The larger rivers and sounds of the SC low country meant some open water crossings but most of the paddling here would be in the relative comfort of the ICW and narrower rivers. The sound of machine gun fire echoed over the water from the Marine Corps training base of Paris Island. The beach there looked desolate and barren but I didn’t want to run into any “jarheads” on operations overnight. Crossing the Beaufort River, I made my way over to historic Fort Frederick. The WW-II era casement was now nestled beneath a grove of live oaks in the setting sunlight. I explored the area for a bit before erecting my tent along the shoreline.
Come moring, dense fog blanketed the river, one of my favorite settings for paddling. Consistently wiping the dew from my glasses each time I stopped to sip coffee, I continued up the river with the rising tide. Using my charts and compass I was thankful to my boy scout courses for allowing me to navigate to the opposite shore without reference points. Having the islands appear from the fog just where you’d hope is a real joy. Across the dense air, cadences and shouted orders can be heard from Paris Island’s Marine recruits.
The day had warmed significantly once the fog burned off and I spent a brief time getting water and wifi in Beaufort, SC. The expensive downtown area and historic homes were charming but not my idea of how to spend an afternoon while the tide was falling. Winds increased as I set out into the open waters of the St. Helena Sound and a quick but strong storm blew through creating breaking waves and wet conditions. A following storm was right behind it turning the setting sun green on the horizon.
I wound up paddling two miles back to the southern shore for protection from the wind and a private but quiet beach to set up camp for the night. Come morning, the wind had turned from the north and was really hauling but I made up my mind to paddle and worked back to the safety of the ICW.
Rice plantations line the low country shoreline with many of the sites out of operation or converted to wildlife preserves. Around sunset, a derelict dock and large open park-like clearing beckoned be from the water. Hauling out on rip-rap and concrete is never my idea of a good night (or morning) but I scratched and scrambled my boat up 10 feet to the grassy landing and celebrated another happy day with a remarkable sunset and Spanish Moss draped live oaks. The sound of deer snorting and birds squabbling overnight were my only chorus. No highway noise could be heard but the occasional creaking of the weary dock echoed into the marshes.
For every rough morning lowering the boat into blackness by my headlamp, there’s a night on a sandy beach with a picturesque sunset. Each morning I rise with the goal to paddle and enjoy myself no matter what the conditions. It is the fortitude of mind and intention to make the best of the conditions that keeps this trip going. The extremely difficult moments make those of comfort that much more rewarding.