Destination Kayak


Part 4- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Monday 12/19/2023

164 Miles and Counting- Here We Go!

         To twist the words of Spiderman’s late and great Uncle Ben- “With great challenges, comes great rewards.” Such was true in this case. After clawing my way through the debris of the first real blockage, without incident, I was proud, accomplished and feeling great. I pressed on downstream. As I rounded the next turn I was face to face with a beautiful white tail doe. She froze and I did too. I didn’t want her to scare off so we just stared at each other for only a second or two before she leaped over a downed tree and ran through the flooded forest with incredible precision and accuracy. She was out of site in just a couple jumps but I could still hear her splashing through the flood waters working to put distance between us. To me she was an amazing welcomed sight, but to her I am sure I was an intruder, a parasite in her ecosystem. I was grateful for the moment and wished that I had taken a picture before she fled. Somethings are better kept as a living memory. Sometimes, I think we can get so caught up on capturing a moment on camera that we forget to take in and live the moment. One of my learned experiences on this trip. 

           As I continued pressing downstream the overhead canopy would condense and expand like a pulse beating over head. I paddled through moments of warm welcoming sun back into dense cold shade. Over the next little while the high water was paying it forward providing me options for most of the obstacles I encountered, with one exception. The trip was becoming more like kayak hurdling. It seemed every fifty to a hundred yards I was winding up and charging full speed ahead into a tree that would be flush or rest an inch or to above the waterline. Bam! The bow would slam into the long. With the momentum and weight of the kayak it would push up and over before resting right under my seat. I would teeter back and forth like a school yard see-saw. To get that stubborn lazy stern over the log I would have to lunge my body forward while pushing against the obstruction that my kayak would come to a stop on. With each lunge forward the kayak would scoot maybe 2 inches. That was the easy part. Once I got to the back third of the kayak the hull becomes more angular as it tapers down morphing into a stern keel. With the bow in the water and the stern keel completely resting out of the water on the obstruction, the kayak would lay way over first right, then left, then right. Over and over again the kayak would try to capsize as I scooted each inch of the keel off the obstruction. The only countermeasure I had was using my paddle to brace. I’d smack the water on my right then smack the water on my left. It was a vicious cycle of capsize prevention with each scoot. Then with little advance notice, the stern keel would slide off the obstruction and silently slip back into the water returning the kayak back to its full stability. I think this is a good place to remind you this was my  scenario every fifty or so yards for the next four miles. Lady Waccamaw had appeared to put the scenario on repeat as to gawk and laugh at me as I continued my way forward. 


My Kayak teetering on a log surfacing a couple inches above the water line.

         In between the hurdles, I encountered  other obstructions that I could mostly just paddle around and be on my way. Then, here it was. Another down tree that I thought for sure was the exact same one from before. So much so that I thought about looking at my GPS just to make sure I didn’t somehow circle back up. I approached looking for my high low clearance where I would apply the same strategy as the last. I took a couple pictures mostly to procrastinate my upcoming risky maneuvers. I looked river right, completely blocked, I looked center- completely blocked, I looked river left- completely blocked…or was it? I saw what just might be my way out of having to go sideways again. I dare not try to cross to the other side where I was because the current would have pinned me against the tree that laid across the river. So I backed the kayak upstream putting some distance between me and the blockage. I maneuvered over to river left and only used the current to advance forward. I was not yet certain if this was my way through. It was very narrow and very crooked. A kayak that is 17 feet long does not like crooked. I gently nudge the kayak in to the tiny crack of space between the debris and leaned way left to see if there would be an opening on the other side. In the words of my friend Holly… “Hooray!” which would be said in a very optimistic almost falsetto tone. It would be tricky but, it was sure as hell going to be a lot easier than the hodgepodge of catastrophe anywhere else along this blockage. There was a freshly fallen tree that went down in the direction away from the river. The giant root system uprooted and I have no doubt it is what cleared the way for me to go through. Finally it seemed, Lady Waccamaw was giving me a gift. I stowed my paddle because it would be useless through this area. I proceeded forward grabbing and pulling any sturdy piece of debris I could. The kayak bounced and tilted like a slow motion bull ride as it skidded across unknown amounts of debris just under the water surface.

          The bow was piercing through the other side but the kayak was wedged tight and I had nothing else to grab and pull. A cliff wall of loose soil and roots was pressed against the left side of the kayak and my body. There was a small but sturdy tree just up by the bow of the kayak. It had a small Y shape split about three feet higher than my kayak. No way could I reach it with my hands. Right now would have been a great time to be Inspector Gadget. The thought occurred to me- just reach out and say “Go, Go, Gadget Arm!” Then a more sensible and logical thought brought me back to my senses. I grabbed my paddle lifted it up with the blade vertical. It reached all the way to the split where I let it come down in a resting position at the base of the split. Then rotated the blade horizontal and pulled with everything I had. Here I am again matching the pull with a body lunge forward as to help drive the kayak forward. The cliff wall turned into a landslide as the loose soil started to spill all over me and the kayak. I didn’t care one bit, I just wanted a successful birth out of this damn wedge. I tugged on the paddle and slung my body forward and the kayak would jump a few inches forward. Success no matter how slow or small is still success! I repeated the process over and over until I heard a loud pop from behind me! “Oh crap! I just broke my freaking kayak! I turned my head and look behind me. Everything seemed in order. Nothing looked broke. Then I realized what it was. There was a rather thick vine hooked over my rudder. The whole time I fought trying to make headway, I was literally moored to the bank by this stupid vine. I waisted so much energy trying to free myself from the wedge; in fact, I was never wedged, just hooked up. Taking a simple moment to look all round me would have let me know that in the beginning. I could have easily lifted the vine off the rudder and effortlessly got through that last part of the passage. Sometimes we only see the trees and sometimes we only see the forest. We need to learn to see both. Another lesson learned for me. Keep a focus on the bigger picture and then analyze the details to lay out your path forward.

          In keeping her tradition, I was once again rewarded for my success regardless of the ideocracy that I exhibited. I was moving downstream at a fairly good stride by this point and on my river right stood a healthy 8 point White Tail Buck (if i counted right). Instead of it running away from the river it jumped in the river, and swam across right in front of me! I stopped paddling and made myself as still as possible trying not to cause anymore stress on him as he crossed the river. When he reached river left, his hooves planted firmly on the bank and in one quick leap he was off and invisible with in seconds. I thanked Lady Waccamaw and continued on my way. Things were looking much better by now. I had already passed all the places I have camped along this stretch in the past and knew I was getting close to Dock Road. Concern was idly sitting stagnant in the back of my head. My new worry was the low built bridge of Dock Road. The water came up seven feet Sunday night and was still rising. Will I have the clearance to make it under the bridge? I had fought, scooted, grabbed, clawed my way through the first 10 miles or so and was already feeling a bit tired. I was not physically ready to have to get out and carry drag 250 pounds of kayak and gear across a paved road. I ignored the idle thought and decided I would just tackle it when I get there. So onward I went through, the now, well pronounced river. I was through “The Fishponds” as titled on Google Maps and could here the sound of cars traveling down Dock Road. It helped reenergize me. 

          As a young child I had the opportunity for backpacking mostly in Ocala, FL. It was with a church organization called the Royal Rangers. Our children’s pastor and still one of my greatest mentors today, Ron, gave me some great advice that can apply to almost anything anywhere at anytime. See, I was struggling on the trail. It wasn’t planned for us to hike 11 miles that day; unfortunately, the natural water source we were supposed to resupply at was dry. So we had to hike out that day. I was exhausted. I really did not think I was going to ever make it out of the forest. I had my eyes set on the black & white checkered finish line. It was demoralizing. I told Ron I couldn’t do it. Ron was a little bit in front of me and he turned to me and said “all I want you to do is take one step toward me” so I looked at him and took one step.  He asked- “Was that too hard?” I replied “No.” To which he responded “that’s all it is. Just one small easy step at a time.” 

             When all you focus on is the finish line you only see the distance between those two points (where you are and where you need to be). Close the distance by targeting each step of the journey, take it in, enjoy and savor it, and the finish line will come to you. That was exactly what got me through the next 25 miles or so. I pushed on…left paddle, right paddle, left paddle, one blade in front of the other. Before I knew it I was at Dock Road. The water was still low enough that I was able to scoot under it with a tight tuck forward. Out the other side and now I was ready to kick in the afterburners. I set a manageable pace and was excited to see a clearly laid out river path without obstructions. The biggest challenges of the day were behind me. I set a goal then another goal. I pressed on fairly uneventful the second half of the day. I had planned to stop around mile 25 or 30. Then I received a text from a friend. He said he was at Pireway Landing and would have a warm fire and a hot meal ready when I got there. That was it. What I needed, to press further than I originally planned. A warm fire and a hot meal, “I’m on my way!” One blade in front of the other and by sunset I was making landfall at Pireway. 

         On my first day I went through 4 major blockages, countless tree hurdling, one kayak limbo, and 38.6 miles of river. Thank you Shawn for being at the ramp waiting on me! A great friend indeed!

Part 5: Pireway Landing to Savannah Lake: Crossing the State Line

The next morning, I was in no mood to paddle. That was my first long distance trip in quite sometime and my body was feeling it….

The tale continues in part 5: Release date: 1/2/2024


2 thoughts on “Part 4- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Monday 12/19/2023”

  1. Anxiously awaiting part five. I’m so happy and excited for you. I know the area from Dock Road down and I don’t feel nervous any more.

    Those were challenges I don’t want to face.

  2. Lorraine Hiester

    keep your eye on the ball and not the hole is a good philosophy. On so many trips I have had to do the same thing “don’t search for the turn around or the start of the loop. I’ve picked out achievable goals like that bid pine just ahead to a mile or pole marker. Slow and steady wins the race.My confidence in you never wavers even tho we all know the forest appears more often then we would like

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