Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kayaking Friends Put Paddle to Water for Everglades Challenge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kayaking Friends Put Paddle to Water for Everglades Challenge

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Jim Connell and Will Schaet have come to accept the "you've-got-to-be-kidding" stares.

That's the typical reaction they get from people who find out that, for the third time, the pair are voluntarily embarking on a 300-mile South Florida kayaking adventure that will require them to paddle at least 12 to 13 hours a day, rain or shine, cold or hot - with no potential prize money to spur them on.

Connell, the Clay County school district's director of facilities, and Schaet, director of operations for construction management firm Barton-Malow Co., sometimes question their sanity too.

As they prepared for a practice paddle on Black Creek last weekend, in cold and rainy weather that they feared would follow them on the South Florida trip, Connell had a moment of worry.

"That's when I say, 'Why are you doing this?' " he said.

But then they remember.

It's called the Everglades Challenge for a reason.

"It is a challenge," said Connell, who lives in the Orange Park area. "Who else can say they paddled unaided for five or six days?"

Schaet, an Arlington resident, agreed.

"The most rewarding thing is ... the accomplishment, or at least attempting it," he said.

They also remember, based on prior experience, the extraordinary sights they will see along the way. They remember the last day of the 2009 Challenge, when they enjoyed the peace and beauty of an offshore, open water crossing at night.

"Nobody around, it's just a great feeling," Schaet said. "Just spectacular."

Connell and Schaet and their respective kayaks - Sundance and Hammerstroke - will be among 70 paddlers and small sail boaters in the Challenge, which begins today at Fort DeSoto on Tampa Bay and heads south to Key Largo. Entrants carry food, water and everything else they need in or on their watercraft. …

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