Day 15 – June 2nd – At Point Lookout

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Point Lookout is for amphibian lovers. It’s also a perfect place for water lovers of all types-fishermen, boaters, paddlers, swimmers, and today if SUP surf wet and wild outrigger downwinders are your thing you could even surf the incredible wind swells on the Chesapeake, but you’d hafta bail before you smack into the bulkhead that protects the road from pounding NE’sters like the one ripping thru here right now.

When I looked at weather two days ago, the forecast was for rain and light NNW winds, I think. Well, it’s a downpour of epic proportions with thunder and the whole nine yards to boot. Wind gusts of 25. Glad to be sitting this one out but boy will this mean more of a workout going uphill on the Potomac.
Yesterday I enjoyed my day off by watching the annual Potomac River Swim which benefits a ton of orgs devoted to keeping our watersheds and rivers healthy and clean. As it all goes downstream and out to the ocean, the hard work of these orgs also benefits that giant, global playground and life-giving, job-providing resource. You can check out the swim and the orgs that benefit from it here- http://www.potomacriverswim.com/
Cheryl W, the fearless organizer of this amazing event, invited me to do a little spiel about why I’m paddling from AC2DC and the March for the Ocean on June 9th. It was great fun to hang out with the swimmers and their escort kayaks-every swimmer has a kayaker devoted to him or her in addition to motorized safety vessels.
I gave those swimmers a ton of credit. First off, that Potomac is full on flooding right now. You KNOW that upstream sewer plants are taxed to the max and run-off from all these storms means more crap you don’t want to know about in that water they’re swimming in for hours. Plus, the downward flow of the river actually overpowers the push of the incoming tide. I had noticed how slowly I was moving upstream despite the fact I was hitting the Potomac and crossing at peak flood. My boat sits light and high on the water, making it a great vessel for going against current, no way could I imagine swimming that route.
The first place finisher noted that he was an hour slower than the previous year, and a few past participants had to be pulled from the water. For sure it will be a slog tomorrow to Hague for us. I’m looking forward to the company of Rodrigo and Natalie, plus am curious to see what they’ve been cooking up for provisions! They will surely need every ounce of energy they can eat up for tomorrow’s paddle and crossing. Wind is supposed to really blow in the afternoon, so an early start will be needed.
Right now I’m enjoying sitting here at the camp store by the kayak launch and boat docks. The porch is nice and wide, and I can look out at the little lake which goes to the river. It’s getting totally pummeled by rain. I’m hoping my tent will still be standing and dry by the time I get back to it.
Bob, the manager of the store, has been wonderful. He even shared his secret stash of Stone Cold Creamery ice-cream coffee creamer with me. And by the time I finally made it here he had a citronella candle burning at the picnic table which is serving as my desk right now. He’s gone out of his way to help me, as it seems everyone at this campground has. They truly are fantastic here. I hope I can convince my family to come here and camp-I wanted to poke around here more at the historic sites today but the deluge killed all hopes of that.  Hopefully it will let up by the time Natalie and Rodrigo get here so they can at least get their tents set up before the next deluge hits.
Right now it looks like it’s going to rain forever-no sign of it easing off. I do wish the camp stores sold books! With next to no WiFi books would be perfect. Besides, I’m really hankering to read that book about Cape Charles. Such characters there!
Today on my walk to the store and “my office” I picked up a bunch of plastic bags, cups with lids, plastic water bottles, and two styrofoam cups along with plastic fishing lure wrappers and various other plastic fishing related stuff. I really wish bait shops would make sure they tell fishermen to throw their stuff away properly, and recycle what they can. Or maybe schools should be better about teaching kids to pick up after themselves so they don’t grow into adults who leave their trash everywhere? It gets me annoyed that we all hafta suffer when parents fall down on the job of making their kids clean up after themselves. If parents would do their jobs teaching their kids to be responsible for their trash then we wouldn’t have adults tossing trash around. I mean really, what the heck is up with that? It’s so easy to take out your trash and recycling and put it in its place. Why not just do it?
Education is never ending. We don’t need to yell at people, just ask them kindly to pick up their trash. And we need to be persistent. I bet most folks who litter have no thought at all how damaging it is to or ocean and the creatures in it, or how it works it’s way into the food chain and the very fish the fishermen love to eat!
The sky seems to be lightening a little bit, so hopefully soon I can make my way back to my tent. I suppose tho, I should not be in such a rush. I do have a lot of phone calls to make, and this IS the only protected place with the most reliable internet. Plus, it’s fun to take a break and chat with Bob. He has a smarty pants daughter doing amazing things and an extremely talented musical genius son, who’s YouTube links I’ll get to share when Bob gets back from some of his chores. Oh look! Found a link to one of his songs. Check Hayden Warren out-he’s pretty damn good-he writes his own songs, plays ALL the instruments and puts it all together. Pretty amazing. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Goosh5P8R4c
For the Ocean!
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Day 14 – June 1st – Tangier Island to Point Lookout

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Some people might write off Point Lookout as mosquito infested swamp, but when you’ve paddled across the Chesapeake and then across the Potomac, and completely lucked out with conditions and the fact that your gerryrigged gear held with minimal issues the whole way, well, it’s pretty much an oasis. Yea, there are a lotta bugs but with minimal effort you can keep them out of your tent and patiently kill the ones  that made it inside. The camp rangers and staff are out of this world helpful and kind, which also really helps make a place appealing.

I landed at the kayak/canoe launch by the general store. They had a few sandwiches which I should have bought but I didn’t, as well as hamburger rolls, which I also didn’t buy along with the regular swag and stuff you find in camp stores. Friendly Bob who works there helped me with my canoe-it’s stored safely in their locked enclosure where I’m happy to see none of the standing  kayaks fell on it in last night’s strong winds.

Bob called the rangers who then came out and drove me all over to where I needed to be to register for two nights stay. I’m also gonna take a third so Rodrigo and Natalie and I can all launch together for Coles Marina in Hague, VA, on Monday. Zack from the park here was immensely helpful. He drove me to the registration office which also had a little store with peanut butter and other odds and ends but no rolls or bread! Go figure. So poor Zack took me back to the store where I landed so I could buy those rolls and other odds and ends for dinner. Then he drove me back to my campsite. Really, the folks go out of their way to be helpful. Kindness is always so appreciated!

Later I met John and Beverly who are the volunteer camp hosts. John offered to drive me to Walmart to pick up any supplies and I might just take him up on that. It’s pretty much going to be peanut butter and nutella for the next couple of nights-breakfast lunch & dinner, tho maybe I’ll splurge on a pre-made “Greek style” sandwich here at the store. But at Walmart I might be able to buy a book, which would be a nice thing to have as where one can get internet is seriously spotty. If not here at the camp store by the launch, then it’s standing on a road with a bazillion mosquitos munching on you.

The mosquitos, people are not going to believe this, tho, are actually a small price to pay to fall asleep to the most amazing chorus of frogs I’ve ever heard outside of the Pine Barrens in my home state. If you are quick you can get in and out of your tent with minimal mosquitos and other biting things getting in. Then if some do, and I’ve been lucky to have just a few come in, you just sit quietly with your light on and wait for them to land on you. They are hungry so it never takes long. Then you wack em. Totally worth it to be lulled to sleep by these precocious frogs.

I am actually really proud of myself that my rigging held from Tangier to here. Definitely a major highlight. The current on the Potomac right now is pretty strong form the deluges of rain we’ve been getting, even countering the extremely strong incoming tide up the Chesapeake. It was a bit of a slog by the lighthouse at Smith Point, and always a little nerve-wracking to be going so slowly, or feeling as if one is going slowly, across a shipping channel.

Fortunately the night before I left, Jeff, a staff person at CBF, brought up charts so I could see where the shipping channel was. This was good because it helped ease my mind a bit and even tho I think the vessel I first saw was a little outside the channel, it did let me know that I was nearing the land I still could not see.

Once I inched my way past the lighthouse, I was home free for the first part and now paddling enough on the VA side to see Point Lookout and paddle across. Along the way I saw a pod of dolphins hunting the menhaden or whatever it was I’d been seeing all over the place. I even got some photos of distant fins. Despite the incoming tide I needed to dig in to make headway. The Potomac is super swollen right now. When the westerly aspect of the wind kicked up I started thinking about my options, but Hague, which is on the VA side, was 22 miles away while Point Lookout was less than 9.

I kinda figured since I could now see the Point maybe I should just shoot for it, especially since it looked pretty decent, despite the wind. Once I moved off away from the land, an even larger pod of dolphins followed by a photographer in a boat crossed my bow and the wind completely dropped off to a refreshing breeze. It was pretty incredible. This pod was even larger than the first one I saw. It was almost like they were a sign telling me, “cross NOW.”

Eventually the swollen Potomac pancaked out, with minimal gear shifting bumps diminishing to nonexistent bumps. It was almost glass-like in its surface. So I slogged my way to the campground, my personal oasis.

And now I’m here, where I’m going to sign off from my blog and check out the swimmers who are swimming from VA to here. Apparently this is a fundraising swim for a variety of clean water interests. So I am REALLY glad I’m sitting out a paddling day! Maybe some of them will be interested in paddling in DC and/or marching for the ocean with us on June 9th!

For the Ocean!

Day 13 – May 31st – Onancock to Tangier Island

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I’m here on “the point,” Port Isobel of Tangier, listening to the birds welcome the day and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s boat creaking in its moorings. The wind hasn’t started quite yet but it will, SSW and then SW and W before clocking more to SE. Hopefully the more westerly aspect won’t pick up until I’m at least within site of land and maybe even a few miles from it.

One of the staff, Jeff,  brought up a chart yesterday so I could see where the shipping channel is. There is kind of nothing quite so worrying as being in open water and not knowing when you need to gun it across the channel, and to see a vessel on the horizon and not know where you need to be to stay out of its way. Generally speaking, you want to not be in front of it.

I arrived yesterday in time enough to scramble for WiFi, so I could do the little ten minute or so video blurb on Ecowatch’s FB page. Someone commented that I looked like I had been huffing paint because of the zinc oxide smeared on my face. Clearly the commentator didn’t know it was zinc oxide and that if you are out in the sun you will be fried, as I’ve already unfortunately allowed once in this trip, without it. Ah well! This ain’t no beauty pageant!

I got a brief little tour of Tangier-grabbed a flounder sandwich and a salad at Lorraine’s along with a tiny painting I’m going to somehow squish in my bags. Then Luke and Jeff of CBF treated me to ice cream. Perfect day, and I’m glad I decided to stay instead of continuing on.

The CBF center here rubs three day camps for kids to learn all about their watershed and the “bay life.” They set crab pots and spend the day outside learning about the ecology of the place and how they impact it, no matter where they come from within this watershed. The Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is enormous, encompassing the surrounding lands and further up the many rivers that feed into it. I remember paddling to DC in ‘08 but from the C&D canal and snapping photos of corn growing right up to the water’s edge. Crazy. The kids and their parents might be impacting the watersheds, for sure they are, but the corn on the bay and the chicken farmers in PA whose run-off hits the Susquehanna are doing way more damage than a few families. But heck, we need it all, we need to educate the people and we need policy to protect us, well, if we want to keep our resources healthy and us healthy, that is.

Education is a huge part of why I’m paddling why I have paddled all over and why,  after I’m done paddling long distances away from my family, I will continue to keep organizing and educating. It needs to be nonstop and we DO need policy to ensure our bays and rivers and ocean are protected. It’s also why this upcoming March for the Ocean is so important. It’s a tremendous tool to educate and show our electeds AND the powers that be that are so now running the show that we wIll stand up for our ocean and our water. Both need to be clean and both are required for life.

I really, really, really, really hope we can make a big stink for our Ocean on June 9th. It’s going to be fun! So grab a boat and meet me along the way and we’ll have a nice short paddle (only about 4 miles) from the Anacostia Community Boathouse to The Wharf where we’ll tie up and walk to the march. I can’t wait. This is the LEAST we can do for our ocean!!! (Hey, ditch your single use plastics, that’s a pretty big thing, but it’s a very good thing, too!)

For the Ocean!

Day 12 – May 30th – Cape Charles to Onancock

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The tidal push up the Chesapeake and the point-to-point nature of the geography allowed for an easy paddle and minimal navigational issues from Cape Charles to Onancock. The wind gusted out of the east, broadsiding me as I went by the little cuts and harbor entrances. Shallow areas weren’t a big deal, and actually enabled me to stop and stretch my legs every now and then.

The sun even tried to break out a couple of times and dark clouds rimmed the southwestern horizon of the Chesapeake. The onslaught of wind when I finally made it into the cut going to Onancock slowed me down dramatically. It’s always the last five-ten miles that “get you.” Sometimes they are super sweet and easy and sometimes it’s as if conditions stack up just to test you.

It was mostly a quiet, contemplative type of paddle. An osprey swooped down not to far from me and snatched a fish. The school then fluttered with a collective splash. They did this a couple of times before I realized that they seemed to do that every time a tern or seagull swooped down for a snack, too. This fluttering collective splash seemed to startle the birds, and they backed off. It was funny to watch. I don’t know if the fish were reacting to something under them or if they did this to back off the birds, but that was the affect, anyway.

While I was paddling thoughts of my conversation with John the sailor/train engineer went thru my head. On discussions about wealth and the consolidation of it to ensure that one’s kids and grandkids are “set.” He mentioned that is all anyone tried to do. I kinda had sat in silence, mostly cause I was tired, but I wish I had answered, “well, this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I don’t have a lot of wealth. But this country has a lot of natural resources which translates into a kind of wealth. Certainly clean air, clean water, and a healthy ocean translate into more solid future for my kids, and other people’s kids. I prefer to leave my kids with a world and a healthy ocean, one better than I found it. It’s really all I can do, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing, and why I’m paddling to the March for the Ocean on June 9th.”

But I didn’t. My bad.

The area around where I’m staying is now locked in fog. Visibility is way down, to something like a half a mile. So I will not be able to see the island where I’m paddling to. I’ll hafta find it on the GPS and dead reckon. I know basically where it is, but it’s also easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. At least the only people on the water will be crabbers and not speeding yahoos.

I’m staying  at a friend of Kim’s, a guy named Darryl, who simply has a slice of heaven here in Onancock. They treated me to dinner last night and it’s coffee and donuts from a famous bakery this morning! The Corner Bakery, I think it’s called. So many places to come back to! Would love to get my family down here-the DelMarva Peninsula is super special.

Kim also told me about a program that I forget what university has-where they get the kids in kayaks circumnavigating the whole DelMarva Peninsula. I would love to learn more about that program. And I definitely want to come back and explore the islands on the coast some more. It kind of kills me to have not gone out on the ocean at all. Next time!

Day 11 – May 29th – Leaving Cape Charles

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Unlike my last fake 28-mile paddle which really was 40 miles, I KNOW this paddle is gonna be on the 40 mile mark or a tad more and I also know if I don’t get out the door soon the monster current in the Chesapeake once the tide turns will eat me up. But bathroom needs and coffee needs dictate. Well, maybe I can wiggle on the coffee…

Last night I hung out at Kelly’s Gingernut Pub which is the BEST place to hang out and talk to friendly and eccentric locals. I befriended an owlish looking guy in biker boots up to his knees with what looked like clip on earrings. I’m sure they weren’t clip ones but I didn’t have my glasses and I didn’t want to stare to hard to figure them out.

John is his first name and his last name I couldn’t quite grasp, but it was sorta Germanic or Pennsylvania Dutch. He had piercing blue eyes that held you and while he talked he kind of looked down and up at you at the same time so you could always see the large bottom of the white of his eyeballs. He was a retired navy guy who lives on a boat which is dry docked nearby, holds court at the pub, and has plans to bring a community railroad to the area. He also apparently had a taxi company in Sandbridge but lost it to Uber. He also mentioned the Illuminati and being part of it so there is that, too. Definitely a character. Search him out for a good story if you come this way. I definitely want to come back-maybe I’ll see the ghost animal parade that he told me about that surrounds his boat instead of going thru it like the others. He also might be a feature or an aspect in “Woo-Woo,” a book by Joe Caccaro about Cape Charles and the characters that live here. I gotta grab a copy!

So the weather is gonna be a beast as is making sure I get out the door early enough. Next big challenge is crossing the Chesapeake. Won’t be a problem if weather is good, but things go south in a hurry with a lot of wind, especially this far down with this much current. I’ve had bouncy rides out by Annapolis with my cousin and with a boat full of gear I’d rather not repeat that experience. But it is what it is! Would rather have the wind at my back on bouncy than going right into it.

So today I end my three night stay at Dave’s House. Despite the lack of water it’s been a perfect place to recoup and catch up a bit on logistics. This weather will be a challenge and I might need to make some adjustments to the route to get to DC in time for the sign making party on the 8th and the March on the 9th. Would love to make it to Tangier but I don’t want to get stuck there, either.

Day 10 – May 28th – Oyster to Cape Charles

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The route from Oyster to Cape Charles was perfect for a tired, Delamarva back bay/sun/wind worn paddler. Along this stretch my charts, the markers, the channels, and reality messed up perfectly. The last channel marker, if you are following them, does end abruptly, but if you look to your right, you will see the Tunnel-bridge which spans the Chesapeake. It also helps if fishermen & crabbers come in at the same time as you approach the marker, guiding you by accident.

After the last two difficult legs thru the DelMarva marshes and bays below Chincoteague, the foggy start was a blessing. Going out I met a few boaters coming in because of the fog-out, which also helped to tamp down the wind, even providing a light wind with a northerly aspect, helping me move along. Approaching the point of the peninsula the current picked up and quickly sucked me out to where I needed to make a hard right and dig in to fight the outgoing current you always get with big bodies of water despite it being slack low tide. I remembered how slow it was to slog across the mouth of the Columbia River, despite having the tide with me. The brakes don’t just automatically come on with the tide on those big waters.

The fog and misty weather provided a welcome break from the sun. The gray mist created a silence all its own, with birds being the only noise I heard. It was a peaceful, “in my head” kind of paddle, a day to take in the beauty of my surroundings, and relax a bit. Not once did I have to get out of my canoe to walk her in the shallows, tho I did come across some shallow areas. It was truly a mental-health paddle, a wonderful gift after two hard days when I really questioned what the hell I was doing as well as my ability to keep going.

As I paddled toward the bridge a “v” of pelicans glided overhead, flap flap and glide, flap flap, dip and glide. No other bird seems to surf the wind more than they, or skim and glide so close to the water. Black skimmers don’t even stop flapping when they dip down to skim the top of the water with their funny shaped beaks, not the way the pelicans just so coolly glide what seems to be a mere few inches above the water. They reign supreme in their domain, masters of the airspace above water. And then it all goes to shit when they PLOP in the water with the most awkward of all splashy dives.

I was too slow to catch a photo of a funny array of seabirds on pylons and nets on the Chesapeake side. The seagulls and terns occupied the pylon tops, while the bigger, bulkier pelicans wobbly balanced on the fishing nets, clearly a challenge for them. As I got closer and tried to grab my phone, they gave up their unsteady perches and flew off, as did the seagulls and terns. This shuffled the deck so now the pelicans tried to settle on the small pylons, but this was equally clearly not going to work well for them, but not for lack of trying. Pelicans are graceful in flight but utter clowns and goofs when not showing off their aviation abilities.

With the annoying south wind now at my back and consequently not so annoying, I paddled and surfed windswells despite having the current in my face. Flood tide didn’t really pick up until the last thirty mins to an hour before I got to my destination, and when it did it was quite the push. Tomorrow I hope to get out early and take advantage of that push for as long as I can. Now it’s a race, once again, between storms and tide. It’s as tho our rainy season has grown to be from May to August. The stories of flooding make me wonder what to expect for the next legs, especially flood prone Tangier Island, as well as what condition our campsites will be in when we get to them. Oh well, we can dry out after the 9th!

My legs should be all healed up by the time I get to the sign making party on the 8th, and definitely for the paddle in to the March for the Ocean on the 9th. Right now the oyster rubs and scratches hurt more than the sunburn. Ah, what we do for our ocean!!! That spiritual salve, the provider of stoke, the giver of life. Where would we be without it?

Day 9 – May 27th – Wachapreague to Oyster

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I was never so happy as get in from my hellish paddle the other night going from Chincoteague to Wachapreague and the same can be said for paddling into Oyster. It seemed the only time the wind was with me was when I was going the wrong way and one glorious time in a little marked channel before the last bay crossing.

I even contemplated going outside to avoid the shallows and marshes but didn’t know the conditions at the inlets, how far out sandbars were, etc, plus wind in my face. I did see pelicans! The threat of thunderstorms had most people heading off the water around 2p, but the forecast had been clear for Oyster, so kept heading south as I watched storm clouds form on the horizon and blow north. It wasn’t until nearing Oyster that I saw one that might catch me.

I’m staying tonight with adventure outfitter Dave Burden, who also hosted me many years ago when I was paddling from Miami to Maine. He’s based in Cape Charles and normally lives in a boat at the marina where I’ll stop today, but he’s hosting some friends there, so he and I are at his house.  Since the house is currently undergoing reservations, there is no running water – but that just makes things interesting. Poor Dave, who’s been working crazy long days starting at 4a& 5a during the holidays, came in last night and realized I had not eaten (carrying provisions on an outrigger canoe is seriously challenging, I’m lucky I got what I go on it-plus snacks!), so he went running out again and got food.

I’ll be back here today so I can go light, plus I can take a late start since the tide goes out til 2 and then I can let it push me up the Chesapeake side to Cape Charles. I hope my canoe is okay-I left it at the boat launch not hidden at all, but people so far have been kind. Dave had left me his truck to get back to the marina and take a shower and then get to his house.

Today should be an easier day-navigating with charts that are using information they last got in 1998 in these back bays is stupid. Many of the markers are just gone-and some are on sandbars. It’s a totally different back bay than I had remembered- definitely not advisable to take an OC1, doable, but you can’t let your mind wander like I did mine when I ran over that last oyster patch.

The beauty here cannot be taken for granted or missed-it is so special and alive with life-oysters, turtles, birds.  I’d love to come back here and poke around on a non-windy day-and wind isn’t so bad if you are just going ten miles or so- and do just local trips to the barrier islands-hike and camp on them-with the family. Carl tells me I say that wherever I go! I always want to come back with the family.

So today is a late start, thankfully, and some repair work on my poor canoe. It’s taken on a bit of water-I think it can do the 25 miles with nothing but am also thinking I should tape some of the deeper gashes that have gone thru. My poor Pueo!!!