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Bladen County NC February 9-12, 2006 Great Coharie Creek, Black River, South River
Paddlers – Topher, JSaults, ScottH, RichardH, Doc, DaveM, DavidH, Canoeswithduckheads, Brian, MikeL, MikeM Hosts – DaveL, Mary Kay, Herb
I’ll try to keep this one short, in hopes that other’s will tell the tale(s) in their own words and photographs. The Tortoise Reserve trip was planned as an alternative to a north Florida Duckheads gathering, which seemed a wonderful idea when we were all inebriated but a logistical nightmare when sober.
Topher rolled into my place at O-dark-thirty on Thursday morning and we were quickly on the road. The drive down was uneventful, though more pleasurable than usual thanks to Topher’s I-pod music selections. Like having a personal DJ riding shotgun.
Arriving at the Tortoise Reserve we found Doc and DaveM already getting the nickel tour, and as we disgorged gear and tools and cross-loaded boats for Friday morning’s paddle the rest of our crew drove in and did likewise, arriving in time for a turkey dinner courtesy of CWDH and friends.
While crossloading canoes I realized that we were going to come up one vessel short and, having told Topher that he didn’t need to bring a canoe, that I’d provide one for him, I took a look at the Tortoise Reserve boat rack for something especially memorable. And what could be more memorable than a leaky, battered and tattered 1974 Raddison Sportspal square stern.
Great Coharie Creek at NC 903 to Black River at NC 411 in Clear Creek (6.7 miles)
This shuttle was different from the usual start of Tortoise Reserve paddling trip – the sun was up, so we weren’t driving around Bladen County backroads in the pre-dawn hours stopping at each guardrail and culvert trying to find the put in and take out.
In fact we lucked out at both ends of the shuttle, as property owners came out to chat us up and invited us to use their access and off-road parking. Southern hospitality.
Launching onto Great Coharie Creek we entered the Black River a mile downstream at the confluence with Six Runs Creek. Both these tributaries deserve some paddling exploration on their own. Next trip.
Our fine flotilla continued down the Black, CWDH poling his favored old Explorer, Topher standing tall in his leaky Raddison – standing tall in the bow, with the boat backwards so the square stern was riding high and out of the water – Jsaults in the Tortoise Reserve’s Adventure 16 and the rest of our crew in the boats of their choice.
A lunch stop muckle up saw our first saturated surprise (I am apparently not permitted to claim just anything as a swim these days) as RichardH hoped out of the bow of Scott’s canoe and did the dirty novice-bowman deed, that familiar trick of pulling the bow ashore so that the sternman is precariously and momentarily balanced on the twin points of the bow and stern stems. With familiar and predictable results. This would have been the perfect chance to dress someone in the spare clothes clown suit, but I had stupidly advised Scott to pack extra clothes in a dry bag. Rats.
Topher, seeing someone splashing about in the river, was overcome by a desire to demonstrate a new poling maneuver, the Royalex Cross. Poling the Prospector out into midstream he pulled an empty Freedom Solo over the gunwales crossways and climbed atop that shaky platform. Topher poled this canoe tower upstream I might add. He may be a posy sniffer, but he has a helluva sense of balance. And style.
Concluding our exploration of the upper Black (open, easy and suitable for paddlers of any skill level) we were soon at Clear Creek and fetching the upstream vehicles while our stay behind companions busied themselves by napping in the grass beside the canoes.
Back at the Tortoise Reserve a chili dinner (ScottH and RichardH) was followed by late night fireside revelry, broken by occasional night hikes to the old cemetery, the pond and down to the river.
The night hikes were likewise broken by scenic detours, as Tom would suddenly veer off into the brush and brambles, calling out “Follow me”. No one did, or would, despite Tom’s increasingly surly requests for companionship. One especially memorable off-road veer in search of an artesian spring concluded with the following dialogue:
Friday night’s walkies and fireside frivolity carry long into the night, as the weather forecast called for “Rain starting at midnight”, making for a good bedtime target. 3:00am, midnight, whatever.
South River – Melvin’s Bridge Rd (1502) to NC 701 (10.4 miles)
A slight shuttle detour as we deduced that the directions and road names in Ferguson’s Paddling Eastern North Carolina were specific to running shuttle on the east side of the river and we were launching from Melvins Bridge (AKA Boykin Bridge if coming from the east).
The put in here is an easy slide down a short hill, with ample roadside parking. Our take out was an even easier Wildlife Boating access on NC 701, promising at least a cushy take out after a long day of paddling in the rain.
And rain it did. Sometimes softly. Sometimes not so softly. A rainy day on a cypress river; there are few places I’d rather be. This section also offered two intermediate bridge crossings, Green Sea Rd (1503) and Helltown Road (1528), allowing us to gauge our distance without Topher’s constant demands to look at the map. That boy has a thing about maps.
This was not the easypeasy wide open river like the Black on Friday, but a smaller, twistier course with the occasional strainer and limbo log. Fortunately the high water level allowed for through-the-forest paddling detours around most obstacles, an interesting route finding and maneuvering challenge. Picking it apart.
One highlight of this trip was an outstandingly curious and completely fearless river otter, who followed us down river, circling each boat and swimming alongside nonchalantly a few feet away. Absolutely the closest and most charming interaction I’ve ever had with an otter
Another highlight was a DaveM tumble off a strainer log, which of course I can’t count as a swim, but have to accept as an “aggressive strainer dismount”. Oh! the terminology.
Fortunately Doc, sensing my frustration at not being allowed to count various immersions as swims, sprang to the rescue, flinging himself over the side of his canoe a few hundred yards before the take out. This selfless deed was such a generous gesture that Doc received a free pass from wearing the clown suit.
Another highlight was RichardH’s boat design discussion with Topher. Richard, having paddled a Prospector on day one and the Adventure 16 on day two declared that he found them very similar. Maybe it was the fact that they both floated and had pointy ends.
An easy Wildlife Boater access and we were soon back at the Tortoise Reserve for dry clothes, a Lowcountry Boil (Richard and Topher) and DaveM’s continuous servings of wings from the deep fryer.
There followed the now traditional night hikes, a not so traditional night drive around the newly cut fire roads in DaveL’s Jeep (they don’t make Jeeps like they used to – luckily it was the clamp that holds the driveshaft in place, not the driveshaft itself), owls hooting, grey fox vocalizing, more night hikes and finally the realization that at 4:00am I was the last man standing.
Sunday morning’s pack up was a lazy affair, with various gentlemen slowly gathering gear and wincing at loud noises, but by early afternoon we were on the road again and headed north, through snowy Virginia and into snowier Maryland.
Good trip fellas! Friday’s trip got me the missing top section of the Black, but there is still almost 60 miles of the South I haven’t seen,plus almost 30 miles of Six Runs Creek and another 40 miles of Great Coharie Creek to explore. And the tidal sections of the lower Black. And Little Coharie. And that’s just within an hour’s drive of the Tortoise Reserve.
Coastal North Carolina - So much blackwater to paddle.