Sunday, May 10, 2009

Barrier Island Solitaire

I've been reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey; it's amazing and I recommend it highly to anyone who likes nature lit. On Friday evening I got inspired, checked the weather, and decided that if the forecast held I would paddle over to Masonboro Island to spend Saturday night alone among the dunes and sea oates and stars. Saturday morning I threw the essentials in my car, loaded the boat, stopped at the store for food, and went to work. I got off at 5, on the water at 6. I put in at Trail's End because there's plenty of (free) parking and it's further behind Masonboro, so I can get a more private campsite than the spots on the N end of the island where all the motor boaters go. I launched into a stiff SE sea breeze and paddled into it for a bit, trying to find a new way to the back of the island through the marsh. After 2 failed attempts to get through all the mud and grass, I decided to get back in the ICW and head north to more familiar territory. I took a wrong turn, but it ended up being a good one and I paddled through a huge back bay to a sandy beach on the back side of the island, landing at about 7:30. I walked over to the beach side, not too far (the island is wider at some points than others; the thinner the better, less distance to carry gear/boat), and found some dunes to hide from the wind (still strong). I hauled everything across and set up camp in the lee of dunes while the sun set and turned the sky psychedelic. Camp was very simple: tent, tarp ground mat, sleeping bag, dry bag full of extra clothes for pillow. I figured a clever way to anchor the tent to the ground also (standard tent stakes are almost worthless in loose sand); I put my paddle at 0 degree feather and then ran it between the fabric and the spars that give the tent some form, then piled sand onto the blades. After I got everything squared away, I stripped to nothing and jumped in the ocean to wash the labor and the grit off. It was brisk, but not uncomfortable, and the wind felt wonderful on my bare wet skin. I put on my favorite running shorts and a synthetic t-shirt, cleaned my glasses of salt crystals, and sat down to dinner: apple, beef jerky, naan, bruschetta, gouda, and screw top wine, and watched the last of the light fade away to darkness. I wasn't sure what phase the moon was in, but she wasn't up yet, so I pulled out the head lamp and grabbed my book, which I figured I would finish that evening (correctly). It was a fitting place to finish it, laying in my tent with the doors open and the breeze (abating now) flowing through. There were no insects and the temperature was perfect (I never got too cool in just my shorts and t-shirt). After a while reading I glanced up, out my tent door, toward the ocean, and saw the full moon, deep red, rising on the horizon above the dark ocean. I've never seen it like that. I flipped off my lamp and got out and stood watching it rise, turning from red to orange, and finally to yellow as it climbed higher in the air. It was so bright that when I turned away I could clearly see my shadow stretched out in front of me on the sand. Looking up I could make out the Little Dipper and a few other stars (I don't know my constellations very well). I returned, eventually, to my book, and reading Abbey's reverie pondered my own, sitting alone in my tent on an island, the only sign of other humans the lights back on the mainland and up at WB, polluting the view of the stars (though the full moon helped that too). I finished the book and turned my light off and fell asleep on the hard sand with nothing to block my view of the sky but the thin nylon mesh screen of my tent. I woke occasionally (damn hard sand like concrete, get a sleeping pad) to roll over, always checking the position of the moon as it moved across the sky.

I woke a little after sunrise to a very light westerly breeze and the waves expending themselves onto the sand 50' away. As soon as I opened the tent (if you leave the doors open all night ghost crabs will come in, I heard them scurring around the tent) mosquitoes and no-see-ums pored in, which sent me scrambling for the bug spray (grabbed as an afterthought as I left my vehicle). Properly protected, I grabbed a banana and walked down to the water to sit and eat my breakfast and consider my day's paddling options; I can either put in where I took out last night, or I could surf lauch and head N to the inlet. Being alone and still respectfully cautious in the ocean, I opted for the marsh. Decision made, I checked the water level at my launch and broke camp and carried everything back across the island and loaded up. This is hard work, so on my final trip to grab the last few things I stripped again and ran into the cold ocean to bodysurf a few waves without the drag of boardshorts. Getting out, it felt so good to feel the breeze and warm sun on my skin, so I just stood there on the beach for a while without a stitch on and smiled like an idiot at the lovely morning and my good fortune to spend it here.

Camp, a little after sun up

Back across the island again, last few things loaded, I pushed off into the marsh and headed N. I remembered from the maps (which I didn't have with me) that the big marsh bay I was in connected via creek to a familiar creek and then to Masonboro Channel. I figured that if I kept the dredge spoils to my left and kept taking creeks that seemed to head toward the back of the island I would eventually reach the creek I know. Along the way I saw an osprey with a fish clutched in his talons, and whimbrel with their long gonzo beaks, common and least terns, laughing gulls, great egret and tri-colored herons, semi-palmated and black-bellied plover, and plenty of pelican. Fish darted away, stirring the mud in the shallows. Eventually I realized that I was in familiar water and from there paddled up Masonboro Channel across the inlet and up Bank's Channel. I stopped at Wynn's Plaze by the bridge and walked over to Robert's Grocery for a cup of coffee. After this I paddled back to Trail's End via my old SMKC fairway and Cut-through Creek to the ICW. I got off the water at about 1. I paddled about 4 miles last night and almost 10 this morning. It was great.

No comments:

Post a Comment