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.