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.