The Way I Saw It - The Rule of Mallard
- Moore County has a lot going for it. It has some of the best golf courses in the nation, rolling sandhills, beautiful miles of long leaf pines, a mild winter climate, billions of dollars of horse farms where the barns are made of brick and the horses wear coats in the winter, quaint little towns and villages, warm and friendly people and peaches in the spring. But it will never become a mecca for paddlers, no, not ever.
I gained the acquaintance of a young man, Barron Russell, who grew up in the horse country and his family has a farm that backs up to James Creek, a tributary to the Lower Little River that runs through Moore and Cumberland Counties to the Cape Fear River. James Creek is part of the northeastern boundary of Ft Bragg, winding its way through the backwoods in neglected seclusion. Barron grew up with a yearning to paddle this creek and contacted me some time back to see if anyone in our association had ever paddled this creek and knew anything about it.
Well, I had done a little trespassing on Ft. Bragg a few years ago and ran some ruts that took me down what I believed to be James Creek and it didn't look so bad. So I told Barron that I and some others were willing to try it with him and his uncle.
A selected group of lunatics met the Russell family at their farm and we drove down between the paddocks and pastures and past some really fine looking horse flesh to an empty paddock on the downhill side. We passed our boats through and over a couple of fences and then portaged down to the creek, a long walk down a recently hacked path and we were thankful for the effort made to open a way.
Well, James Creek in its upper reaches is at best the width of a kayak paddle and what ain't fell in it is growed over it. We never found a stretch of straight channel that was more than 150 feet long. Jim McDermott led the way by getting himself wet before his entire boat did, rolling into the creek as he launched off a very short bank. Eight of us headed downstream, single file as Jim and Omer hacked their way through trees and limbs with handsaws with an occasional assist by me with a chainsaw. We could have walked the banks faster and in many places we did.
Our hopes were kept alive by the continuing sight of horse pastures on our left, we kept telling ourselves that if it got too bad we could easily walk out. Small streams kept entering the creek and we held onto the hope that the creek would get bigger and stronger. Boy, were we optimists.
Logs and limbs and downfalls, holly trees and briars and vines and bushes, after a while most of us were bleeding. There were two old steel beam bridges, relics of Ft. Bragg that we were barely able to pull under, but I've got a bruise on the back of my neck where I got tagged by one of the beams.
I particularly remember this one low tree that I was convinced I could go under. I made it but in doing so I learned a new paddling technique. I learned how to push off the bottom of a log with my eyebrows, it was the only way I got through. That's a trick you won't find in any instruction book.
After three miles and six hours, Barron mentioned that were entering a section of creek that would veer off into the wilderness and leave the horse farms behind. Jim McDermott said "Let's take a vote on stopping here. I vote yes." To which I shouted "Motion Passed!" This was a fine example of the One Man One Vote rule, Jim was the only one who voted and the entirety was pleased with his brief brush of sanity mixed with dictatorship. We dragged ourselves up the hill to the first available horse barn and Barron called for an extraction.
I've paddled a couple of creeks in Moore County like the upper reaches of Drowning Creek and the Lower Little River and they have caused me to develop a new criteria for judging the suitability of a body of water for paddling. As most of you know, one of the criteria is that flowing water must look good from the bridge. Well here's some more grass roots wisdom. For a duck to land or take off from a river or creek or beaver pond, he needs a certain amount of room. A duck comes in on a straight run, puts his feet down and skis in to a stop. When he leaves, he flaps his wings and runs with his feet on the water to get enough speed to get airborne. These motions don't allow a duck to do any turning for some distance so he's got to have some room and enough water to not bump his butt when he comes to a stop.
So I now declare the Rule Of Mallard. It the creek ain't big enough for a duck to use it, don't try to paddle it. James Creek, upper sections of Drowning Creek and anything in Rockingham County other than the Great Pee Dee River does not pass the Rule of Mallard. If you are considering an unknown body of water, look for the Scooter Seal Of Approval.
We had a good time. We wouldn't do it again. James Creek will safely be mysterious and unexplored, a home to whatever critters want it. It no longer has a place in my bucket list.
Barron, thanks for the opportunity. Call me sometime with some real water.
PostScript: I've been studying the collective nouns for animals, trying to find a good descriptive for our hardy band of Dumb But Tough Paddlers. You've all heard terms like a pride of lions, a murder of crows, a congregation of alligators and a brace of mallards. I think I've found the perfect collective to apply to my crazy cronies: a Pace of Asses.