After consulting the weather forecast and reviewing the river gauges last Tuesday, I decided to lead a trip on the last section of the South River, where it runs into the Black, and I posted an invitation to members of three different canoe clubs. A week ago, the long range forecast for Sunday was cold and rainy. On Tuesday, the weather forecast was for Sunday was sunny with a high of 54. By Thursday, the forecast was for cloudy in the morning and sunny in the afternoon. By yesterday, the forecast was for cloudy with showers (again) with a high of 54. The reality was cloudy, with almost continuous sprinkles or heavy mist and it never got above 46.
A meeting of Don's Dumb But Tough team gathered at the boat ramp on Ennis Bridge Road in Bladen County to tackle this seldom paddled section.
When I announced that I was leading a trip on this section, Bill Walsek sent me an email, telling me that he had dealt with more than 12 portages when he did this section.
Bill Walsek sent me another email with a picture of the first portage, to show me what I could expect.
Bill Walsek called me on the phone and told me he wouldn't be going, and advised me again to expect a lot of portages.
Camille Warren called me, evidently to get me to help her decide not to go. Camille hates to miss a paddle, but she didn't want to partake an epic trip on a short January day, all those horror stories caught up with her and she didn't want to spend the night in a swamp. Clearly, she's been reading a lot of trip reports.
Neener, Neener, Neener. We made the entire 13.5 miles with no portages.
There was this one large pine tree that was a medium bump over for most paddlers. Jim McDermott brought his chainsaw and figured that if he went to the trouble of bringing it, he might as well use it. He landed on river left and cut a section out of this pine so that three of us could paddle through 6 inches of water to get around it.
At another future portage, Jim and Omer used a handsaw to cut through a limb or two to make the passage easier for the rest of us.
And at one giant downfall, we just paddled through the swamp and went around it.
I tell you, there are advantages to canoeing in high water. Not to mention a good strong current the whole way.
With a hearty band of sturdy and slightly cold paddlers, we were making a steady 3 miles per hour and our progress down the South was a fine undertaking. Right up to the point that the group lost its collective mind. Just before we met the Black, through some wicked twist of fate, Ralph Hamilton got in the lead and the siren song of the swamp captured his soul and led him out into the wild unknown. The rest of followed blindly into the wilderness of flooded trees, stumps, limbs, cypress knees, logs and bushes. There was no sun to provide a reference and the current we were chasing disappeared. I was at the tail end of ten boats and to my mind there was a tendency to keep working left. I knew we were lost, I'm sorry, misplaced, when I looked out and saw the string of boats looping around and coming back in my general direction, like circling wagons. There was a lot of swamp but no channel. Through the combined efforts of a lot of different people shouting "This way" from different directions, the fortuitous placement of an island that prevented us from going further that way, an occasional hint of current, and a line of paddlers that indicated that one direction had already been tried, we found our way into the Black after about 15 minutes of swamp crawling. A good time was had by all.
It never rained on us, but the day was somewhere between damp and wet. Our lunch stop was on a piece of good ground but the air was a bit soggy, and those with sandwiches had to eat them fast before they became mushy.
Most of you are aware of my ongoing battle with water and its favorite pastime of getting in my boots. A new battle was waged today, and I'm going to tell you about it.
I got a roll of duct tape for Christmas. Evidently, I was not a good boy last year.
I put it to use on this trip by making multiple wraps around the top of my boots, sealing them to my water resistant paddling pants. The river was going to have to work mighty hard to fill my boots today. Sure enough, my feet remained dry.
I was wearing a rain coat with a hood, a ball cap with brim to keep the sprinkles off my glasses and a knit stocking cap over the ball cap to keep my ears warm. I started the trip not wearing the hood part of the coat, allowing it to hang down my back as it was wont to do. After ignoring the many episodes of light sprinkles, I realized that my stocking cap was getting wet so I threw my hood up over my head. However, my rain coat hood had not been idle, it had been collecting a little cold precipitation in its waterproof bosom. When I pulled that hood over my head, that sneaky, conniving, devious cold water happily ran down the back of my neck and between my shoulders. "Here I am, here I am, here I am! Hee, hee, hee, hee." And my feet replied, "Hey, we're dry."
One last bit of advice. If you wrap your legs with duct tape, make sure the end of the tape is on your shin where you can find it. Better, fold down the end a little bit to make a tab that won't stick to the rest of the tape. It took me a half hour to find the end of the tape and dig my way out so I could get my boots off.
For the first paddle of 2013, the following people showed their willingness to do anything other than sit around the house, no matter how insane the activity might be;
Omer Register, Walter Bull, Emory Sadler, Tom Pawlicky, Don Meece, Ralph Hamilton, Richard Mason, Janet Gray, Jim and Mia McDermott and me, Mitch Lloyd.
The above mentioned people need serious counseling and a second hobby for rainy days.