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.
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.
Somewhere around mid-August 2022 Terry and I went on our second honeymoon. When we got married in February 2022 we were in the middle of selling a house in Wilkes County, NC; moving into an apartment in Johnson City, TN; putting Bob’s stuff in a storage building; buying a house in New Bern, NC; moving both our stuff to New Bern; and all the other projects connected to setting up a new house. Our original honeymoon was one night at a nice hotel in Johnson City. This time, we went to a bed-and-breakfast facing the estuary on Harkers Island, NC, near the Cape Lookout National Seashore Ranger Station.
This trip was my first time seeing Shackleford Banks. Camping there has been on my bucket list for decades. Now that I know the logistics to get there, I plan to go back soon with my overnight equipment.
Our main travel activities were taking a ferry to Cape Lookout with a picnic lunch; visiting downtown Beaufort to tour the waterfront and historical village; and going to the beach to collect shells. We had a wonderful time and expect to spend many more decades together.
On a long, summer weekend in mid-July 2022, Ranger Bob traversed from his new house in New Bern, NC, back to his home territory of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to visit his friend Eustace Conway and to help Turtle Island Preserve operate a camp for boys. There were many other volunteers there who assisted with teaching the outdoor skills programs and preparing the food. In general, I mostly hung around and enjoyed being there. My most glamorous job was hauling all the camp trash in the back of my Jeep to the county dump. Turtle Island recycles almost everything, so there is rarely trash to take. But occasionally, some kind of big plastic or metal device must be disposed. Because of so many campers, the Preserve was short on living space, so I stayed in my tent in the forest in front of the old office, beside the former covered bridge, at the east entrance to the Preserve.
For those of you who may not know Eustace, do a Google search. He has been featured in hundreds of magazine articles and television shows over several decades showing his outdoor philosophy and extraordinary wilderness and farming skills. He is a master horseman and set two world records for riding and driving a horse across the USA. He is one of the main characters on the Discovery Channel TV show Mountain Men. Some years ago, a famous author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who was an editor of Esquire Magazine, wrote a book about Eustace called The Last American Man. You may know Elizabeth as the author of the book Eat, Pray, Love, which was turned into a feature movie. Elizabeth also made a deal to turn Eustace’s biography into a movie, but the deal was squashed by Eustace’s brother who was featured in the book, and he declined to have his character displayed on the big screen.
In the accompanying photos, I’m sorry for the foggy, halo effect on the pictures. The problem was I used my iPhone for the camera, and I got some greasy fingerprints on the lens, which distorted the pictures. To solve this problem in the future, I have developed a system of carrying a small piece of chamois leather and a lens cleaner liquid bottle in my pocket.
Turtle Island is in transition. It has recently converted to a federally recognized, 501 (c) (3) charitable corporation. It has officers to help manage the business aspects. I have recently been appointed to the Board of Directors and I am in the process of being elected Treasurer. This framework will be a new way of operating that will require close coordination between all the people involved. I will keep you posted on the progress.
A few days ago I learned a lesson about down Eastern NC mudholes. They are different than good old, Blue Ridge Mountain mudholes. The western mudholes have certain defining characteristics. They are usually wider than they are deep. The sides slope downward at a gentle angle. The bottom has some kind of firm material - like rocks or dirt.
Since Terri and I moved to New Bern, I have been exploring the ponds, creeks, estuaries, forests, and swamps in the surrounding several counties. When I find a boat launch, campground, or trailhead I add it to the GPS app on my iPhone. One of the places I have explored most is the Croatan National Forest. The further you drive into the forest, the more remote it gets. I got to the center of the Forest, at Catfish Lake, which was desolate. There were no improvements or infrastructure, no trails, no campgrounds or boat docks. The only signs of civilization were the roads, which got progressively worse. In the center of the Forest, the vehicle paths became narrow, one-lane tracks full of mudholes. The forest areas surrounding the roads were actually swamps, with the trees growing in standing water.
I got to a place with a stomped-out area where I could launch a kayak into the Lake. There was one other vehicle there, an old, beat up, and completely rusted-out Ford Bronco. It was blocking the track. To one side were trees and on the other side was a big mudhole. I squeezed through between the truck and the mudhole with my mirror ticking the Bronco's mirror. After looking around, I got back in my Jeep to leave. The truck owner got out of his junk heap, and he was standing between his vehicle and the mudhole. He looked like he had trouble relating to society. He later told me he was an ex-Marine, had PTSD, had no income, and was bumming around the USA living at free Forest Service campgrounds. Rather than me waiting for him to move out of the way, I drove around him through the mudhole.
Big mistake. This mudhole was part of the swamp with no defined bottom. The sides were steep and slick. As soon as I started into the hole, my Jeep immediately slid sideways and downwards into the center of the hole. The only thing that kept the Jeep from sinking further is the foot rails under the doors hit something, and water came up to my door handles. I put the Jeep into 4-wheel, low, drive; but as soon as I gave it gas, the spinning wheels dug down deeper into the swamp. By now the Jeep was tipped over almost onto its side. The photograph accompanying this article is not of my Jeep, but it's similar to the way mine looked. I was too concerned about getting out to take pictures.
I climbed out of the uphill door and the weird guy asked if I wanted him to pull me out? I said yes. Then he volunteered that his tow strap was broken and he wondered if I had one? For several months, I had made room in the back of my Jeep to haul other items, and I had put the duffel bag with my strap in my garage. By extreme good luck, I had replaced the duffel bag that morning. I said yes, and climbed over two sets of seats to get my strap from the back. Then he admitted that his truck had a bad starter, and the only way to make it was to push it off using hand and foot power. We got it going twice, but both times, before we could hook up the tow ropes, it conked off. It never started again.
Then by more extreme good luck, a big, new Dodge Ram pickup truck came by with a nice young fellow driving. He only had the Ram for about a week, and wanted to test it out by giving me a tow. I said great! From that point on the adventure was over and I drove home. The lesson I learned is not to drive into an eastern mudhole without testing the sides first. I need to gingerly put in the first wheel. Then, if the Jeep does not slide down into the middle of the hole, I may be able to get through.