Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 3. Patrick Lawrence. On the first page of the journal I wrote, "our group of intrepid explorers depart on our epic 18 day expedition tomorrow, May 16. All of us know what we are about to do on this voyage, but noone knows if the trip will run smoothly."

I meant it to be silly when I wrote it, but some of our participants were silly and some of our ordeals were ridiculous, so this picture, written in jest, works surprisingly well. Who knew? As I sit in the van contemplating the trip and physically struggling to write as each bump is exaggerated by the old suspension and added weight of the trailer. I can't help but smile and compare it to our trip. Every long expedition is exactly like this. You are given a set of goals and a ration, and you have to do the best with what you have. The fact that all of us cite the "night of 1000 campsites" the most physically battering of all nights is one of the best affirmations that the Catawba has a multitude of multifaceted problems that no one person or group of thirteen can ever solve, we try anyway, supports that too. We truly laugh in the face of adversity and encourage others to do the same. We were dealt an interesting breed, and we all played it well.

We are nearly back now, and our job is about to begin again. Eighteen days of research on the Catawba, so we can save it for everyone who uses it and depends on it. We can save it just by the fact that it exists and is so beautiful and is forever in our memories. Eighteen days of diligence, friendship and love for this glorious river.

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June 2. Jenny Baxter. We paddled six miiles today. It was our second shortest day,, and it seemed like an abrupt end.

We got up early in hopes of beating the tide, and we did. The water felt so different. Until now, any wave we experienced was due to a passing jet ski or motor boat. But today the swells came from something much greater and more unpredictable. The look of the water was also drastically different. The water was black and brackish. Paddling on the harbor is wild! Tuesday morning traffic was thankfully pretty slow. We got to paddle right up to an aircraft carrier and also see a dolphin break the surface for a breath.

Robert led the way to Fort Moultrie. He had us line up parallel to shore and paddle in. I dug in hard,, wanting to make my last drive count, and let out a deep breath as the nose of my boat met the shore. Hon Bob had drawn a finish line into the sand, and Patrick pumped his fists as he drug his boat across it.

We got off the water at a record 9:40 a.m. The rest of the day was almost like vacation. Many of us spent the afternooon at James Island County Park's Splash Zone. I spent more than an hour on the lazy river, and now I have a rosie tummy.

We then all went to clean up for the Low Country Boil, and I got a thorough shower in. Some alumni, faculty, and staff from the college were there: Cameron Austin, Davis Whitfield, James Davison, Susan Stromberg, Wendy Jones and Amie Schiedegger. I even met a nice couple from Franklin, TN. It was a great end to the day.

The whole day seemed almost surreal. The feeling of the end has yet to really hit me. It just seems like yesterday we were loading our boats for the first time and wondering how in the world we were going to fit all our stuff into them. Then, I was paddling with people I barely knew on a river I knew even less about. Both of those facts have changed, and I, too, have changed. The personal change was inevitable.

Tomorrow we will drive four and a half hours back to our place of origin. A trip that took us eighteen days to paddle. The time, however, is not what matters. Being on the river and having the opportunity to actually see the river. Not just glimpse and say "Aw, isnt that neat!", but to see it and know it personally. That is just one of the gifts of this trip.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 1. Dean Mobley. We started the day as early as possible. We woke up at 6:00 and disembarked the ranger station that let us stay the night, were on the road at 7:00, and in our kayaks at 8:00 on the Strawberry Landing where we stopped the day before.

We proceeded across the Cooper River to a canal that took us to Chickin Creek. Several large gators made an appearance for us along the way. Chickin Creek led us to the back river where we disembarked at the Bushy Creek Boat Ramp. All in all, we paddled about 10 miles, not a hard day, but a fulfilling one. We then went to our campsite on James Island and got there about 1:00 p.m. We had some free time before we had our final class. Nine of us went to Folly Beach and swam in the ocean while the others stayed in camp and took advantage of the facilities, including a water park. I couldn't resist the urge to swim at the beach my family and I used to visit forty years ago. My first memories as a child were on this very beach so long ago. We're all excited about our last day on the river and can't wait to get back to our normal lives, but we will carry this memory with us for the rest of our lives.

"From the Mountains to the Sea", yep, it's one of my favorite songs by U2, and its the name of one of my favorite trails in Pisgah National Forest, and that's what we've done, come to places I've lived in the past. I thought the only connection to them was my family and myself, but it turns out that the water that sustains us has a direct trail that connects it all.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

May 31. Jennifer Gift. Yesterday there were things, but today we could really feel that we were nearing the ocean. I think it's fair to say that we all share the same feelings...excitement for finally reaching the beach...having come down from the mountains...and a little bit of sadness now that our adventure is coming to an end.

We've all agreed to make these last few days spectacular. So we put in to paddle the canal from Lake Moultrie to the Cooper River. There were a lot of boats and a lot of wake waves. I got to tandum with Tina again today, which was wonderful fun last time, so I had great expectations. In fact, I do believe that the trip just kept getting better and better since I tandumed with Tina the first time, not that is was bad before, but she sure have been a 'lifesaver' (*wink*). I was just saying how the morning was looking pretty uneventful, and I wouldn't know what to write about when she pointed out a turtle on the high rung of a wooden ladder into the water that seemed to be stuck because the water was now at least 3 rungs below where it sat. It must have been napping while the water level dropped. I wondered what the most turtleish thing to do in that situation would be. Would he plunge into the water below when we was ready or just wait for the water to rise?

Once through the canal we entered some marsh/swamp land.It made me think of a musical I was in, the only musical I have been in actually, called "Once Upon a Mattress", in which one of the main characters is a princess from the swamp: "where ere I roam the whips of fate may smart, but deep down in my heart, one place shall abide, and shall ne'er be forgotten, though I search far and wide, there is no land as rotten...rotten, rotten, rotten, as the swamps of home."

We had lunch in a bog, where most people sank knee deep getting out of their boats. I managed to crawl up to the stern since I was in the tandum and 'tree hug" my way along the shore to where we went climbinb up to have lunch. I didn,t bring my camera because it was too boggy, but when I climbed up and was able to see what was on the other side of the tiny mushy island, I really wished I had. It was like an African marshland. Now I've been to Africa, but the wildness of it...the boatlessness...the wild life...was beautiful. We proved how much we've drown and accomplished as a group when we found we had no bread for the chicken salad sandwiches, but we made do. And we had Sun Chips!! Thanks to "John Bob." We kayaked about 12 miles toeday through water plants as well as the river.We were constantly pulling the stuff off our paddles and rudders.We way a few alligators today.The number of sightings increases daily. We took out at private property, but John worked it out. Hopefully, we will be able to put in again at the same spot tomorrow, bright and early. We're at an odd campsite tonight. We pitched out tents right under an intensely bright light where every bug and its mother have seemed to convene. It sounds like it's sprinkling outside, but it's not. It's just the bugs hitting the rainfly. I'd say the most entertaining part of the evening was when some of the guys decided to climb the huge look out tower and hurl insults to those bellow. Several goofy things were said, in Monty Python fashion, but I personally think Robert won with, "and we'll beat you with wet cauliflower and make you use credit cards...with 19% interest!

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 30. Kim Williams. And on the fifteenth day, they rest. We awoke at the Santee State Park to strong and steady winds that had most of us silently apprehensive about our planned 12 miles on the exposed Lake Moultrie. It became evident that all of us were moving slowly, nursing sore muscles and doctoring numerous bug bites courtesy of our four day stay in the Wateree swamp. With that said we were all still happy to be near the river and ready for anything. Soon enough we gathered up in our familiar group circle, standard to experiential education, to discuss the day ahead...and we welcomed the opportunity to nourish our swamp-stricken bodies after our 95 mile stint.

We spent the day at Camp Moultrie, and on the way checked out the dam that diverts water into Lake Moultrie and then into a canal that goes to the Cooper River.

This rest day is so important because it has given us all a great chance to reflect on our trip thus far. We spent time working in groups regarding the literature portion of class.Another meeting was with Robert, reviewing our field guides and the places we've seen. All in all, our day consisted of catching up on class work, such as reading and journals, lying around in the grass, practicing rolls in our kayaks, snacking and reviewing our trip. It was a great to see everyone relaxing and enjoying the pretty day. I am looking forward to getting back in my boat and being on the water again.

We enjoyed a wonderful surprise when we joined the very generous Cub Scout Pack 789 of Ladson, South Carolina, for a BBQ dinner. What a delight! We were spoiled with a yummy display of barbeque pork, chicken, rice, baked beans and sweet tea. It's a treat to share food and time with such kind people. Thanks Pack 789 and Cub Master Charlies Rucker. Your generosity is appreciated, and your food was delicious. Congrats to the cubs in the graduating ceremony tonight!!! Our night was ended with a thought-provoking class and a picturesque sunset. A perfect glowing ball falling slowly into the edge of Lake Marion soothed our minds and put a final warm glow on our evening.

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