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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Source to Sea Wrap Up!

In 30 Days our group of 12 paddlers have experienced:
1. 427 miles paddled
2. 9 portages walked (adding a few more miles to the total)
3. 15 new friends (who helped us out along the way and signed our paddle) made
4. 26 nights in a tent/hammock slept
5. 2 Service-Learning projects completed
6. 386 beer cans from the river or camp fire rings removed
7. 1 "Air Jordan" sneaker found
8. 15 riddles answered
9. 274 jokes told
10. 221 jokes at which we laughed "BOOberry!"
11. 48 meals on an MSR Whisperlite Stove cooked
12. Countless - memories of a lifetime made!

It's difficult to summarize an expedition like this in a short list, or in a one-word answer. It's a challenge to tell others "how it went" unless they are willing to spend some time listening a few of the vignettes I've been telling. I started this expedition out by saying that the group which leaves on day 1 will not be the same group which returns to Boone; and this has become true. Somewhere and in someway this group changed, for the better. I have invited the students who joined us on the trip to share their post-trip reflections on this blog and will share them with you as I get them. The trip may be complete but the stories remain to be told.

Thanks for reading and following along, yours in adventure

Hutch

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ocean, sweet ocean, part 2

As tired as we all were from completing the final leg of our journey, a handfull of us couldn't resist the urge to unload some boats, and go play in the surf about a quarter-mile off shore. Sunset sea kayak surf sessions are always a pleasant end to epic days.

This morning, we woke up and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic with hot drinks and oatmeal: just enough to fuel our paddle to our take-out. Along the way, we we accompanied by a pod of dolphins in the Intracoastal Waterway to the boat ramp where we met up with our van, loaded up and drove into Georgetown for a delicious lunch. At our riverfront restaurant, Buzz's Roost, we had our final reflections and shared memories we had of each member of the expedition over the past 30 days. After a stop in the ice cream shop next door, we piled back into the van and are now currently headed back up the mountain. The change of daily routine that begins tomorrow will absolutely be a shock for us, but that just means that a new adventure shouldn't be too far down the road as we head our seperate ways for the rest of the summer.

Ocean, sweet ocean

The itinerary for yesterday: reach the destination that we set out a month ago from Grandfather Mountain with. The past few days saw a lot of the same foliage and geography along the river bank as we paddled through the Francis Marion Natl Forest. However, yesterday's 20 mile paddle saw such a severe change in terrain from freshwater swamp to salt marsh. We thought we were seeing as many alligators as we'd see for the entire trip, but we couldn't have been more wrong. Our final tally during yesterday's paddle was 22, mostly around the 7 to 8 foot range. There was no coincidence that the island to the south of our beach had the unmistakeable profile of a 'gator.

The feeling that yesterday was the culmination of all our hard work for the past month was apparent in our eagerness to see the crashing waves of the ocean as we made our last turn at Santee Point. The realization of where we had just arrived didn't really sink in until we had landed our boats on the beach, stripped off all our kayaking gear and sprinted into the cool salt water. We had finally done it! We were pitching our tents for the final time where the waterway that provided a highway for us this past month flows out into the ocean. The horseflies, as persistent and annoying they had been previously, actually provided some entertainment in how many could you swat in a single hand slap. There were also fresh turtle crawls at our beach and nests marked and covered by the local marine biology establishment.

Continued...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Almost there!

What a day!

Same routine as usual today, and we are 35 miles closer to the ocean. Today's paddling was a great example of how far we're able to go with an early start, well-placed breaks, and excellent weather. Having a nice overcast sky for the first half of the day was a welcome cchange from the blazing hot sun we've experienced so much of. There are now even more clear signs of the coast, yet no salty taste in the air or water. We did see an 8 or 9 foot alligator that, according to it's swim path, swam right underneath Alex and Hutch. Our total alligator count since Lake Marion is somewhere between 4 and 6 (varying reports).

Tomorrow morning, we make our final 20 mile push to the ocean and complete one of the objectives that we set out from G.Father Mountain with. We are all expecting to witness some inspired paddling tomorrow as the salt smell of the Atlantic starts to fill the air.

Ocean tomorrow!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunrise, sunset: we're paddling

6/4/11

Today was, without question, one of the more epic days of our paddle to the ocean. We had a little taste of everything ranging from hot temperatures, high mileage, early mornings, awesome lunch spots, challenging portages, generosity of people we run in to, and beautiful sunsets as we set up camp for the night.

A 4am wake-up time meant that we'd be able to cover a good bit of our mileage for the day as the sun was just rising. Eventually, we had to make our open-water push across Lake Marion to a beach that had plenty of cypress trees to hammock from for lunch. After our siesta, it was time for the very last portage of the trip: the Santee Dam. Carrying our boats up the steep rocky embankment was characteristic of the easy portage we were all hoping for. Fortunately, we had a very pleasant encounter that resulted in having our boats driven to our put in on the other side. After putting back onto the water, we paddled a few more miles to our campsite for the night; possibly one of the best sites of the trip.

And yes, there are alligators.

Ocean in 3 days!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Lake Marion Hotness

We reached our final lake today. It's exciting to see signs that we are nearing the ocean. Cyprus trees dominate the water banks, white ibis fly overhead, and we saw our first terns. I would like to say that the beautiful scenery and wildlife dominated my thoughts today, but honestly it was the heat. Temperatures in the mid nineties, heat index over 100, and a sea of bathwarm water heating the boat from below and reflecting sunlight up at you from all directions. To call it 'hot' would be factually accurate, but so understates the intensity of the visceral experience of the heat that it's almost insulting to those who were there to simply call it hot. Anyway, the sun is down, dinner is ready, and the state park has gassed all the local mosquitos, so life is good...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Congaree!

We paddled the final miles that the Wateree River had to offer today and pulled up on shore at the confluence of the Congaree River to swim and relax. Before we got there, we saw some of our first signs of the more southerly region in which we are headed: palms, spanish moss, and live oaks. The banks of these rivers are some of the wildest looking rivers any of us have seen. The giant gars that would come up to the surface to snatch whatever had fallen into the water definitely add a sense of wilderness to the area.

We pulled into camp early tonight due to information that between this area and Santee State Park, where we are headed tomorrow, there aren't many campable spots. The map has the area surrounding the river labeled as "swamp," which is definitely believable. The change of pace from canoeing lakes and passing houses and cities to sea kayaking through rivers surrounded by subtropical forest is really quite amazing.