A wet and wild spring break
Many of popular culture’s favorite movies begin with a group of guys on some kind of adventure — American Pie, The Hangover, The Three Amigos, Ocean’s Eleven– and as hilarity and capers ensue the bonds between each of the characters strengthens. (This is also apparently Hollywood’s formula for movie sequels.) For most college students, the perfect time for such shenanigans is spring break. No other rite of passage entails getting wet, wild and having fun with friends in quite the same way. For a group of guys from UNC-Chapel Hill, that’s exactly what their break from college included– though not how you’d probably imagine.
While most guys were boarding cruises headed for tropical destinations, friends Wilson, Bennett, Austen, Lawson, Will, Sam, Logan, Jonathan and Nathan were packing their kayaks with supplies. Their spring break plans? To paddle from the South Santee River to Charleston, S.C. via the Intracoastal Waterway. A trip that would take them 65 miles over the course of about six days.
Out on the open water
During their time on the water, the indomitable nine paddled the Santee River, set up camp in the Francis Marion Forest, explored the wetlands of Cape Romain, faced strong headwinds and currents, tied their boats to channel marker 88 (to escape from rain, wind and currents), camped out on Capers Island and claimed the island’s boneyard beach for themselves in true pirate style.
For some on the trip, kayaking was new and eye-opening:
“This was the first time I had ever done anything like this,” confessed Bennett, “I’ve goofed around in my friends’ kayaks and I have a canoe I take out around the marshlands at the beach but this was very much a new experience. It’s definitely something I’d like to continue doing now!”
For others, the kayaking aspect enticed them just as much as the trip itself:
“When I heard about the trip I would have gone regardless, but when I heard that we would be taking kayaks I was even more interested,” explained Jonathan.
Though the compatriots paddled along miles of natural, beautiful coastline, they were not spared when it came to difficulties. In fact, when asked what moment during the trip was the most challenging everyone gave the same answer: the day of channel marker 88.
After three days of easy paddling the nine were confronted with inclement weather in the form of stormy gray skies, cold wind and sporadic, spitting rain. The wind kicked up swells that were between 4-6 inches of chilled water, “which is a lot when you’re in a fully-loaded kayak,” says Sam.
“The wind was completely against us,” recalls Bennett, “a condition which was intensified by the fact that the current was also completely against us.”
“It was the paddling equivalent of taking two steps forward, one step back,” remembers Jonathan.
It became clear that the day’s plan to reach Charleston wasn’t going to happen; the guys were tired from fighting against the waves, wind and current. Unfortunately, a place didn’t present itself to disembark and rest immediately. So, Sam pulled a 20-foot rope from his kayak, “because you need rope if you’re going adventuring, always,” he said, and paddled to a nearby channel marker. After tying a quick knot to the marker, Sam let the current take him back to Logan’s boat, to which he tied the other end of the rope. The nine guys grouped around and held on to Logan’s kayak until they were hydrated and rested enough to return to Capers Island.
The best of times
Crazy currents and exhaustion aside, Wilson, Bennett, Austen, Lawson, Will, Sam, Logan, Jonathan and Nathan spent most of their trip beneath sunny skies enjoying natural landscapes and seascapes– and what’s a kayaking adventure without a dolphin sighting?
“Two dolphins came up [to Lawson and me] and kept surfacing around our boats for about half an hour, sometimes coming so close as to rock the kayaks,” describes Austen, who counts the experience as his favorite moment during the trip.
For Logan, Capers Island held special value, “I’ve never seen a beach anywhere else like it; the ocean goes right up to the edge of the forest. It’s pulling the trees slowly down to the beach where the trunks become petrified wood.”
Jonathan also appreciated Capers Island for its tranquility, “…camping out on Capers Island was amazing. There was nobody for miles around you.”
Travel truly is the one thing you spend money on that, in the end, makes you richer. In the case of Wilson, Bennett, Austen, Lawson, Will, Sam, Logan, Jonathan and Nathan, they emerged after six days of travel as a closer cohort than ever before– with great stories to share with friends and family….
“I feel like that week on the Intracoastal brought me closer to them than the whole year of living right next door to everyone,” confessed Austen.
“I’ve been telling stories to my family constantly since I went, and I still haven’t hit the bottom yet. It certainly was one of those trips where it was just like a saga of adventures, and you can talk and talk about it, but you never quite say that all that there is to say about it,” says Sam.
…and places to take their future kids someday.
“I will definitely describe this as one of the best adventures I ever had,” says Bennett. “I’ll definitely take my kids to those same places someday.”
While Austen doesn’t want to imagine having children just yet, he says, “To describe it to a younger person, I would definitely call it a formative experience; I had never been camping one night in my life– a pretty awesome introduction to the outdoors.”
As for Wilson, the brainchild behind the endeavor, “I’ll keep it simple for them: ‘One of the most wonderfully buck-wild and enjoyable undertakings of all my youthful adventures.’ I will tell them of the simple beauty of the Lowcountry and remind them of their ancestral connections to the land. I will tell them of my admirable friends that I spent a week on the water with. And I’ll probably leave them with some awfully cliché aphorism like, ‘Never stop exploring.’
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.