“It’s a great day for sailing,” I said when meeting Bill Burnham for the first time.
White caps dotted the Atlantic Ocean side of Marathon Key and I didn’t think my kayaking trip in the Florida Keys was going to happen. It looked too dang choppy to paddle a kayak over the open water, especially since I consider myself a novice paddler. But Bill and his wife Mary, who operate Burnham Guides, are experienced and skilled kayak outfitters and had a Plan B.
They led me through the shelter of intriguing and narrow mangrove tunnels to placid coves and a bustling beach. This, my friends, was pure bliss.
There’s More to the Florida Keys than Key West
Each time I talked about my plans to kayak with Burnham Guides in the Florida Keys, friends said, “I love Key West.” That’s fine and well. I’m a big fan of the Conch Republic too, but there’s more to the Florida Keys than Key West.
My destination was Marathon in the Lower Keys and I really wish I had more than one night to soak up the Keys lifestyle. Working a full-time job and finding the time to escape between projects left me with few options so I ended up kayaking on a breezy Sunday in December with Burnham Guides LLC.
Kayaking the Florida Keys with Experts
The Burnhams are an example of a couple living their dream. They met while working for publications and turned their passion for kayaking into their career. In 2007 they published Florida Keys Paddling Atlas which is basically the bible for kayaking the Keys and in recent years they’ve been leading guided overnight paddling trips in the Florida Keys November through April. The couple spends the rest of the year in Eastern Virginia guiding trips.
Typically, Burnham Guides offers overnight kayaking trips in the Keys but I had picked up a gift certificate for a day trip at an auction with the Florida Society of Ethical Ecotourism. The date I selected seemed to work out for me, the Burnhams and two other women who joined the trip. I consider myself a novice paddler and these two gals were relatively new to kayaking. In fact, this was the second kayaking experience for young woman from Manhattan and although the wind posed to be a challenge for everyone, she had an enjoyable time.
The mangrove tunnels were so narrow that I had to take my paddle apart and use it like a canoe paddle. Sometimes my sea kayak seemed too long for the twisting tunnels and I ended up stuck in mangrove roots. Small black mangrove crabs scurried along the trees and to prevent them from hitching a ride, I carefully leveraged low-hanging mangrove branches to pull myself out and pushed on the sturdy roots to propel me through.
One of the coves we reached made me appreciate the power of mangrove trees. Although windy, the trees provided enough shelter to still the waters. The Burnahms encouraged us to hop out of our kayaks and take a swim.
“How the heck will I get back in the boat?” I thought to myself as I respectfully declined the invitation as did the other two paddlers. After all, I’m as graceful as an elephant getting into a kayak when it’s on land. I could not imagine the production of getting into a kayak floating in water.
Our lunch destination was Sombrero Beach on Marathon. It looked like it was straight out of a guidebook with a crescent-shaped beach, aquamarine water, white sand and palm trees. Sun worshippers of every shape, size and age soaked up rays while some splashed in the Atlantic Ocean. A handful of chickees with picnic tables offered shade from the Florida sun and restroom offered, well, modern relief. The Burnhams packed a lunch and we sat together as new found friends enjoying the tropical breezes of the coveted Keys lifestyle.
All Good Things Come to an End
It always seems to happen this way but the paddle back to shore seemed much shorter than the paddle out. I suppose Mother Nature’s wind had something to do with that and gave us a gentle push back.
After this seven-something-hour day, I made my way back to Southwest Florida to rejoin civilization and I realized how much I needed that day on the water and change of scenery. It also reminded me of the beautiful secrets Florida still has to share with me.
Where to Stay in Marathon
I met the Burnhams at Knights Key RV Resort & Marina a beautiful campground and marina. I could tell many recreational vehicle owners had driven down from the North and were settled in for a warm Florida winter. In addition to hookups for RVs, there was an area for tent camping.
I opted to hotel camp the night before my full-day kayaking trip at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Marathon and just up the road from the RV resort. It was a terrific stay with friendly and helpful staff. The hotel seemed relatively new so everything was in great shape, including the comfortable bed. Free WiFi and breakfast is also available. On site is Tarpon Creek Bar & Grill where I enjoyed a tasty dinner with conch fritters, salad with fish and tangy key lime which hit the spot.
Burnham Guides typically offer overnight kayaking trips designed for all skill levels. If you’ve never been kayaking but are up for an adventure, give them a try. Prior to hitting the water a land-based orientation is given and the Burnhams are kind, patient and passionate. They’ll ensure you have a comfortable and positive experience.