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Part 12- Waccamaw River Through Paddle: The Finish Line: Saturday 12/23/2023

Destination Kayak: North Island Beach- Georgetown, SC

The sound of shotguns would be our morning alarm. Knowing it would be a short paddle to the finish line there was no hurry to get up early. I woke up in a cheerful spirit. I was mixed with emotion. My biggest feeling was relief. I didn’t want to fail by not completing the expedition. I was on a tight schedule with only 6 days. I was relieved knowing that I was able to keep the trip on and slightly above schedule. My other emotions were excitement of a warm soft bed and sadness that I would be returning to the hustle and bustle of civilization. It is an incredible experience to feel how everything just slows down when you escape to a more-less primitive existence. While I emerged from my tent and steeped my coffee I reflected on the last 5 days. Thought about the trip. The highs and the lows. I even laughed at myself as I thought about the most unfortunate timing of that truck when I was at my most exposed. For the next hour or so I just lounged by my tent sipping my coffee and replayed my greatest hits from the trip.

The sound of tent pole clanking together brought me back to the present. Michael was packing up his tent and making ready to launch his kayak. Hesitantly, I accepted the unspoken orders by the sound. I needed to get everything packed. It was the last day, I was feeling great and I was motivated to complete my trip. My motivation; however, was careless. It was my last day. the next time I would pull this gear out of the kayak would at the office to clean and put it away. There was no care or concern on how it was packed, with the exception of weight distribution. I shoved and crumbled everything below deck anyway it would fit. There was no organization or thought process. After all, it was my last day and I wanted to relax and enjoy the moment.

With both of us packed and ready to go we drug our kayaks to the water and pushed off shore. The bay was calm and inviting. The sound of distant shotguns was still breaking the otherwise quiet morning. The tide was falling and the current was swiftly carrying us along the shore of the island chain in the bay. When we cleared the islands we cut across the open water to the left to near our selves to the main shore of North Island. With the exception of a few wild currents, the paddle itself was beautifully uneventful. We approached near the shore about two miles ahead of our final landing spot. There was plenty of water for us to paddle near the shore with out running aground. My kayak was pointed straight but my focus and eyes stayed on the left bank. The foliage was an assorted collection of southern timber. Tall pines, cedar, palms, and oaks. It reminded me a lot of places from my home-state, Florida. It was much more tropical than most of my trip. The difference in the ecosystem where this trip began and where it will end was fascinating. Two completely different worlds. As we continued down the shoreline would soon become more beach than trees. Ahead of us was a worn out pier that would serve as our landmark for the Georgetown Lighthouse. It was our stopping point for the kayaks. At last, there it was, my finish line. We paddled into the beach and disembarked.

The lighthouse stood tall and proud right in front of me.  It had a right to stand tall and proud. Its creators, Thomas Walker and James Evans completed the build of the tower in 1811. It is the oldest lighthouse in South Carolina and was the last lighthouse to be destaffed. It has outlived and out served all of its South Carolina counterparts. Since 1851 (as far back as I could find records) this lighthouse has survived 44 tropical cyclones (hurricanes or tropical storms) that made landfall on the coast of South Carolina. It bared witness to the brutality of the civil war. It has survived 43 presidents, but was approved for funding by our second President, John Adams. I thought if only this lighthouse could speak. It was originally built in 1801 as a wood structured tower made of cypress. However; this proved to not withstand the natural elements and in 1807 Congress appropriated $20,000 for it to be rebuilt in a manner “to secure its future safety.” That it certainly did. Stand tall lighthouse, stand proud!
(Information cited to: https://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=336)

Now on to the most important part, the short trek to he Atlantic Ocean. Michael and I walked the beach around the corner so that I could officially reach my finish line. We admired the skillfully weathered driftwood as we passed by with my mind focused on one thing. The ocean. Alas, from Lake Waccamaw 6 days ago, I am climbing on the jetty and dipping my toes in the wet sand of the Atlantic Ocean. Michael took a few photos of me celebrating my accomplishment before returning to the kayaks. We sat and rested by the kayaks for about an hour waiting for the switch in the tide. I steeped another cup of coffee to kill the time and to give me one last boost of caffeine for the return trip to South Ferry Island.  We watched the current as it rushed out to sea. I was comforted in my thoughts knowing the tide would soon switch. What I didn’t stop to think about was that the three major rivers that flow into Winyah Bay were all flooded from Sunday’s storm. It didn’t really hit me until it was time for the tide to switch and the water was still pushing out to sea. Visibly you could see it slowed down some but with the flooded rivers the current was not going to switch. Michael and I discussed our gameplan and we prepared for the trip. Mentally siking ourselves for the battle ahead. One thing we couldn’t tell from our sheltered spot on the beach is that the wind had also kicked up a little. We would find that out after making our open water crossing.

We launched our kayaks and stayed close to the shore where the current was practically null. We traversed back up the shoreline about a mile before deciding on our spot to cross the wide open delta. It was inevitable. The take out was on that side so we would have to get to that side eventually. We picked the area where the distance would be the shortest to get across. We pointed our kayaks straight at the South Island and worked through our crossing. The current constantly pressing against our beams wanting to bring us out to the ocean. I fixed my boat on to visual point and kept them lined up so I could self confirm that I was holding a straight line. The surface was gradually getting choppier and more dynamic. The wind direction was a northerly wind which meant that the South Island shore was catching the max of the fetch area. As we approached the shore of South Island wee pointed back up strip. The swell from the fetch along with wind waves were crashing in all different directions against our bow and beam. The sea height only grew to about two feet but it was the chaos of the shore interaction that made it exciting. With no discernable order to the waves they would bounce our kayaks all around as we determinedly pressed on. Stroke after stroke, small target after small target, we moved forward. The current resisted and the swells would, at times, make our forward stroke sloppy. I decided to enjoy the exciting conditions and focus on the numerous eagles I kept spotting on my left. They would fly in front of me and land. When I caught up the would take flight and land again further up. Almost like they were guiding me in saying “Come on, this way” The wind, current, and waves were relentless. The elements would give us pushback for the entire 6 mile trip back to the landing. For me, I didn’t care how hard it would push, I would push harder. My bride is on the dock waiting for me and that was all I needed to know.

After a nearly 6 mile fight against the elements, Michael and I rounded the corner into the protected channel leading to the South Island Ferry. We were back in calm water and the landing was visible. It would only be a little over a quarter mile and I would be finished! At about 100 yards from the dark I saw a group of people marching down to the dock. I could hear hoots and hollers of excitement. Duck hunter’s looked on confusingly wondering about what the heck was going on. I knew my wife would be at the dock, but I did not know I was going to have a full welcome party of friends there to support me. It meant the world to me to see so many people there clapping and cheering me on. They were holding up posters and really made quite the spectacle of the event. In my story this would probably be the one time that I really have a complete loss for the right words. I can’t truly express the way it made me feel seeing them lined up on the dock smiling ear to ear. When I approached the dock I lined my beam up to the side near my wife. I wanted a kiss. Bless her soul for obliging. I had been on the water for 6 days and no shower. I’m sorry honey, for that. There is no telling what kind of smells I was excreting. A few short conversations and I was circling around to the ramp to step out of the kayak one last time for this trip. Shawn, from my first night, greeted me with a celebratory bottle of champaign. I shook the bottle and popped the cork to complete the celebration. The foam from the bottle poured out all around and one swig was more than enough for me.

          I was done. I completed the entire trip (and then some).  Oddly enough, my first thought was, “What’s next? Which river will be my next solo expedition?”. My second thought was food! We agreed on Pawleys Island Tavern. They have a reputation for some great pizza, and great it was. We shared a table of food, and Toni Rae brought me a dollar to hang on the wall marking the occasion. With satisfied appetites we all bid farewell and that would complete my story.


          Thank you to all my friends and my bride, Laurie, that took part in my journey in some degree or another. From the bottom of my heart, I am humbled and grateful for your friendship and kindness. I love all of you. There are so many more than listed that have had some direct or indirect influence in me having the skills, abilities, and confidence to take on the challenge.


Shawn, Toni Rae, Josie, Lori, Donna, Jim, Angela, David, Romain, Nick, Mario, Kyle, Marcus, Marshall, Merri, and Michael


Trip Breakdown:

Day 1: Lake Waccamaw to Pireway, 38.6 miles
Support: Shawn, Josie, and David, Laurie

Day 2: Pireway to Savannah Lake, 26 miles
Support: Jim, Angela, Kyle (Son), David

Day 3: Savannah Lake to Pitch Landing, 36.5 miles
Support: Nick, Romain, and Marcus

Day 4: Pitch Landing to Winyah Bay, 50.6 miles
Support: Marshall, Merri, and a Double Whopper

Day 5: Winyah Bay, 5 miles
Support: Michael

Day 6: Winyah Bay to Atlantic Ocean to South Island Ferry, 12 miles
Support: Michael, Laurie, Lori, Donna, Shawn, Toni Rae, Romain, Jim, and Angela

In the end- I completed 164 miles from Lake Waccamaw to the Atlantic Ocean

AND

DID THE WHOLE THING IN MY HOUSE SLIPPERS!

~The End~

PLEASE LEAVE ANY COMMENTS BELOW….I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM ANY ONE READING MY JOURNEY.

7 thoughts on “Part 12- Waccamaw River Through Paddle: The Finish Line: Saturday 12/23/2023”

  1. I have love love loved reading all of this. Your pictures have been amazing. I have laughed through this and was afraid for you at times. All in all so happy for you. Wish we could have been there at the end but we were there in spirit.

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

  2. Fantastic, unbelievable, and inspiring!

    This is a great read – strongly suggest publishing, maybe a magazine. With some maps and only slight editing and polish (or not!), it would be great.

  3. Great job, Justin!! Very proud of you!! And you’re not only a great kayaker, but a great storyteller, too!! Thanks for letting us read about your adventure!

  4. I waited until all your blogs were written – needed to be able to read it like a book – chapter after chapter – of sheer enjoyment in your courageous adventure! Loved every moment you shared so eloquently! Congratulations!!!

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