Showing posts with label destinations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label destinations. Show all posts

Monday, August 12, 2013

Escaping the Masses and Madness when on Vacation: Paddling Cherry Grove N. Myrtle Beach

How to go from THIS: 
To THIS in Myrtle Beach, SC 
 Do you ever find yourself on "family vacation" fighting for beach space, waiting in lines of traffic, wondering where the hordes of people are all COMING from? Myrtle Beach SC is famous, people travel from all over the country and the world to enjoy its 64 miles of coastline. Growing up in the South, it was a big deal to go to Myrtle Beach but now as an adult, the glamour of it has faded. I'd rather be on an isolated beach somewhere, in my tent, perhaps on the Outer Banks. But every now and then you may find yourself on a crowded beach on a crowded highway with the masses and madness. What's a wanderlust nature lover to do?

There's good news! If you are willing to do a little investigating, you can escape the masses and madness and it's usually just a short drive away. Believe me, the locals know where the quiet, secret places are, the places they escape from the hordes that descend upon them every summer season. A few years ago I went to the local West Marine store to gather information about the area and stopped by the local market to buy a chart and ask about danger areas for kayakers. Information really IS power. The local woman I spoke with shared with me that there is a beach that the tide will flood and you will get stranded, years ago a Dr. and his son got caught on that beach at high tide and they drowned, the beach is called Tillman (not sure of spelling) Beach. She also warned me not to get into the Hog Inlet proper (the actual narrow channel leading out into the ocean) because when the tide goes out, it will suck you out and people die there. Good to know.  Now, several years later, this information that was filed away has proved invaluable as I fulfill a long time desire to paddle Cherry Grove. You see, my husband's parents are from the Myrtle Beach area so that's how we end up at MB every few years. But for us wilderness junkies, there IS hope for you to escape to nature no matter where find yourself.

So what are some things  you may need to know if you want to paddle Cherry Grove? The launch is at 53rd Ave., it's a public launch with no fee. You can paddle your own boat, rent one from a local outfitter/guide, or pay a little extra for a group guided tour (highly suggest a guide unless you are very experienced, carry a paddle float, pump, and know how to use them and have practiced rescues, there are no beaches in the marsh to get out on land and back in!). One of our GO WOW'ers used a local guide recently :Great Escapes and had good things to report about them. I suggest you use a reputable guide and ask them about TIDE, WIND, WEATHER. A good guide will share with you the best times to go out and what your paddle back in will be like. A bad guide won't know how to answer your questions or will blow them off.

Launching from the very busy public boat launch, I headed South (took a left) and went into the right creek looking for backwater and removal from the hustle and bustle of vacationers. Immediately the sounds of the throngs of people and cars drifted away behind me and I started hearing the marsh insects, sea birds and fish jumping out of the water. An osprey hovers above me looking for prey, he makes his unique call and my body starts to relax as I smile and realize I am already being immersed in the original personality of this area.The weather called for a 14 mph Southwesterly wind in the afternoon but this morning I am enjoying a gentle breeze from the south at high tide. It's so important in coastal environments to know the tidal schedule and the wind. Those two elements coupled together can make your trip heaven or hell. I knew from Marty (local guide I spoke with) that my trip back would be a pleasurable float with the wind at my back and the tide going out, taking me back to my launch. But before I paddle too far way, I take a good look at the shoreline and imprint points of reference into my brain; a round water tower, an osprey nest, a red metal roof, a blue metal roof. These will help me return with ease. Just as when you are utilizing a parking garage you have to really pay attention to where you are parked to find your way back, it's the same with paddling,  really pay attention to where you launched from, scan the horizon and  look for landmarks, big ones then smaller ones. Utilize a map, compass, gps, whatever your tools of choice are to make sure you know how to get back. Marty assured me I wouldn't get lost in the marshes, but from experience, I knew to scan the horizon and get my bearings before getting too far out.

These folks didn't get too far. I was already out of the water and they were trying to paddle upwind and against the tide. Didn't work too well for them, they gave up and got out. 
I start to focus on all that my senses are taking in and start separating the human sounds from the natural sounds, and once again have the thought that I really hate leaf blowers and will never own one. Resting  in the marsh grasses, focusing on the natural world around me, smelling the salty sea air, hearing the constant welcoming drone of the marsh bugs, the sea birds calling, fish splashing, leaping, and when they are really close, my heart leaping with them.  My mind starts to wander and I hear a far away hammer driving a nail into wood, it takes me back to fond memories of building my pony's stable with my dad at eleven years old, and the satisfaction one gets of driving a nail into wood and bringing two pieces together to build something. I miss that feeling and decide to build something with my son when we get home, maybe a bird house.  I smile with gratefulness as I recognize that this is one of the reasons that escaping to nature is so addicting, so uplifting, because it releases your mind, relaxes your spirit to dream, to THINK, to remember, to FEEL. It's hard or impossible at times to gain this release without removing ourselves from the rest of the ever increasingly frantic world.

I encourage you on your next vacation where you find yourself perhaps not in the wilderness setting you'd rather be in, to make a concerted effort and FIND the original, local personality of the area before all the high rises, before all the tourist traps were built, it's still there, somewhere, and the locals know about it, just reach out and you will discover your local adventure. If the #2 beach destination in America still has quiet places to escape to, then anywhere you find yourself does as well.
My next Myrtle Beach destination for a future trip, paddling the Waccamaw River......hey, a girl's gotta have goals. LOL.

Happy Paddling!

A little Cherry Grove history:
In 1735, the colonial government formally opened the North Myrtle Beach area for settlement. King George III granted Land in the Cherry Grove area to John Alston. Several tales surround the development of this area from President George Washington's tour to the South in 1791, which he used thisChicora Indians Tilghman Resort route to find lodging in the North Myrtle Beach area. Upon this trip, it is said that Washington tied his horse to a young oak tree. Supposedly today, that tree still tilts westward. In an entry in George Washington's diary, he talks about crossing the "Waggamau." The Waccamaw is a coastal river that adds much to the history of the community. In 1924, the Nixon family subdivided Cherry Grove, drawing its name from an early plantation in the area and for a native tree. Charles T. Tilghman and members of his family developed the community in 1948 and in 1959, Cherry Grove was incorporated with Tilghman Estates lying between both the newly-founded town and Ocean Drive. Since then, the area surrounding the estates have flourished, hosting some of the nations most regarded golf courses and beaches, ranking the Myrtle Beach area second as the country's favorite beach destination Info. from: .

Friday, February 8, 2013

Adventure MAGIC: It's in the Little Things....

Sunrise filling my windshield on the way to the river

  Are you “adventurous”? Do you crave adventure on any level? What is your idea of adventure? Is it gathering with a group of cherished friends for a night on the town? Is it jumping into a whitewater raft and hurtling down a raging river? There are all levels and types of “adventure” and I believe we can choose to make every day life an adventure. The definition for adventure for me is anything that makes your lips turn up in that mischievous, excited, “I’m really going to do this” smile, that feeling of butterflies in your stomach from the anticipation…sometimes it’s the anticipation itself of the adventure that is the most relished part.  You just have to see the magic of adventure and sometimes, it’s in the “little things,” not the big things.

The club had a Tar River trip listed for last Sunday. I get a LOT of emails/notices of upcoming events/paddles (I keep up with all the paddling/outdoor clubs to see what cool destinations they are frequenting) and usually breeze through them; when  you are a wife, mom, work and have a busy, full life, in order for me to say “yes” to an adventure, it has to be good. Perhaps you know what I mean, you reach a point in your life where time is so precious that you are forced to cut out anything that doesn’t enhance your life, there’s no time for messing around on things that aren’t positive or make you a better person (wife, mother, employee etc.).  I also believe with all my being that saying that “Adventure May Hurt You but Monotony Will Kill You”. A break from routine is healthy and crucial. So, this time….this email…stopped me in my tracks. I grew up hunting around the Tar River and a tributary off the Tar is a tributary of Tabbs creek, and was the creek that I could see from my kitchen window growing up. It’s the creek that knows all my secrets as a child, where I would go to cry, to play, to catch crayfish, listen to the exotic sounding birds and pretend I was in a rainforest, to sneak and smoke cigarettes, to wade through….I spent a LOT of time in that creek. I had always heard the men that I hunted with and my dad talking about the Tar River, how dangerous it is in our hometown of Oxford because it gets very narrow and has lots of strainers. It was dangerous and mysterious to me, so of course since I started paddling six years ago, I wanted to explore it and paddle it. I couldn’t find anyone who was interested…afterall there are much prettier rivers with less strainers to paddle in our area….Hurricane Floyd in 1999 blew down so many trees some parts are nearly if not totally impassable.

Last summer I took my son and my mom (she and my dad gave me a great sense of adventure!) to scout out a new launch in Wilton, NC (my ancestors have roots there) and from what we could see from the launch, it looked narrow, snakey, with trees down and low water. Not an alluring river, but I still wanted to paddle it. So when I see this email, I JUMP ON IT, and register for the trip.

From the moment I hit “register” ….the excited, butterflies in the stomach feeling started,do you know or remember that feeling? The sides of my mouth curl up to a grin on my face….my mind starts working….”okay, water is cold (it’s February), must wear drysuit, start researching as much as possible on that stretch of river, what kind of hazards/rapids/launches are there, try to eliminate surprises…...” I start putting gear for the trip into a pile. I make a copy of the map of our put in and take out and mark it in yellow highlighter to leave for my husband then put a copy into my chart case to carry on the boat. I plug the put in into gps and see that it’s a 2 hour 40 min. drive. Don’t care about that, I am finally getting to paddle on the Tar! I look up the history of the Tar River and find out it derives its name from the profuse stands of pine trees lining its banks which were used for pine pitch to manufacture tar to caulk boats. It was also used as a major route for barges carrying the tar as they headed out to sea. The river is 215 miles long and the name changes to the Pamlico in Washington, N.C.
So if the magic of adventure is “in the little things”, this means my adventure had already begun. Indeed it had begun the moment I hit “register”. I hadn’t even gotten in the truck yet or in the boat for that matter and that feeling of pure anticipation was feeding the basic human desire for connectedness with the earth, the elements and something bigger than ourselves, and this was days before the actual event! Don’t you love planning something then looking forward to it? Isn’t it sometimes the case that the anticipation is better than the actual event? The great thing about paddling is that is not the case. I believe the anticipation compliments and is equal to the actual event but in paddling, the event of actually being in your boat on a new body of water IS THE BEST FEELING OF ALL.

The night before: I have all my gear in the truck, the boat is ready to load first thing, I set out all of my layered synthetic clothes, and set the alarm for 5:30am. I’m either insomnia ridden (this happens from time to time) or so excited that I awake at 3:30am with no hope of going back to sleep. Arising at 5am after reading in bed and tossing and turning, I make coffee, shower, dress, make my lunch for on the river all with a huge grin on my face and truly almost a skip in my step. As I go outside in the pre-dawn to load the boat, my sweet dog Jack and fluffy cat Georgie greet me, warm bodies who are always glad to see me. No one else in my neighborhood is awake, there are no noises of cars, barking dogs, children, no lights, just me, my animals, the darkness, and the cold air. There is a light dusting of snow on the ground. My stomach flutters….my heart speeds up. It’s so beautiful out I stop to stare. I look to the sky and it’s that unique color the sky gets when it is thinking about turning into dawn but not ready to give away the night. Beautiful sky….and then I hear it. My morning dove starting to sing to me. She sounds so beautiful in the clear/cold air. And that’s when it really hits me, that these special little treasures are the REAL magic of adventure. The things we experience that others will miss because they never get up early enough to see our world transition from night to dawn and then to full blown sunrise. If you are an outdoors person, you know what I am talking about. That magical time of dawn and dusk. Those are my favorite times to be outdoors. One world is waking while the other goes back to sleep. I am overcome with a profound sense of gratefulness that I am experiencing these magical gifts this day. All alone, in total peace and solitude, with no distractions from other humans or machines. I imagine early morning runners experience this as well and is why they run while it is still night. As I loaded the boat to the music of my morning dove, I knew that this day was going to be a great day! Entering the house for the last time to retrieve my coffee to go, I breathed in deeply the warm heated air, feeling hot in my layers of clothes, including longjohns, and relished the pungent smell of my brewed coffee. Another gift….another piece of adventure magic before ever leaving my home.

The drive to Rocky Mount was gorgeous with the early morning sun RADIATING in all its glory all over my windshield, I tried to take a photo while driving 70mph down HWY 40 (I don’t suggest that)… Then I decided to ignore the speed limit and go my own pace so I could enjoy the journey to the river. And again, more magic from slowing down:
Cool footbridge I saw on the way to the river looks very much like........

This wooden foot bridge we saw on the river.....
I noticed several things on the way to the river, I’ll only mention a couple….of course every bridge meant craning my neck like any self respecting paddler would do (don’t we always ask ourselves, “is there enough water to paddle that”), I noticed Poplar Creek….I grew up hearing all about Poplar Creek, there’s a Poplar Creek Baptist Church in the neighboring town of Henderson from where I grew up….I wondered, is this the same and if it is, is it a tributary off of the Tar. I love the learning that paddling fosters. It creates a desire to RESEARCH and KNOW your home waters and subsequently waters afar. It creates a keen AWARENESS of the areas you paddle and how are they are all connected because one way or another, the waters are connected. It becomes FASCINATING. The Tar-Pamlico River Basin headwaters spans from north central NC, 180 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. (NC Division of Environmental Management, 1994). The basin encompasses 5440 sq. miles and is the 4th largest river basin in NC and one of only four that is completely within NC. Info. from: The Upper Tar River Basin: Swift Creek and Fishing Creek Sub basins by Ann Prince. All are creeks I grew up traversing afoot. After researching Poplar Creek, I found that the Raleigh area’s creek seems to be a tributary off of the Neuse River, not the Tar River and I cannot find out where the Poplar Creek in my hometown originates. Perhaps you know and can inform us in the comments? I did however find Ann’s research fascinating. Her paper states that there are several endangered and rare species found in the Tar and its tributaries, including a type of fresh water mussel, rare fish, and rare amphibian….FASCINATING. To read her complete report, go to:

The remainder of my adventure ride to Rocky Mount was filled with visual symbolism, from the upside down silver (old) canoe I saw abandoned on a lonely pond by the road, to the creeks (like Crabtree Creek) I passed on the way spurring wonderment of where they originate and where they end up and of course, can you paddle them? More research awaits me! One of the advantages of heading out to your adventure alone is you can turn up the radio as loudly as you like, so I did, and jammed all the way to the river to tunes like: Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music”, Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright”….. and then Sting/The Police with none other than, and I am not kidding: “Magic”… know, he sings: “Magic Magic Magic”…….yes I am dating myself, hey, crazy rocker singing to the crazy kayaker and keeps crazy kayaker who’s been up since 3:30am AWAKE while driving. It was a fast 2 hrs. and 40 min. Adventure magic is in the little things. It’s all perspective. What’s your perspective? I hope you choose to see the magic in all the little things. They add up to make big magic.

Arriving at the launch is always exciting because a. you found it and hopefully with time to spare and b. it’s somewhere new that you haven’t been before…..the little things. So, I grab my camera and head for the water. I’ve never seen this section of the Tar.  I am looking for hazards, strainers, fast moving water, any indication whatsoever that it wouldn’t be prudent to launch here. It is lovely, there is a current but it’s gentle. I look right and see two fishermen in hip waders. Of course I hike down to where they are (quite a ways away) to glean any information they have, fisherman are great sources for paddlers. We like to know the same things, are there strainers up ahead, what’s the water temp, are there rapids up ahead? So I ask them all of this and if there’s anything I need to know about this stretch of river. They confirm all prior research, it’s pretty calm here, we are launching below the Class III rapids, there is a “small” rapid a ways down….nothing of note except they warn me that the water is cold…44.7 degrees. I assure them we are prepared and will be in dry suits. We chat longer, they are glad for the company and we have some things and places in common. I ask what they are fishing for and they tell me the most interesting information. Shad. They are fishing for shad in February on the little Tar River in little Rocky Mount, NC. Really? Please elaborate. They tell me that shad leave their birth place, The Tar River, travel to NOVA SCOTIA, and return to the Tar to spawn. Wow. And these guys are hoping they are running. FASCINATING. It’s the little things that make the adventure magic. As I turn to leave my new friends, I see the rusty chain with a ring on the end. Here’s a pic:

We wonder what these strange heavy steel/iron chains hanging from the trees beside the river at regular intervals could represent. When I told my paddling buddy Camille about them later, we wondered if they were used to tie off the barges….probably so. FASCINATING. It’s the little things that make the adventure magic. Camille and I are well suited to paddle together, we have a blast paddling upstream to check out a launch she is scouting for a future family club outing. With relief we turn around and go WITH the current and start our 6.5 mile paddle from Battle Park to the NC 97 access. We know this is an urban river and with that, comes more refuse than we are accustomed to seeing, as well as traffic noise from the 5 bridges we will float under. Despite that, I notice freshwater mussels on the bank which indicates healthy water, and we almost immediately see a muskrat, defined by his rat like tail evident when he curves and dives into the water….later we hear a big SPLASH on river right, see a very large beaver dive down and then re-surface to hang out with us for a moment swimming alongside, nearby. He is the largest beaver I’ve ever seen in the wild. We also spot several Osprey (I thought they were red tailed hawks but Camille was right, they were Osprey, the clincher was their tell tale call, and a bright blue Belted Kingfisher. Most of the float was calm, but we did come across a little whitewater, Camille said it was a I+. It was FUN. We stopped for lunch at a lovely sandbar/island and scouted how to re-launch….there were trees blocking river left and river right. After careful consideration, we chose a narrow channel to launch from and if you ferried just right, you would be fine. What a fabulous way to enjoy a February Sunday afternoon. I knew Camille from the paddling club but we had never paddled together. What a lovely new friend and paddling buddy I have found! I especially enjoyed her in depth knowledge of the river, the river basins and paddling destinations in the state. She was so knowledgeable, I could have listened all day! She had a much more technical view of the river, scouting launch possibilities and possible different trips. I liked that. That’s why she wrote the official trip report and not me~ LOL.
Camille paddling by old train caboose Tar River Sect. 12

After taking out at the HWY 97 access across from the water treatment plant, we headed over to a local restaurant Camille had gotten the scoop on (hey, that's VERY important research!) and enjoyed an awesome buffet of all kinds of southern delicacies, including but not limited to: the tiny field peas with snaps that are nearly impossible to find anymore, pork ribs, banana pudding and my favorite find of the day, homemade pork tenderloin with gravy, the real thing...mmm mmmm good and we washed it down with sweet iced tea of course. Yes, the adventure magic is in the little things. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed Adventure Magic and can head out to find some magic of your own in the little things very soon.

Happy paddling and adventuring!

Hunter, a friendly boy we met at take out spending the day at the river with his dad fishing. What a great way to spend the day for a young boy. He asked us about our "kayaks" and I commented that normally people his age call them canoes, and he informed us that his mother worked at Tar River Outfitter and he knows a kayak from a canoe thank you very much! I'd like to visit that outfitter, they were closed on Sunday. 

Camille's Ultra Organized trunk, love it! 
Copyright 2013  Jo Andra P. Proia

Sunday, November 4, 2012


If you love islands, visit this one. It is the jewel in North Carolina's crown.

Ocracoke Island is the next island south of Hatteras. But it's very different: no beach houses. None! All of the island's population -  the 700 or so year-rounders and the thousands of summer visitors -- are clumped around the picturesque harbor, Silver Lake, on the soundside. The gorgeous Atlantic shore is part of the Hatteras National Seashore. Nothing but dunes, sea oats, and breaking waves for miles and miles. In Ocracoke village there are modern structures alongside old ones but no highrises and no McMansions. And this is the magic: there is NO road access. You take a car ferry to Ocracoke -- or your own boat -- or you don't go. If you take the ferry from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter on the mainland, you'll ride for more than 2 hours and lose all sight of land. When you arrive at Ocracoke on its thin sliver of sand, you know you've reached the end of the New World. Next stop, France! (In fact, there's a famous story of a North Carolina kayaker who capsized in Oregon Inlet farther north; months later his kayak did wash up in France with his wallet still aboard! CKC member Dawn was there; ask her to tell the story!)
Here's the car ferry turning in Silver Lake.

The best time to go to Ocracoke is October, in my opinion. We were there the weekend before Hurricane Sandy drove a couple of feet of water up into Ocracoke village. For us, it was all warm water, blue skies, no crowds. We rented a pet-friendly cottage, quaint on the outside, modern enough within.

And here was a piece of yard art that hurt to see -- a beautiful, well-built wooden skiff. It was last registered in 2001.  Lovely sheer line. The bottom has some rocker too. On Ocracoke these wooden skiffs have been replaced by flat-bottomed fiberglass Carolina Skiffs -- great commercial fishing platforms for the extremely shallow waters 
of Pamlico Sound. But strangely enough, over on the mainland, from Cedar Island down to Harker's Island you still see these wooden skiffs floating on their moorings. They're in use even today. It pains me to see a great old wooden skiff left to rot. Better to give it a Viking funeral, I say, and send it up in flames. But I'm a landlubber and I'm in love with the beauty of wooden boats. Those watermen are not nearly so sentimental about the tools of their trade.

I went kayaking only one day during our 4 days on the island. The soundside was calm as glass on our first day, so that was my window of opportunity. North of the big pine hammock at mid-island, Hwy 12 crosses 5 salt creeks in quick succession. 
One of them, Parker's, has a small sand landing by the bridge. That's where I launched. (Note:  This is public land, but a commercial fisherman constructed the landing. If you go to Ocracoke, never block any water access, any sand road, with your car. Always park out of the way. We're visitors; the Ocracokers need water access to make their livings.)

It was early morning when I launched my light skin-on-frame kayak and began a slow paddle back down the sound to our cottage. The mirror-like water was light gray and the clouds were the identical  color. There was no horizon line. The sound of voices from distant boats floated over the water to me, though I could barely see the boats. It was a great paddle that day.  I saw one Peregrine Falcon up close as it flew low over Hwy 12, heading south. Falcons migrate with their prey, the shorebirds. I saw 3 Diamondback Terrapins and 1 sea turtle (species unknown) in the water. I also saw a greenish needlefish and 4 rays -- maybe stingrays but I'm not sure. My kayak floated just inches above the rays but they didn't move. Only their gill covers pulsed open and shut. For much of my paddle the water was barely a foot deep. For large stretches behind Ocracoke Island that's the depth for a mile offshore. You could get out and walk if you wanted. In fact, the Pamlico Sound is shallow overall; the deepest spot is 22 feet. The car ferries have to follow narrow dredged channels in and out of harbors. 

Later we walked on the Atlantic beach where large swells crashed in. But the utter tranquility of that soundside paddle stayed with me for the rest of my time on Ocracoke.