1) Where are you from? Your profession? I was born in a Chicago suburb and grew up there until I was eleven. In the early 1960's, we had to drive for hours to find a waterway that wasn't polluted. I developed a full body rash from one lake. That's why my family fell in love with Florida's springs, rivers and coast when we moved to Tallahassee in 1968. Florida's waterways certainly have their problems today, but not quite like the Chicago area in the 1960's. I still live in the Tallahassee area.
I work for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails. I was the paddling trails coordinator for almost eight years, but I have recently been promoted to assistant chief. I've also been writing for publication since I was eighteen years old.
2) Tell us a little about some of your books related to paddling in Florida. I've written ten books and three of them directly relate to paddling. The first is about paddling Florida's wild Big Bend Coast--Waters Less Traveled. The second is about paddling from Orlando to Lake Okeechobee through the Kissimmee chain of lakes and rivers--New Dawn for the Kissimmee River. And a third is a collection of paddling stories from throughout the state, including accounts of a couple Paddle Florida trips--Wild Florida Waters. I'm putting together another book of paddling stories that might be ready next year. In all of my books, I like to weave together historical and ecological information. I feel it's important that people know more about the places they paddle, and I try to be entertaining as well because many of these trips are fun, even when sand fleas are swarming and waves are crashing across the bow of your kayak. It's all part of the adventure.
All of my books are available on Amazon, through local bookstores, and some are available on my website, www.dougalderson.net.
3) When and how did you become interested in paddling? My first canoe trip was through the Des Plaines River sewage canals as a boy, but my first trip on a pristine river was on the Pere Marquette River in Michigan. Both sides of my family loved to canoe, and I continued the tradition as an adult. I graduated to serious kayaking in 2003 when I paddled the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail with Liz Sparks to help research the Big Bend guidebook.
4) Where is your favorite place to paddle? It's probably the Wacissa River because it is close, beautiful and wild, especially in the lower section where you can get away from all motorized watercraft.
5) What's the most interesting thing that ever happened to you on a paddling trip? More recently, it is giving a PowerPoint presentation inside of a Penske truck in the driving rain on Paddle Florida's last Ochlockonee River trip. Everyone was in good spirits and it showed how flexible we can be.
6) How many Paddle Florida trips have you gone on and to where? My initial Paddle Florida trip was the first Ochlockonee adventure in 2011. I've been on six others, I believe,and have written trip accounts for four of them. The trips include the Suwannee, Withlacoochee South, the 2012 Keys trip, Wekiva/St. Johns, and all or part of the three Ochlockonee trips.
7) What keeps you coming back? When I first heard about Paddle Florida, I was leery because I wasn't sure I would enjoy paddling with so many people, but after the 2011 Ochlockonee trip, I was hooked. I enjoyed the camaraderie of everyone and realized that once the group began paddling and stretched out, I could still have some quiet time. The trips have a community atmosphere and they are educational. They remind me of a group walk I organized from coast to coast in 1984, though a little less intense.
8) Can you describe a particular trip highlight? I've enjoyed how the group kept their spirits high through the rain and cold on the Withlacoochee River South trip last February. I've also enjoyed seeing some paddlers grow and gain confidence through different trips, since I initially coached them in my role as sweep boat.
9) What advice do you have for folks considering a Paddle Florida trip? Try it, you'll like it. Most Paddle Florida trips are good for a range of experience levels and watercraft, and it's a good way for people to break into multi-day trips since Paddle Florida makes it so easy. But be careful--you might get hooked!