Paddling The Neuse, Part 1: River Angels

Without Bill Hines’ help our kayak trip down the Neuse River would have ended at New Bern, N.C., assuming Mike Johnson and I had made it to New Bern.
Before we left Raleigh Bill had advised us about where we could camp. He had also emailed me a spread sheet identifying the distance between every bridge on the river so we always knew where we were, more or less.

His spread sheet was invaluable even though it was not perfect.   One time Mike and I paddled hard for 50 minutes to cover what the spread sheet said was six tenths of a mile. The actual distance we covered had to have been more like three miles or more, but when I mentioned that to Bill he said we must have encountered “thick water.”

I admit, I didn’t get it at first.

Bill Hines, paddler extraordinair
Bill Hines: He led us to Oriental.

Hines, who lives in Oriental, N.C., is a volunteer for Sound Rivers, a foundation that tries to protect the Neuse and the Tar-Pamlico Rivers. He was 70 years old but he paddles all the time, has for years, and he could go long and fast. I couldn’t keep up.
Early on I asked him how many minutes he paddled per hour.
“Sixty,” he replied.
[Hines didn’t rub it in, not at all.   Still, I couldn’t help but wish I could have rolled the clock back to July, 2015, and have him join me on the Appalachian Trail in Munson, Maine, at the start of what they call the “100-mile wilderness.”   That’s a 10-day hike, according to the trail club that maintains that section. I hiked it in five days.]   
Bill met Mike and me at Cow Pens Landing, about
23 miles upstream from New Bern, and loaned us two sea kayaks. They were longer than our kayaks, which means faster, and more narrow.  They had “skirts” to keep waves that come over the bow or the side from flooding them. He was also our guide for the last 40-some miles, to Oriental, showing us the way and reassuring us that we could do this. What a good guy.

Bill had advised me, several times, to say hello to “Ronda” when Mike and I got to Seven Springs, on Day Four.
We did.

Ronda Hughes, river angel
Ronda Hughes: She fed us, let us shower in her and her husband’s home, and sleep in their back yard.

Ronda Hughes let us camp in the backyard of her and her husband’s home, a beautiful, grassy spot next to the Neuse. She let us shower in their bathroom. And, best of all, she fed us supper – string beans, boiled squash, mashed potatoes and stew beef and gravy. [I had eaten two Pop Tarts for breakfast and candy for lunch.] I ate a heaping plate of food and when I finished Ronda said, “You want some more, don’t you.”  I did.  And I filled my plate again. Then we ate the desert Ronda had prepared, freshly baked cherry pie topped with home-made ice cream. Bless that woman.

Continued tomorrow: Paddling the Neuse, Part 2: Going The Distance



Hiding In a Privy [Video]

NOTE:  You can see me tell this story by clicking on the arrow. It was recorded by the Viking in July 2017 during a 100-mile section hike in Pennsylvania and posted on his U-tube channel called “Between the Blazes.” 

Or you can read it, below.

Or both.

I introduced myself as “Lucky” because that’s my trail name.

To see more Thru-Hiker stories [“Mind Game”] go here.

July 1, 2015, was Day 137 of my hike from Georgia to Maine and as the day wore on it became obvious that Maine had not received the memo, the memo saying summer had arrived.

It had rained the night before, hard at times, but by 5 a.m., when I got up to dress, eat, and go hiking, the rain had tapered off to a sprinkle, more like a mist.  I had no rain jacket –- I had lost it.  I had also mailed my winter clothes home, but maybe it wouldn’t matter.

The trail I hiked that morning went over three mountains, all of them above the tree line: Saddleback, The Horn, and Saddleback Junior. Before I got to the top of Saddleback it had begun to rain again, softly at first and then harder. And then it began to get colder.  The wind made it uncomfortably cold. 

The higher I climbed, the harder it rained, the faster the wind blew, and the colder I felt. By the time I reached a series of balds on top of the mountains it was raining sideways. And was that sleet I felt?  What had been a fairly warm, wet day had turned nasty. And, I repeat, this was July 1st.

The wind was killing me. I thought about leaving the trail and making a bee line for the trees below, anything to get out of the wind. But you can get lost that way — been there, done that. I decided to stay on the trail unless I started shaking all over, and keep on hiking as fast as I could, both to get off the ridge, get back down into the trees, and to generate heat.

When the trail finally went back down, into the trees, it didn’t help a lot. I was out of most of the wind, but I couldn’t go as fast, and generate the heat I needed, because I had to work my way down a long series of rock hops and ledges. I was not able to speed up until I reached the bottom of Saddleback Junior.

I need to find the shelter quickly and get out of my wet clothes. I was so cold. I knew I was close and around every bend in the trail I expected to see it. I didn’t stop until the trail turned back uphill.

No way I was going back to the ridge, back above the trees. 

I had just passed a privy next to the trail –they build privies next to the trail in Maine– so I turned around, went back, went inside, and made myself at home. Finally, I was out of the wind and rain.

I stripped off my wet shirts and put on dry ones as well as a dry, insulated jacket, and dry socks. I couldn’t change pants, I wasn’t carrying a second pair.

I ate lunch.

And then I got comfortable and went to sleep.

Almost two hours passed before a knock on the privy door woke me. The rain had stopped and the wind had died. A south-bound hiker, a woman, wanted to use the facility.

Of course, I said, and I quickly began packing up.   When I came out of the privy she asked me:

Why didn’t you go on to the shelter?”

Where is the shelter?”

About 100 yards up the trail,” she said.

Coming Friday: Paddling The Neuse, Part 1: River Angels