Destination Kayak


Part 7- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Wednesday 12/21/2023

Savannah Lake to Pitch Landing

          Against all odds of my traumatic experience, there was still a silver lining. It wasn’t but a few minutes after the chaos settled down and I regained a sensible composure that another truck came down the road. It was a dark color truck with a front grill on it. That usually means one thing. DNR. Sure enough he made the same loop as the unwelcomed truck before putting it into park, and approaching me. We had a pleasant conversation as I was talking with him about my adventure. Naturally, I omitted everything that happened only 30 minutes prior to his arrival. He looked at me like I was crazy. I had a small fire going for heat while I was preparing for dinner. He asked for my ID which I happily obliged. It was probably the first time that I have ever been checked by law enforcement without doing something stupid. No doubt, he was probably checking for warrants. After all, I am out here, alone, with a kayak, on the coldest week of the winter season- at least my pants were properly buttoned and around my waist by then. While he was running my ID I could only think about what if he was the first truck. I would be in a world of “you-know-what” in every literal sense. I could only imagine….I’m pants around the ankles, jumping for cover, flopping around like a fish out of water and here comes DNR. Thank you Lord, that DNR wasn’t the previous vehicle. He returned with my ID and we exchanged a few more pleasantries before he went on his way. It was comforting to know they were coming out here regularly- it shows a presence of security, and for me that was a good thing!

           Years ago, my son, Kaleb and I did a 170+ mile through paddle down the Yadkin river. One particular landing stands out as one of the worst nights I ever had. It was a remote public landing and river campers were welcome. After we had dinner and tucked in for the night things took a sketchy an uneasy turn. Around 11pm the cars started driving through. One after the other. Some cars would drive down and just sit with the vehicle in park. Eventually another car would pull up right beside them. A few moments later they would both leave. Other cars would pull in and you could hear sounds of “pleasure” escaping from the cracked foggy windows (that should be enough to explain). This went on through the night all the way till about 4 or 5am. Drug deals and, no doubt, prostitution. It was like a drive through service station for what ever your dark desires wanted. So you can see how happy I was to see DNR making his rounds where I would lay to rest on this particular evening. 

             Finally! A truck I recognized came down the road. It was my wife’s truck and out comes Kyle, my youngest son. He brought the box of goodies I ordered from NRS that finally arrived the day after I started this trip. More importantly he brought toilet paper! Everything was complete. I had a new roll of toilet paper. Moments after he pulled up and parked another vehicle was approaching. First the headlights scanned the camp sight as they rounded the turn on the dirt road. Then it pulled right up next to my truck, close enough for me to reset my stance for defensive posture. The vehicle is in park right by the truck and I’m getting more and more staged for fight rather than flight. A tall slender figure gets out of the car and it was Jim! Jim is one of our club members and a friend. He recognized from my post where I was sleeping that night so he wanted to come down there and surprise me. Surprise me, he did. Not only did he and his wife come down to say hi and support me on my journey, he brought me some warm boiled peanuts! I love boiled peanuts! We talked for a bit gave him the “bro-hug” and they were off. What an incredible gesture for someone I had only recently met to go through all of that just to pop in and say hi and bring me gifts of sustenance. Kyle was still here and he had a couple bundles of wood in the back of the truck. That was nice. I didn’t have to forage for more wood for this camp. I had plenty for tonight and in the morning. Kyle is in the Air Force and was home on leave. It was a treasured and valued time to have this moment with him. We sat around the fire and talked about all the world problems. It was a beautiful moment. There were no distractions other than watching the dancing orange flame from the store bought firewood. No phones, no T.V., it was just us. 

        I was completely content. I loved that we had this time together in his short visit home. Further, I loved that there were no distractions and we were just two men in the woods enjoying our only source of heat on this bitter cold night. Great things seem to always last in small moments. Eventually there would be a distraction that would be enough to stop us mid-sentence, mid-conversation. An eerie sound began to break the silence of the night. The sound overtook the crackling of the kiln dried wood and even our voices. It sounded like it was less than 50 yards away. If you ever heard it, then you know it is one of the most startling sounds you can hear at night. There were a band of coyotes that began to play an orchestra of sounds: growls, barks, howls, screams, and accented notes of staccato yips and yaps. It was all part of the sheet music they were composing to relay messages within the family group. Although, I was aware of this non-aggressive behavior, it didn’t make it any more welcome or comforting. It wasn’t long after the coyote sound-off that Kyle bid farewell (insert laughter) and returned to civilization. Returned to his climate controlled environment, coyote free, and a warm bed. Lucky him. I won’t lie. I had to act tough and unaffected by the haunting sounds while he was around, but the minute he left, I strapped my head lamp on and went to my hammock. I proceeded to raise my hammock up another two feet from where it was. The hammock was now strung at about 5ft off the ground. I had to stack unburnt firewood and jump just to get in it for the night.  

        Fortunately the coyotes settled down not long after I laid in my hammock and I was fast asleep. Morning came at a cold 26 degrees and it was glorious. I stayed warm and cozy all night. I slept great! I slithered out of the hammock with my wool covered toes stretching and feeling for the stacked wood. Shifted my weight to the wood stack and slithered my way out of the hammock. The first task would be to rebuild the fire. It was cold and my fingers were already feeling it. I reset the fire, brought out my fuel tank and burner and began heating water for some morning coffee. As I sat in my small collapsible camp chair waiting for the warmth of the fire to build and the water to heat up I stared out to the growing sunlight through the thick swamp forest. My mind still focused on the muscle cramps, fatigue, and even a dull headache at this point. I contemplated how I was going to press forward for the next destination, which would be just below downtown Conway nearly 35 miles away. Then out of nowhere as I mindlessly stared at the water in front of me a River Otter popped up! We locked eyes for a brief moment before he hastily dove back down to escape my intrusion of his area. He popped back up a few yards away against a cypress tree. Took another look at me, gave me a few huffs and one authoritative bark before diving back down. I scurried for my phone to get a picture or video but, after his second dive I lost track of him and he was gone. 

            My water was now at optimum steeping temperature so I transferred it over my teabag-like coffee pouch and waited for it to steep. In a valiant effort to multi-task, I began to break down camp. I noticed that the physical actions and motions were making me borderline winded and dizzy. That’s odd. Something so simple and I feel this weak? I pushed through with multiple breaks and visits to my now steeped coffee. My sips of coffee served as breaks in between the tasks I had to finish. It took nearly 45 minutes for camp to be completely packed and stowed below the deck of my kayak. I sat back down in my chair and finished the remaining half of my coffee- while the fire dissipated like a visual reference of my energy level. The river was still rising and the idea of increased assistance for my downhill trek gave me hope. My last sip of coffee was done and it was time to extinguish the fire, and make ready for underway. In the Navy we like to say “Haze-gray and underway”. This was nevermore true than right now. I picked up my skirt and pulled it up to the appropriate level on my waist. I picked up my flotation jacket and zipped it up and gave it a tug for a snug fit. Then I picked up my Camelbak (my on-the-go water bladder)…there was a pause. It seemed a lot heavier than I expected. I thought to myself, am I losing my mind or is this seem way too heavy for what it should be. I opened the back to look at the water level. At this point, lets circle back around to all the issues and ailments I had been experiencing. I had been two days on the water, paddled nearly 60 miles and realized that I had barely drank any water. In case you don’t know, cold weather dehydration is real! It is the easiest way to become dehydrated because you don’t realize it. You don’t feel thirsty like you would in hot weather. Your sweat evaporates before it even has a chance to accumulate, and your body has to use its water to heat and moisten the air you breath as it enters the lungs. Add in the diarreah (likely due to the immediate shift of physical exertion and stress of the trip) I was at a massive net loss of water.

         “I’m an idiot!” I thought to myself. I have 20 years in the Navy. We did these training videos and discussions over and over again about health and hydration. How did I miss this? I was soo mad at myself, but also relieved to have finally deduced the most likely issue. Now, I needed to treat the issue and symptoms. I grabbed a bottle of water and drank the whole bottle over the next 5 minutes while I tinkered with other task. I donned my Camelbak and once again made ready for launch. I challenged myself to drink all three liters of water in my Camelbak before finishing the day. So off I went. It would be about a mile before I was once again back on the main river and I consciously was sucking water from my Camelbak. It was refreshing. It seemed the more I would drink the more thirsty I realized I was. Onward I went, making a deliberate point to stop and drink all along the way. I was tired, my muscles were sore and cramped and the stomach still seemed a little upset. The headache had passed but all the other symptoms remained. I’ve always heard it said that the water you drink today is for tomorrow. I held on to the idea knowing that I should wake up feeling great…tomorrow. I wanted to feel great today. I was impatient but kept drinking the water in my Camelbak. By midafternoon, I was in my zone, my stride was steady and I didn’t even realize how much the dehydration symptoms had lessened. I stopped for a break ate, some gifted boiled peanuts (from Jim) which are a great source of sodium and protein. I finished off the peanuts went for one last gulp of water and the Camelbak was coming up empty. Man! I drank all three liters of water, I patted myself on the back, refilled the water bladder and I was ready for the second half of the day. My body was feeling much better. The cramps were gone, the stomach felt great, and my energy level was at about 90%. It really is crazy how easily you can become dehydrated in cold weather activities. 

         We’ll finish the days adventure tomorrow as we talk about my “River Angel” and the most unfortunate campsite with the rising water. 


Part 8: Savannah Lake to Conway-Pitch Landing

The campsite is flooded, the sleeping arrangements- not so great, but I meet Marcus- my River Angel (and new friend) enjoy a warm fire with close friends Nick and Romain along with Marcus… 

The tale continues in part 8: Release date: 1/5/2024


6 thoughts on “Part 7- Waccamaw River Through Paddle Series: Wednesday 12/21/2023”

  1. Man i loved this moment around the fire with you ,Nick and Marcus
    i wanted at least be a little part of this journey and show my support and my admiration too for a great friend on an inspirational journey ! …i ve spend the whole day thinking “he s gonna be in the area tonight ,you got to see him”….i m happy since all those years to count you as my friend…

  2. Glad you figured things out when you did. I love your style of writing – very personal, fun, insightful and adventurous.

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