Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
Test a kayak, try a new wildlife refuge, tread (quickly) some stellar trail. There’s lots to do in North Carolina this coming spring weekend.
Been thinking about getting into flatwater paddling but confounded by the various boat options? Rec kayaks, touring kayaks, sea kayaks, sit-on-tops, inflatables … . Where’s a budding paddler to start?
The sun was unimpeded in chasing off the morning chill, a gentle breeze played in the marsh grass and my swamp kayak rocked ever-so-slightly in the near-still water. Fifteen feet off my starboard bow, an alligator dozed. I watched for several minutes, expecting him to blink. He never did. Apparently, he, too, was savoring the delayed start to spring.
My opening day on the water for the 2014 paddling season, and it was hard to picture a better start.
I started paddling Milltail Creek in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-1990s, drawn both by the refuge’s well-deserved reputation for being some of the wildest 152,000 acres around, and also by the promise — guarantee, practically — of seeing an alligator. The wild was hard to miss: the impenetrable tanglescape beyond the creek’s banks, the cacophony of bird song and assorted other swamp noises, the realization that alligators, bears, red wolves, three types of venomous snakes (cottonmouth, copperhead and timber rattler) and who knows what else roamed the reserve. Yet I’d never seen an alligator. At least that I was aware of.
In 2006 I took one of the guided paddles led by the NWR between June and August. Twenty minutes into the trip, someone asked, “How come there aren’t any alligators?”
The ranger got us to raft up about 20 yards from the south bank. “Watch those ‘logs,’” he advised. After a minute or so, one blinked. Then another. Before long, about a half dozen logs had revealed themselves. I’ve since seen a number of alligators along Milltail Creek.
As I was loading my boat, a guide with two clients arrived at the put-in. He’d been on Milltail
We start at the coast (sea level) with a guided paddle trip at Hammocks Beach State Park and wind up in the high country — the highest country, in fact — with a program atop the highest point on the East Coast, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell.
One of our favorite paddles is the marshland around Hammocks Beach State Park near Swansboro. It’s a vast, yet somewhat protected sea of sea and cordgrass, a marshy maze that frequently ends with turns down dead-end channels. Which is part of what makes paddling here fun.
I love to paddle rivers. But I don’t always have a party to paddle with. That’s a problem for three reasons:
- Paddling with others is more fun;
- It’s safer, and;
- From a purely selfish standpoint, paddling with a party makes setting up a shuttle a whole lot easier.
Like most folks, I’m excited about the near completion of Raleigh’s Neuse River Trail, a 27.5-mile greenway following its namesake river from the base of Falls dam south to the Johnston County line. (The missing link, a 3/4-mile stretch below Horseshoe Farm Park is scheduled to open early next year). And, like most folks, I’m excited for the cycling/running/walking potential the greenway offers.