Shirley A on Day 13 – The Porpoises J… Venetta on Day 40 Thursday October 18… Kala on Day 38 Tuesday October 16 The… Teodoro on Day 45 Tuesday October 23… Tomiko on Day 38 Tuesday October 16 The…
Day 45 Tuesday October 23 – Final Day of This Journey
Tuesday broke clear and cool, and I spent an extra few minutes in the hanging tent, knowing that this would be my last morning getting up this way for some time to come. There were no bugs to fret about, but I could hear the squirrels running about on the large southern oak trees, making noises I had not heard before. Finally, I arose, and picked up a number of items, like the sleeping bag, the Thermorest pad, my clothes bag and walked back 200 yards to the marina, where I could put things on tables to sort through the items. After a couple of trips, everything was spread out on tables. As I only had less than 4 miles to go to paddle back to Georgetown, there was no hurry. Grace would not be coming to pick me up until the following day. Furthermore, the tidal current was still quickly coming down the Waccamaw River, and would continue to do so until sometime around noon. It made little sense to fight the current, when I could relax just as easily at Belle Isle marina as I could in Georgetown. So I spread out in the sunlight to dry all the camping gear that could be wet, and continued to read a book that I found in the men’s room the previous afternoon. I kept watch on the water in front of my spot, marking the outgoing tide until it reversed. With some difficulty (back pain), I packed up the kayak, and took a picture of her floating in a bunch of water plants against the side of a dock.
After checking twice that nothing was left behind, I carefully sat back down in the cockpit for the last time. I paddled out to the wide river, and headed upstream to the city, following the northern shoreline. It only took around an hour. I had decided to paddle to the furthest marina, called Harborwalk, assuming that this was closest to the town center, and therefore likely to be closest to a motel. I paddled past Hazard Marine and was passing the Boat Shed (both on my right), when I suddenly heard a male voice call my name out. He had to repeat it, as I was not focusing. I turned the kayak around, and looked up to see a man standing at the stern of a motor yacht speaking to me. I then recognized the Lady M, and realized that it was Marty B. whom I had met with his wife in North Myrtle Beach the previous Saturday.
I explained to him that I was having to end my journey because of physical challenges with my back/hip, and that I was going on to the next marina to tie up and find someplace to stay for the night. We spoke for a few minutes, then I turned the kayak around to continue on. Marty came down off his boat, and spoke again to me from the end of the Boat Shed dock. “Fal, why don’t you stay with us tonight. We have a spare stateroom, but you will have to get off around 7 AM because we have to leave early to get to Charleston”. I could not believe this new blessing, but he was completely sincere, and after a few seconds, I accepted his kind offer. At that point, I paddled to a nearby dock, tied up, and went to see the dockmaster about keeping the kayak there overnight.
The man in charge asked for $15 for full access to the men’s room and showers and storage for the kayak and gear. In 40 minutes I emptied the kayak, pulled her out of the water, and placed all of the loose items in one of 3 bags. I called Grace to let her know that I was off the water for the final time, and she sounded relieved and really happy. But she needed the address so that she could pick me up the next day. I walked back into the marina office, and was given a business card. As I walked back into the sunshine to read the address in the card, what I read caused me to stop in my tracks. It read “18 St. James Street, Georgetown SC. It was a remarkable sign to me. St. James is the patron saint of pilgrims and travelers, and it was at the church of Saint James in Seattle where I had ended my previous great outdoor adventure 17 years ago! Tears came to my eyes as the significance permeated my mind. I then sent Grace a text message with the address.
The rest of the afternoon, Marty, Aimee and I walked along the main street in the town, and came back along the board walk along the water. We walked slowly so as to not aggravate further the pain in my hip. They explained to me that they were not supposed to be there a second night, but had to return as they had run aground along the ICW on their way to Charlestown. Their boat requires 5.5′ of clearance, and the charts show that there should have been 6.5′ of depth. This was the first time that had happened to Marty in 40 some odd years of piloting motor yachts through this waterway, and he was very upset with not being able to recognize the lower than usual tide that caused this to happen. And he just happened to be on the stern of his boat when I came paddling along. We all appreciated the significance of our both having to return to Georgetown at the same time. Aimee quietly let me know that Marty’s mood had improved a great deal since I had shown up. After getting a shower, we walked back into town for a nice dinner, which I hosted in appreciation for staying on board for the night. As I fell asleep, I could not help but thank the Lord for the many blessings that had occurred that day, and for His signs to me that I should accept that this great outdoor adventure had ended. There would be many other opportunities to kayak with my fellow Seminole Canoe and Kayak club members and other adventures, but nothing like this again. I decided in my mind that this last day should be rated a 5, for the blessings, weather, and for the remarkable friends one can meet on such a journey. I had paddled a little more than 55 miles in 3 days, making the total around 520 miles.
That morning, Marty knocked on my door to let me know it was time to get up. I packed up my sleeping bag and changed my clothes, and made sure that I had everything. Marty asked me to stay a while as he finalized his preparations for getting underway for an ocean run. He was already listening to the marine report on his radio, with his chart book open showing the inlet to the open sea that he would take that day. It was then that I realized that a major hurricane (Sandy) was definitely coming up the coast. (Somehow, the weather forecast for the week that I saw on Sunday morning did not disclose this important weather story). Meanwhile, Aimee was putting all of her family pictures flat on the various tables. After giving hugs to both of them for all the blessings they had given me (and visa versa), I took a couple of pictures of their boat as they moved out into the small harbor and into the fog.
So, that was it. I had started out with a simple thought 22 months ago to kayak the approx. 1,000 miles down the Chesapeake Bay and the ICW over 10 weeks, upon my retirement from my Dutch equipment leasing company at an age of close to 66. That romantic notion fell upon the realities of inadequate kayak skills, physical difficulties and a general tiredness of the spirit to continue after 6 and 1/2 weeks. On the other hand, I had seen beautiful outdoor sites, from glorious sunrises to spectacular sunsets, and everything in between. I learned to kayak upon many different types of water and up to 30+ miles in a day, and find truly unique locations for camp sites. I had had to deal with tough winds and waves, especially in the Bay. Over the weeks, I had met remarkable people including some real “angels” to help me through these challenges. I grew more comfortable in making the many decisions regarding my safety. Moreover, I no longer took such simple things as showers, bathrooms, hot food, a cold beer, a friendly face, and a warm embrace, for granted. And very importantly, I felt much closer to my Lord – a gift that will last the rest of this man’s lifetime. I can now recognize and be thankful for the countless blessings He bestowed on me throughout this journey. This adventure has made me a better person.
A final reflection will be posted shortly.
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Day 44 Monday, October 22 – Decision to End Journey
Monday dawned cold and clear. There were no mosquitoes to welcome me as I came out of my hammock tent, just a quiet in the early morning light prior to sun up. I became immediately aware of the soreness in my right hip area, but packed up as quickly as possible, as I wanted to take advantage of the later part of the ebb tide moving down the Waccamaw River. By the time I was ready to pack up the kayak, there were a few boatmen holding their hot cups of coffee for warmth. It did not take me long before I was in the cockpit, and backing up from the dock to move into the channel to catch the current going my way. The marina quickly slid out of sight, although the glow from such a fine evening stayed with me for miles. I was again quite alone in this ever-widening river, as more and more creeks joined from both sides. It seemed like only minutes before I was passing the next marina, which was actually the Reserve Harbor Yacht Club at mile 388 on my left. At this point, the river was between a quarter and a third of a mile across, but still it retained its magical hold on me. I came to a stop near some electric poles sitting in 2 feet of water, among a stand of water plants that held me tight, so that I could turn my chart over to be able to see the next 8 miles or so. I noticed that I had previously marked on the chart that the next marina was past mile 394, again on the left, and made the decision to stop there for a rest and get something to eat, as I had not had any breakfast yet (too cold at the start of each morning).
When I arrived at the Heritage Plantation Marina, the tide was whipping by at a good clip, so I came in at the dock closest to the shore where the current was not as strong, and landed right where the dockmaster was standing. I tied up, and with some pain, got out of the kayak and onto the dock, which was at the height of my armpit. The dockmaster very nicely invited me in, and we discussed tides and possible locations for camping out past Georgetown. I had already marked on the chart that past that upcoming city, there would be no food or supplies for the next 27 miles. We discussed what the best marina would be for me to set up my tent that night, and he recommended that I stay at the last marina available, as it was 4 miles or so past the city – therefore, more likely to let me set up somewhere around the marina location. After breakfast, and use of the bathroom, I went down with him back to the kayak, limping as I walked down the gangway, and eased my way into Katie, and back into the current.
As I paddled these past two days, I found myself asking some tough questions about how much longer I could or should continue. Not only was I experiencing more physical pain but also a general sense of physically running out of gas, as it were. Psychologically, I was getting very tired of the constant worrying about where to sleep, where to get my rest every 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours to give my back a break, where to get some good food to eat, what the weather would bring, when to paddle without having to fight the increasingly powerful tidal currents, where the wind was blowing, with me or against me, etc. etc. Ahead of me in another 65 miles lay a large bay where Charleston was located, and beyond Beaufort, large inlets and sounds where I would again be exposed to the ocean and other elements of the weather. Then there were concerns that many boatmen had shared with me about Georgia, with up to 9 foot tides with really strong tidal currents, with marshes that would not easily provide places for me to camp, and with increasing populations of alligators. I very much had the sense that I had already paddled the best sections of this Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and I was running out of the necessary energy to face these additional challenges. These thoughts kept running through my mind, and when I asked our Lord what should I do, I just kept getting similar messages, that He would let me know.
The Waccamaw River was now getting wider, and ahead I could see the Lafayette fixed bridge with its standard 65 foot height clearance. By the time I got there, the tidal current was in its slack stage, meaning it would be in flood stage shortly, running against me. I decided that I had enough food for the next stage, and could resupply with water at the Belle Isle marina. I therefore crossed over the Great Pee Dee River, coming from the right to join the Waccamaw, and paddled to a small beach where I could rest. I tried to lift myself out of the kayak, and sharp pains hit me again in the right upper hip area. I had trouble bending over to pull my water and snack bag from the front storage locker. Wow, this is not good. Once back into the kayak, I passed the entrance to the Sampit River, where the city of Georgetown was located. The Waterway Guide had some nice things to say about the city, but I felt the need to paddle on.
I arrived at my destination around 3:45 PM, near mile 406. There was more pain in getting out of the kayak. There I met an older gentleman named Anthony, who was working on his pontoon boat. I explained what I was doing, and that I needed to camp over for the night. The dockmaster was not there, but Anthony took me in his truck to the dockmaster’s home, where I explained what I was doing and what I needed to the dockmaster’s wife. (I had difficulty getting into and out of his vehicle). She was very nice, and said I could stay for no charge, and as Anthony drove me back, he said it would be ok to set up my tent in some woods near the marina and some new townhouses, located in an old battlefield. When everything was set up, I called Grace to tell her about the thoughts I was having, my physical infirmities, my doubts about continuing. She in turn told me about her inability to sleep, being so worried about me. In a matter of minutes, we both came to a decision that I should stop the journey, and get me back home and see my doctor about the physical issues that I had. We decided that I would go back up to Georgetown, where she would meet me Wednesday morning. After the call, I felt both a great sense of relief as well as huge disappointment that suddenly, this journey seemed to be over.
I rated this day a 3 – good paddling with the current giving me a total of 23 miles, offset by this final decision.
Day 43 Sunday October 21 – Long Paddle to Wacca Wache Marina
On Sunday, a cab picked me up at 8 AM sharp to take me back to Barefoot Landing Marina. The day opened cool but sunny as promised, with north winds 10 to 15 mph, and with the low tide at 9 AM. I pulled out my float bags for my legs, thinking this might help with the hip problems I was experiencing. Finally, everything was packed up, and I was ready to go. I slipped into the cockpit, secured the skirt around me, and untied my two stability lines from the cleat on the dock. I gracefully pulled away and started off heading west. It was a beautiful day. Shortly afterwards, I saw a raccoon scamper away from the edge of the water, and the usual cormorants and herons were already out finding food. The changing fall colors captured my attention. Soon after mile 355 I noticed more Cypress trees, growing out of the fresh water. Notwithstanding the fact that the tide was still moderately against me, this day was starting very well. The Sunday recreational boat traffic was moderate, and several boats came by to wish me well. Later, I passed the marina at Grand Dunes. About 8 miles later, I noticed that the current had completely turned into slack tide, which improved my mileage. Around mile 360, I noticed that we were passing a section where the canal went through high banks on both sides; we were now passing Myrtle Beach located well to the east. Several golf courses passed by. As I kept paddling, I noticed that the water cut was widening, and that nearly all of the trees were Cypress, growing in water. In fact, this low country showed very little in the way of above water ground. I was getting worried that I would not find anywhere to rest, and get out of the kayak, so I decided to stop at the Osprey Marina around mile 372.
There, I spoke with the manager, and they agreed to allow me to stay overnight on the property. Their restaurant was closed until Thursday due to fewer boats passing by, but I could order something from a delivery service. But it was only 3:15 PM and there was still plenty of good paddling to be done. I checked with one of the older boathands, and he thought high tide had been reached, and that therefore the current would be in my favor if I continued, and against me in the morning. I made the decision to continue paddling. About 3 miles later, I found myself in the Waccamaw River. According to the Waterway Guide, “The Waccamaw River, deep to its wooded banks, is possibly the most scenic part of the ICW route. Moss-draped cypresses line its side streams, and turtles sometimes sun themselves along the shore. Wildflowers of all descriptions grow in cypress stumps, and the water looks like tea”.
As I entered the Waccamaw River just short of mile 375, the sun continued its inexorable track to the horizon. It’s late afternoon rays shimmered off the soft waves into thousands of ever changing shapes in front of me. The tide continued to come in, covering the few tiny breaches until the cypress woods looked like a full swamp, with no dry land in sight. Truly, this was going to be a challenge to find someplace to camp. It was obvious that I would have to stay over at a marina.
I continued to paddle to the next marina, called the Bucksport Plantation Marina and RV Resort. As I approached it on the right side of the river, I could see people eating under a large structure, but I could also tell it was very noisy and unattractive, and made a big decision to keep on paddling. As time was growing short, I did not even stop there to rest my back, but kept going down river. The next marina and the last one available to me that afternoon would be the Wacca Wache Marina.
The next 6 and 1/2 miles were a combination of extraordinary beauty mixed with growing anxiety about reaching the marina before dark. I calmed myself down, reminding myself that God would provide, and He did. The recreational boats faded away and I found myself all alone on the darkening water. The rythmic stokes of the paddle bacame almost hypnotic as I pushed back the pain from sitting so long in the kayak. I finally came around a bend and saw in the distance boats and a restaurant 2 miles in the distance, and told my body just to keep on paddling – we were that close. Upon arrival, as the sun dipped below the woods to the southwest, I paddled into a boat slip in front of the side door to the open restaurant. There were people sitting outside as well, listening to live music. What a sight for sore eyes! I tied up Katie, so I could get out, and found it very difficult to get out of the boat. Once out, it was equally difficult to stand up without shooting pains in my hip. As soon as the pain subsided, I walked carefully to the bar and asked for the owner. I was introduced to Ken, who gave me permission to leave the kayak where it was, and to camp on the property. I immediately looked for and found a set of trees up the entranceway (and out of the water) where I could set up the tent out of eyesight. Once everything was set up, I took my clothes and stood by the men’s room until someone came out, and I went in. After a quick shower and fresh clothes, I rejoined the crowd at the bar and ordered a beer and fish tacos and gave thanks to the extraordinary blessings I had received this Sunday. With almost 29 miles paddled on a very nice day through the most scenic country yet seen, and with an ending as good as this one was, I gave the day a 5. Little did I realize as I went to sleep that the following day would lead to fatefull decisions that would have a major impact on the rest of this journey.
Days 41/42 Friday/Saturday October 19/ 20 Days of R&R
I had arrived in North Myrtle Beach on Thursday, and used the next two days to relax and rest up for the long (114 approx mile) paddle to Charleston SC scheduled for the upcoming week. The weather channel suggested that the weather would be quite nice, sunny with a warming trend all week. Friday morning, however, I awoke to another very painful first few steps out of the nice bed at the Courtyard Inn near Barefoot Landing. The previous afternoon, I had walked in some pain (from my right hip) a mile back and forth to a nearby mall to purchase some things, and walked another half mile in the other direction to get some Advil, hoping that would make a difference. I decided to rest Friday, thinking that the right hip would feel better, then go give Katie a polish on Saturday. On that day, I walked back to the marina at the Landing, putting up with the soreness in the hip, and unlocked Katie from under the two ramps down to the floating dock where a number of boats were tied up.
I turned her over, and began washing off the tea colored mustash she had accumulated the week before. As I reached the area behind the cockpit on the port (left) side, I saw to my surprise and dismay, a large web of more gelcoat cracks, with pieces sticking out from her surface. While technically superficial, these cracks showed how this journey was taking a toll on Katie, and on me as well (hip, hand). I did not want to have the cracks spead, so I thought I should go back to the hotel and get my leftover gelcoat repair kit and do what I could. So I walked back to the room, got the kit, and returned, feeling so discouraged. I had brought a small zip lock bag to allow the paste and hardener to set while sealed against the air, but it turned out to be a sloppy job. Fortunately, I had sanded the area prior to applying the repair, so at least it was a smoother surface.
As I waited for it to set, a older couple came over to talk to me about my journey. Marty B. and his wife Aime L. were on the 49′ motor yacht Lady M., that was tied up at the same dock. They were on their way south to their home port of Stuart FL. The pleasant conversation with them did little to relieve me of the gloom that I was experiencing. After they left, I removed the covering to find that the repair had not fully hardened. There was little I could do then, as it was getting towards 4 PM and I wanted to attend a Catholic Church service later that afternoon at 5 for which I had ordered a cab to take me the 8 miles north to the church in time. By the time I arrived for the service, the hip was causing me a lot of pain. Several times, when I tried to stand up from the pew seat, I could barely succeed. Questions kept coming up in my mind – how am I going to be able to continue this journey if this pain does not subside? I managed to get into the return cab, the sharp pains continuing in and out of the vehicle. I got back in my room and into bed, hoping that things would get better in the morning. The next day on the water would tell me a lot about whether I would be able to continue this journey.
Day 40 Thursday October 18 – Arrival at Myrtle Beach SC
As I opened my eyes in the early dawn, I could see several mosquitoes on the outside screen of my tent, not far from my face. I watched them fly off and re-land, trying to find a way in. Beyond them, I could see the small pine trees stretch their short lengths to the sky now lightening up. This would be a short day, as I wanted to stay at Myrtle Beach, so I had about 13 miles to go to get to one of the last marinas in North Myrtle Beach, where I was told there were lots of restaurants and stores close by, before the ICW goes further west around Myrtle Beach itself. This would mean another 9 miles or so for the following week. I decided to get going, so I opened the tent and got everything down as quickly as possible, and brought it all down to Katie to pack all the gear up. I left my long clothes on until the very end. The water was close to her stern, so again the tide was moving higher. I skipped breakfast as is now my habit, usually because it is often cold in the early morning light and I am anxious to get going, but also, because today I would be having my next meal in a restaurant.
I was off AT 8 AM after sending Grace my usual message that I was on the water, and came around the Little River Inlet that crosses over into the Calabash River to my right. I had only a couple of small rip tides to get through, and soon I was turning west to my left to continue going parallel to the ocean. The tide was going with me now, and the paddling was very pleasant. The first real signs of major civilization turned out to be two large Casino ships on the mainland side of the canal where the first marina is located. Soon, mile marker 345 passed by. Nixons Crossroads passed by next. There were commercial fishing boats docked, along with numerous recreational fishing boats leaving in the morning. It makes a great deal of difference these weekdays versus the weekends. During the latter, the recreational boat traffic increases exponentially. There was one time coming down to Wrightsville Beach last Sunday afternoon when I counted three boats going into a river leading to an inlet, two coming out, 3 coming up the canal, and another 4 going down the canal, creating all sorts of waves for me to have to paddle through. So this paddle Thursday morning was really a delight, with lots of neat views along both sides of the Little River.
From Nixons Crossroads, there are all sorts of highlighted warnings in the guide, on the charts and on signs along the canal about the rock ledges from around mile marker 350. These ledges are just off the canal, so boats are warned repeatedly not to leave the channel for whatever reason. In high tide, those rocks are submerged and below the surface and the water looks deceptively wide. At low tide, those rocks are above the surface, and the channel looks very much smaller. The challenge for the yachts is that commercial barges also use this canal, and there is just not enough room for both. According to one boat owner I spoke with, he always checks with the swing bridge masters to determine if there is any commercial traffic moving through. But in my case, there were none of either, and I had the waterway to myself. Accordingly, I paddled down the center of the narrow channel, still going with the current. This was turning out to be a very good day. 5 more miles and I was at the Barefoot Landing Marina, where I parked behind a large yacht (see picture) and waited for Mark, the dock master and owner, to come back from his errands and decide what we were doing. He suggested to put Katie under a couple of ramps on the lower dock, where he normally stores such boats, for $10 a night. He called several hotels and got the latest rates, and I made a decision to go to the Courtyard by Marriott. In a heavy downpour, we packed up my gear that I needed and he drove me 1/3rd of a mile to that hotel.
This was a good day, not a great day, so I rated it a 4. I had paddled 13 miles in less than 3 hours. For the week, I did 79 miles in the equivalent of 3 full days of paddling, and with the 14 miles of the ferry/car passed Cape Fear River, the total comes to 93 miles.
Next week is a long trip to Charleston SC, 116 miles.
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Day 39 Wednesday October 17 – Reaching South Carolina
Early this morning, I packed up the tent, clothes and other camping gear and walked back to Katie, whom prior to going asleep, I had pulled high up on the beach using the cart, and tying her to a tree. And there she was, half floating in the high tide. The water must have come up the beach 40 feet. I made sure that everything was put in the right place, and started out in the cool weather but clear skies. My next challenge according to my chart, and the guide, was going to be a couple of inlets to the ocean, the first one being Lockwoods Folly. At mile marker 320 I came around Howells Pt. and immediately saw major tidal waves on the water surface, with the tide still coming in towards me at a very fast clip. There were numerous cuts where the incoming current was ripping towards the right, and which I had to cross. Usually, I try to go close to the shoreline or marsh were the current is slower, but this trick was not working. As soon as I passed one rip tide, I could see another coming up. I counted a total of 7 of these rip tides, and each one had my heart pumping. The fastest I can paddle is around 5 and 1/2 mph, and there were a number of times where I just made it past these tidal surges. Soon I was past the actual inlet – I could see the ocean waves crashing – and the current now was leisurely going my way as I proceeded west.
Within a few miles, I passed mile marker 325 and the current changed course, and was again somewhat impeding my progress. I continued to paddle on the mainland side, passing as before house after house, most of which had docks coming far out to the water from the shore. Some of the private docks, and nearly all of the public docks, had people on them fishing. I have never seen so many fishermen as I have seen in North Carolina. Some asked what I was doing, and I usually got the amazed reaction when I told them. In fact, one boat came up behind me and slowed down, and the driver said he was one of the persons that I had spoken to earlier, and he had brought out 4 couples to chat with me. So we all slowed down and talked. They offered me, beer, water, Pellegrini, but I told them I was fine. I did tell them, before they continued on their boat trip, that their stopping by would give me a boost for hours, and with genuine waves, they were off.
The next inlet called Shallotte was coming up, and I hoped that we would not have a repeat of the Lockwoods Folly tidal currents, and my wish was granted. As I came up to Bowen Pt. the tide was strongly opposite my direction, and I saw a number of fishermen on the dock. In answer to my question, they said there was a very good restaurant right behind them. Since I had not had anything to eat since getting up, I decided to stop and take advantage of a fine meal. After securing Katie (pulling her up on a beach of oyster shells with the cart, using my left hand), I walked to the tall blue building called Inlet View Bar and Grill, and had what a fisherman recommended, broiled sea scallops with sweet fries and a side salad, with ice tea to drink. What a great meal. The owner came over when she heard what I was doing, and she arranged for me to take a zip lock bag of their famous hush puppies. I also took the leftover fries. We then checked the weather on their TV – some dark clouds had been moving in – but it looked clear for the night. She also confirmed the choice of the marina that I had picked out in lower North Myrtle Beach.
Back in the kayak, we immediately passed mile marker 330, and I thought that since I was only 11 miles away from South Carolina, that I would try to sleep that night in that state. The tidal current was now with me, and we made up for some slower times earlier in the day. The terrain was the usual – houses with docks, and the afternoon slid on by. I did not want to get into the heavy development of North Myrtle Beach before having found a suitable campsite, so as I approached the state line, I started looking intently at possible sites. As soon as I crossed the state line, according to my detailed chart, the houses stopped. They were replaced by mud and sand beaches with pine woods behind, and I picked one of these out. I tested the mud level, and it was about 2 inches deep (acceptable), and after placing the cart under the stern, I pulled Katie through the mud up onto the oyster shell beach. I walked into the woods, and immediately found two small pine trees that would support my tent, and was attacked by no seems. I had to get long pants and shirt on quickly, but my feet were covered in mud. I walked back to the kayak, and found some seawater in the back of the cockpit, and used that water with my boat sponge to roughly wash the mud off my legs and feet, putting on my spare sandals. In no time, I had the long clothes on, and my head net, so the bugs had little to attack. but it was only 5:15, and too early to get to bed, so I decided to help the cause, and assemble a bonfire, which I did. That kept the spirits up and the bugs away, and was a pleasant place to sit next to and have my dinner of fries and hush puppies. To the south I could see some very tall buildings in the distance. That night, I wore my warm clothes, but it was not as cold as the prior night. I told out load to any alligators that might be in the area to stay away, but there was no sign of anything that night except for the deer. I kept checking during the night that the stars were still out – I did not want to be caught with rain. I could still hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore, and several times, I heard barges going by one waterway from where I was sleeping.
It had been a decent day – weather ok, decent miles (24) some clear blessings along the way, new things learned, and a good night sleep, so I rated the day a 3. It would be, as it turned out, the only day this week that I paddled the whole day.
Day 38 Tuesday October 16 The Crossing of Cape Fear River
The darkness outside my 5th floor room overlooking the ocean at the Golden Sands Hotel in Carolina Beach started receding before I was ready to wake up, but after a few seconds, I jumped out of bed, and turned on the weather channel. I had done my research about how to avoid the mistakes made by others about crossing Cape Fear River. The Waterway Guide strongly recommended that the trip from Snows Cut where you come out to the river, and down past Southport, should be taken as the tide is in ebb, which was scheduled to start at 9 AM. And the sharp turn around Southport to the west needs to be at slack tide to avoid very strong currents and related waves, which was scheduled for around 3 PM. The previous night’s weather report indicated that wind would be coming from the north at 5 to 10 mph. But that is not what I was looking at on the television early that morning. The wind speed had been upgraded to 10 to 20 mph, with small craft warnings. I felt a tightening in my stomach, and knew that this was not good news.
I had arranged for my previous day’s cab driver, Sunny G. from Letts Taxi, to come and pick me up around 7:30 in the morning, and went to get a quick breakfast before she arrived. I was too nervous to eat much of anything, so I just had some cereal. Sunny arrived as the sky was lightening up, and we started back up north to the Joyner Marina where I had left Katie with most of the gear still loaded up. My concerns deepened as I thought about my difficulties in getting down past Southport. I knew that I could not cross the river immediately, and follow the western shore, as we had confirmed the previous day at that marina, that no boat was permitted to go close to shore around the large Sunny Point Army Terminal. In fact, we were told that it is patrolled by gunboats with live machine guns, and that I would be forced to stay in the channel. The other side of the river was marked as very shallow, with large areas designated on the chart as spoil areas, where channel clearing operations dumped the sand. The total distance would include the 2 miles through the short cut, and 12 miles down the river. I had noticed that there was a ferry that crossed south of us, from Federal Point to north of Southport, about half way down. Perhaps I could get there, but how would I get on, and how would I get back into the water on the other side? For some reason, I shared my concerns with Sunny, and I asked her if she knew how I could get a ride down to the ferry – if that was possible. She thought about it for a few moments, and then said she thought she could help me. Her brother was the pastor of their small church, and he had a truck, and there was a trailer possibly available. She did have some taxi appointments, and could I wait. I said yes, so she said she would call me later. She dropped me off at 8 AM, and I explained to Danny at the marina, what the new plan was. I felt such a sense of relief. I unloaded Katie, pulled her up the ramp from the dock where she had spent the night, and organized everything for the pickup. Two hours went by with no word from Sunny.
At 10 AM I called her to get an update, and she had good news. She was coming with her boyfriend with the truck and trailer. She and Robert H. arrived before 11 AM and we packed everything up on the trailer, and drove to the ferry. There, I stood in line among the cars and paid my fee – $1, and Robert drove over to a parking lot next to where the ferry would be docking. As we unloaded, a very nice senior security representative named George came over to see what he could do to help, and I explained my dilemma about getting back in the water on the other side. He told me that he would call the captain, Mary Beth, who was piloting the ferry coming to get us, to see whether she had any ideas. Sunny and Robert drove off, after I gave them some money for their trouble and they wished me Godspeed. In the meantime, a number of people waiting for the ferry came over to speak to me about my journey, which always picks up my spirits.
When the ferry arrived, the captain came down from the bridge and walked over to where I was standing by Katie and the gear bags. I introduced myself to her, giving her my business card, and she was very enthusiastic about what I was doing. She said she would call her husband George and see if he could pick me up at the other end, and drive me to Southport past the Cape Fear River. And just like that, I was on the ferry, taking another picture of Katie. Two gentlemen came over to speak with me, admiring my courage and persistence to date and wishing me well for the balance of the journey. One of them lived on his sailboat nearby, and said I was doing a very smart thing. “There is a very good reason why this is called Cape Fear and Cape Fear River – any time you don’t have to cross it is a good decision.” he said. Mary Beth wrote the same message to the blog, stating that it was a very blustery day and I was doing the right thing to avoid going down. Later I watched the waves on the water as we passed by in the boat, and it confirmed what these good people were telling me.
25 minutes later, we arrived at the other end, and there was a very long white van that Mary Beth uses for carrying her paddle boards, with her husband waiting for me. We loaded up, I gave her a big hug, and George drove me to a low dock where I could repack the kayak. George stayed there, interested in my equipment and watching me load up. He had a lot of good questions and ideas that we discussed, including such obvious questions, like why did I not train to roll the kayak before starting this journey. My explanation that I ran out of time because I left it to the end of my training schedule sounded hollow, and of course, he was completely right. I felt like I was a student who had failed to properly complete a homework assignment, except this was far more serious a matter. But he was very nice about everything, and his wishes for a safe conclusion to the journey were genuine. At around 1:30 in the afternoon, he helped my put Katie in the water, and pointed me in the right direction, and soon I was passing mile marker 310.
It felt great to be on the water again, and paddling past houses with docks sticking out into the narrow waterway. The sun was out and a moderate tidal current was going against me, but I was still making decent, if slower progress, and the glow from all the blessings I had just experienced was still very much inside of me. My faith is still so shallow – my mind keeps getting the messages “I am with you”, “I will get you across”, “Watch what happens and believe in me”, and yet here I worry constantly about what is about to happen next. I am convinced I am a direct descendent from the apostle known as Doubting Thomas. How many times must our Lord show me?
As I was reflecting on these thoughts, I realized that something was happening to my right hand. I was experiencing a tingling and the hand was slowly losing its feeling – like a numbness. Nothing like this had occurred since the start of this journey, and in fact, my hands (other than the usual blisters), arms and shoulders had been great performers. Immediately, something else to worry about! I thought that it might be due to the nature of the grip – the right hand always is tight around the paddle, while the left hand releases every time I paddle with the other hand. But upon more thinking about this new problem, I realized that every time I lifted and pulled the kayak, often with all the gear loaded on, I was using nearly always my right hand. The kayak handles force you to spread the 3rd and 4th fingers, and these were the two that felt jammed, and sore. So I resolved to be more careful, using my left hand to lift and carry, and open my right hand frequently when paddling.
As the afternoon progressed, the line of houses on both sides of the canal continued. I passed mile marker 315, and I began worrying again about where I would find someplace to camp. I stopped to rest on the mainland side, and stepped out of the kayak, and sank into 8 inches of black ooze – and immediately leaned on the kayak to get back in. My shoes were coated in mud, as were my ankles, but I had no choice but to sit back in the cockpit and push off. Now I had more to worry about! But I reminded myself that I was just falling back into my old ways of thinking, and said a few prayers to allow our Lord to find us a suitable place. I crossed under another new fixed bridge (these are normally around 65 feet or so high). Just beyond the bridge, on the right, I saw a broad beach (past the mud visible from the low tide) leading up to a hill with some small trees beyond. I tested the bottom for mud, and found something solid a couple of inches deep (new technique) and got out. I pulled Katie up enough so that she would not float away, and climbed up to see if I could find two trees to put up my tent. After walking about 50 feet, I realized that my shoes and lower legs were covered in these seeds that had tiny sharp thorns that stuck to anything passing by. In no time, some of these had fallen into the holes in my water shoes. Wow, were these things nasty!!! I immediately abandoned any thought of trying to find a camping location up here, and returned carefully and in much pain to the beach, where I sat down and pulled off my shoes carefully, and removed every one of them. I looked in the bridge direction, and saw 100 yards away, still part of the beach, a large dead tree with part of it standing tall. I walked over to it past lots of tiny crabs scurrying about for food, trying not to step on them, and saw that there was a small tree on the side of the hill, and between the dead and live trees, there was space for my hanging tent. As it was already 5 PM, I set up camp, cooked up a hot meal, and “retired” with my new warm clothes as it was due to be cold. My last thoughts about the day were all of my blessings, including finding a place to sleep. How shallow is my faith.
This is a long journal entry for just 8 miles paddled in an afternoon, yet because of these blessings, I have to rate this day a 4.
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Day 37 Monday October 15 Getting Ready for Crossing Cape Fear River
I got up at around 6:45 AM as I knew that Bill S. would be leaving for his dental office at 7:45. He was already up with a cup of coffee. I updated my maps so that the current section would appear in my map case, and put away the old one. I made up the bed, and made sure that all of the things that I had brought into the house were near the front door. Cereal was on the table for me, and after breakfast, I took some of my things out to the kayak, which had from all that I could see, also spent a good night. I was happy to see that the tidal current was negligible, making my exit easier. Bill took a few pictures, and then he had to leave for work. I went back to the house, got my dried shirt and shorts, finalized the charts and gave Gail and big hug for all that she and her husband had done for me. She insisted that it was the two of them who really received the blessings. (As I write this journal entry, big thunderstorms are raging outside).
My new technique for getting into the kayak from a dock worked like a charm, and I was off shortly after 9 AM to go under the Wrightsville bridge and continue almost due south. I was very pleased that the current was with me, and the south wind was very mild. We initially made some good time towards the objective of getting to Joyner Marina opposite the Snows Cut that leads to the river, but halfway there, the tides changed direction, and more importantly, the wind preceding the cold front really picked up, and of course, came out of the SSW, almost directly in my face. I kept looking towards my right, hoping that the storms would hold off until I reached the marina. In my mind, I confirmed my plan for tomorrow’s crossing, taking a room in advance of the storm and proceeding on to Carolina Beach, where there are motels and restaurants. The sky indicated that I would have sufficient time to reach those destinations, but the wind kept picking up, to the point that I was making little forward progress. The last 2 miles to the marina were very tough, and I decided to see if I could leave Katie there at the marina, and get transportation to a hotel. That is exactly how it worked out. The marina let me leave Katie tied up and the gear secured without charge. It felt strange to leave her there alone, especially with the storms approaching. Later at my room, I reread the section in the Waterway Guide regarding the river, where to cross and how to make the turn around Southport, at the western end of the river where the ICW resumes its course towards Myrtle Beach.
I continue to get inspiring messages from family, friends and others reading the journal entries. These have been a wonderful support to me, and have helped offset those times of loneliness, and discouragement that inevitably accompany a venture of this type. As my progress has added up, my thoughts of abandoning this journey have receded, and now that I am almost halfway home, I am more than ever committed, health permitting, to finish what I have started with much fanfare.
The total miles completed today, mostly in the morning, were not impressive, just 12, but most of them were hard fought, and gave us a total of 34 for the beginning of the week, and I was very pleased with that result. But due to the tough slog for much of the time today, offset by the smart decision to get a room in time for the adverse weather, I rated the day a 3.
PS PICTURE TAKEN ON REST STOP TO WRIGHTSVILLE
Day 36 Sunday October 14 A Reach to Wrightsville Beach
Monday, October 15, 2012 5:45 PM
Sunday arrived bright and cool. I planned on leaving Surf City after a Baptist Church service, as that church was the only one I could find in that part of the city. I got to the marina at around 11:15 AM, but did not see Ray. He came after I called to open up the shed so that I could get my things. He then left, telling me to be careful around Cape Fear River, especially about timing my passing through with an ebb tide. This is to avoid major standing waves that occur when an incoming tidal current collides with the strong down river current. He recommended that I speak to someone at one of the upcoming marinas either in Wrightsville Beach, or closer to Carolina Beach near where Snow Cut takes you out to the river. Before he left, we picked up Katie and dropped her in the water, and I secured her to the dock. I was a little concerned about how I would get into the kayak without someone there to hold her steady. But then I had the idea to clip one end of each of my two lines to the two side black grab lines that go around the kayak, and then tie both of them tightly to one of the cleats on the dock. This should prevent the kayak from turning over as I got in. Anyway, it took some time to pack up the kayak in the water, but finally, it was time to try to get in. I had visions of me turning over and having to swim to the rocks on the outside of the marina, but the idea worked brilliantly. I was off at 12:30 PM.
As the wind was at my back (yeah!), and the tidal current moving southwest, in my direction, I had a very pleasant paddle, and the miles passed by quickly. I had hoped to get in around 10 to 12 miles that afternoon, but with these conditions, I gave increasing thought to trying to get all the way to Wrightsville Beach, 22 miles away. However, after around 10 miles, the tide changed, and the wind shifted, and very quickly, the conditions deteriorated and I began to lose hope that I could attain that goal. I continued to look for good camping sites, and they were few and far behind. To the right, along the mainland facing the bays, there were wall to wall houses, many quite grand, and on the left there were many small inside barrier islands with small twisted trees or large bushes, that offered little prospect for holding up my hanging tent. At 3:45, I saw a workable place on the mainland side, but for whatever reason, perhaps I did not want to lose too much valuable paddling time, I decided to pass up on that alternative and continue. As the afternoon progressed, I really started getting worried. I stopped at a couple of the islands to check them out, and my worst fears were confirmed, plus they were very buggy. My back started letting me know that it was time to find a place, and get off the water. I reminded myself that I should trust in the Lord, and let him find the place he had in mind for me that night. I saw that I was only 4 miles away from Wrightsville Beach, so I resigned myself to go into a marina in the city, and be forced to find a motel room. This was frustrating to me, as it was tomorrow night when the large front was due to hit our area, and that was the night I should find someplace to hide from the wet and windy storms. I also wondered when I would be invited into someone’s home. But there were few opportunities for that to happen, as most of the docks that I pass are empty of any persons.
As I approached the city, I crossed over to the mainland side, and continued fighting the very strong tidal current. As I passed one of the last docks before the fixed bridge, I heard a man’s voice call out, and I responded without much thought that I was heading to Florida. I heard him say something else, and something inside me made me turn back to see what he wanted. He was high up on the dock, with someone else, and I let the tide take me back to within earshot. The man wanted to know about my cart on the back of Katie. I briefly explained, then said that this was my second great outdoor adventure, and when I told him what the first one was, he became quite excited, and suggested that I stay with them for the evening, putting my kayak next to one of the other boats tied up at the dock.
What happened next was like a beautiful dream unfolding before my eyes. Bill introduced his wife Gail, who has recently retired, and suggested that I take what I needed for the evening (clothes, maps, etc.) and we would go across the road to his 1926 house, with a nice front porch. There, Bill who is 69 produced a glass of wine for me (the first in 4 weeks) and Gail brought out some cheese and crackers, and we began to share our stories. The more I talked, the more interested they were in what I was doing, and why. Bill ordered pizza (“Is that ok with you, Fal?)” – “Yes!”. Bill showed me where I could take a quick shower and change into clean clothes, and by the time I returned downstairs, we moved into the living room to have more wine and have our supper. I offered to pay for the pizza, but they insisted that I was their guest for the night. Bill has been a dentist all his life, now working 4 days a week while his partner and son take on more of the responsibility of running the practice, but his passion is sculpture, and he took me down to “Willy’s world” in the basement, where there were several excellent clay busts of friends and others, several of which had been cast in bronze, and other pieces including one that was riveting – a scene from the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1862 that devastated white and black families. Bill also pulled out an original manuscript written by a forebear who walked across the United States over 150 years ago, that he had not looked at in many years. That generated a great conversation about possibilities to bring that story to light. All in all, a truly remarkable evening. As I fell asleep in the clean bed, I thanked the Lord for having so well provided for me that evening. What a blessing to have been pulled out of the water at that very moment when everything looked so lost. And for Bill and Gail, new additions to my small but growing list of angels, an equally remarkable evening, as reflected in the email they sent to me today, in part… “Much enjoyed your stay with us in Wrightsville! Gail and I agree; you are definitely the most interesting creature we’ve ever pulled out of the waterway!”
It is days like this that make this journey so special, and worth the massive amount of effort, loneliness, worry and pain. And it reminds me that the spiritual component is very much alive and well, where the thought that comes to mind frequently is “Watch what happens, and believe in me”.
I rated this day a 5 for obvious reasons, with 22 miles paddled. A very good start on the week with the goal to reach Myrtle Beach in South Carolina by the weekend.
It is days like this that make this journey so special, and worth the massive amount of effort, loneliness, worry and pain. And it reminds me that the spiritual component is very much alive and well, where the thought that comes to mind frequently is “Watch what happens, and believe in me”.
I rated this day a 5 for obvious reasons, with 22 miles paddled. A very good start on the week with the goal to reach Myrtle Beach in South Carolina by the weekend.
Day 34 Friday October 12 Surf City NC
As I pulled away from the Onslow Beach camp, I reflected on the many blessings I had experienced in such a short period of time the prior day. Even listening to the ocean waves hitting the beach so close to where I slept was a blessing. I could not help thinking what a nice group of people I was leaving behind, with so many coming up to me and introducing themselves, shaking my hand for what I was trying to do. Apparently, the word had gotten around quickly. This time, the loneliness did not hit so hard, and I had the happy thought that this was Friday, my last day on the water this week, and the last day of being 65 years old. The setting before me was full of promise. I only had 20 miles to paddle, and with my getting underway around 9 AM, I should roll into Surf City around 3:30 PM. The sun was up, and warming me up, the slight breeze to my right, the water quiet. I proceeded along the canal under the swing bridge past the cable and pipeline area with warnings not to anchor – not much risk of that from me! Soon I was entering a series of bays to go around the New River Inlet. I proceeded to my right and found the tidal current pull me back. In actually crossing the New River, I suddenly found myself in tidal waves, and paddled hard to overcome them, ferrying across to an island on my left. I followed that island around past Swan Pt. and into Chadwick Bay, where I really got confused about the direction of the ICW. I started along the north shore, then realized my mistake, and cut across the bay towards a far marker I had missed.
As I paddled across, I noticed a kayaker coming in my general direction. You could easily see that he was in a sit atop kayak, with his fishing gear readily visible. I noticed that he was an African-American, fully outfitted with a GoPro camera sitting tall behind him. I stopped paddling as he approached. The next 5 or 7 minutes led to a great conversation. We introduced ourselves as we floated next to each other. He told me his name, but he said everyone calls him “Cheeks”, as he pointed to his chubby cheeks on his face. His smile was infectious, and as I explained what I was attempting to do, he got really excited. He could not wait to tell his other fellow kayaker fishermen about me. I told him the website, and I said to him that if he writes me, I will send him a personal note about how it would all end. I finally said to him that this meeting and this conversation, however brief, would lift my spirits for hours, and he gave me that great smile again. He turned his way, I turned mine, and he was gone.
I continued to paddle through the remainder of the bay and back into land coming closer together with houses on both sides, when I saw another porpoise rising going in the opposite direction. This was my second sighting in two days. They always make me smile and pick up my spirits. So far, this was turning into a really good day. I continued along the canal, passing houses on my right bobbing and weaving around their docks to minimize the tidal current going against me. Mile marker 250 came and went. Eventually this canal ended into another bay, called Alligator Bay, a mile across. The wind shifted, coming across my right bow, pushing me somewhat backwards. So now I had the wind, small waves and the current against me. Shortly thereafter I passed under another fixed bridge, where I rested and had some gorp to eat. I changed the chart to show what was upcoming. The canal resumed until we reached Turkey Creek on my right, and I paddled through Stump Sound, a series of bays with islands and spoil areas all over the place. Mile marker 255 went by, and I knew that my week’s paddling would soon be over.
It is interesting to note that the kinds of trees that are along the shore are quite different from the inside of North Carolina at the beginning of the week. Before, there were lots of pine trees that made for good primitive camping. Now, those trees are few and far between. What I now see are twisted oak trees and small shrub trees that would make finding two trees alone to hang up a tent difficult. Many of the trees are shaped by the easterly wind that must come with the storms. In addition, there are fewer beaches – most of those have been replaced with marsh grass. Finding places to camp overnight is going to be much more challenging in this environment.
The current moderated, and I sat back and initiated long pulls on the water. This was just great paddling country, and if it were not for the back giving me pain, it would have been totally pleasant. I finally reached the swing bridge signifying Surf City, and paddled to where I saw a sign for the Beach House Marina, that advertised gas and diesel, and lodging. Wow, this was looking great. I paddled in the direction of the sign, and finally concluded that the marina was really just a boat storage facility owned by the boat owners. I could not find anyone around, so I yelled out load, “Is anyone here?” I heard a response, but did not see anyone at first. I asked where the response came from, and someone came out of the boat next to where I was floating. He helped me get out of the kayak onto the dock (first time that has happened). He introduced himself as Tom, one of the boat owners, and his friend came out and introduced himself as Robert E. Lee (for real), and we had a good conversation, as we introduced each other. They said this was not really a marina, there was no fuel, and there was no lodging. But Tom agreed to call Ray, the manager of the facility, to see what he would suggest.
When Ray got on the line, Tom handed me the phone, and Ray said he would get there in 25 minutes or so to see what could be done. So I tied up Katie on the dock, and proceeded to take all of my gear out of the kayak. It looked like a disorganized mess, until I put everything into the proper mesh bags, at which point it all looked quite well-organized. Ray arrived, and we agreed to put the kayak next to some of the boats in the storage building. Ray and I picked up Katie and took her over, were I locked her up. I put all the gear into one of the black carts and we picked that up and placed it on the same level as the storage facility. I then separated what I would need for the weekend, and what could be left there. Ray made room in a lockable storage shed for the latter. He said he would take me to a motel, and we loaded my stuff in the back of his red Ram truck. We stopped at a couple of close motels, but they were all booked up with fishermen. We finally found lodging at the Loggerhead Inn a half mile away. I asked Ray when could we settle up, and he said forget it, there would be no charge. He would be there at the facility Saturday, if I needed to get anything, or Sunday to help me get on my way.
I rated the day a 4, with a total of 20 miles paddled, adding up to 91 for the short week. With an extra 2 miles for the trip to Coinjock (following the shoreline instead of going directly along the ICW marked waterway), and an extra mile for going down the Alligator River for the same reason, the total so far is 386 miles paddled. I continue to be amazed when I see the distances traveled on the broader maps, but I still have around 500 miles to go. But at least most of the big water is past me, and that makes me much happier.
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