Nestled in a hardwood hammock southeast of Gainesville and near the small town of Fort White is the gorgeous Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
The Ichetucknee River, formed by several fresh water springs, is a favorite place to take a slow tube ride.
My wife, Lana, and I took our children there many times when they were younger and they still make the trip often.
Like all of Florida's springs, the water stays a steady 72 degrees, but on a hot summer day provides a welcome chill. Rent a tube, jump in and enjoy the relaxing six-mile ride or opt for a shorter trip. This is a slow journey through canopied oaks that cover a floor of beautiful ferns populated by all sorts of wildlife. Deer, hogs and otters are often seen and the many ducks will join you on your float.
A famous naturalist once wrote that this is the world's finest landscape. It's hard to disagree. While the Ichetucknee is a safe ride for young or old, it was quite a contrast to our first float trip.
Back in 1975, in the second year of our marriage, Lana and I decided to go into the Wisconsin north woods to try our hand at white water rafting. As a country boy stuck working in the concrete jungles of Chicago, I longed for a little wilderness.
When I heard about rafting on the upper Wolf River, we began making plans.
On our Fourth of July break, we made the 250-mile drive north to the little town of Shawano, Wis., just 40 miles west of Green Bay. The next morning we were up early and excited to get onto the river.
Neither of us had a speck of experience, but were not lacking in enthusiasm. That portion of the Wolf River is on a Native American reservation belonging to the Menominee Tribe and many of the Indian people have gone into business to extract a little money from the eager tourists up from Milwaukee and Chicago.
As we drove along the river, I noticed a small hand painted sign that said rafts rented $10 a day. When I pulled in the scene was just about perfect. An old Indian man was squatting at the base of a big white birch tree and frying fish over an open fire.
After a bit of conversation, we found out the plan was for him to give us a ride four miles north and drop us off with a raft. We could then float back to our car. We agreed, but the man told us we had to wait until he had finished his fish breakfast. He did offer us some, but we politely refused.
By the time we left, two sailors from the nearby Great Lakes Naval Station had joined us. Lana and I got in the cab of his ancient truck and the Navy boys climbed in back with the rafts. During the ride I must admit to being just a bit apprehensive. This was a world class rafting river and I had no idea what I was doing. My young bride trusted me completely and would follow me anyplace, but that wasn't helping my confidence either. As we rode, I looked to the Indian for reassurance and offered: "This is pretty safe right? You have probably done this many times?" "Me?" He answered. "I wouldn't do it. Do you think I'm crazy?" It was cool, but I began to sweat.
At the drop point, the roar of the river was deafening. The sailors chickened out and refused to get out of the truck. The look of terror in their eyes should have dissuaded me, but Lana and I launched our raft and were off. One thing about rafting, once you begin there is no turning back. We went through rough spots and calm ones, but all in all it was going pretty well when we looked up ahead and saw a large crowd of people atop a big granite bluff.
"I wonder what all those people are doing?" Lana just shrugged. When we reached the bluff our raft plummeted over a twenty foot waterfall and out I went headfirst. As I shot the rapids without a raft and drinking a lot of the river, the realization hit me as to what all of the spectators were doing. They were there to watch me. I was the entertainment. After about a half mile, I was able to crawl out onto a sand bar and eventually Lana and the raft came along.
Through the years we would raft the Wolf River each summer and eventually became pretty good at it. I would advise you, however, to stick to the lazy Ichetucknee for a more leisurely ride.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.