Day 26 and 27 Thursday/Friday October 4/5 – Pushing Through Alligator River – Pungo River Canal to Belhaven

I awoke slowly, enjoying the quiet moments in the hanging tent.  The sun was still coming up, so I lazed out for another few minutes.  I heard an approaching boat coming southwest along the canal, and decided to see who it was.  A nice sail boat powered quietly up towards me, and I went over to where Katie was tied up, and waved to the couple as they motored by.  As is common, the wife took a picture of me with my gear hanging up to dry.  Now that I was up, and the sun up, it was time to get ready.  I heard a wild turkey call, and other sounds of the wildlife located in this very remote area.  I decided to get paddling, and have something to eat later.  It still takes time to take down the tent, pack up the sleeping bag and pad, put the clothes and sleeping bag in the Cabela’s waterproof bag that goes on top of the stern.  Then I went over to take down the 4 food bags (the white general food bag, the rust lunch bag, the black bag with the cooking stove and the green breakfast bag), and could not find any evidence of bear activity below where they were hanging, which is always a nice sign.  It was awkward trying to pack the kayak, as she was sitting in the water off a large set of tree roots, that made stepping back and forth challenging.  Another sail boat passed by and more greetings.  I usually generate enthusiastic responses when I tell them what I am trying to do.  Nearly everyone expresses that I stay safe.

By the time that I am finally all strapped in, the wind has resumed its usual direction, with small wind waves coming down the canal.  I tried to reach Grace to send her a message, but all I got was No Service.  This was now really worrying me, as she expected to hear from me each morning and evening.  This was the second missed contact.  I knew that she would be worried.  Hopefully, access would appear later on the canal.  Two red-headed woodpeckers greeted me as I left that good camping site.  Blue jays called out as I moved through the canal.  There are many snags around, so I try to stay enough offshore to avoid most of them, while still leaving room for boats to pass me.  My rear view mirror serves a very useful purpose here, to alert me to traffic coming up behind me.  The sailboats are not a problem, but the large motor yachts do generate large wakes.  Fortunately, the largest ones seem to be run by professional captains, because they often slow down to pass me.  But when they don’t, they can generate large breaking waves that tear towards the nearby shore where it is quite shallow. Another sailboat passed me, and the two guys slowed down to talk.  They asked me if I had seen the bear that they seen moving back into the woods, and I told them no.  The also told me that they had heard that there were a few alligators around, and wanted to know if I had seen any.  I again said no, and I hoped it stays that way!  I started looking more carefully at the shoreline close by, checking for them, but only saw snapping turtles.  I passed mile marker 110 – which meant at least 17 miles further to go on this straight canal.

At around mile 113, I crossed under a large fixed bridge for highway 94, and stopped by to again try calling Grace.  No Service.  More worries.  Mile marker 115 came and went.  Still nothing but woods and marsh around me, and no sign of any houses anywhere.  I continued to push through the wind and finally passed mile marker 120.  I could see another fixed bridge way ahead of me, and paddled another hour to a beach on the right, where I could eat lunch and drink water at a table.  I again tried to send a message to Grace. No Service.  After passing under the bridge a number of boats passed me and moved into the Pungo River.  I decided because of the wave heights not to follow them down the center of the river, but rather turn to the right and paddle closer to a crossing near a marsh island.  I found some houses along the southwestern shore, and stopped at a beach to check for I-Phone connectivity.  No Service.  I was so frustrated.  But I made up my mind that one way or the other, I would find a way to let Grace know that I was ok, even if I needed to stop at a house and ask the owners to call her on my behalf.  I paddled around the next point, further into the Pungo River, fully into the wind.  Fortunately, the waves were around 1 foot and I could push my way through them.

I pounded my way pass Satterthwaite Point, then Bay Point and saw what looked like a marina at the western side of Upper Dowry Creek.  I thought I could continue and make Belhaven and be assured of a cell phone connection.  That probably was a poor decision.  When I came around the next point, I was confronted with haystack waves from the wooden bulkheads of houses on the right, making progress very challenging.  I moved away from the shore, but that did not make any difference, so I headed back closer to the shore, and just forced my way through these crazy waves.  I finally made it to Haystack Pt., and was dismayed by the large bay in front of me.  The wind seemed to increase, the waves seemed to get higher, and my energy began to fail me. I passed Lower Dowry Cr. to my right, and saw the first of several houses ahead.  I decided to stop one more time to check the cell phone.  Again, No Service.  I could not believe it!  Suddenly, the phone made a sound, and I heard 5 voice mails – mostly from Grace.  In the first one, I heard worry, the second one real concern.   The third one almost a sense of panic.  It so pained  me to hear how much this not being able to communicate with my love could hurt her.  I immediately called her, and while the connection was poor, she heard me as I kept repeating – I am ok, I am ok.  I could hear her tears of relief.  I heard her say she is not sure she can continue with this voyage if there are times like these.  I tried to apologize and explain what happened, but the connection was not good enough, so I told her I was a mile or two away from Belhaven, and that I would call her in the morning upon my arrival.  She agreed, and I hung up.  I paddled 50 yards back away from the first house, and saw occasional trees in tall grass next to a beach.  Perfect site.  I decided only to have some quick cereal and get ready for bed.  I found two trees that would work, one of them dead, but still with some strength left, near Katie.  I pulled her completely out of the water onto the raised bed of grass, secured her to another tree, and prepared camp.  As I ate my cereal, flocks of seabirds flew over me, and a phenomenal sunset ensued, as if welcoming me to my weekend destination.  First bright orange covered the clouds in the western sky, and as the sun dropped lower, the hues turned into a deeper red.  Absolutely spectacular.  Unfortunately, I could not say the same for the evening.  Legions of mosquitoes came out as the wind died down at the end of the evening, and  when I got out to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, they were waiting for me.  In seconds, my legs and arms were covered in the small biting bugs.  I tried to brush as many off before returning into the tent, but quite a few got in with me, and that took about 10 minutes to dispatch them.  In the morning, everything was covered in a heavy dew, and quite wet.

I quickly put on my pants, long sleeve shirt and my towel around my head and neck secured by a cap to frustrate the mosquitoes, and packed up quickly as the sun rose in the east.  There was no wind in sight.  I paddled 30 minutes to the River Forest Shipyard and Marina, the first marina in Belhaven, where I arranged to stay in one of their cabins. The owner Captain Axson S. wrote me up for two nights, and if the weather were not cooperative, a third night. He said I could leave the kayak on his front lawn where I had landed, and I put everything in bags to take to the room.  This would give me time to rest, clean my clothes and get some good food and two nights sleep, with the expectation that, weather permitting, I would leave after church Sunday morning.

I had access to a golf cart, and went to have breakfast after calling Grace.  Cell phone coverage by AT&T remained very poor in the area – apparently, only Cellular had good coverage.  I had to get up two to three stories to ensure better reception.  Axson invited me to his porch to send my  blog written earlier that morning, and signed me up for TowBoatUS.  He has the territory around Belhaven, and there is another representative in Oriental, my next principle stop on my voyage.   I paid over $180 for the membership, which he said would allow me to call at any hour for a tow, should I decide for whatever reason that I could not continue kayaking.  (John O and Bob A. had also recommended me to sign up for this service, given my circumstances – i.e. kayaking alone.  I finally got the message, and was very happy to sign up for a year).

I checked the weather on NOAA and the weather forecast for the next 4 days was going to be challenging, with high winds (up to 20 knots) and waves ( up to 3 feet), and higher in the thunderstorms predicted for Monday and Wednesday evenings.  I shared this news (along with my concerns) with Grace, and we agreed I would review this news with Axson to see what could be done to get me across Pamlico River.  We agreed that I needed to be very careful around large bodies of water, and unfortunately, there were still a number of them to get through until Beaufort NC.  I just want to get to a point where it is more of a canal journey, starting around the NC coast.

I have rated the day that I paddled down the Alligator River a 3, and the day going down the canal a 2, primarily due to the constant frustration at not being able to communicate for almost 2 days.  The last day is a 4, for only 30 minutes paddling and arriving safely at Belhaven, my destination on my itinerary for the end of the 4th week.

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