My First Time….Overnight Kayaking

Well, if it wasn’t obvious enough, this post is going to be all about my first (real) time going on a kayaking trip that forced us to camp overnight.

While my whole family lives very close to each other, when I am at college, I’m a little over an hour away and I don’t go home too often. I try to talk with my mom, dad, and brother at least once a week. My dad doesn’t say much, my mom tells me she misses me and I tell her the same, but my brother is a different story. We spend quite a bit of time on the phone upwards to an hour sometimes. This night in particular was outside the norm, as we talked for at least two, maybe three hours. Why? We were trying to plan an awesome kayaking trip from Downtown Columbia to Charleston. My roommates knew a lot about the area we would be kayaking, so we brought them in on the planning. We figured out the route, roughly how long it’d take, maybe some meals we could prepare. To say the least, we were excited for this trip, something neither of us had done.

After a few weeks of little being said about the trip and just a few more weeks until the semester was over, we decided that we had to really buckle down and hammer out the details of the trip. My brother handled a lot of this, calling lock controllers, measuring out the distances, and finding landmarks to look out for. The more time he spent trying to plan, the more he, and I, realized that our trip wasn’t going to work out like we thought. The lock controller said that kayaks weren’t allowed to go through the locks, which left us with only a couple options, none of which were too viable. So, we decided we would just go to the bottom of Lake Moultrie, making the trip around 100 miles, a feat for the two of us. I finished my semester and we both figured the sooner we could go the better it would be. We both knew that the longer we waited to do this, the smaller the chance was that we would actually go. We decided to leave the first weekend after I came back from school, which gave us a little less than a week to get everything together and finalize the plans. The week went on and we pretty much had everything ready to go on Wednesday night, a full day before we were going to leave. We had picked our meals: ramen, dehydrated chili, a MountainHouse meal, and some makeshift burritos, oh, and snacks. Lots of snacks. We had also decided on hammocks to camp in, which in retrospect was a bad idea. We would leave from Downtown Columbia very early Friday morning, around 7-7:30. Thursday was a normal, relaxing day before our “big trip”.

We woke up Friday morning ready to go. The tandem kayak that we decided on had been loaded up with most of our gear and put in the truck the previous night. We had a late start, as my dad suggested we get a good breakfast-Cracker Barrel it was. We got downtown, carried our kayak down to the river, and my dad took a few pictures. Security started looking at us a little funny with our skull buffs over our faces, so we decided to hit the road, or river rather. I was the first one in the kayak, the water wasn’t freezing, but it certainly wasn’t what I thought it’d be either. As I tried to keep myself out of the water (the only tandem we own is a ride on top), my brother lowered himself into the kayak. Fortunately, the kayak didn’t sink as much as my heart did. The water level rose in the kayak and I knew then that getting wet was inevitable. We waved goodbye to my dad and started paddling. The first half hour or so was nerve-wracking for me, as I just knew that we were going to sink, but my brother was definitely keeping a positive attitude, which was helpful. The story definitely doesn’t get boring here, but it is a whole lot of paddling. We talked and joked with each other. I caught him up on all of the antics with my two roommates, how the semester was, and some of my plans for the summer. He talked about work, his wife, and caught me up on everything else in between. As we were leaving downtown behind us, we came around a bend, joking about seeing alligators (as we would be kayaking through the Congaree River). We rounded the bend we saw a little Jon boat with a man standing up in the shallows, with a woman on her knees. I couldn’t look away fast enough. I stared straight ahead and continued paddling, trying to keep from bursting out in laughter. Once we were far enough away, I said, “They weren’t really…..”, Cy said, “Yep…” While I wanted the image out of my head, we couldn’t stop cracking jokes about it all day.

We hit the first checkpoint around 9 am, way quicker that we had originally planned, or that’s what we thought. This really boosted morale, we thought we may even get farther than we had originally thought, meaning that the next two days would be even easier paddling. After about two hours we should have hit the next checkpoint, but it didn’t come. Thirty more minutes passed, still no checkpoint. Then an hour. We just couldn’t seem to get to it, at certain points, it really felt like we were paddling without going anywhere. We were tired, had to pee, and just wanted to stop and have lunch. So around 1 or 2 pm on Friday we stopped on a large sandbank. We grabbed our lunch for the day, started a small fire, and emptied our bladders. I pulled out my phone to try and check out where we were, and saw how close we were to the second checkpoint. It took way longer than we thought, but knowing it was just around the corner was another pick-me-up. That news plus the awesome lunch we had, pushed us to pack up again and push on down the river. We hit the checkpoint and just kept trucking.

It was starting to get relatively late (since we had been up and paddling since around 9) but we knew we could go for at least another hour, maybe two if we had to. It was around 4:30 when we saw the gray clouds coming up behind us, and around 5:15-30 when they let loose above us. I was okay when it was just rain, I got a little more nervous when it started to thunder, and I really started to loose it when the lightning came. I kept saying we had to find a place to get out, searching for any part of the banks that we could scale and that wasn’t 10 or 15 feet high. We saw a place on the left bank that seemed to be a decent place. A fallen tree would make a good mooring point and would make it easier to get on the bank. It wasn’t even 6 yet, but we also weren’t sure how long the rain was going to last, so we decided to set up camp. We grabbed the food, hammocks, our bags, and the tarp. We cleared out some of the weeds, dug a small fire pit and threw up the hammocks and tarp. As another reward, we had the burritos for dinner. It wasn’t Moe’s, but it definitely felt great to have some good food! It was a really relaxing night, until we went to sleep of course. It wasn’t a particularly cold night, probably in the 50s, but in a hammock, this can be killer. With no insulation under you, the air just freezes you. I was on top and had brought more/warmer clothes, so I was a little warmer, but my brother was absolutely miserable and barely got any sleep that night.

We got up very early that morning around 6:30 am. We had nothing better to do, and wanted to try to make it as far as we could today, so we packed up and were on the river by 7:30. The next several hours were quite boring as nothing was really happening, we just kept pushing. It wasn’t nearly as miserable as the previous day though, I had better connection, and could track our progress much better. We kept saying, “Let’s just make it to Deadpool by lunch.” We started naming our landmarks. This one was the most creative, as it looked like Deadpool’s head, from the movie we had just seen. On the way to Deadpool, we found an enormous sandbank, with what looked like some random garbage on it. I saw what I thought looked like a flag. We figured we were ahead of schedule, so we stopped and went to check it out. What we found was about a 10-12 foot long branch/small tree with both the American Flag and the Confederate flag. We cut them both off and folded them up and then got back to paddling. It was a rough paddle to Deadpool, for most of the trip the wind was with us, but for this last stretch before lunch, the wind was nothing but against us. Paddling as hard as you could would barely net you any progress, but we kept pushing. Once we arrived at Deadpool, we only saw one spot to stop for lunch; a very small “beach”, which was about the size of my apartment’s porch, half of it being wet sand. We tried to eat lunch as quick as we could so we decided on ramen, saving the dehydrated chili for that night. While we were packing up, my brother decided to fashion a flag pole to hand the American Flag onto, to fly behind our kayak. We packed up with our new accessory proudly flapping in the wind.

This whole time, we weren’t exactly sure when the trip was going to end. Were we going to try and find a spot to camp on Lake Marion, paddle back upstream to somewhere viable, or call the trip off short and let my dad know where to pick us up at? The closer we got to the place where my dad would have to pick us up, the clearer the decision was. There weren’t that many great places to camp on the lake, and with the miserable night we had before, I didn’t want to risk another night like that. The other big thing was that there were a bunch of boats, and we weren’t even on the “open water” yet. We stopped once more to retire the American Flag and while we were doing this, we made our final decision. I called my dad, sent him the location and told him to leave as soon as possible. My brother definitely was not happy with this decision, but in the end, I think it was the right thing to do. He saw it as a failure, while I saw nothing but success. We had kayaked from Columbia to Lake Marion in less than two full days, we had an awesome time, we had a fun time, we laughed. We were able to achieve something that a lot of people wouldn’t even think of trying, not because it was extremely difficult, but because a lot of people don’t see the point of it. I’ll talk about what I got from the trip a little more, towards the end. So, we kayaked around while we waited on my dad, went in some houseboats, and then headed back to the boat ramp. My dad got a little lost but eventually made his way. We loaded up, I hopped in the driver’s seat, and we headed back home. Just like that our journey came to an end.

As I said before, my brother saw stopping on Saturday afternoon as more of a failure, because he saw that we were quitting. We had compromised going to Charleston, then to Moultrie, then we didn’t even make it to the end of Marion. But I saw us taking on something that we hadn’t really ever done before and succeeding. When it was all said and done, the trip was 65.73 miles. In two days! I was extremely proud of both myself and him. Instead of watching movies, playing video games, or just sitting on the couch we kayaked, we paddled 66 miles. It wasn’t the trip we originally planned, but it was an adventure, and it was awesome. My brother is 6 years older than me, and so for most of our lives, we haven’t been super close. It wasn’t until I was in high school (about 7 years ago) that we really started to get closer and bond more. I see opportunities like these and want to take them. I want to be able to spend more time with him and have fun with him. One thing that we both have in common is our love for the outdoors. Him, much more than I, but it is one thing that I think we will always have to do together. For me, this trip shows that life is not always about the destination, it really is about the journey. So do not be discouraged by not getting somewhere or achieving something, but be excited for the adventures and the things you learned along the way, then use those things to make the next time even better and more successful.

I really did not intend this post to be this long, but I just wrote and wrote. Honestly, I could have made it longer and included more details, but I tried to cut down a little bit. Again, I know it may not be the best writing, but I enjoyed writing down my experiences and I hope other people can be inspired to do something like this. Let me know if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading guys!

Braden.

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