Tales from the Tail End - Little Pee Dee River 4-30-11
- Oh, we had a fine day on the Little Pee Dee River. I haven't enjoyed a river run this month in a long time; it easily rivals some of the best sections of our beloved Lumber River. To the many that didn't go, you missed an invigorating opportunity.
Marshall Thompson, Andy Kurtzman, Jim and Mia McDermott and I (much maligned Mitch Lloyd) made our way to the bridge on Harlees Bridge Road in Dillon County South Carolina, about 8 miles west of Dillon SC and a few miles south of the state line. The closest stream gauge is way, way downstream at Galivants Ferry, below where the Lumber joins the Little Pee Dee, so the water level readings would be essentially meaningless to make a judgement. We found plenty of water at a homemade boat ramp just below the bridge; the river was open and slow moving at the put in and the scenery was just beautiful right from the start.
As we went downstream, the channel narrowed and the current picked up, becoming more like what we find on the Lumber. In the first couple of miles we encountered some fresh blowdowns, but tornado storms had come through the area recently and we expected more than we found. Portages would have been required, but Jim McD brought his Christmas present Stihl MS 172 Chainsaw, with fast blade adjustment, old man easy start option and a to-die-for carbide tipped chain. I also brought my two old style, it-takes-a-man chain saws and like eager young beavers, we attacked the blockages and cut paths through for ourselves and others. Turns out it would have been much faster to portage the blockages, but there's no fun in that for we who pack saws as well as paddles, and we tell ourselves that it will make our future trips easier.
You know what I have told you about boots. No matter how tall your boots are, you will eventually step into water that is deeper than your boots can handle. Chainsaws are the same way. How do you cut a 30 inch tree with a 14 inch chainsaw? Rationalization. I think, I will cut down one side as deep as I can, then cut down the opposite side the same way. Even though the middle was not cut, the weight of such a massive tree will break that remaining wood. What really happens is a version of this thinking, but the version includes pinching the blade and trapping the saw and the tree not dropping like it supposed to, and then you have a whole new problem set, called How Do You Get Your Saw Unstuck?
After having fun with chainsaws, the river improved in every way. More twists and turns, beautiful scenery, many various side channels and cutoffs, occasional riverside homes to be admired, turtles, birds, a beaver that slapped his tail on he water as he dove, right in front of Marshal and me, it was a near paradise for paddlers. The only negatives of this section of river were the noise of a nearby race track and the sound of I-95. The racetrack could be heard for almost the entire trip. In the section between I-95 and Dillon, Andy and I discovered a hidden short cut that evidently bypassed 20 or 30 miles of river and we got way ahead of Marshall and the McD's and in true LRCC fashion, we didn't wait for them and so they waited for us before giving up and paddling on down to meet us at the takeout.
Folks, we have got to do this section again, it's just too good to waste.
And yes, as you may have already seen in another report, Willy the Plastic Penguin did suffer serious injury. I was cutting my way (and jamming my saw) through a massive downfall and I asked Jim McD to push my boat to me so that I could get my wedges (wedges are what you use to force an evil log apart to make it relinquish your chainsaw). My boat had to pass under a log and it was too low for Willy to duck under and he was literally ripped from his perch on the bow, causing serious internal injuries. A good lawyer could probably make the case that it was Jim who caused the injury to poor Willy, but I will accept the blame since I did ask him to push my boat to me (I didn't pull the trigger but I did order the hit).
At our first opportunity (our lunch stop) I assessed Willy's injuries and performed field expedient repairs in true M.A.S.H. meatball surgery style. I'm sorry that Jim, with his obviously weak stomach for such things, had to witness my penguin saving administrations. My advanced knowledge of plastic penguin anatomy and physiology was so far beyond Jim's ken that my actions seemed horrible to the untrained eye. Jim, a man of your experience should know by now not to look at a car wreck because there is a chance that you might see something that will cause you nightmares.
What, you may be wondering, was Mitchelson Potatohead doing all this time? M.P. has been riding the bow of Jim and Mia's canoe but was strangely absent on this trip. It turns out that Jim left M.P. in the truck, to bake in the sweltering heat of a closed vehicle in the bright sunshine, stewing in his own juices. Talk about horror! I leave you to ponder whether this was a simple mistake by Jim, or just slow cooking.