Earlier this week WLRN Miami Herald’s Dan Grech interviewed Terence Cantarella, an intrepid contributor to WLRN who had the idea of navigating his way around Miami through its canal system in a canoe.
His proposed four-day journey became the Canoe Project: an effort to shed some light on the unrecognized backdrop to our lives here in Miami-Dade: our city’s vast network of canals. These waterways completely surround us, yet, many of us don’t know where they go or why they are there.
Here is a transcript of a series of interviews between Dan (DG) and Terence (TC) that took place before Terence set out Monday morning:
TC: My name is Terence Cantarella.
DG: And where are we right now? Can you kinda describe the name of the park and where we are?
TC: We’re in Baywood Park, which is just east of Biscayne Boulevard on 69th Street.
DG: And why are we starting the trip here?
TC: We’re starting here because it’s unbelievably hard to find access to the canals because of all the private property. So this was the only spot where we could actually get on the water and we’re actually on Biscayne Bay so I have to paddle north a little bit and then enter in the Little River canal from here.
DG: Tell me about today’s leg–day one–and where you expect to get to by the end of the day.
TC: You know I honestly have no idea how far I’m going to get by the end of today. I will be making stops along the way, seeing some sights, so I honestly can’t tell you where I’ll be at the end of the day, but hopefully it’s a good spot to pull up and crawl into the canoe and take a nap.
DG: Give me a sense of some of the terrain that you expect to cover. How far at minimum do you know you need to get in order to stay on track?
TC: Hopefully I’ll get somewhere near Okeechobee Road which is where the Little River meets the Miami Canal. I probably won’t cross Okeechobee tonight. I’ll probably do that in the morning when the traffic’s light because I have to run across about 12 lanes of traffic, I believe.
DG: And what is the longest canoe trip you’ve ever taken?
TC: About zero miles. I’ve never taken a canoe trip before. I’m not an avid canoeist. This’ll be my first experience in a canoe but I think that will make it more exciting.
DG: Now, describe the weather and the sort of atmosphere right now.
TC: The atmosphere is not exactly what we’d hoped for. It’s overcast. Very windy and there’s a little bit of rain. So, hopefully, I don’t get smashed into the seawall here as I jump into the canoe but I might fall into the water, so you might be able to capture that.
Terence on Hopes and Expectations
DG: Being an amateur, a beginning canoer and an amateur adventurer, what are you expecting to learn from this journey?
TC: I’m mostly looking to learn about the canals of South Florida. I know that canals are used for flood control and water management. I can go online and read about the history of the canals, but I’ve never experienced the canals. I don’t know what life is like along the canals, I don’t know who lives there, I don’t know what kind of wildlife there is. I don’t think most people in Miami have never experienced them firsthand either. So hopefully I’ll go out and bring back some stories and some good pictures.
DG: And what do you expect to learn? What do you expect to find?
TC: I expect to find out how hard it is to get to Coral Gables from NE Miami via the canal system because people used to do it, you know, before the dams went up. The dams went up in the middle of the last century to control saltwater flowing up into the groundwater. So it’s not easy to do anymore. You have to carry your boat around the dams. And there are some culverts, which are basically long tunnels going under streets. Which are impassable in some places. I’m going to try and make a note of all the places that are unpassable and hopefully the next person to do this it’ll be a little easier for them.
DG: But what do you expect to learn about yourself in this trip?
TC: That’s a great question Dan. Laughs. I think most people crave adventure but they never find the time to actually do it. So, being uncomfortable and being outside is not always easy but I think it’s always rewarding. So I guess I’m trying to…I guess I’m trying to find out how tough I am.
DG: So on Thursday you’re expecting to arrive in Coral Gables. How do you expect to feel, on Thursday, when you arrive?
TC: I don’t know if I’ll be completely exhausted and if I might not be able to wait for it to be over. On the other hand, I might have such a great time that I just never want it to end. Who knows?
DG: If you had to just predict: Where’s your head going to be? How you’re gonna be feeling on Thursday afternoon?
TC: Hopefully I’ll be sunburnt, starving, exhausted and have some kind of infection (laughs). That’ll mean I had a really good time (laughs) and it was definitely an adventure. I don’t want to come out too comfortable and happy. I have to come out a little beat up.
DG: One of the things that’s interesting is that, the way you’ve planned this trip is specifically geared toward being a little bit beat up. Right? Like you’re not–you could easily just walk to a motel. You’re not necessarily planning to do that. You’re not even sure where you’re going to sleep any given night. Is there a certain amount of willful lack of planning that you’ve been engaging in?
TC: Definitely, I think it’s kind of a guy thing. We don’t really like to plan because it ruins the fun (laughs). Yeah, I’m trying to stay true to the spirit of the adventure and just sleep outdoors the whole time. It would be very easy to have someone pick me up and take me somewhere to sleep or t go into one of the motels along Okeechobee but I think it would be more interesting to stay outdoors. Twenty-one years ago, when this was done before, the guy who did it didn’t account for the night times. So, I think this time I have to be a little bit more revealing about that.
What’s in Terence’s Backpack
DG: I think we should get your gear. Before you start, what are we looking at right here?
TC: Waterproof backpack, guaranteed I’m going to end up in the water so that’s why it’s waterproof. I’ve got a bailing sponge to try and get water out of the canoe, a camera which is getting wet already, two thermoses full of water, some spare clothing, waterproof pants, spare t-shirts, a hat with a flap that covers the neck, some bug spray, sunscreen, goggles, face mask in case I need to peer into the water and see what lies beneath and most importantly a chain with a lock because this is Miami and things go missing when you blink.
Also: towels, spider and scorpion spray that I’m going to drench canoe in when I sleep to make sure no creepy crawlies come to get me, energy bars (I’ll be sick of these by end of trip), a flash light for tunnels, duct tape in case I end up with a hole in the canoe and most importantly mosquito net to drape over myself and a laminated map. I’m probably missing a bunch of stuff, but I don’t know it yet–I’ll realize it once I get out there.
DG: You also have a recorder.
TC: Yes, I have a digital recorder and it’s wrapped in a condom for waterproofing but it already has two holes in it. I’m going to have to double-bag it.
The Forrest Gump Possibility
DG: Have you thought about that by the way? The Forrest Gump possibility?
TC: I don’t know if too many people are standing by with their canoes ready to follow me.
DR: We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries about “How can I follow him?” We’ve been kinda hesitant to encourage that but these are public waterways.
TC: I am a little Forrest Gump-y I think, so it would be appropriate.
DG: Terence, can you just describe this launching point one more time and tell me a little bit about the weather conditions.
TC: We’re at Baywood Park at Biscayne Bay and NE 72nd Street. It’s a quiet little park. There’s really nobody here. It’s a little tricky getting in the water though because there’s a seawall here and there’s just some jagged little rocks that I’m going to have to climb down. It could get ugly trying to climb down into the canoe.
TC: Also there’s a lot of wind right now, the bay is pretty choppy so it’s making things a lot harder and it’s pretty overcast as well. This is not what I was hoping for, but we’ll make it work.