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Bob Laney

On the early spring warm and sunny day of April 6 I drove from New Bern to Bogue Banks (Emerald Island to the Chamber of Commerce type persons). About halfway down the island to the west of Fort Macon is the Salter Path beach access. It is my favorite access because it is free to park and some of the spots are in the shade. It is also a moderately long way from the towns of Atlantic Beach and Emerald Isle, so the beach is less crowded and the sand dunes are undeveloped.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves. The day was pleasant and restorative for me. It was the first day for me in many months when I did not have to make some big decisions or do something constructive or difficult. Relaxation in the sand, sun, wind and surf.

On the chilly but sunny Saturday afternoon of March 11, 2023, I pulled my canoe out of the storage shed and upgraded some outfitting. It already had yellow floatation bags permanently installed in the bow and stern.  And it already had a purple bag and green river dry bags.  The dry bags served two purposes.  When paddling they are filled with empty soda pop bottles to provide light and cheap flotation in case of a turnover.  When canoe camping then the bottles are removed and replaced with camp gear for the overnight stay.

But all those bags are covered with dozens of straps with loose ends that flap in the wind while riding on my Jeep canoe racks so as to whip the Jeep roof and make an awful racket. The loose ends are also dangerous I case of a turnover and could wrap around an arm or leg and cause an entrapment. It took me a couple of hours to trim and tape off the ends of all those straps. 

Then I moved on to adding carabiners to my kayak deck cords to hold a paddle handle and make a self-rescue device with a paddle float.  Many kayaks are manufactured with a groove in the deck under bungee cords to hold the paddle handle. My Romany Excel does not have the groove, so I had to invent my own system.

On the rainy, chilly Saturday of February 25, 2023, I wanted to paddle my kayak or canoe. But the last couple of times I tried that I found that my sore left hip, which is scheduled for joint replacement surgery in a couple of weeks, interfered too much with my balance and flexibility.  So, I tried biking the Neusiok Trail in Croatan National Forest, to see if it was more manageable. 

This was the section to the north of where the trail crosses NC Hwy 306. I was able to bike, but poorly.  Despite the national forest being essentially flat, and the trails mostly smooth, with no rocks, I found the Neusiok to be surprisingly rough.  Most of the trail was crenelated with endless pine tree roots which were high, hard, and lumpy. Plus everything was wet and slick; the trail had mud puddles; and there were some stump holes.

I never fell over or hit the ground, but I came close dozens of times.  In the end, I felt too unstable to keep on with the project.  For the next month and a half during my hip surgery and recuperation I will need to fall back on walking city and county park trails, and YMCA workouts for physical conditioning.

In addition to my Garmin Montana 700i GPS, I also navigated with the All Trails app on my cell phone. It worked great! I can recommend this app enthusiastically.  The app found the trail and my location quickly, is accurate, the map is easy to read while on the move, and is considerably easier to operate than the Montana.  But the Montana is still a necessary tool for outdoor trips because it operates by satellite access when outside of cell phone range; it allows the exchange of text messages with folks back home; and sending 911 SOS requests.

New Bern, NC, is not right on the sea-coast; it is inland about 30 miles. But it lies at the junction of the Neuse River and the Trent River.  Its waters are stained dark with the tannin from the cypress and oak trees.  The land is mostly swampy.  Everywhere that I have lived the outdoors people there engaged in a wide range of activities.  New Bern sportsmen and women have the most uniform interest in that more people here kayak than any other activity by far.  Right downtown just a few blocks from the Tryon Palace are several pockets of swampy wilderness where I can paddle.

In the early afternoon of February 21, I canoed one of those pockets.  The put-in and take-out were in the parking lot behind the New Bern Town Recreation Department.  The trail followed Lawson Creek to where it joined the larger Trent River, which then joined the much larger Neuse River. 

The trip held several significant elements for me.  First, I had recently sold my canoe and kayak, trading up for lighter and sleeker boats of each type. This trip was my first in the new canoe. It had many features similar to my prior canoe, but it was lighter and wider, with harder chines, which changed the handling characteristics. Second, I had spent right many hours changing the outfitting to hopefully store and deploy my gear more efficiently and smoothly, like the pump, bladder, paddle float, map, and so on. Third, I have had for several years a technical and complex Garmin Montana 700i GPS, but I had just recently read the manual, gone through all the screens and programed the functions to suit my needs.  I wanted for the first time on this trip to test the GPS by marking waypoints, planning a route, and following it “live” on the water. Fourth, at 70 years of age and needing a second hip joint replacement surgery, I am getting less steady in all my sports. I was nervous that I would lose my balance and fall into the chilly creek, necessitating a long, cold, difficult self-rescue. Lastly, the older I get the less strength and stamina I have, so I have to sometimes dial back my expectations of speed and distance covered.

This trip was a mixed bag of results.  I am glad I went because I made significant progress in assessing my and my equipment’s capabilities and needed improvements.  But several things failed, including one item miserably.

The new canoe worked well.  The lighter weight made it easier to load, unload and haul around by hand. The extra width and harder chines made it a little more stable.

The outfitting of equipment was somewhat better, but not good enough.  I used a hiking day pack in place of a true, sleek, deck bag.  It was clunky and slid around too much. I will need to replace it with a real deck bag. I still need to test my self-rescue invention of two C-clamps with two paddle-handle carabiners to use with a paddle float and get back in my boat. The water bladder with a hose worked better than a screw-top canteen.

The Montana 700i was an idiotic bust.  I had spent many hours over many days programming all the functions to suit me. Then the night before this paddle trip I plugged it into my computer and upgraded the operating system and the maps.  When I tried to use it on the water nothing was working right and the icons were all mixed up.  The GPS tried to route me back to the put-in by leaving the creek and traveling down city streets!  Later that evening I called Garmin support and found that the program has a glitch.  When the customer does an upgrade then it resets the whole GPS back to factory settings!  How completely stupid!  To me, that makes the device nearly worthless.  I gave the staff person a firm tongue-lashing. He apologized profusely and offered me a $120 discount on a related product that may work better.

My balance was less sure than some years ago but acceptable, I suppose.  I wobbled a few times but did not fall into the drink. 

My fitness and stamina were unacceptably low.  After about a mile and a half hour, my arms and shoulders were so sore that I could hardly paddle. Also, my back, hips, knees, and ankles were stiff and uncomfortable.  I will need to take many, many more paddle trips to build up my strength and flexibility.

I am glad I went paddling, but I have a lot of progress to make.



A few years ago, I learned a valuable lesson in outdoor skills and life skills from Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve.  I was taking one of his classes on making fire by friction. The instructor, who was not Eustace, showed us how to find the materials in the woods and make a base, spindle, bow with string and handle. After our half-dozen class members had finished making the tools, the instructor showed us how to work the pieces and try to make a fire. Unfortunately, he did not show us the physical technique. All of us casually sawed away on the spindle with the bow for about five minutes, but nothing happened.

Then Eustace came by and observed us. Without saying anything, he took my equipment and started to work. He put all his body weight on the handle, which was about five times more pressure than I was exerting. Then he frantically sawed the spindle with the bow, which was about five times faster than I was sawing. Within about 30 seconds he had a coal and smoke.

The lesson that I immediately learned, without Eustace saying anything, is that he exerted about 10 times more intensity than us students were using. He concentrated on the task and bore down tremendously hard. That was the difference in making the fire or having cold food.

A few years later I saw a different kind of example of this same principle of intensity. I was deer hunting in a double tree stand with my friend and professional dear land manager Hank Forrester serving as my guide. When a buck came into view, I somewhat casually aimed at the center of his torso and fired. My bullet sailed over his back and missed entirely. Fortunately, the deer was not spooked, and he only ran a few feet.  Then he came back to the original spot where he was feeding. Hank whispered to pick out a specific hair on the deer’s body just behind and above where his front left leg joined his torso. He said aim for that hair and shoot. It took me a few seconds to figure out how to find an individual hair in my telescope out of the thousands of hairs on its body.  I remembered Eustace’s lesson, got way more intense, bore down on finding that hair, and pulled the trigger. Boom! My bullet pierced the buck’s heart and he hit the ground dead.

A third and different kind of example of intensity was with my buddy Bill Booth while trout fishing in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness of the Wind River Range in south central Wyoming.  A young cowboy who worked on the active ranch where we were sleeping each night was guiding us by horseback to a small, high-altitude fishing spot called Blueberry Lake. The trail was exposed and sketchy. The horses occasionally lost their footing and stumbled a little bit.  If they had fallen down the mountain it might have been fatal to  us riders.  I was constantly aware of the horse’s stability, or lack thereof. Or, when I was not worrying about the trail, then I was enjoying the high-altitude scenery and long-range views.

Bill, on the other hand, was concentrating on getting ready to fish. As we rode the horses to the lake, he was already rigging up his rod, reel, line and lures to be ready to fish. As we slid down from our saddles and tied off the horses’ reins, I took my time casually rigging my gear. Bill hit the ground with his gear already prepared and ran to the lake. He threw in the first cast of our group. Boom! Within a few seconds he caught the first fish of the day. Unfortunately, the ruckus caused by catching the fish spooked the entire lake and put down all the other trout. The three of us made cast after cast the rest of the day and never had a single bite. Bill was rewarded for his intensity and focus.

This same kind of intensity can work on all kinds of projects.  If you are working on something and are not getting good results, then maybe if you get more intense and bear down harder you will find success. 

For sale Nigel Dennis Romany Excel Kayak

Length 16 feet 8 inches + width 22 inches + weight 65 pounds

Cockpit rim outer 35.5 inches long x 20.75 inches wide.

Cockpit rim inner 33.75 inches long x 18.25 inches wide. 

Cockpit circumference rim outer 95 inches + rim inner 91 inches. 

Seat back to rim 5.75 inches. 

Fiberglass body with 3 storage hatches with waterproof rubber covers.

Skeg with raise & lower handle by cockpit.

Seals Spray skirt + Seals cockpit travel cover

2 Malone kayak saddles to carry on roof rack (not included).

Used and excellent condition.

Professionally refurbished and all components are new or like new.

Cost new $4,350.

Sale price $2,350

For sale Dagger Reflection 15 canoe

Royalex hull light blue / green + wood gunnels, thwarts, seats, decks & handles.

Kevlar & epoxy bow & stern skid plates

Length 15 feet + width 34 inches + center depth 12 inches + weight 68 pounds

3 formerly woven cane seats replaced with woven nylon strapping.

Can be paddled tandem from 2 end seats or solo from center seat.

6 closed cell foam kneeling pads

Multiple D rings glued to interior bottom to attach flotation and gear

Multiple D ring lash points glued to interior hull.

Bow & stern hull fiberglass & epoxy skid plates.

Hull has no holes or deep scratches.

Used and good condition

All components functional.

Model discontinued; similar models cost new $2,000.

Sale price $800.

On the sunny but chilly afternoon of January 9, 2023, I went on a hike on the Flanners Beach campground trail in Croatan National Forest overlooking the Neuse River.  Since moving to New Bern near the coast last year, most of my outdoor activities have been tennis, kayaking, canoeing, biking, and camping. Today's trip was my first hike since the move. 

The hike through the forest was pleasant and fairly short.  Of course, it was completely flat.  Hiking, camping, and backpacking near the coast is feasible, but cannot compare to the much higher quality of trails, scenic views, freshwater springs, and campsites in the mountains where I was raised and spent 70 years recreating.  The coast makes up for this deficiency by offering 10 times more opportunities to canoe and kayak in creeks, rivers, estuaries, swamps, sounds, and sea grass beds. 

For many years I have owned several generations of handheld GPS's to navigate in the wilderness.  My current model is a Garmin Montana 700i, which is packed with so many powerful features that it would take me many pages to describe.  Among other things, it will provide your location by accessing satellites where there is no cell phone signal.  You can send live, real-time SOS messages to official government rescue agencies.  And, you can even exchange texts with family and friends using their cell phones.  After about of year of non-use, today I pulled it out of its padded fleece case and got some good use with it. 

But the big news is that for several years I have researched and compared many iPhone app's which provide trail information and navigation assistance. Today was the first time that I actually used one.  I had read many good things, and a few bad things, about All Trails.  I put it to the test and was greatly satisfied to see that it worked wonderfully.  The icons and map features were easier to see on the screen than the Montana; it was intuitive and user-friendly.  It clearly showed me which way to go at several forks that were not marked on the ground,  It was astoundingly accurate.  I could see on the map if I strayed off the trail as little as 5 feet.  Best of all, you can program a route on the app.  Reassuringly, if you miss a turn or go some other way wrong, it posts a warning message.

Way cool!

On the weekend of October 14 - 16, Ranger  Bob and daughter Allison Harris with her husband Steven and children Luke, age 12 years, and daughter Josie, age 9 years, went camping in Croatan National Forest at the Neuse River Recreation Area.  I may be a little biased, but Luke and Josie seemed to be smart as whips.  Allison and Steven were naturals with outdoor procedures.  This was the first time that I had camped with her family, and the first time her family had camped together as a foursome.  Some of the gear I had donated to Allison over the last year; and some she had acquired for them at the REI store in Raleigh. 

I was (and still am) suffering from arthritis in my left hip, leading to my hip joint replacement surgery, hopefully in the next few weeks.  The pain flared up badly during the trip, so I skipped the main family hike through the woods around the recreation area on Saturday morning. Steven located the trail on his All Trails iPhone app.  Allison said they went about four miles.  All the hikers did well, except Luke did not have enough water. They also encountered a poisonous snake (copperhead?) on the trail.  It would not move, so they had to encourage it with a stick.

The highlight of the trip was Allison and Steven's delicious and filling menu of homemade food, and Steven's masterful management of the wood fire, which he used exclusively to cook.  We had beer cheese fondue with Polish sausages, turkey and vegetable soup, Monkey sweet bread, fresh sandwiches, multiple styles of eggs, and S'mores.  After this trip, I am going to recommend Steven for three merit badges: trail navigation, fire building, and camp cookery.  Allison should get several badges for tent setup and kid wrangling.  I mostly sat around on my fat butt, traded scientific questions and answers with Luke, and enjoyed things. 

I have sleep apnea and sleep with a CPAP machine.  It runs off either plugged-in electricity or portable batteries.  I had two batteries that were rated to last for three nights.  I only needed two nights.  The advertisement lied to me. Midway through the second night, the second battery died.  I spent the next 5 hours tossing and turning, unable to sleep, due to waking up from my own snoring.

When I retired and Terri and I moved to New Bern, I sold or gave away most of my camp gear and re-arranged my equipment to accommodate my 70 years of age, stiff joints, weak muscles, less balance, and warmer weather activities.  This trip was the most experimental with equipment of my life.  The majority of my gear was new, or old gear used in a new way.  A few things I had never tried before - like a folding chair and cot inside my tent.  Fortunately, everything worked well (except the CPAP batteries). 

The weather was pleasant, sunny, dry (except for overnight dew), and moderately warm.  A good time was had by all. 


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