The salmon-colored Biltmore Hotel rose fabulously from the fairways on the left bank. Out of the corner of my eye, as I looked up at the stately old hotel, I could see a round little man on a three-wheeled motorcycle driving pell-mell toward a foot bridge I would be forced to pass under. He drove to the middle of the bridge, stopped, and officiously folded his arms across his chest. A triangular flag flying from the back of the motorcycle read, "Ranger."
The flag made me nervous. Was this a park ranger? Or perhaps an Airborne Ranger? Could this be a Texas Ranger on vacation? Whoever the man was, he represented the law here on the golf course, and the thought of someone paddling a canoe through his territory plainly upset him.
"Not supposed to bring that thing in here," he growled.
"Sorry," I said.
We looked at each other. I was passing under the foot bridge. There was nothing he could do, unless he was prepared to dive into the canal and wrestle me out of the canoe. For him it was a painful moment of frustrated control mania, and a large smile began to spread across my face. He was a landsman, a slave to one place, one landlocked attitude. I was a water rat, free and mobile. After four days on the water I was drawing close to the end of my journey. I guessed correctly that this buffoon would be my last obstacle.
Soon I passed under Bird Road, and further on I got out and stretched my legs where the canal passes under South Dixie Highway. I had driven over this bridge countless times on my way to and from work but had never paid much attention to the canal, the waterway that, along with a few others, had made the suburbs and surrounding cities possible in the first place. In another hour I would pass the last yacht and the last row of million-dollar houses built on artificial "finger islands" dredged out of the muck.
On this late Monday afternoon in Coral Gables's monied Cocoplum section, the rich were silent inside their tiled homes, or out hustling to make the mortgage payments. I hauled my latter-day dugout up onto a vacant lot at the end of Sunrise Terrace, grateful to see Biscayne Bay again. This lot, I thought, would make an excellent staging ground for another expedition. The plan began to take shape even before I'd sat down to rest. Same canoe. Different canals. But next time, just for fun, I'll take along a friend.