When he’s released for the night in his hammock somewhere on the southern Florida coast, Nick Holzerland absorbs the stars and remembers why he and his paddleboard are out here.
It started out simple enough – a short excursion like many others he had taken before.
It quickly became something different, something more, when he saw all the smiling faces of the children at Crossroads Hope Academy as they splashed in the waters of the Peace River off Cow Island.
That was a month ago. Now he’s out here under the stars, dining on a fish he caught or chewing on some greens he’s been looking for while doing this crazy, wonderful thing.
Holzerland is the owner of It’s Time Kayak at 4500 Harbor Blvd.
In addition to renting out canoes and kayaks, the 23-year-old also offers eco-tours in the Charlotte Harbor region, especially from Nav-A-Gator Bar & Grill on the Peace River near Arcadia.
A month ago Reeghan Burgess called him and wondered if he could take a few kids from the Crossroads Hope Academy on an excursion.
“I go on trips and talk about plants and go to different places, which is very popular, but I got this feeling when I talk about plants and try to make these kids feel like they’re in a classroom,” said Holzerland . “So I just took them to Cow Island and they jumped in. There were a couple of sore knees and bruises, but they’re all good.”
As he watched the scene, Holzerland devised a plan to make these outings regular for the teenage boys in the nursing and school on Bermont Road.
Holzerland is now more than two weeks into an epic 400 mile paddleboard trip that began at the source of the Peace River and will hopefully end in Bimini, Bahamas. He had to pause when Hurricane Eta kicked the water and stopped its swing, but it will pick up where it left off when the storm passed.
On the way, he hopes to raise money to fund monthly eco-tours for the children of the Crossroads Hope Academy.
The goal is $ 5,100. The GoFundMe link can be accessed on Holzerland’s Paddle for People website at PaddleForPeople.org.
Holzerland carries roughly 400 pounds of supplies and equipment on his paddleboard, which he paddles well after sunset before stopping for camp each night. He stops to rest as needed and uses the downtime to create videos and posts for his It’s Time Kayak account on Facebook.
“When I say I live off the land, I don’t want it to be misunderstood,” he said. “I’m doing a mixed lot out here. I’m going to catch fish out here and cook all the fish so I can get the oil. That being said, one of the great things I’ve seen in the last few years is identifying plants out here. “
Holzerland said that around 50 edible or medicinal plants must show up on a foraging excursion at any given time.
“A lot of them grow in your yard and you probably grow them as weeds,” he said. “But they have a lot of nutritional value. It can be crazy compared to what you get in the store. “
Promoting a natural diet and outdoor lifestyle is based on his upbringing. Holzerland said he learned the virtues of everyone from his father and it was his hope to pass those lessons on to the children of Crossroads.
“I know that not all of them are people in the open air, but at the end of the day I just want them to get the idea that you can focus on something and achieve it, and it’s that simple. That’s not to say it’s easy, but it is that simple. “
That’s why Holzerland took on this task and calculated paddling on Florida’s sandy beaches in the south with two coolers, a huge pack sack, fishing equipment, a life jacket, a cooking table, some propane as needed and four solar batteries to hold his iPhone.
And the chic hammock with a mosquito net that can also be used as a tent.
Paddling on the Florida coast is one thing. The crossing from Key Largo to Bimini is something completely different.
Holzerland said that after consulting with experts, he had found the best and safest way to make the crossing. The weather is key. Ideally, Holzerland said he needed a wind of 5 to 10 miles per hour from the northwest to counter the 6-knot flow of the Gulf Stream, which can be even faster at times due to the bottleneck between Largo and the Bahamas.
He was ready to wait a week to ten days near Largo for the right conditions. November proves to be volatile, however – after reaching Bonita Beach, Holzerland decided that he had to pause for about a week for the energy from Eta to flow.
“I’m not saying that it’s not dangerous and I don’t see it as stupid, but I’m not afraid of it,” said Holzerland. “The only thing I worry about is that I can’t make it if the weather doesn’t work out or something.
“I really want to do it and it would be disappointing, but if I can raise money for Crossroads, which is good, and deliver a positive message, I can get back to work and call it a good day.”