Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cumberland Island, GA

One of the saving graces of the last two days was the incident Jean mentioned at the launch ramp.  Several canoes and double kayaks came in paddled by several twenty-somethings.  A couple climbed out of their boat and collapsed on the ramp, after paddling with a fair current for four hours.  I was starting out down river against the last two hours of a flood current so I could make a fair current in the Brickhill River and get into Brickhill Bluffs before dead low tide.  I left the Crooked River State Park ramp at 12:30, entered the Brickhill at 3 pm.  Two sailboats were anchored inside the mouth of the river, one from Kotzebue, Alaska, the other from Pittsburgh, PA.  The Cumberland Lady, a headboat being used as a ferry to take people to Cumberland Island, was waiting for people to board from the Plum Orchard Mansion for the return to St. Mary’s.  Plum Orchard is still occupied by members of the Carnegie family, but is open to the public on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

I arrived at Brickhill primitive camp site at 5 pm.  By the time I got in, my back wasn’t feeling too bad, but my right shoulder was killing me.  It was going to be a two-Advil night.  The paddle was neither more nor less than you’d expect, but the Brickhill was about to teach me a lesson.  I went first to the GPS position given for the camp, but it was all mud, seemed to have no clearing, and appeared less favorable than a couple positions only a few yards south, so I turned and paddled up current to a likely spot.  It was mid-tide, and every step had me sinking ankle-deep in sucking mud.  Leaving a shoe behind, I’d then have to reinsert a foot in the hole to find the shoe and pull it out.  Most of the gear had to be transferred ashore from the mud until the canoe was light enough to pull further up the shore.  At one point, while fishing for my shoe, I lost my balance, and my foot came down on the sharp edge of an oyster.  Expecting to find my shoe full of blood, I chose to ignore it until I got the work done.  I later used some drinking water to clean my right foot well enough to find that it was well scraped, but not cut.
The second section of shore was made up of thousands of fiddler crabs and sinking sand.  I’d step on sand, expecting it to be firm, only to have my foot sink six-inches in the soft under-layer.  The third section was the bluff, or eight-foot high cliffs.  Since the flood tide came all the way to the base of the bluffs, there was no possibility of leaving anything on the shore, so boat and all, it had to be thrown, shoved, and slid up onto the edge of the bluff.  Once I found a place to scale the cliff, everything had to be moved a fourth time to get everything away from the edge.  By the time I was done, I was exhausted, my shoulder complained of every movement, and my knees were joining in the chorus, but I still needed a couple hours to set up camp, prepare dinner, clean up, and try to find a way to wash.  The map showed a water pipe a short distance north of the site, but a three-quarter mile search revealed nothing, and a quarter mile in the other direction was just as fruitless.  I would have loved to remove some of the mud spread half-way to my knees and filling my shoes, but it was not to be.  The island, though, is beautiful, with thousands of live oaks strung with Spanish moss, and the sunlight filtering through the trees.

There is a population of about 200 wild horses on the island.  They are not fed, watered, or given veterinary care, but seem to maintain a stable population in their natural state.  I saw a few standing in the shade of some palms as I paddled along the shore, and a very pregnant mare came to visit while I was having breakfast.  As long as I didn’t try to get too close, she seemed quite unconcerned.

It’s easy to see how Mother Nature eats away at the island, as is evident by the way this huge pine was left standing on its roots.  It even tried to send roots ashore, but it was undoubtedly the salt water that finally did it in.  The crown, or base of the trunk, shows where solid earth used to be.

As I paddled down the Crooked River, I met this unusual barge being pushed by a pleasure boat.  A fisherman on the shore told me this bizarre arrangement with moving vans comes in twice a week this way.

Now to the serving of crow.  I was willing and ready to tackle a large project, my body was not.  It has let me know in no uncertain terms that I’m asking more of it than it can deliver.  The realization is humiliating, disappointing, and a bit depressing.  Some will undoubtedly ask why I’d tackle such a huge undertaking as the Paddle-to-the-Sea without some more experience under my belt, and the answer is simple.  At some point in life, most will face the reality that their chances to fulfill their dreams are slipping through their fingers, never to return in this lifetime.  The choice becomes one of accepting the challenge and giving it a go, or rolling over and admitting that life is marching on without you.  You may call it my Walter Mitty moment, but I was determined to invest the time and money to take my shot.  I did, and while I’m disappointed in the outcome, I have no regrets for the attempt.  The Paddle-to-the-Sea is still out there, but it will take someone twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years younger than me to pull it off.  My reality is I’m a recreational paddler, and I’ll have to leave the long-distance, endurance trips to the Jakes, Freyas, Verlens, Warrens, and other such luminaries of the world.  The attempt has given me the chance to meet some great people, see some interesting sites, and enjoy nature on its terms.  My deepest appreciation will forever be for those who encouraged and supported me, and were willing to share in the effort.  Thank you.

So, my situation was this.  My body was already complaining.  A second, third, fourth, or fifth day would just see it in a steady state of decline while I got into more remote areas where few roads would reach where I might be, and even fewer maps show where they are.  There was a hard decision to be made.  The morning saw me loading and paddling back the way I had come.  When I arrived back at Crooked River State Park, Jean said she was so happy I had turned back.  She has been having problems with her left wrist that has been causing excruciating pain, and while she didn’t want to say anything, she had doubts about her ability to continue handling the 80-pound tow assembly and torsion bars to hitch and unhitch the RV.  How romantic is that?  Becoming decrepit together.  Whoever utters the words, “I would love for us to grow old together,” should be shot through the head and left for the birds and ants to clean their bones.  Those have to be some of the stupidest words in our language.

There’s a valuable lesson here for those with no desire to repeat my errors.  This comes as a repeat of a post from March 21. Some of the saddest words I’ve ever heard (perhaps when I was saying them) were, “When I retire, I’m going to…..” If you hear yourself uttering these words, you might as well forget about retiring and plan on working until they carry you out of your cubicle. Retirement plans are hollow. Retirement almost never meets your expectations or plans. If you don’t find a way now to fill the deepest voids of your soul, you never will. Retirement should be nothing more than a continuation of what you’re already doing. The problem with planning for tomorrow is that it is like the carrot in front of the donkey. No matter how fast you run, it will always be tomorrow. As Lin and Larry Pardey wrote: “Go small. Go cheap. Go now!” They have lived their lives doing what they love, and what gives their lives meaning, and figured it out as they went along. They are like gods to sailors around the world. Why? Because they are only .00001% of the population with the guts to actually live their dreams. When your joints and muscles are no longer fit to carry you where you want to go, do you want to measure your life by how much you own, by how many check stubs are in the ledger, or by the dreams you’ve fulfilled and the experiences you’ve had? The greatest question to ponder, and the only one worth pondering, is whether we own our lives, or our lives own us.”  I realize we all have bills to pay and families to support, but I waited too long.  Don’t make the same mistake.  Construct a plan that allows you to do what matters now!

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