Let the paddling season begin

Heading out on Milltail Creek, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

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 with the help of SimbaSeaTrips 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

Opening day for Wally, too.

Creek six times this year; this was the first gator sighting. I took that as an omen for the coming paddling season.
In the late afternoon I drove north of Edenton and spent the last two hours of daylight exploring Dimmicks Creek, one of several intimate and accessible creeks that feed the Chowan River. I paddled leisurely, watching the sunlight gradually climb the trunks of bald cypress. When I got back to the put-in, I was tempted to paddle to the middle of the nearby millpond and watch the stars rise. But it had been a full day already and I still had a three-hour drive home. Best not to be too greedy on opening day.

* * *

As a result, I find myself in a paddling frame of mind and believe you might like to be in one as well. Here are two options to check out:

  • Putting in at Dimmicks Creek.

    Our list of  “51 Places to Rent a Canoe, Kayak or Stand up Paddleboard in North Carolina.” Not all may be operating this early in the season, but most should be on the first decent weekend of spring.

  • Roanoke River Partners Paddle Days 2014, which is this Sunday. Paddle Days starts in Jamesville with coffee and snacks before putting in between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Then there’s the 12-mile paddle down the Roanoke River to Plymouth — with a stop on one of the Roanoke’s camping platforms — followed by lunch at the Cypress Grill back in Jamesville. The $35 fee goes toward the Roanoke River Partners, a non-profit aimed at protecting and promoting the Roanoke. It’s a great way to discover the Roanoke, and access to scores of local paddlers, a good way to learn about the other paddling secrets of eastern North Carolina. Learn more here.

Enjoy the weekend! And feel free to share your adventures on our Facebook page, where we’ll be sharing an adventure or two ourselves.

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