leave.