Plans to start this blog started several months ago. Here it is the day before thanksgiving and I have yet completed the layout of the blog or posted my first blog post. However life waits for no man and the pages of the calendar continue to turn. Looking back to all that has happened in my life since the last thanksgiving, I’m amazed and in awe of the direction God has lead me.
For starters last April, I left the confines of suburban life and the desk job for a summer job in Alaska, only to return early before the summer was complete. The story there is worthy of a book in of itself and one I will attempt to explain in future postings.
But today the day before thanksgiving on an incomplete blog page, I feel compelled to revisit the trip that began the next phase of my life.
The Great Dismal Swamp
Thursday November 17, 2011
On Wednesday November 16, 2011 I packed my 95 Toyota Tacoma for a week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I had rented a house for the Thanksgiving holiday for my mother and me. With no job and only time on my hands, I took to the beach a few days early with the intent to explore, camp, and reflect.
Leaving Westminster, MD Wednesday afternoon, I ran into a nasty thunderstorm in Jamestown VA. Through the slapping rain on the windshield, I spotted a neon sign proclaiming $45 rooms. A quick turn around and with dash into the hotel office, I had a dry room for the night.
So where do you go when in the last year, your father passed away, you got a divorce and lost your job? You go to the Great Dismal Swamp of course.
The hotel room kept me dry and warm overnight, but the rain continued to fall and the wind blew, albeit not quite as hard as last night. Last night in the hotel room escaping the driving rains and storms, I had remembered reading about the Dismal Swamp and remembered wanting to visit it. Well, no time like the present, it was between me and my destination. Less than an hour after I hit the road, I saw the first sign for the Dismal Swamp. The rain still fell. No matter, I unloaded the kayak and donned my rain gear.
The canal I was about to paddle was constructed in the 1820s to carry timber and farm crops from the swamp and the Northwest River. By the Civil War it fell into disuse because of heavy silting. Today the swamp, the surrounding canals and forest is part of a national refuge filled with wildlife.
The rain was not heavy, just enough to keep things damp. The weather man had predicted the temps would be steadily dropping throughout the day. With the air temp around 45 and rain pelting my head, I dug the kayak paddle into the dark black acidic water of the canal. I did not have a map and did not know where I was going, but on I trekked with only a water bottle and a snack bar.
The canal is often referred to as a “ditch”. I can see why, that is exactly what it is. The spoil from the excavation over 180 years ago are still mounded along the banks. Today however, they are covered in thick brush and towering oaks. Thankfully, these tall banks helped to shield the wind. I paddled along the straight ditch and turned off onto the feeder channel that would lead to the entrance to the lake.
Part way along, I stop to investigate a small beach. Looking over the bank I was greeted with a large farm field freshly planted with winter wheat. I could hear migrating swans high in the sky, but the cloud cover kept me from seeing them. On the beach I stepped over several bear paw prints.
Back on the water, I continued to paddle the perfectly straight ditch. The tall banks do not allow much viewing into the surrounding forest and swamp. At one point I surprised a few wood ducks from their afternoon rest and they took to flight. Not reaching the lake, I finally turned around and begin my return.
The rain continued to fall. The cold water had made it through my rain suit and my legs and arms were wet. On the return, I passed two more guys out kayaking in the rain. Good to see I am not the only crazy one out here today.
Paddling along the canal, I cannot help but to think of the hardships the men and women must have suffered 180 years ago trying to scrape a living out of the snake, bear and bug infested swamp. It becomes hard for me to feel sorry for myself being a little wet and chilled when compared to what they must have had to endure.
Back at the truck, I packed up and continued my trek to the beach. Tonight I plan to camp out along the beach somewhere, not sure yet, I’ll figure that out once I get there.
I did learn one thing today. When packing for a trip, be sure to pack the rain gear in a place that is easily accessible so that you do not have to unpack most of the truck to reach the rain gear. Lesson learned.
Exploring the beach
November 18, 2011
Early to rise this morning, as the 35 degree temps in the pre-dawn made my bones request some warm morning tea. Leaving my camp set back in the wooded dunes, I made my way out onto the beach and before pulling out the camera equipment for some sunrise photos, I started to heat water on the stove. While the water came to a boil, I set up the camera on the tri-pod.
The rains of yesterday had cleared late in the afternoon. Exploring the upper reaches of the Outer banks, I had found a secluded camp site in amongst the wooded dunes. I spent t he evening reading by camp fire. The clearing skies brought colder temps and by morning frost covered the tent and truck.
With cold fingers I made the tea and snapped photos. With the warming tea in hand standing behind the tripod, I found myself alone on the beach, not another soul as far as the eyes could see to the north or south. In grand fashion, the grey skies of yesterday were gone and the sun brightly lit the morning sky.
The winds continued from the north and the surf rolled. Not the ideal fishing conditions. I went exploring. In Corolla I drove the sandy roads, watched the wild ponies feed, and generally gazed at the sights and sounds of the hidden world of the road less beach town.
Heading south, I wanted to see the new Oregon Inlet, as the old one was reconfigured by the last hurricane. Driving the beach, I spotted the first fishermen I had seen since arriving yesterday. Their trucks were huddled together in an attempt to block the north wind. Parking the truck a few hundred yards from the other fishermen, I began to rig my rods. Two hours later, an hour after they others had left; I had enough of the winds and the grass littering my fishing lines.
Southward I traveled. I found an open campground in Salvo, paid the front desk and set up camp for the evening. Dinner tonight consisted of venison backstraps marinated in a peppercorn mix, and some yams. Sorry mom, no veggies tonight. By lantern light I read well into the night.
November 19, 2011
Driving, Fishing, Reading
Plans change when you travel alone and on no time schedule. In the morning, I just had to find out what was going to happen to Clay Forester on his cross country trip to attend his unknown father’s funeral.
I am continually amazed at how things show up in our lives when they do. This book in point. I had purchased it about a year ago at Goodwill and it has sat on the shelf since. I knew nothing of the author or the story. So there it sat for a year, and on my escape trip after losing my job, I grab Free Bird. In two sittings, starting late in my tent and finished the next morning with the warm sun and gentle ocean breeze touching the open field of Hatteras campground, I read about Clay Forester and his quest to find out who his father was and in turn, himself.
Before the height of the afternoon sun, I packed camp and turned south. The plans changed, again. The day was sunny, close to 65 degrees, and the wind had lain down. At the first chance I turned the truck onto the beach and began to drive along the ocean on the beach. In adventure style, I drove the truck I had envisioned for just one of these times.
The kayak is stowed on the rack I built. My gear is safely out of harm’s way stored under the cover on the bed. I’ve got a winch mounted on the front in case someone else needs pulled free from the sand. Of course, I would never get stuck; it’s for that other guy.
For the next 20 to 30 miles, I drove on the beach. I never made it over to the sound and went trout fishing. Instead, I explored the beach. I did stop and fish for a while at one really pronounced cut between two sand bars in the surf. Using chunks of frozen bunker, I caught and released a few skates and one very long three foot sand bar shark.
Unknown amount of time has passed since I left camp. It did not really matter, I’m on no schedule, with no plans; just driving around doing whatever whenever. While that may sound ideal, it has some drawbacks. It can get lonely. I had not talked to any family or friends since I left. I tried to talk to the X-wife, but she was busy with her new life. I reached for my cell phone and make a few calls out to some friends to talk and catch up.
It was three in the afternoon when I checked the time. Check in time was not until 4:00 PM. On a chance the house was ready early, I stopped in at the realtor’s office. The house was ready. I’ve made it. It may have taken 3 days to travel from Westminster, MD to Cape Hatteras; a trip that generally takes a 7 to 8 hour drive, but the last minute diversions, and exploring was well worth the time.
Thoughts a year later
Wandering trips like the one briefly describer above reflects the need we all have to break the normal grind and explore landscapes; those of the land and sea type but also those interior landscapes that define our existence. My trip wandering around the shores of the Outer banks of North Caroline continued for a week based out of a house that my mother and I had rented. We met to spend our first thanksgiving together as just the two of us. My brother was in New York, unable to get away, my wife was now my X-wife and she took over the family thanksgiving, and this was the first Thanksgiving since my father’s passing.
Looking back I can see this trip as the place in time, I began to see myself for who I am. Since then I have put actions in motion resulting in a fourteen day trek across the country and a summer job in Alaska. The miles put on the Toyota is mild compared to the learning miles my soul has traveled since the beach trip one year ago.
I guess that is why I have begun this blog, to share in my travels, adventures, mishaps, and general horse play, but with a soul reflection of the past, now and future as only a 46 year old man starting new can.