Posts Tagged ‘Articles’

The award-winning Foxfire Magazine was started in 1966 by an English teacher at a North Georgia high school as a project to motivate his students.

Over the years since, students at the school have used the magazine, and a subsequent series of books, to document the people and culture of Southern Appalachia through stories, how-to articles, and oral history.

The following recollection is from “this is the way I was raised up,” by Mrs. Marvin Watts of Rabun County, Georgia. It appeared in one of the earliest issues of Foxfire.

Her account was reproduced in the magazine exactly as she submitted it in longhand.


we usto have corn Shukings to get our corn shucked    every body in the neighborhood come and my mother cooked a big dinner for the crowd    seames as every body was happie to    it sure was good back in them days    we lived in a log house    it was prettry hard to keep warm by an open fire place but we never was Sick back then    we had a Spring to cary our watter from and my dad had to take his Shovel and ditch out a way through the snow for us to get to the Spring

One Xmas Santa Clause gave us three or four sticks of candie and a ornge    he put it in our Stocking and we was as pleased as if he had give us a box full of candy

we lived one a hill out of site of the road and we was toaled the was a car coming through that day    it was a teamodel ford    tom mitchel was driving it and we sit one the hill all day to get to see it    we haden never saw a car    that was our firston



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Sapelo Island

I wrote this travel article back in 2000 for a small regional magazine that is now defunct. (Insert joke here.) Looking back, my verbiage is a bit over the top, but Sapelo Island is still a great place to vacation.


June 1, 2000.


Spending a weekend on clean, serene, economical Sapelo Island doesn’t mean you’re cheap. It means you’re sensible, practical, and value-oriented.

Okay, maybe you are cheap, but Sapelo is still one of the best vacation deals around, whether you go for a day or a week, and whether you travel solo or otherwise.

Sapelo is the fourth largest of the barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The island is only about 10 miles long and four miles wide, but it packs plenty into a small space: spectacular, pristine beaches and dunes on the Atlantic side, a buffer of tidal marsh on the west, and dense maritime forest in between.

Approaching the Sapelo Island boat dock.

Approaching the Sapelo Island boat dock.

Think white dunes and tall pines, Spanish moss and giant oaks, oyster beds along the creeks and sandy roads beneath a canopy of green. Sapelo is tranquil and unspoiled, and for good reason: the island is sparsely populated, accessible only by boat (a state-operated ferry makes regular runs), and managed 90-plus percent for preservation and wetlands research.

Most roads on Sapelo Island are like this.

Most roads on Sapelo Island are like this.

Sapelo is home to an alphabet soup of state, federal, and other research organizations. You’ll see vehicles marked SINERR, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, or NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or UGAMI, the University of Georgia Marine Institute, or GaDNR, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Most of the research facilities are housed in a restored sugar mill (circa 1809) and other interesting structures near the south end of the island. The R. J. Reynolds State Wildlife Refuge takes up the north half.

Only about 400 acres on the island remain in private ownership. Most of that is in the tiny community of Hog Hammock, the 70-some residents of which are the descendants of slaves brought to Sapelo in the early 1800s to work the plantations.

Today, several Hog Hammock families offer campsites, air-conditioned lodging, home-cooked meals, bike rentals, tours, and other amenities for visitors.

The Weekender, one of a handful of accommodations on the island.

The Weekender, one of two inns on the island.

You won’t be staying at The Cloister, you understand, but these places are clean, tidy, comfortable, and inexpensive.

Nothing about Sapelo Island is commercialized. The only store on the island keeps irregular hours. That’s because the owner commutes from Savannah, and sometimes he closes down to run errands for his mama.

Transportation is by foot, bicycle, or hitchhiking. Most autos on the island predate the Reagan Administration – no kidding – and of the few roads that wind through the pine trees, fewer still are paved.

That means you’re stuck with what’s left: hiking, biking, fishing, crabbing, bird-watching, boating, photography, and whatever.

You can hang out at the boat dock or the airfield, walk the nature trails, explore Native American shell mounds, visit the tabby ruins of an old French estate, check out Nannygoat Beach, see the newly-restored Sapelo Lighthouse – or just pick a spot that feels right and groove on the atmosphere.

Nannygoat Beach

Nannygoat Beach.

You probably will be surprised to see the Reynolds Mansion, the opulent former home of R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco heir. Reynolds bought the island in the 1930s and thereby saved it from development until the 1960s, when ownership was transferred to the State of Georgia.

You can sign up for a tour of the mansion through the Visitor Center back on the mainland. Or, if you put together a group of 14 for a minimum two-night stay, you can rent the entire mansion for only $125 per person per night. Indoor pool privileges and all meals are included. THAT, folks, is a deal.

Salt water floods the marsh twice a day at high tide.

Salt water floods the marsh twice a day at high tide.

If you can’t stay on the island overnight, take the half-day tour. The Visitor Center runs a fine morning tour that costs just $10 for adults and $6 for kids.  That includes the ferry ride to and from the island, a bus ride through Hog Hammock and the research facilities, and a walk-through of the Reynolds Mansion. You also get a free hour to explore Nannygoat Beach, gather seashells, and wade in the surf.

If you have reservations on the island, the ferry will set you back a whopping one dollar each way. The boat runs on a seasonal schedule, partly based on the needs of the dozen Sapelo children who attend school on the mainland in Darien.

You’ll board the ferry along with the kids, assorted locals and science types, and a sizeable mound of building supplies, groceries, furniture and other goods going to the island.

More about the ferry: no pets, no bikes, no kayaks, no canoes. You can’t board unless you’re taking the tour or you have reservations on the island.

If you do have reservations at one of the island accommodations, your host will be waiting to drive you there when the ferry arrives at the island dock. After that, you’re on your own. If walking is your thing, go crazy. Otherwise, rent a bike.

To find out more about staying overnight, contact The Wallow (912-485-2206), a new five-bedroom lodge. They offer tours, pack lunches, and hayrides.

Or try The Weekender (912-485-2277), which can handle up to 14 guests. This place has a community kitchen (bring your own breakfasts and lunches), and they serve delicious evening meals, reservation only. They have great seafood and killer fried chicken.

To reach the Sapelo Island Visitor Center/museum and the ferry dock, go seven miles north of Darien on Georgia 99 and turn right at the sign. Call them at 912-437-3224 for ferry and tour information.

As you would expect, summer on Sapelo is hot and humid. Snakes and bugs and, yes, alligators abound. But it’s cool beneath the trees, and at night along the seashore, the stars will make your sunburn and other aggravations seem unimportant.

Besides, you can always plan a trip in, say, February, when most likely you will throw open the windows and sleep like a baby.

An island resident enjoys the morning sun.

An island resident enjoys the morning sun.

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In 2000 and 2001, I wrote several feature stories for a small outdoor magazine based in Atlanta. The article below is probably the best. Lots of research required. Although the magazine eventually folded, my articles played no role in its demise. Nosiree.


Nov. 6, 2000.

Lakeview Drive is a delightfully scenic two-lane mountain road in North Carolina that you might mistake for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This remote byway heads west out of Bryson City, North Carolina, and for 10 miles, meanders high above Fontana Lake on the southern slope of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Then, just six miles inside the national park, the road unceremoniously ends.

To the hikers, backpackers, anglers and equestrians who use it, Lakeview Drive is a splendid find, because it takes you well inside a lightly-used section of the National Park. Where the road ends, a spiderweb of backcountry trails begins.

Some trails lead south to Fontana Lake, on the shore opposite Tsali Recreation Area. Some continue west, contouring around ridges above the lake in the direction of Fontana Dam. Others lead north, climbing up the valleys and backbones to the Appalachian Trail and Clingman’s Dome on the better-known side of the Park.

But there is more to Lakeview Drive than its role as a dead end and a trailhead. The locals know it as “The Road to Nowhere,” and it has been at the center of an emotional controversy since the 1940s.


The southern mountains region of North Carolina has a rich history that predates Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When the Park was created in 1926, the hills already were peppered with homesteads and small communities. Commercial mining and logging had been underway there since the end of World War I, and the area south of the Park was thriving.

That changed in the opening years of World War II, when the Tennessee Valley Authority built Fontana Dam and made a lake out of the Little Tennessee River. As the water rose, most roads into the area were flooded out. The businesses and settlements quickly died.

Soon, only about 1,000 scattered homesteads remained. At a time when large numbers of men were away at war, the TVA purchased the remaining land above the river, turned it over to the National Park, and carried out the removal of the families. By 1944, the last houses north of Fontana Lake were torn down.


I first hiked beyond The Road to Nowhere in late Spring 1998. Early on a chilly Sunday morning, I drove west out of Bryson City, approached the unmanned gate that marks the Park boundary, and stopped the car to study the small, plaintive billboard on the hillside.


As I understood it, the sign blamed the federal government for failing to complete a road across the southern end of the Park. That was about all I wanted to know at the time, because frankly, I was anxious to log some trail miles. The morning chill sent me back inside the car, and I drove on into the Park.

Soon, I came to the end of the line: a barricade sporting a well-spray-painted “road closed” sign. I parked, geared up, and headed beyond the barricade.

A short distance from the parking area, the pavement disappeared into a tunnel in the side of the mountain.

The tunnel was concrete, two lanes wide, and in surprisingly sound shape to be 55 years old. Peering inside, I was comforted to see daylight at the other end. I strode ahead.

A half-mile later, the tunnel emerged from the western face of the mountain, and the pavement at last gave way to dirt. I set out down the Lakeshore Trail at a gentleman’s pace.

My destination that morning was the convergence of Forney Creek and Fontana Lake, about three miles from the tunnel. Two miles down the trail, I encountered 75 people coming in my direction.

Naturally, I heard them long before they reached me. In fact, my mind had plenty of time, as the din came closer, to search for an explanation for such a huge group on this fairly remote trail. Nothing plausible presented itself.

When the group surged into view at last, the man in the lead smiled and said in answer to the obvious question, “Family reunion.”


The construction of Lakeview Drive was halted in the early 1940s for a host of reasons, not the least of which was an unexpected byproduct of cutting into the local rock: sulfuric acid. Not far into the project, road-builders discovered that after heavy rains, the streams smelled of sulfur, and serious fish kills followed.

Engineers isolated the cause as a local rock that oxidizes when exposed to air, producing a nasty solution of H2SO4. The unwelcome chemistry could be controlled, but the price of Lakeview Drive suddenly shot up to $6 million per mile, in 1940s dollars.

Added to the concerns of environmentalists, who vigorously opposed a road through the National Park under any circumstances, the eyebrow-raising price tag convinced the Park Service to stop the project at the tunnel. That decision, they said, was temporary.


“Ah, family reunion,” I repeated. The man and I exchanged introductions, and then, with great formality, he introduced me to the nearest dozen family members – young and old, brothers and aunts, cousins and nephews. I strained to summon up my best Savannah-bred manners.

This was a local family whose elders once lived in the surrounding hills. The group that day ranged in age from 10 to 70. Some were children when the lake was formed and the government had bought their properties, but most were of later generations. They were natives of other communities in Swain County south and east of the lake.

The weather was pleasant, and all were dressed in Sunday clothing, except for footwear, which was hiking boots or sneakers.

The oldest member of the family was its matriarch, a widow, to whom I was introduced with special reverence by the man leading the group.

Later, he told me, “Mama is the reason we come up here every year. After she’s gone, some of us will keep making the trip, but not as many.”

I asked where they were going — and just where the heck they had come from. He said their destination was a family cemetery on a hilltop not far up the trail. They had crossed the lake early that morning by barge.

While I was grappling with that image, he told me the family planned to stop soon for a picnic lunch. He invited me to join them and to accompany them to the cemetery afterward. I accepted the lunch to be neighborly, but declined to go to the cemetery. A pilgrimage to visit the dearly departed was a family thing I didn’t want to impose upon.

A few coolers were produced, and we had a superb meal of fried chicken, potato salad, and other homemade delicacies. I thanked them profusely and sincerely and raved about the food.

Finally, fumbling for the right compliment, I offered to marry the person who cooked the chicken, if she would agree to move to Georgia.

The cook was Mama. She declined with a modest smile. Then after a pause, she told me to check back next year. A wall of laughter erupted from the crowd.


When the TVA began to negotiate a buy-out of the families of the north shore, one of the obstacles was the presence of family graveyards. Some families had lived in the area for generations. Small cemeteries were everywhere, many with graves dating back to the early 1800s.

The cemeteries were genuinely important to community life. Many annual “homecoming” celebrations centered on a visit to the family graveyard. The families vigorously opposed the idea of relocating the gravesites, and further, they wanted assurances of perpetual access.

Finally, the TVA promised that when World War II ended, a road would be built to give the families access to the cemeteries. This was the promise that convinced many of the residents to accept the buy-out and leave their homes.

When construction on Lakeview Drive stalled, and it became clear that a resolution would not soon be found, the Park Service quietly began to arrange transportation to the gravesites. Today, more than half a century later, families are still transported by barge across Fontana Lake to a point nearest their family plot.

Most of the time, the groups choose to walk from that point, but if needed, a four-wheeler or golf cart is brought along for the elderly.


After a lengthy farewell to the family, I continued on the trail west to Forney Creek and then turned south to Fontana Lake. At the mouth of the creek near the Lower Forney campsite, I sat for a long time next to the riffles.

On the hike out, I followed Forney Creek a good distance north and returned to the Lakeshore Trail by a different route. When I got back to the site of our picnic, the family had departed.

Although it was getting late, the cemetery wasn’t far, and I like cemeteries. Ten minutes later, I was standing at the fence peering in.

The hilltop was small and uneven, and the cemetery was painfully modest. The headstones, arranged more or less in two long rows, were mostly stone or cement. Some were store-bought marble. In all, they reflected the names of no more than a dozen families.

Except for crickets and birds and the rustle of leaves, the place was silent. On most of the graves, fresh flowers had been added to the supply of faded silk and plastic.


Today, the Road to Nowhere is a symbol in a larger fight, presently a stalemate, over whether to declare the area a wilderness. As expected, the issues are complex and contentious.

Proponents of the wilderness plan want to stop all future development, including road-building, in a large portion of the National Park. Opponents of wilderness designation want the road completed, not only because of the cemeteries, but also in hopes of expanding tourism in the area.

But both sides agree that Swain County probably has a cash settlement coming. In a spectacular case of bad timing, the county went into debt to build a portion of State Highway 288 only a few years before Fontana Dam was constructed. County taxpayers were obligated to make payments on that debt for 30 years after the highway disappeared beneath Fontana Lake.


I stood peering over the cemetery fence a second time in late summer 2000. It was a repeat of my 1998 hike, and the cemetery was my last stop on the way out.

I had encountered a few hikers and some anglers heading for the lake that morning, but mostly, I had the trails to myself. Although the forest canopy seemed as lush and beautiful as ever, the creeks were down to a trickle, and the lake was painfully low. An unhealthy-looking band of bare clay at the waterline made clear the extent of the drawdown, due primarily to the long drought.

In a clearing beside Lakeshore Trail not far from the cemetery, I was pleased to see that the Park Service has constructed a series of long wooden tables suitable for big family picnics.

At the cemetery on the hilltop, the soil was cracked and the undergrowth had long since surrendered for the year. Any fresh flowers placed at the last homecoming had dried up and blown away.

As I sat on the grass munching my bagel and peanuts, I tried to imagine the tiny hilltop overflowing with animated people.

I also thought about their gracious treatment of me. Whatever you want to call it — manners, gallantry, chivalry — it comes from a sense of propriety that is hard-wired in some people.

After a quiet lunch, I closed the big aluminum gate and headed down the hill. The family wasn’t there, but the place hummed with its presence.


To reach the Road to Nowhere, take U.S. 74, the Foothills Parkway, to one of the Bryson City exits. At the downtown area, cross the river and follow the signs toward Deep Creek Recreation Area. When you reach Everett Street, turn left (west). Past the high school, Everett Street becomes Lakeview Drive.

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Ch. 7 — Probably Not a Fork At All

The route of the creek was relatively obvious. Although the channel was disguised by the unbroken sheet of water, the presence and absence of trees allowed me to follow the creek’s steady, serpentine course.

I paddled slowly along, taking in a scene that was both odd and beautiful. The vegetation was bursting with new growth, and half-submerged shrubs were green above and below water. Occasionally, I saw the faint yellow outline of crocus flowers beneath the surface.

Most journeys into the unknown feature a turning point, and this time, it occurred when I came to a fork in the creek. Nobody said anything about a fork in the creek.

The choices before me – main channel and wrong channel – were utterly indistinguishable, maddeningly equal in size and flow. Under non-flood conditions, the route probably was obvious. Maybe it wasn’t even a fork at all. Otherwise, the guys back at Adamson’s would have mentioned it. Surely.

I backpaddled for a minute above the junction and tried to assess my predicament logically. The left fork turned south, in the general direction of Beard’s Bluff. The right fork headed west, away from the bluff. It made sense to choose the left fork. Besides, I thought, if I’m wrong, I’ll know soon enough. I’ll simply return to the fork and follow the other channel.

Wrong on both counts. Considerable time passed before the obvious (that I was lost) became obvious. And by then, a homing pigeon with a map and flares could not have retraced my route.

Ch. 8 — Exhaustion Well Earned

Beyond the fork, the channel narrowed somewhat, but remained open and identifiable. However, the swamp soon began to close in, and the task of following the channel began to require active attention. The trees became more numerous, the current more insistent, the need to change course more frequent.

Fast-forward five minutes. I am wide-eyed and sweat-soaked, paddling hard to stay in open water, any open water. It requires all the mental agility I can muster to outsmart the current and keep my boat – a paltry two feet wide – from wedging tight between the next two trees.

I was getting tired, and a sense of unease – concern, alarm and panic were still some distance away – began to insinuate itself into my consciousness.

The sight of dry land ahead was a happy surprise. It was a low ridge, covered in palmetto and assorted shrubs, probably an extension of the bluff, coming in on the left. It was the first ground I had seen in a while, and it reminded me that my back, arms, and bladder needed relief.

I pointed the nose of the kayak to a spot on the shore and stroked forward. The bow dug into the mud. I stood up unsteadily and lurched ashore.

Immediately, I peeled off my drytop and fleece layer, which suddenly had become very warm and heavy. I squeezed out the fleece and threw it across a bush to dry. With a thud, I slumped to the ground and leaned back against a fallen tree, savoring the cool breeze.

Exhaustion well earned, I told myself. No flips, no wet exits, no snakes in the lap. Not bad for a novice kayaker.

After a feast of bagel, raisins, Snickers bar, and a half-quart of delicious South Georgia sulfur water, I was reinvigorated and rejuvenated and ready to set out again. My little open boat and I had an unknown distance yet to go to reach the Big Obstacle that had loomed large in the back of my mind all day: the Altamaha River at flood stage.

Ch. 9 — Zone of Quiet Water

For the next 15 minutes, however, I thought about the river not at all. My attention was back on the task of staying upright and threading my way through the flooded landscape. One moment my paddle was a tool to fend off obstacles, the next it was a hindrance, snagged by a passing branch. My back would punish me later for continually leaning forward, head flat on the deck, straining to pass beneath immovable objects.

When the Altamaha came into view through the trees at last, the relief was immense. The sight of the river meant I was not far from Adamson’s and officially no longer lost.

Better still, I could see I wasn’t in danger of being swept away by some demon current. As the manager had promised, the floodwater had widened the river by 30 to 50 yards, creating a buffer along the shore – a zone of quiet water beneath the trees that I could follow with relative ease back to camp.

As I drifted along under the protection of the trees, the current not far away in the main channel churned and roiled. Mini-standing waves, only inches high, formed and dissipated. Whirlpools darted and spun, and pieces of tree glided past, moving gracefully and silently downstream. The river was humbling, frightening, beautiful.

For 10 minutes, I paddled south along the shoreline, very pleased with myself. The boat and I were undamaged, and I would return on time, under my own power, no rescue requested or required. I had a few adventures to relate. And really, “lost” is a relative term. Why mention that at all?

A wild fit of barking heralded my return to Adamson’s. The dogs spotted me from an uncanny distance and maintained their chorus until I beached my boat. By then, Danny was waiting, and the two of us carried the kayak back to camp. He asked if things went okay. I said yep, things went great.

The manager put down his paintbrush as I walked up to the office. “Wellsir,” he said. “This water wants us to leave, so that’s what we’ll do in about 30 minutes. Sorry your weekend was cut short.”

I looked in the direction of the flooded road back to civilization. I strongly disliked the idea of being remembered as the fellow they towed to the highway. “Can my car make it out of here?” I asked.

He laughed and said the road I traveled that morning was impassable by me or anyone else.

“But we’ll be okay. There’s another road we can take back to the highway that crosses higher ground.”

Buoyed by that bit of news, I walked down to the water’s edge and sat down to rest and watch the river for a while.

Ch. 10 — The Bridge at Doctortown

Half an hour later, I was back behind the wheel, following the wake of the pickup truck along the flooded road back toward U.S. 301. The boys and dogs dozed quietly in the back of the truck. The adults in the cab were in spirited conversation.

A short distance from camp, we turned onto a spur road that climbed above the water for good. We remained on dry land for several miles and several turns, and then were back to the pavement.

The pickup turned onto the highway and slowed momentarily. Honking and waving erupted. Then the truck accelerated west toward Glennville, and I turned east in the direction of the coast.

Halfway between Ludowici and Jesup, U.S. 301 crosses the Altamaha River in an isolated spot just north of Doctortown. The bridge there, built to span the entire floodplain, is long and massive. I parked on the north bank and made the long walk to the middle of the huge structure.

From high atop the bridge, the hiss of the current below was almost inaudible. The muddy water was almost gentle, almost unintimidating.

I stood there for a long time, studying the water. I thought about Brownian motion and traced the paths of eddies and whirlpools. I followed debris as it came into view, passed beneath me, and floated out of sight. I chose imaginary routes and mentally navigated the shifting current. I pictured myself drifting serenely on the river at normal flow.

Every five minutes or so, a lone car or semi crossed the bridge, and the driver would offer a nod or wave. I suppose it was odd to see someone on the bridge, especially on such a lonely highway.

When the sun was almost gone, I drove the last few miles to the coast and checked into a motel near Darien. I then executed the rest of my fallback master plan and located a quiet little seafood restaurant.

I was the last customer, and the proprietor came out of the kitchen to talk. I told him about my day, culminating with my snake story. I said I worried that the creature might not have survived the floodwater.

“That snake is fine,” The man told me. “He‘s done this before, like all us locals.”


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Ch. 4 — Sorry, Friend, Your Campsite is Under Water.

Beard’s Bluff sits at river mile 81 of the Altamaha, the picturesque coastal fishing village of Darien being river mile 1.  The bluff itself is barely noticeable, but the spot is, indeed, a foot or so higher than the surrounding swampland.

Perched there is the Adamson’s complex, a proudly spartan, arrogantly rustic place that is typical of the fish camps and boat ramps – there are about 30 – along the lower 100 miles of the Altamaha.

Adamson’s features a campground, cabins, screened cookhouses, canoe and kayak rentals, ice, bait, cold drinks, cold sandwiches, hot food on occasion, a jukebox, bumper pool, and guide service.

“You Mr. Smith?”  the manager asked as I got out of the car. I replied that I was. Over his shoulder, I could see the swollen river, moving at a speed that was unexpected and disturbing.

“We called your house and left a message, but you were gone, I guess.” He looked at my diminutive Tracker, no doubt comparing it to the local vehicles like his pickup, the tires on which were as tall as my roof.

I interpreted the look as a compliment for making it down the flooded road in such a half-pint car. It probably wasn’t.

“A message?” I said.

“About the high water. It’s risin’ pretty quick. We might have to leave after a while. The campground’s already under water.” He pointed to the camping area near the edge of the river. It was, literally and totally, under water.

I glanced around the little settlement. In addition to the campground area, it consisted of an office/restaurant/store/bar/gameroom building, a row of cabins and cookhouses, and a collection of sheds, all of it high and dry except for the campsites.

It was a little after 9:00 a.m. and still chilly beneath the canopy of trees. Two homely little dogs arrived to inspect me. I reached down and scratched their ears, glancing from the swiftly moving river to the submerged campground and back again. I thought uneasily about the long ride back to the pavement at U.S. 301.

Ch. 5 — Paddling to the Put-In

The manager’s companions were a 40-ish fellow who didn’t say much and two good-natured boys of about 10 and 17, all of whom were outside the office, painting the porch steps. The manager and I went inside.

The place was decorated with an eclectic mix of hunting and fishing trophies, newspaper clippings, beer signs, and other memorabilia.  I opened a package of peanuts and a can of Coke and sat down. The manager summed up the situation this way:

At normal water levels, he would shuttle a paddler like me upstream on the river for a leisurely float back to the camp. But at flood stage, the Altamaha was no place for an amateur. Not only was it dangerous, but a daylong float would be over in an hour or two.

That left Beard’s Creek. The creek and swamp were still safe to paddle.

He proposed to shuttle me inland, deep into the swamp, on upper Beard’s Creek. I would follow the meandering stream back to its confluence with the Altamaha, then turn south and return to the camp a short distance on the river.

“At least that will give you a few hours of paddling,” he told me. “After lunch, when you get back, we’ll probably know if the water is gonna run us out of here.”

“Just one thing,” he cautioned. “When you reach the river, stay back in the trees. It won’t be a problem to work your way back here close to shore. You’ll see.”

I had no idea where I would spend the night – in my tent, in a cabin, in a Brunswick motel, on the hood of my car – but an uncertain plan was better than no plan at all. I paid him for a kayak with gear, a shuttle, my peanuts and Coke, and a Snickers bar for later.

The two boys were assigned to take me to the put-in. I took some time to walk around and inspect the place, then returned to my car and changed into river clothes.

Joey, the younger boy, boosted the two dogs into the bed of a truck and climbed in, all three beaming with anticipation. His older brother Danny waited nonchalantly beside a rack of canoes and kayaks tied to the side of a storage building.

I put on a fleece vest, paddling jacket, and river shoes, grabbed lunch, filled my water bottle, and joined the two boys. Danny helped me select a well-used kayak of uncertain lineage, which we piled into the back of the pickup.

Danny grabbed a second kayak and hoisted it aboard. “The road is under water up ahead,” he explained. “Can’t drive all the way to the put-in, so I’ll have to paddle with you a ways and show you where the creek is.”

Paddling to the put-in. An interesting concept.

Ch. 6 — “Just Go Where There Ain’t No Trees.”

Danny and Joey and the dogs and I bumped along for 10 minutes down a sandy road that followed a ridge through the scrub oak and palmetto. The route was dry and readily passable, but the swampland around us was inundated. Eventually, the road topped a slight rise and led down the other side, straight into the drink. We had arrived at our temporary put-in.

I stood at the end of the road and peered into the trees. No ground was in sight in any direction except back the way we came. The water moved slowly and silently. Here and there, ripples formed as the flow accelerated around a tree or through a branch.

The wide expanse of water made the swamp seem surreal, superimposing a perfectly flat floor on a landscape otherwise devoid of geometric shapes. Very cool.

We dragged the two kayaks to the water’s edge, and I looked around for my sprayskirt, in vain. Danny said I wouldn’t need it. He had brought neither sprayskirt nor PFD for himself. I shrugged and wiggled into the cockpit.

Leaving Joey and the dogs at the truck, we paddled off down the road, Danny in the lead. A few minutes later, at the first curve, I swung my boat around and looked back. Joey waved and blew the horn, setting off a chorus of barking.

Navigation in a flooded swamp, I found, is by dead reckoning. That long, narrow space with no vegetation sticking up? Must be a road. I shared my observation with Danny.

He agreed that the dearth of trees overhead was a sign we were proceeding more or less along the roadbed. But he said route-finding on the flooded creek would not be so straightforward.

“Trees will be down, bushes stickin’ up,” he told me. “Sometimes the creek gets narrow and you have a solid canopy overhead. You might lose the channel and drift off into the swamp.

“If you do get lost, remember that the water is draining toward the river. The current will take you there eventually, with or without the creek. But mainly, just pay attention, and go where there ain’t no trees.”

“Here’s the creek,” he announced. He wished me a good trip and departed, and I stroked forward into Beard’s Creek at last.

To be continued.

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My trip notes from the following adventure in April 2001 became an article that ran in a fledgling outdoor magazine based in Atlanta. The magazine published three of my stories, but sadly, they went under after a few years of operation. I know what you’re thinking, but my work undoubtedly prolonged the life of the publication. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Ch. 1 — If That Snake Lands in My Boat, I Want a Lawyer.

He wasn’t much of a snake, really, but there he was, dangling malevolently from a tree limb 10 feet above my battered kayak.

It was too much. For the past hour, I had been having quite enough trouble, thank you very much, trying to stay upright in a rented boat in a flooded swamp while lost, disoriented, and seriously fatigued.

Most of my energy had been expended on high-siding, bouncing off tree trunks, ducking branches, and paddling furiously to avoid strainers. I was cold, and I didn’t need a snake in my lap. Usually, snakes are no big deal. But usually, I have a sprayskirt on my kayak.

Beard’s Creek Swamp during a robust South Georgia spring flood was dramatizing what a city boy I really am. Did I mention I was lost, disoriented and fatigued?

Which is why the thought forming in my head was to sue somebody if that snake landed on me. Okay, so I was the one who forgot the sprayskirt. Did that absolve the outfitter of all blame?

Fortunately, the current carried me away before the snake could pounce. I left it behind in its tree and turned my attention again to paddling, dodging, and navigating. A long day surely lay ahead.

Someone said that fate doesn’t soar in like an eagle; it creeps in like a rat. That was how I came to be lost in a flooded swamp without a sprayskirt on a chilly Saturday morning in March: one creep at a time.

Ch. 2 — An Old-Fashioned Frog-Strangler

My adventure began earlier that day on U.S. 301, a few miles south of Glennville, Georgia. My goal was Adamson’s Fish Camp and Beard’s Bluff Campground, located on the banks of the Altamaha River at the end of a sandy one-lane road.

The Altamaha is a stately blackwater river that drains a big wedge of central and south Georgia. It is, first and foremost, a fishin’ river, but plenty of canoists and kayakers also use it.

My plan that fine spring day was to spend a weekend kayaking the Big A before the fishermen, the heat of summer, and the gnats came out.

I had called several weeks earlier to reserve a campsite and inquire about boats, and plenty of both were available. The fellow on the phone spoke glowingly of the pleasures of the Altamaha in spring, especially early in the season. He said I would have the campsite of my choice, my pick of his touring kayaks, and all the solitude I could stand. He was a salesman with a product I wanted.

The road leading to the river was several notches above primitive. I turned the hubs on my aging Geo Tracker to four-wheel drive, checked the tires, and climbed aboard.

The morning air was chilly, but the weather spectacular. I was well aware that I had lucked out. A day or two earlier, Atlanta had been drenched by a substantial rainstorm — a serious possum-pounder — but now the storm was gone, and the sun was out in South Georgia, and green was budding everywhere.

The terrain along the way was basic South Georgia: flat and sandy, forested in loblolly pine and scrub oak, accented by pockets of cypress and palmetto. In another month, the undergrowth would be as dense as the Everglades.

But that morning, the briars and thickets were still in slumber, and only a few puddles dotted the road. I was in a Saturday morning mood as I downshifted, turned up the radio, and headed into the floodplain of the mighty Altamaha.

As the land began its gradual slope toward the river, I began to notice the reflection of the morning sun on the standing water beneath the trees. The forest was wetter than I expected. In places, water overflowed into the ditches and even spilled onto the edge of the road.

For a time, the puddles were not an obstacle. But soon, I rounded a bend and was forced to stop. Ahead of me, the road disappeared for 50 yards beneath the tea-colored water.

Ch. 3 — Amphibious and Rudderless

I studied the absence of road through the windshield. The water appeared to be only a few inches deep, covering a slight depression in the roadway. I edged slowly forward, staying at the high center of the road. No problem. A moment later, I emerged on the other side and drove on.

But as I proceeded, the puddles grew wider and deeper and more frequent. The road vanished and reappeared numerous times, until finally, I rounded another bend, and the road was gone for good. Before me was only an endless lake, bordered on one side by a set of telephone poles that defined the roadbed. The water was perfectly still and eerily quiet.

What to do? Certainly not turn back, 20 minutes into a sunny weekend. I climbed aboard once more.

Two minutes later, I learned that Trackers float. I had been moving along nicely in first gear, cheerfully pursuing the wall of water being pushed out by my front bumper. If I went too fast, the wave splashed onto the hood, so I regulated my speed to stay just behind the advancing swell.

Suddenly, the car began to fishtail. I was afloat, amphibious and rudderless, the tires propelling me through the water like paddlewheels. For an eternity (several seconds, anyway), I drifted in a lazy spin. Then the tires grabbed some sand below, and I stomped quickly on the brakes. I was Noah atop Mount Ararat, heart pounding.

My vehicle was doing better than I was. The engine was unaffected, and somehow, the floorboards were still dry. Surely, I thought fiercely, the Altamaha isn’t far.

It wasn’t. I had reached the edge of the bluff, and I could see patches of road ahead emerging from the floodwaters. I pressed on, and within minutes arrived at the settlement at Beard’s Bluff. It stood as a tiny oasis in the flooded swamp, populated by a handful of people and dogs all looking in my direction.

To be continued.

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