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Post surf pic

It’s about sitting back, holding the line, being prepared for the unexpected, and rollin’ with the flow.  Literally.  As it always goes, regardless of how meticulously you prepare, things don’t always turn out as expected, right?  Yeah, well, so went this trip!

Jessie’s a fellow special education teacher and touring friend, and as used to solving all kinds of problems on the fly as I am.  That being said, her husband had a packed work schedule, so we took advantage of mutually clear calendars to join forces and head southeast.

Refueling and checking boats on the way down 75 South

Our original plan was to spend a few days and nights backcountry camping on Lake Jocassee, a freshwater lake in the middle of South Carolina.  So, meals planned, chocolate chip espresso biscotti made, and other luxuries packed, we begin our journey.

Yes, I really did do this...

...this, too. It's all about life's simple pleasures, especially when you're planning to be in the back country.

Rollin’ down 75 South on our way to said lake, we warily took note of the ominous sky.  Rather than dissipating, the clouds continued building, morphing slowly into massive, roiling thunderheads.  Not exactly an auspicious omen.  As the day unfolded and the miles racked up on the odometer, we triple and quadruple checked every weather source known to man.  With a huge swath of heavy to severe storms moving through the entire southeast, and neither of us exactly cottoning to the predicted 90% chance of severe thunderstorms for the Lake Jocassee area, it was time to put our problem solving skills to work.

Not lookin' so good... At least, not for camping out of the boats!

Scouring radar sources and weather maps, we eventually agreed that the least “weather-issuous” place to be had in the entire southeast was Myrtle Beach.  Still in South Carolina, but our trip was now an ocean surf venture.  SWEET!!

Because we were completely set up for tent camping (French press and all, thank you), Myrtle Beach State Park became our base for the next several days.  Despite some rather interesting and questionable activities in a couple of neighboring campsites – yeah, ask Jessie about that –  the overall experience was simply delightful!

Home. For a minute, anyway.

Fully acknowledging that neither of us fit the typical “surfer” category, Jessie and I stick our heads into a local surf shop to see if anyone would be willing to divulge information regarding preferred launch sites.  Finally able to convince the kid working that we really were looking to hit the ocean, NOT the inlet, he gave us directions to one of his favorites a couple miles away in the neighboring town of Surfside.  We swung by to check it out and figure logistics, then headed off to pick up some last minute gear (read: rashguard and helmet.)  So the helmet…  Yeah…  Well, guess who left hers at the house?  Yup, that would be me.  We were planning for flatwater, for Pete’s sake!  What can I say other than “lesson learned: never take your helmet out of your gear bag!”

By the time we took care of setting up camp, finding our launch, and taking care of other minutiae, it was too late to surf.  Ah well…  The Atlantic’s wasn’t going anywhere, right?  Right.  We did get in some time on the beach before a thunderstorm hit, though.  A near full moon AND a brewing storm off shore made for a surreal evening walk for me, and by the time Jessie and I caught up with each other again it was past dark.  With dinner in our bellies, a looong walk under our feet, sand between our toes, and the storm drawing closer, we headed back to our tent site to scheme about the next day’s adventures.

Your classic, full-moon-on-the-beach shot. 😉

Adventures, you ask?!  Plenty!  Prior to this trip, I could literally count the times I’ve been to the ocean on two hands; now I need to use both hands and a foot.  This being my first venture to actually paddle in the ocean, I was more guarded than Jessie.  Since she’d done this many times prior, she shared some helpful pointers, and even gave me a mini-lesson on launching and landing.  After figuring out a plan for the day and checking our gear one last time (PFD, helmet, skirt, paddle, rope, bilge, 1st aid, water, snack: CHECK) both of us started cracking up at ME because for a change, I was speechless.


Heading to the beach!

All of our launches that day were textbook perfect; I can’t say the same about our landings.  What I CAN say, though, is that they all ended in hilarity, and it’s a darned good thing we had on helmets! Oh, and yes, we did provide ample entertainment for the beach goers that day.  I’m not sure who laughed harder: us or everyone else out there!  I didn’t even count how many window shades and combat rolls each of us notched, but one of my landings in particular still cracks both of us up.  As I remember it, a swell caught me off guard from behind and turned me too quickly for me to get adjusted.  All of a sudden, I’m bow down in a mini shore break, my skirt blows as my boat is rolling (read: ginormously windowshading) and I’m seeing spectacular colors: gorgeous, bright, glittering greens, yellows, blues and white. I bounce out of my boat, landing with both feet flat on the ground and my paddle in my hand held high above my head as the wave crashed around me.  I remember immediately turning to locate Jessie, very psyched that I still had my paddle in my left hand, and holler out, “Jessie, did you see that?!  That was awesome!!  And I’m ok ‘cause I’ve still got my paddle!!”  She literally facepalms, shakes her head, and almost comes out of her own boat she’s laughing so hard at me.  She then proceeds to make the most beautiful, soft landing you can imagine as she rides that same break – yeah, the one that tossed me! – in to shore.

Her version of what happened is much different, which is part of what makes it so funny to us.  She described seeing me do a very graceful pirouette, then a cartwheel where I’m hind end over teakettle, and then me popping up out of the wave with my paddle high over my head and my helmet knocked askew while my boat very neatly beaches itself.

Jessie’s Big Mishap involved a head plant in the sand coupled with a swim because she got shifted sideways in a wave, too; ironically, in the exact same spot where I came out of my boat.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness hers because I was experiencing my own personal “ballet” again at the same time!  Fortunately, these were the only two “biggies” of the day; everything else was just your standard surf rolls, but it was all amazing, and SO much more fun than I ever imagined!  And a hearty, resounding “yes!“, the Journey was absolutely the perfect boat to be in!!  Responsive and quick, it plays VERY well in the surf!!

Yup, I know my helmet's askew! I fixed it after the pic, of course...

By late afternoon the swells were getting bigger and we’d worn ourselves out.  We took the responsible route, played it safe, and called it quits for the day.  Back on the beach, we chill out and chat with the locals and the tourists, swapping stories and answering questions.  Apparently I was more tired than I realized, because I wound up taking a nap (on my boat, of course) only to be woken up by the sound of laughter.  Apparently I was snoozin’ pretty hard.   End result of the day: sand scratches on our helmets and incredible memories in our brains!

nap time

drying out

Back at camp we connive plans for the next day: explore Murrells Inlet.  Though polar opposite of what we’d seen and experienced a day earlier, the salt marshes were truly stunning.  We saw egrets and oyster catchers, turtles and a wide array of fish.  We paddled over shallow oyster beds, and meandered our way through the maze of cord grass.  It felt words removed from where we’d been not even 24 hours prior…  It was surreal, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but as I shared with Jessie: I believe I would have appreciated the estuary more had we paddled it first.   Nothing can compare to my first experience paddling and playing in the dynamic water of the Atlantic.   Part of me still feels slightly guilty about that…

heading out into the inlet

salt marsh

Breakfast, anyone?! Funny things you see on the water..!

Off the water and loaded up, we headed back to camp to get cleaned up and head out.  True, our trip was short, but boy was it sweet!  I flirted with the ocean, and for the first time in my life found myself completely enamored of it.  Yes, I will be going back.  Hopefully soon.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to finding new ways to appreciate the kaleidoscope world of the Tennessee River Gorge.

Wishing you safe, happy and peaceful boating, and see you on the water!


HUGE thanks to the fabulous folks at Rock/Creek Outfitters in Chattanooga, TN.  When they heard we were (originally!!) heading to the back country, they offered us use of a Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Charging Kit for this trip.  I gotta say, that is a rather sweet piece of gear, and I was duly impressed!!  If you’re planning a trip – particularly a back country one –  it’s completely worth the investment.  THANK YOU, Rock/Creek!