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.
Beautiful writing style Fal. I feel like I’m right there with you.