Destination Kayak


Part 5- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Tuesday 12/20/2023

Fatigued and Unmotivated but I Must Press On

Feeling the strain from the long stretch traversing from Lake Waccamaw to Pireway, I made landfall. I would be lying if I told you I hopped out of my kayak right away. I beached the bow and just sat there for a little bit. It had been probably close to a year since I had done any challenging distance. Thirty eight miles was probably not the best decision in hindsight. Especially when you sprinkle in the added seasoning of “booty scoots” and “ski polling”. “Ski-polling” is my term of choice for giving your kayak legs. On more than an acceptable number of occasions, I had to pull my paddle apart, jam the blades into the river bed below the surface and in a harmonious sequence lunge the weight of my body forward and pull with my arms to get a few inches of progress. In these scenarios, it basically transformed my kayak into a seventeen foot skateboard with no wheels. Between scraping through just a couple inches of water bypassing an obstruction to the more than a dozen log hurdles I was feeling it when I made land fall. 

           I was so appreciative for the sight of a welcoming fire and a friendly face. A few minutes went by and I was still sitting in the kayak. I think I was just still processing the kayak ninja course I had endured. The wind made a slight shift and the smell of the fire wrapped around me like a swaddle. It was perfect. I took a deep breath, released my skirt and began to crawl out of the kayak. I’m pretty sure that I probably looked a bit like a roach that had just been hit with a dose of raid. I grabbed the toggle on the bow and jerked and pulled the kayak out of the water. Knowing the water was still rising I had to keep pulling the kayak to a higher spot to make sure the water didn’t become a thief in the night. This spot should do it, surely the water won’t come up this far by morning. I peeled back the hatch covers and fought with the dry bags to get the needed gear out. They were packed so tight nothing wanted to come out. With a few tugs and choice words, the camping gear finally let lose and came out of the below deck storage. I had packed my tent and my hammock just to cover my bases. I settled on the hammock for the night and chose two trees to tie up to. I wrapped the straps and secured the hammock to suspend it off the ground. Tossed in my insulated mattress pad, spread out the sleeping bag along with the extra fleece blanket. There! Done! Now I can enjoy this amazing fire. Shawn brought an extra chair, so I didn’t even need to dig mine out from below deck. Another friend, David also drove up to visit for the evening. We sat around the fire and conversed about the river, the past, the present, and the future. Maybe a futile attempt of solving the world’s problems or just mindless chatter. Honestly, I was so tired I don’t remember much of anything we talked about.  

            Shawn brought his beautiful black lab with him “Josie” and she was so comforting. She would constantly come to sit with me and get some pets. It was an equal trade off. She was getting all the love pets she desired and I was getting all the puppy love from her. I gave Josie was last look and pet and put myself to bed. Fully clothed and could care less, I crawled into the hammock slid into my sleeping bag and was out before my head hit the pillow. Thank goodness I set my alarm earlier that evening. 

             Morning came as unwelcomed as a bitter ex showing up to your party. “Oh its you”. I was in no mood to be friendly with the increasing light along the horizon. I had to submit to the alarm and the rising sun. I still had a long day of paddling ahead of me and needed to maximize my daylight during these short winter days. I climbed out of bed and Shawn greeted me with life-saving coffee and a morning fire. He had been up since around 5am. Apparently, a police officer came by just to investigate, inquire or something. Shawn and him had a conversation and the officer went on his way with no hassle. I slept through all of that. As I became more awake and aware I notice I was feeling stiff. My arms were sore but, more so, my dorsal muscles also known as your swimmer muscles located along the side of your ribs. I sat by the fire and sipped my hot coffee that I didn’t lift a finger to have. Its like having a PB & J that someone else made. It always taste SO much better when someone else makes it. Again, thank you Shawn, those little things were so impactful. 

            About a half hour goes by and I’m beginning to strip off the lethargic attitude and mentally build myself up for the day. From my experience backpacking and other expedition style trips I knew that the second day always seems to be the worse day. Your body is adjusting to its new temporary norm. It is fatigued, sore, and unmotivated. This is where you have to step aside and let “Grit” take control. I walked to the hammock and began stuffing my comfort items back in their respective bags and breaking down camp. When I finished shoving everything back in the dry bags, I, once again shoved and stomped and forced everything back below deck and sealed the hatch cover. Then it hit! I must warn you the next part might get a little “stinky”. After all, I told you this would be a “RAW” story of my ups AND downs. I think it is important because what I realized about my situation could have been easily avoided. It is something that is often overlooked- especially in cooler weather- but we’ll circle back to that later on. 

           When it hit, it was like a cannonball being fired straight into my gut. My stomach was doing summersaults. There was no warning, I frantically grabbed my toiletry bag and tried to “nonchalantly” walk passed Shawn to take cover behind the tree line. I will spare you the pop-a-squat “gooey” details, and leave it to your imagination.  I thought to myself, “What the hell is wrong with me?”. I was cramping something awful. My legs even began to cramp just from squatting. I made one more visit to the tree line before getting into the water. I felt whatever I ate was out of me and all would be well. A lingering pain remained in my stomach and I chalked it up to “aftershocks”. I returned to the kayak and was making ready for underway. Shawn and I participated in one last “ritual in the bro-code rule book.” A see you later “bro-hug”. These aren’t to be taken lightly. Its the manly testosterone-fueled way for men to say: “I care about you. You are important to me, and I got your back.”

          I was off. In the Navy, when we unhooked from the pier,  the bridge would come on the 1MC (the loud speaker) sound a whistle and say “Underway, shift colors.”- This was in reference as to where the different flags are flown or not flown. When in port, the Ensign is flown on the stern of the ship and the Union Jack is flown on the bow. While underway, the Union Jack is lowered and the ensign is flown from the gaff (the diagonal spar projecting aft from the mast). I was underway and the only color that was likely shifting was the color in my face. I grabbed my paddle, and began pressing forward downstream. The cramps were back and the moment I began any type of pace with the paddle my arms began to cramp. From my forearms to my biceps. They complied to my brains command, but certainly not without some serious pushback. Soon I was experiencing minor cramps all through my upper body. Ignoring the real problem- we’ll get to that later- I ignorantly just passed it off as being out of shape for this trip. I decided the cramps were just me being sore. “Push through you wuss.” I thought to myself. “You tow tandems for a living. You can handle this.” After a little while the cramping variably submitted and I was feeling pretty loose and limber.  Contrarily, as relentless as a bad flu, the cramping would continuously sneak up from time to time. Every time I would stop paddling and drift, even for just a minute, the cramps in my upper body would return. I would have to push through the muscle cramps all over again. Left, right, left, right….and the cramps would once again let up stepping aside to my stride. In the back of my head I kept wondering, I can understand being sore, but why am I cramping? That doesn’t seem normal. I don’t usually cramp over something that is like second nature to me. Kayaking for me, is almost like walking. Sure I was a little tired, but to be cramping? It didn’t make sense; never-the-less, I pressed on. I made a few adjustments and maintained a slower pace, to minimize paddling breaks. Knowing that I only had 25 or so miles to cover today I was in no hurry. I had an early start and plenty of sunshine to make it to my destination for the night. 

             The first 4 miles of this leg are probably my least favorite miles of the whole river. To me it is a long wide boring stretch bordered with higher than usual banks adorned with mostly pine trees. Houses on the left and right and very little current to help you along. My motivation was knowing that after the first 4 miles, Lady Waccamaw would return to her normal self. Her attitude for offering challenges partnered with her grace and beauty would be back and I would once again be immersed in the swamp like forest. Finally, the landmarks I am accustomed to let me know I was getting close to the more narrow and recluse part of the river. Cypress and Tupelo would be in abundance and the long drapes of Spanish Moss hung like tinsel on a Christmas Tree. The moss would gracefully wave back and forth in the light breeze that only seemed to affect the top half of the tall southern swamp timbers. I was back in it. More or less, I was approaching my back yard. The area of the river that I have done hundreds of times over the last 15 years (give or take). Certain trees along the way were recognizable, like a long lost friend you haven’t seen in a while. I found my self spotting certain trees and saying, “Hey, I know you!”. The same would be true with the abundance of oxbows along the river. These oxbows are historical records of the river’s past. A path once made by the river, until an easier and straighter way becomes more prevalent. The continuous fluctuation of flood and drain from the storms of the past enable the river to develop a straighter flow. I can’t help to wonder that one day Lady Waccamaw will discard her beauty and become bitter. That she will be “straight and to the point”. How many years will it take before the river just becomes a straight line from Lake Waccamaw to Winyah Bay. Will there be a kayaker on the river then that says: “Man, I can’t believe people used to have to paddle such a serpentine path.” Would they have the same respect and admiration? Would they be thankful of their straight line path? Or would they long to have been born centuries ago to have the same experience as us? Regardless, I was feeling quite blessed to be where I was at that moment. In the macro-scale of time, her beautiful shape- that I have the luxury to explore will be nothing but a distant memory, smaller than a ripple in time. 

              As much as I was enjoying the moment, the muscle cramps, stomach pain, and fatigue were a constant reminder to me of something going on and not in a good way. It would take till the next morning before it dawned on me that there was something more problematic going on than just being out of shape and sore. 

Part 6: Pireway Landing to Savannah Lake: Crossing the State Line

I haven’t forgot about my cramping, we’ll get there. It all circles back around when I land at camp for night 2. Follow along on Part 6 for the conclusion of day 2 on Lady Waccamaw.

The tale continues in part 6: Release date: 1/2/2024