Augusta Kayak Adventure: nothing ever goes exactly as planned, but sometimes you learn a few things in the process
Kayaking the Savannah rapids in Augusta, Georgia
A day of paddling on the Augusta proves educational in more ways than one
Recently I volunteered to do a presentation for Adopt-a-Stream in Georgia at a paddle in Augusta, Georgia.
The plan was to take a water sample kit by kayak down class I rapids on what was described as "a beginner paddle for all ages", show people how to gather and test water samples and basically enjoy the rest of the day on a five hour paddle down the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia to North Augusta, South Carolina.
It sounded like a great way to relax and though I would have to pay for gas to get there, the paddle itself was free, all I had to do was show up with my testing kit and a life vest, be shuttled to the start and lazily float down to the take out, but oh, it is never as simple as you imagine it to be, and oh the things you learn about yourself when things do not go exactly as you planned!
The plan was to purchase new tires and get the oil changed in the truck about two weeks before the actual paddle, leave work early on a Friday afternoon and camp and put together a fun presentation that would make folks more aware of what Adopt-a-Stream is and its importance in monitoring water quality around the state of Georgia.
The plan changed when the auto store quoted me $1,200 for the new tires and oil, when the paddle group asked if I would bring my own kayak and drop it off at 7 a.m. so I would have time to drive to the take out and take a shuttle back and my boss rearranged the work schedule so that I did not get off until nearly dark and I realized I did not have time to do an actual water sampling demonstration and had no space on my 10 foot sit on top kayak to carry a chemical water monitoring kit in the first place.
Instead of heading out on a relaxing trip with an overnight camp, I was now leaving my house at 3 a.m. with three hours of sleep, driving a car with worn tires and old oil and trying to find my way with two paper maps and Bing.com directions with over two dozen turns and no navigator to call them out to me before I got there.
By the time I arrived at the put in spot, I was feeling like someone had run me over and compacted me. With no breakfast, no appetite and no idea how to get to the take out area, I was already starting out in a bad mood, but trying not to let it show.
The people were wonderful, though a bit disorganized that early in the morning and a bit clueless as to where to find a bathroom, how to get to the take out spot, where to park and unload, etc. It was one of those things, where you sympathize rather than criticize though. They were all volunteers waiting on the organizers to show up.
At first we thought this was going to be super fun, when we came up to a huge table spread with breakfast foods and T-shirts and smiling faces, but soon we realized that there was actually a run for charity at the same spot we were to start and the food and Cinderella princesses were there for the run, not for us.
After asking for directions to the take out and being told no one had them right now and to wait, upon asking for directions to a bathroom, I received blank looks and was told there might be one down by the dock... there wasn't, but the woods were nearby, so off to the woods I went, only to discover about an hour later that the bathrooms were about 200 yards in the opposite direction I was sent, but again, no harm done.
Had it not been for the kind generosity of a man with GPS who offered to let me follow him to the take out, I do not think I would have ever located it on my own, but we were back by 8 when the paddle was to start, tough things were moving slowly.
It seemed like the road racers were using the same path we needed to cross and they had set up their timer at the exact spot we had to cross to get to the river, so we waited for the last person to cross the line and finally got started around 10 a.m.
Everyone was helpful and kind and there was joy in the air, though we were all tired of waiting and wanted to get on our way, only to be coralled into a group and told to wait some more, but at least we were actually on the water!
I had wolfed down some dried fruit and nuts for breakfast and greatly anticipated our lunch stop only to discover that my vegan lunch consisted of a cheese sandwich.
When I said again that i was allergic to dairy, one of the members of the network asked why I just did not eat a turkey sandwich and I explained I was a vegan. Technically I am a pescatarian who eats home grown cage free chicken eggs and honey, but it takes too long to explain all that, so I just say I am vegan to prevent myself from being fed dairy, which causes my throat to ache and swell and my lungs to fill with fluid.
When the lady suggested I just pick the meat off, I gritted my teeth and said, "no thank you". That's a bit like me saying, why not just pick the cockroaches off your salad and eat it anyway... but most meat eaters don't get it.
When the young lady responsible for putting lunches together realized what she had done she felt bad, so I lied and said I was not that hungry anyway as I took my shaky body back to my kayak and hunted around for the last of the fruit and nuts feeling sorry for myself and wondering when I was supposed to give my presentation since the time line had changed.
I watched three other presenters with lots of show and tell items do their thing and pulled out my stuff waiting for my turn, but it never came, so I asked and was told I would give a presentation later down the line.
It turned out I was the last presenter and they wanted me to give the presentation in the hollows of a rapids where you had to yell to be heard and paddle to keep from being pushed down stream, so I requested we find more quieter waters.
We finally settled on a sandbar which was more of a mud flat and everyone kept sinking and looking like they really wanted to just move on and go home. I was told I needed to raise my voice, but I was already yelling at them and just felt like a failure all around.
There were probably more rocks than rapids and I seemed to find every single rock in the river and got stuck on top of so many that I felt like I was playing battleship and hitting every bomb on the grid. When a young man rammed me off one of the rocks and apologized I actually thanked him for getting me free from it! My kayak bottom has a long gash to show for my efforts, but my own bottom came out unscathed, so I am truly thankful!
The water was cold and the sun was hot, but it was a good combination and the scenery stole the show with hundreds of geese and ducks, turtles, cypress trees and knees, fish and shore birds and a house built on the side of boulders with an artificial waterfall that ran under the house and into the water.
We were told the owner of the house was a jeweler in town and had the design approved and actually siphoned water from the river into the waterfall system and then back into the river again, so no pollutants were added.
We learned about invasive species, both flora and fauna, in the water and outside and saw many examples of it along the way.
We paddled past old buildings and modern homes, farmland and golf courses and went through three rapids which no one really thought were beginner level at all, but which we all survived with no injuries and great cheers from our fellow paddlers.
While it was not "all downhill and easy" as one of our guides had promised, we all came out relatively unscathed, despite another guide telling us we would be tossed and bruised and fall out the boat, but that was part of the learning curve. We were all glad she was wrong about that one!
The Savannah river at Augusta is a beautiful place to paddle. It is one of the few places where you can actually paddle in two states at the same time, with the mid-line between South Carolina and Georgia following down the center of the river.
The rapids section looks scary, but the water is rarely more than a few feet deep, so if you do fall out, you can always stand up, though staying upright in the swift current and keeping your footing on the rough uneven rocks is not as easy as it looks.
While hungry and tired and a bit miffed that things did not go as expected, I tried to focus on the positives of the trip and definitely wanted to come back again and play tourist at a more relaxed pace with a more knowledgeable guide who could explain what all those strange buildings and properties were along the way.
I had met some really interesting people, seen some really neat wildlife. Learned a little bit about the history of the river, discovered that there are a lot of things to do in Augusta that I never knew existed and realized that while I am not a very good presenter, I do have a passion for preserving nature and sharing it with others and I guess that is what matters most.
If you go to Augusta, make sure you take more than one day. Go for a guided tour down the canal area with a smaller group if you are not into rock running and rapids. Take your own lunch if you are allergic or have food limitations. Most people are clueless as to what constitutes vegan or gluten and allergen free foods or the consequences that eating such foods has on those with issues.
The best advice anyone could take when going on a trip of any kind, river or other is to go with the flow! While going the direction the river is flowing makes life a bit easier, being adaptable and accepting those things you cannot control will also make things a bit less stressful and chances are, you can look back and enjoy the trip after you have had about a week to recover from it.