Trip Report: Down South Canoe Camping (long & calamitous)
NOTE: Some paddling actually takes place roundabouts page 3 or so.
We set off 5:00am-ish on Saturday morn for our week of canoe camping
down south, planning to car camp and stage gear Saturday night at
Colleton State Park SC before putting onto the Edisto River for a
While stuck in the ubiquitous traffic jam on I-95 in North Carolina I
was checking the trucker's channel on the CB, looking for parallel route
advice, when a young lady hopped out of the stopped vehicle next to us
and opened the trunk to get something. Traffic began moving again and,
instead of scurrying back into her seat, she hopped into the trunk and
her partner drove off.
Proudly waving her hard won can of Coke she attempted several times to
exit the trunk as traffic stopped only to have the driver accelerate
again. Finally fed up with riding in the trunk, she waited for the next
slow down and hopped out.
MISTAKE. I knew this was a mistake when I saw her dismounting. Don't ask
me how I know, but, trust me, I know - jumping from a moving vehicle
rarely works out the way you anticipate. End-over-end she went rolling
down the pavement. Luckily not squashed by the next car in line, she
escaped with some road rash and a well-shaken Coke.
Little did we know that this was the first of many calamitous incidents
to occur in the following week.
Arriving at Colleton State Park (a "paddlers" park on the Edisto, a
scant 3 miles east of I-95) in good time we set up camp and waited for
our boat laden companions to arrive. We enjoyed a long talk (well, more
of a "listen" actually) with the Park Ranger, Mr Frank Cole, who regaled
us with a tale of driving a 57 Ford "fresh outa the speed shop" cross
country on old Rte 66 at high speeds, always staying at least 100 miles
ahead of the State Police roadblocks.
Little did we know this was the first of many tales we would enjoy
hearing from Frank.
Waiting for Ben & Kathy to arrive as dusk drew on we began to play the
"Is that them?" game as the occasional car turned into the campground.
Nope, never t'was.
Preparing to call it a night Ranger Frank again strolled up to our site,
announcing "You prolly ain't gonna wanna hear this but yer friends done
blowed an engine". Ben & Kathy had thrown a main rod bearing in their
van and were stranded in a Stucky's (stuck at Stucky's?) up close to the
NC/SC border. Frank had a telephone number for us to call.
Little did we know this would be the first in an increasingly convoluted
series of telephone calls.
Using Diane's cell phone to call the number (my first ever cell phone
call - little did I realize...) we discover that we had reached Kathy's
sister Barb in Maryland. How to reach Ben & Kathy...their cell phone?
Nope, they are stranded in a no-cell-service area, using a pay phone to
call out. We could give them our cell phone number...but we don't know
OK, how can we find out what our cell number is. Hmmm, hang up and have
Barb dial *69. We try it. Doesn't work with cell phones. Hmmmm, dial out
on our phone "2002006969" (try this on your phone at home or work;
dialing 2002006969 will get you a voice that tells you your own phone
number). Nope, that trick doesn't work with cell phones either.
In fact, nothing works. If you don't know your own cell phone number,
you can't get it, no way, no how. Not even from your cellular company.
Finally we talk to Barb one last time and decide to pack it in for the
night. We'll find them tomorrow, if it means cruising through the
parking lot of every Stuckys on I-95.
Up early the next morning we get another call from Barb. Ben & Kathy,
true connoisseurs of parking lot camping, have coaxed another half mile
out of their engine and moved from the Stuckys down the road to a truck
stop - Citgo/Wendy's/Dairy Queen/Krispie Kream - good move...after all,
how many pecan log rolls can one family eat?
Barb has the phone number for the truck stop; we finally speak directly
to our lost friends and convince them that the best course of action is
for me to come get them and their gear, bring them down to Colleton to
camp for the night and we'll deal with the van on Monday.
I find them picnicking in the Citgo parking lot, blankets spread on the
asphalt, making the best of it. Load up their gear, their boats, their
kids, their dog and head back to Colleton. Together again, the kids
commence playing and the ***s begin conjuring plans.
In the event of some vehicular calamity, a true Duckhead will stop,
evaluate the situation, and ask themselves "What Would Dave Do?" (WWDD).
Duckhead Dave is famous for his stylish escape from problems, vehicular
WWDD? Well, Dave would rent a truck and car trailer and carry on. (Dave
is also famous for carrying on...so to speak). So, Ben calls Ryder and
books a truck and trailer for the following day. I'll drive them and
their gear/boats/kids/dog to the Ryder place and we'll make plans from
Plans made, we enjoy another lengthy visit from Ranger Frank, this one
featuring a long and convoluted story about a visit to Cuba, selling
black market cigars, Castro as a professional wrestler in the Carolinas
in the early 50's...with sidebars on the Klan, area race relations and
customs, local politics, more souped up cars and encounters with the
highway patrol. We quietly note that Frank has a different last name in
some of these stories. Gotta wonder about that....
Next morning we pack up their gear and drive em up to get the truck &
trailer. The plan that evolves is for Ben and Kathy and kids to cram
into the truck, kids sharing the middle of the bench seat, stuff the dog
in the van on the trailer, and most likely just hightail it home.
Although, in the plan B scenario, they could meet us half way home at
Merchants Mill Pond and still manage to wet a boat on this trip.
At Ryder shop Ben goes in to sign his life away while Kathy and I hang
in the parking lot. Kathy wanders over to check out the truck, hops down
and slips away to whisper into Ben's ear those devastating
OK, so much for plan A. And Plan B. Plan C calls for Ben, one kid and
the dog to take the truck, trailer, van, canoes and gear north to
Merchants Mill Pond. I'll take Kathy, one kid and minimal gear back to
Colleton and we'll head to Merchants in the morning. Won't Diane be
surprised to see me return with Kathy and Sam?
Hmmm, now there is an opportunity. Diane is fully expecting me to come
back solo. Plans are made to drop Kathy off at the Park entrance and for
Sam to hide in the back of the van. I'll pull into our site, get out and
crack a beer and Sam will come bursting out of the van a few minutes
later, claiming to have stowed away cause he didn't want to go home
yet. Hoo, boy, can't wait to see Diane's reaction to this trick.
Arriving back at Colleton I drop Kathy off at the Park entrance and Sam
hides in the back of the van. A police car flies by, lights flashing and
siren wailing. Another police car blocks the entrance to the camping
area. I squeeze past to discover all manner of fire and rescue vehicles
parked at our campsite. This can't be good.
I anxiously walk to the edge of the river and with great relief see my
kids safe and sound amidst a crowd of people at waters edge. "What's
going on guys?" I ask. "A kid drown...Mom is out there swimming and
diving for him".
Diane was sitting at the rivers edge, watching Tyler and Cooper swim
when she heard "Help..HELP!..my brother drown". Diane takes off running
upriver towards the voice, followed by another young lady who was also
near the river. Another bystander takes off to make the 911 call.
Diane finds a shocky young man at the waters edge, shouting that his
brother has gone down. Turning to the other would-be rescuer Diane asks
"Can you swim?". Yes, fortunately, both Diane and the other lady have
lifeguarding histories. Diane knows CPR - there's a chance...
Into the water they go, holding hands and diving, hoping to find the kid
while there is still time. Visibility in the water is zero. The current
is washing along at 4 mph. Both swimmers make repeated attempts, running
back upriver after the current sweeps them out of the search area
(they've had the foresight to mark the target area with a towel left on
Finally, Search & Rescue, the Police, Fire and Ambulance teams arrive on
the scene. Boats and divers in the river, searchers on the banks...they
never find a trace. We are all plenty spooked. Ranger Frank stops by
again to introduce his wife, give us some fresh picked strawberries and
tell us a few more stories. It begins to rain and, still a bit spooked,
we all turn in.
Packed up like mini-van Oakies, with drybag lashed under the canoes on
the roof, absurd amounts of gear stuffed into every nook ad crannies
inside, three kids on the back seat, one *** on the floor, two ***s
in the front seats...Merchants Mill Pond or Bust!
Ranger Frank stops by to see us off with directions to the local
pick-yer-own strawberry fields. We stop and pick a few baskets and then
it's back on the road again. I realize that this is my 6thrunning of the
Canadys-to-Oak Grove route in the past 4 days. If anyone needs
information on I- 95 through South Carolina, I'm your man.
(The Edisto, where we never actually wetted a boat this trip, is a fine
blackwater camper. There is an outfitter just across the river from
Colleton State Park on Rte 15. The sections between Rte 21 and Givans
Ferry, about 40+ miles total are recommended for both paddle camping and
We drive north into the rain. Hit a grocery store and resupply in the
rain. Check in at Merchants Mill Pond in the rain*. Pack the canoes in
the rain*. Paddle in in the rain*. Set up tarp and tents in the rain*.
Cook supper in the rain*. Long, wet day...we go to sleep in the rain.
* - Guess how glad I am to have finally replaced my old, worn, leaky
Gortex with a new ...
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