This was not a good sign. Pinpoints of light danced across my vision as I checked last minute e-mail. The truck was loaded, and in a few minutes I would be heading south to Sumter to spend the night with my brother, Stephen. In the morning we would join the band of miscreants known as Lowcountry Unfiltered for another epic journey down the Edisto River. A migraine headache was the last thing I needed.
I had taken some preventative medicine and decided to go for it. The drive down was interesting, as various extremities alternately numbed and chilled. As long as I kept my eye on the road and didn’t look down the visual aura stayed to the edges. I managed to keep a couple of plain McDonalds hamburgers down and make it safely to Steve’s.
The day broke full of deep fog. We still had a two-hour drive to the put-in, and we speculated about how cool it would be to paddle through this. We might even stumble upon some ancient civilization, kept hidden until the mist burned off. Given our knowledge of the area, this was a real possibility.
The plans for the day had changed. Originally we were going to paddle from Green Pond Church to the landing at Colleton State Park, about 8 miles. Matt had checked, and the water levels were a bit lower than we wanted, so we decided to do the section from Stokes Bridge to Mars Old Field Landing. The only problem with this was that Alan Russell was going to join us, and I hadn’t been able to raise him on his cell phone to let him know about the change of plans.
There were a few moments of confusion as we finally got through to Alan, but were unable to give him good directions because of bad cell coverage. The rest of the gang gathered at Stokes, and I was able to meet Alan and bring in. By the time we got on the river the fog had lifted, but not the feeling of adventure. My migraine was starting to fade with the fog.
Twelve kayaks set out with low water but a good current. I had brought my three whitewater boats for Stephen, Alan, and myself. While highly maneuverable, these aren’t the best boats for tracking straight or doing photography. I had also brought only my small Nikon and my new little waterproof camera – no DSLR.
Lowcountry Unfiltered suffers from collective ADD. The slightest distraction halts all forward progress. Usually this takes the form of a rope swing, hidden channel, nice beach with swimming hole, or the potential for finding fossils. Barely a few yards from our put-in we hit our first distraction – an exposed limestone marl shelf with the potential for fossilized sharks’ teeth.
The leading edge of the marl shelf was eroded from the constant current. However, the back side had unusual rough structures, imparting an alien nature to the landscape. The shelf was pitted. In some of the large pits water swirled with sand, and was the perfect hiding place to find fossils. The group spent abou t 40 minutes there, and came away with quite a nice collection of teeth.
Finally we were under way properly. This is the third section of this river we’ve done, and it always amazes me how different each section is. Apart from the RV park right at the marl shelf, there was very little civilization along this stretch. The water was a dark tea color from the tannins in the river, and undulating sand patterns were visible in the clear undisturbed water.
Our forward progress didn’t last long, though. Someone spotted a nice little beach and decided that we needed a swim. So we abandoned the boats and took a dip. This was also the perfect opportunity for me to try out my waterproof camera. It worked great. I even got a couple of shots of small minnows and fish that were trying to nibble at our legs.
By this time I was feeling much better. I had a mid-morning beer, and Rob passed me a cigar. I decided to tempt fate. At least it might keep the bugs away. Unfortunately, it probably kept away much of any wildlife we might have seen.
This section of the river also has a large number of oxbow lakes. We found one narrow channel that slipped back among the cypress knees through a carpet of green. We continued until downed limbs halted us. It was truly a place apart, with no sign of civilization.
Soon enough it was time for lunch. Matt’s wife, Chris, had made some fantastic pulled pork with mustard sauce and deep-fried pickles. A vegetarian, she can still prepare some mean BBQ. The lunch stop included more swimming and cooling down.
We continued on down the river, taking pot shots at each other with our water cannons, and goofing off in general. As we bantered across the river it occurred to me that we’ve been together long enough to develop tall tales about our excursions. Even more so, we’ve started to believe them
Eventually we came to another lovely beach area, which turned out to be part of the dry bed of an old oxbow loop. We beached the boats, explored a bit, and stretched our legs in the water again.
Here’s where things started to fall apart, at least for me. Matt showed me the map where one oxbow curved northward, but were a shortcut cut across the route. Several began explore a little channel I took to be the shortcut. It was too shallow for the boats, so I continued on the main route. I thought the others were right behind me, and that assumption was my mistake.
I paused, but now one came around behind me. My only thought was that I was on the oxbow loop, and that the others were cutting through the shortcut. My only choice was to paddle like mad and hope that I met them on the other side of the cut-through.
I was totally by myself. This was very remote country, and I saw no houses along this stretch. There was still no sign of the others, nor of any cut-through. I was beginning to regret having read James Dickey’s “Deliverance” last week.
I paddled curve after curve hoping to encounter the group somewhere. Before I knew it, I was hearing laughter, and I had arrived at the Mars Old Field Landing. There was no cut through. Everyone was behind me.
I pulled out my boat and waited, and waited, and waited. A drunk couple barely staggered up the boat next to me, and several partiers began to arrive. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable, so I got on my boat and started paddling back upstream. About a half-mile back I ran into Alan and Sean. The group had stopped for a rope swing, and had taken their time. There was no cut-through. I think they just wanted to get rid of me.
Eventually everyone reached the take-out. It had been a long day on the river, there was now no sign of my migraine. For stress or just about anything else that ails you, I can think of no better cure.