New Bern Pocket Wilderness

New Bern Pocket Wilderness

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.


GPS Coordinates: 35 06 10,-77 03 21

Bob Laney

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Bob is the site curator and writer of Blue Ridge Outing. Since starting the Blue Ridge Outing travel blog in 2002, Bob has written, recorded and documented countless expeditions in the US and around the world.