Lots of paddling

Mid June is not the best time to head out for a kayak adventure in the Mid-Atlantic and (would you call it) Mid-South-Atlantic states. That’s what I did, and cut it a bit short, the temperatures in the middle 90s was a bit much so I cut the trip a bit shorter than I would have liked, but as you will see I did find a couple of places I’d like to return to soon.

Lake Norman, NC

I loaded the boat on the car, along with clothes for a couple of weeks and headed out early on a Wednesday morning. The navigation system said I would be in Lake Norman, NC by early afternoon. The sun was shining as I left home in Maryland, and turned to a bit of overcast as I headed Southwest. Luck was with me and traffic on I-81 and I-77 was moving along right about the speed limit.

My first goal was to be the first geocacher to find a new cache (The Smaller Blue Kayak) on an island in Lake Norman, NC. It had been published a couple of weeks ago. Normally, around home, a cache is found within a couple of hours after it is listed on Geocaching.Com. Ok, kayak caches do take a bit longer for someone to get around to paddling out to find it. There was another cache on the same island and it took about 10 days before it was found, so I knew I should not waste time.

I pulled into Lake Norman about 3:30, and promptly got lost trying to find a park to launch my boat from. I had looked it up on Google Maps, but hadn’t loaded it into the car’s GPS. It took me about an hour before I finally was ready to get into the boat. And my Garmin 60CSx pointed to the cache, only about 2 miles away. Ha!

Well I can’t paddle overland, so I headed out to the first point. Then I saw I had to navigate around another finger of land. All the time the GPS was telling me, only about 2 miles to go.

From my vantage point, this good looking homes surround the lake, with the only place for any wildlife is on small islands. A few power boats towing water skiers plowed up and down the lake, but stayed far enough away so they didn’t leave me much wake to contend with.

The clouds kept building, but the none of the local weather forecasts mentioned rain. Good! So I kept on following the “needle” until I finally spotted my island about a mile off. So I kept on paddling. Following the GPS I made a landing about 50′ from the cache, sure enough the log was empty, I was First-To-Find!

Now was the time to look for the other cache. Woah, the GPS told me that I had paddled over 4 miles, and that the time was now about 6:30. Sundown was about 8:30 so I didn’t have much time to spare. I also wore in shorts, and Tevas, not the blue-jeans and boots I normally wear when hiking through back country. I didn’t feel that I had time to hike about a quarter of a mile and still be able to paddle back before dark, so I decided to forgo the second cache.

Luckily the wind had picked up a bit, and I had a breeze at my back for the longest part of the return trip, and I had the boat on the car before dark, but before I found dinner the rain came, hard.

I bring my iPhone on these trips, but keep it in a waterproof bag, so using the camera isn’t practical. I don’t want to get it wet, but I here is a video from a bit higher

The next morning I made a stop at US National Whitewater Center for a quick look around and one cache. Then off to lunch where I met up with a local Geocacher, NCGliderpilot, who was admiring my boat.

On to Tybee Island, GA

I continued on south from Lake Norman to Alpharetta, Ga to spend Father’s Day weekend with my son and his family. Then early Monday morning I headed east to Tybee Island, Ga. Once I was there I found Sea Kayak Georgia and asked about a tour the next day. They were full, but put my name on a list for Wednesday. But I found where I could launch from for a paddle to Little Tybee Island, south of Tybee Island, about 6,780 total acres including marsh.

Tuesday morning dawned early and hot, so I loaded up with water and G2 (Gatorade) to keep me hydrated for the day, and headed to the launch point. There I met some kayakers that had spent the night on Little Tybee and were now headed home. Though Little Tybee looks far off the paddle to Little Tybee isn’t long at all. Since this was my first time I didn’t really know where to go once I crossed the river to the island, but easily found an entrance into one of the many passages into the center of the island.

I wanted to Geocache, one of my reasons for being here, so I followed the GPS upstream till I was only about a hundred feet from my first target cache. But I had come at low tide and I would have to climb up a 6′ mud covered bank to get to what really didn’t look like land at all, just marsh grasses. Again I wasn’t dressed for this. As I was exploring one possible landing site I heard a random clicking noise. Upon closer inspection I saw the entire mud bank covered with Fiddler Crabs. I’ve never seen them in this quantity.

Now I started to hear voices here in the marsh, coming from the direction I had come in. Sure enough it was a kayak tour, the one that was sold out. I followed them at a distance up the winding waterway, looping back on itself quite often,

The sun was getting even hotter as noon approached, so I headed back out, without a cache find but after about 2 and a half hours and about 4 miles paddling I was spent, and when I returned to my motel the desk clerk said the temperature was 99F, way too hot to want to go out again.

If you’re headed to breakfast on Tybee Island the Breakfast Club is my recommendation, even though the line was long, the wait was short. It’s small inside, so the wait will be on the street. Once inside, though, the service is quick and the food is excellent. For dinner there are many places with long lines, but I found the Mexi Cali restaurant on the right side of US-80. I’m not an expert on Mexican food, but it fit my needs, tasty without being over the top “hot”.

Follow this video for a story of an extended stay on Little Tybee

Oh, yes! I found 2 caches on Tybee Island, like kayaking, 90F+ isn’t the best weather to cache in.

Headed north toward home with a stop at the Great Dismal Swamp

A short 8-hour drive, I don’t know what a “long 8-hour drive” would be, with a couple stops for Geocaching along the way, brought me to Chesapeake City, NC. After a good night’s sleep I headed a bit further north on US-17 under an overcast sky, with the air still heavy with the smell of smoke. It seems that there were some wildfires in eastern North Carolina with the smell of smoke covering most of this area.

I found the Visitor’s Center, one of the only Visitor Centers that serves both highway (US-17) and a waterway. I’ve been though the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, about 30 years ago by powerboat and looked forward to doing the trip again. This time from the Visitor’s Center I took the short walk to find the closest cache, then headed into Virginia to launch my kayak. This turned out to be the shortest paddle of the trip, only a little over 2 miles, but one I wished would have been longer, but then there is next time.

I started by heading south on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal for about 3/4 mile then turned up the Drummond Lake Feeder Ditch. The water in the canal was almost glassy smooth but it is “Black Water”, about the color of a very strong Tea. And actually is colored by the tree leaves and other vegetation. It is so dark that only the first couple of inches of the paddle are visible when dipped into the water. Though I didn’t see any wildlife, I heard many bird calls and forest noises.

The clouds were lowering as forecast and a cool breeze picked up, so I made myself a promise to return someday and headed back to the boat ramp. As I was landing another kayaker was preparing to launch. We talked for a few minutes, he was from Harrisonburg, Va, about as far across the state as possible, His comment was “This is one of my favorite places to paddle.” He was planning on going all the way to Lake Drummond. He helped me load my boat on the car, and I assisted him with his launching.

Then I made the last leg of the journey home wishing I could have picked a time with a bit more moderate temperatures. Next time!

I won’t try to describe the Great Dismal Swamp but instead let someone more eloquent than I do it.

Within three miles of the lake the scenery becomes exquisitely beautiful; neither grand nor striking, but simply, naturally beautiful; not the loveliness that stirs the senses and awakens wonder, but that which touches the heart, and gradually and silently deepens its spell. The canal loses all semblance of its title, and paddles come into requisition. Reeds, flowers, and the holly line each bank and nearly reach across, while away up in the air the branches of the majestic hemlock, the stately maple, over which vines, creepers, and funereal cypresses trail in graceful festoons, interlace, forming a grand avenue so densely shaded that scarcely a fugitive ray of the sun is able to penetrate. As the boat glides in the stir- less water, the avenue stretches before it straight as an arrow, and loses itself in a dim, indefinable aisle. The water of the canal looks as black as ink, though it is really the color of Madeira wine ; its great peculiarity consisting in its faithful reflections of objects. Every tree, bush, flower, and shrub, even the butterfly that darts above it, and the spider-web that spans the chasm, are mirrored with marvelous distinctness and tint. Indeed, the color and delicate shades of hue are reproduced with such absolute fidelity that the effect is startling. Looking into the water as you glide, you feel as if you were really floating in air, while your own face gazes back into your eyes with a fidelity no mirror can excel in giving.

In traveling through the swamp an exceedingly depressing feeling takes possession of the explorer. The absolute stillness, with not a sound to break the monotony, makes one sad in despite of all reason ; and faces that one has seen never to meet again, and voices that have passed away save as they echo in memory, come back with a reality and a pathos that haunt only the dead, quiet, wakeful hours of night.

At last Lake Drummond opens to the gaze like the slow rising of the curtain disclosing the beauty of the stage; and one thinks if God ever made a fairer sheet of water, it is yet hidden away from mortal’s gaze and ken.

Here it lies in the very centre of the great swamp, pure, undefiled, and fresh as a child’s heart in the mad rush and roar of a city’s life.

Its waters, whether at rest in placid repose, or stirred by winds gentle or rough, always wear their own rich ruby hue that gleams like gold in sunshine. Hidden deep away in the midst of an inaccessible swamp, this lovely lake seems to dream away its life, pure and untainted, from all contact with the world. One can almost believe it was conceived by Jupiter, and made for the chaste Diana to bathe in away from the haunts of men.

From: “Through the Dismal Swamp” By Alexander Hunter in Potter’s American Monthly Volume XVII, No. 115, July 1881.

My short trip:

Two videos of the Great Dismal Swamp:
Just Sights and Sounds of the canal

A trip on the Bonnie Blue, a “classic passenger yacht” with history about the canal


About Mike

I'm an avid bicyclist, that also enjoys Kayaking, Nature Photography, Cross Country Skiing and Geocaching. There's nothing more boring than sitting indoors in "good" weather.
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