My good friend Lydia, host of the party I attended last weekend, is starting a new job this spring down at Holden Beach renting various beach gear like surfboards, bikes, and kayaks and running tours by bike and kayak. She's doing some reconnaissance for tours, so today Mike and I drove down to help her explore a possible tour location in the area. We launched from a boat ramp in Varnamtown, which I had never heard of until today and paddled across the Lockwood's Folly River into a marsh creek called Mill Creek. There was absolutely no wind when we were launching, and I was being eaten alive by no-see-ums. There was also a haze of smoke from the fires that are burning down in Myrtle Beach, and the air smelled of smoke. The bugs let up a little when we hit the water, but shortly a little breeze picked up and that was the end of the bug problem. At first I was kind of non-plussed on the paddle, but figured it couldn't go wrong since Mike and Lydia are two of my favorite people. Shortly though, it got interesting as we stroked up the creek against the outgoing tide as the creek meandered through a large marsh. Mike gave us a lecture, at Lydia's prompting, about the plant life. The standard local marsh grass is spartina alternaflora, which is very familiar from our days guiding at SMKC in WB (also known as marsh cordgrass). As we moved further into the marsh, however, the species changed to black needle rush. I've seen this on Bradley Creek at WB. It's interesting to see the change from all cordgrass to a border zone of both grasses to all needle rush. There were plenty of marsh periwinkle's along the way. The highlight of the paddle, by far, was having my first alligator experience by kayak, and it was a doozy. Mike and Lydia stopped for a quick restroom break and to scout a lunch spot, which wasn't very good. From his standing vantage, Mike suggested that there might be a better spot a little further along, so I decided to paddle ahead and check it. I got about 50 yards up when I saw a mud bank where all of the grass was flattened down, as though a gator had been sunning there. I was aware of the possibility of seeing gators from convo with Mike, so I noted it but kept paddling. All of a sudden I was aware of fast movement ahead of me, and when I looked, there was a HUGE alligator in mid-air, lauching from the bank into the water. He didn't slide in; he jumped. All 8-10 feet of him sailed through the air and splashed loudly down into the muddy creek, just 20' off my bow. It happened so fast that I'm not positive of his length, except that he looked very long. What I am positive of is that he was very big, and that his girth was more impressive than his length. There is no way I could have wrapped my arms around his middle. I was thrilled and shocked and scared, all at the same time. It was amazing. I paddled backwards because I didn't want to test or follow him by myself. I kept going, in reverse, as fast as I could, all the way back to Mike and Lydia and started excitedly yelling at them what I had just seen. We paddled further along until the marsh became forest and the water looked more like blackwater than marsh creek, both to try to find the gator and for a better lunch spot. We found neither, and ended up eating in our boats just across from the gator launch pad. The entire way back, and still some 7 hours later, I glowed about how awesome it was. In the bird category we saw great blue heron, great egret, spotted sandpiper, red-breasted merganser, green heron, laughing gull, common tern, red-tailed hawk, osprey, and wood duck. On the way back I started feeling the effects of forgetting sunscreen and wearing short sleeves, which I remedied by rubbing the cool black marsh mud onto my forearms, which worked quite well. It was a nice trip. I can't tell on Google Earth how far into the forest we got, but I'd estimate the trip at 8 or 9 miles total, out and back. On the way home I got a Nehi grape soda in a glass bottle. It was a good day. Get your ass outside and do something fun! Cheers.
3 months ago