Amazingly, despite my many paddling experiences, my two kids (ages
28 and 23) have discovered that they like to paddle, even with me.
I have also brainwashed my brother and I occasionally coerce my wife
to go canoeing with me. Last year, we all did a trip with the
Lumber River Canoe Club around Father's day, and my brother as well
as my two kids wanted to do another Father's Day trip this year.
Silly, silly children, stupid brother who proves that being older
doesn't mean being smarter, smart wife but love conquers all.
My brother bought a fixer-upper-get-away-from-it-all place on the
banks of Holly Shelter Creek, just up the road from Holland's
Shelter Fish Camp on Highway 53. Confusion remains in this area.
The official name is Holly Shelter Creek and Holly Shelter Game
Land, but the fish camp is called Holland's Shelter and there is a
large old family in the area called the Hollands who date back many
generations, and it is a Holland who owns and operates the fish
camp. So I wonder if perhaps in the deep past the area might have
been called Holland Shelter and was converted to Holly Shelter. On
the other hand, this vast wildland extends towards Holly Ridge, so
who knows what the original name was.
Anyway, I decided it would be fun to paddle from my brother's place
on Holly Shelter Creek down to the Northeast Cape Fear. I made
arrangements with my son and daughter and brother and convinced my
wife that it would be a worthy family outing. A nice wide easy
stream, suitable for my wife's desire for minimal challenges and in
consideration of my daughter's limited experience in a kayak, this
was an excellent choice. Then I made the mistake of getting
scientific, consulting the river gauge for the Northeast Cape Fear
at Burgaw and calculating the one foot tide that would be at the
high mark at 2 PM on this past Sunday. So at the last minute I
changed our minds to run Section 3 by Ferguson's guide, putting it
at Shaken Creek on Old Maple Hill Highway with a take out at the
Old Maple Hill Highway was a dirt road in my youth and the State
paved it in the past 10 years and installed their famous no-river-
access bridges at every opportunity.
We got a late start and we tried to find the Shaken Creek put in.
At the first bridge we came to, the stream looked too small and
inaccessible so we went to the next bridge, the site of an old
swimming hole that I visited as a kid. The morning was cloudy and
rain was threatening, the river was low and we weren't sure where we
were but we put out boats in the water, sent our only shuttle
vehicle back to my brother's camp, and took off down the river.
I said after the last trip where I led that I would never again go
on a trip where I was the leader. I should have listened to my only
good advice. God help us, we were on Section 2, not Section 3.
Instead of putting in at Shaken Creek and entering Holly Shelter to
slow and open water, we put in on Holly Shelter Creek for a section
that even Ferguson warns about. He described it perfectly, many
down trees, numerous beaver dams (though only about a foot high)
narrow channels in many places and a real challenge at low water.
When we began to fear that we were on the wrong river, it was too
late to turn back. The path back was too rough, there was no car at
the put in and our cell phones (no matter which carrier) had no
signal so we couldn't call our shuttle driver to rescue us. The
snags started immediately, the down trees came soon thereafter, and
then the beaver dams started. We would find beaver dams just below
downed trees. We portaged something like 8 times, we poled our way
over beaver dams, we pulled ourselves over logs and trees and around
stuff, there were limb jams, places where so much natural debris
gathered together to form a barrier. We would hit nice open
stretches of wide water with high banks and our hopes would be
raised, thinking that we had reached the easy section only to find
that the river would narrow to 15 feet and two feet of water, filled
And the snakes were everywhere. Big ones and little ones, water
snakes and green snakes and cotton mouthed water rattlers, we saw at
least 5 snakes. The river got so bad and the snakes so thick, a
small fish actually jumped in the boat with my daughter, it seemed
Hour after hour we drudged our way through this primordial
swampland. We actually saw a couple of fish camps but no signs of
life. Towards the end, when we saw my son Jeb standing up ahead of
us, our hearts would sink because we knew another bad spot had to be
Folks, all I can say is the Lumber River Canoe Club should be proud
of me, this section at this level will stand up to the best of
horror stories. I have only been on one trip more exciting, our
exploration of Jumping Run Creek.
I was worried for my daughter Jennifer, who is small and being quite
girly has small arms and is not used to hard physical labor. I was
worried for my wife Pam, who doesn't care for severe water
challenges, and I feared because I live with her and I believed that
she would kill me as soon as she reached safety. Strangely, I
didn't fear for my son or 57 year old brother, I guess that's just a
But I must say, my little inexperienced daughter was a real trooper
who would make Omer proud, she poled her boat over beaver dams, she
snaked her way through snags and downed trees and pulled her boat
over portages. She showed much more experience than she really had.
And my wife blessed me by not giving me withering looks or warning
remarks or hints of horrors to come when we got home for putting her
through such hell. She did a great job on her end of the canoe,
especially where we had to put a 15 foot canoe through 10 foot turns
on a 5 foot river channel.
It took us 5 hours to do 6 miles and when we saw the first bridge,
we climbed out, managed to get a no bar cell phone signal and called
for help. Turns out that we took out at Shaken Creek, where we
should have put in. Nothing like a good trip leader who knows what
he's doing for a pleasant family paddle trip.
We dined at the fish camp, and all the talk of next year's Father's
Day trip was about watching TV and eating ice cream. For all their
bravado, I think they got their fill of swamp water paddling. Some
people go for pleasant memories of thinks easily forgotten, I gave
my family a set of nightmares that will stay with them forever.
How's that for a holiday legacy?
Strange, there was not a single mention of fourth of July.