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Sleeping with the snakes, a long haul and a difficult crossing of Albemarle Sound

May 12, 2011

May 6, On a point facing Belhaven NC

As I’m writing this, it is raining pretty hard on my tent. I’m camping on some uninhabited land. I hoisted the boat on the marsh and pitched my tent among the trees a little further inland. While walking to the tree line, I worried about snakes but I found a spot to put my tent without having to suck any venom. This is not the best sort of campsite. I have no idea if it’s a military zone or some protected shore.

I originally thought it was a water moccasin, a deadly snake, because a local said so. I'm now convinced its a banded water snake.

It was particularly hard to leave the comfort of Paradise Shore, but my window of wind was open and I had to go. I wasted too much time already and I want to get to Norfolk before long.

The forecast for the day mentioned light winds but it got really breezy on the Neuse River and then in the Sound before I got to the canal that would lead me to Indian River. It was so rough that I worried that I would not be able to cross the 5 miles of Indian River. Fortunately the winds calmed down before I got to the river and the crossing was uneventful.

May 7, Frying pan natural reserve (close to the sound)

I woke in the mist. At 7, I was already on my way. It took an hour for the mist to clear. The canal was about 7 miles from where I camped. Once in the canal, I knew I had 24 miles of straight ditch. It also meant 24 miles of uninterrupted pedaling. To my dismay, there was a very light current against me.

It’s difficult to describe how hard it is to pedal in the sun in a never ending ditch with low drinking water reserves. I only had 4 liters. My mood was not at its highest. I had to chase thoughts of home and sedentary luxuries. What I had in front of me was another night of wild camping in a location I would have to find before nightfall. I tried to keep my mind on the stretch at hand but it was difficult not to worry about everything between me and the next comfortable campground.

Endless canal in the swamps of North Carolina

I got out of the canal at 4:30. I continued on Alligator River looking for campsites. I also wanted to pass marker 90 so that I would not have to travel too far before Albemarle Sound. On the East side of the river there was a huge plume of smoke from some forest fire. I chased thought of the smoke forcing me to go back through the ditch. The pretty red glow of the fire was visible at night.

Forest fire

I finally found a spot on the shore where I could put boat and tent. It was a bit minimalist, full of poison ivy but at the time I was not too difficult to please. At least I did not have to dismantle the boat to move it between brush and trees.

I covered the boat in dirt to make it less visible from the water.

Poison ivy garden in the marsh

As I write this, the sun is going down so I guess I will not be bothered by the authorities for the night. I really need to sleep.

May 9, Coinjock

Yesterday on May 8, I woke up far inside the inner banks: in a poison ivy garden at the mouth of the Alligator River. I was nervous about crossing the Albemarle Sound. I had reason to be. The crossing was 15 mile wide. The alternative crossings included a much shorter gap to the east, closer to 8 or 9 miles. I could also have gone all the way to the outer banks thus limiting my crossings to minor stuff by going from island to island. I chose the long crossing because I wanted to get to Coinjock before I ran out of water and I could barely stand the idea of another night in the bush.

The predicament was that the wind was very light and coming from the north; in my face. After the terrible pedaling marathon I had just been through to get to Alligator River, it was a bit upsetting to contemplate a 15 miles crossing done entirely by pedaling, not counting the 10 miles to get to the crossing itself and then the 15 miles to get to Coinjock via North River. Fortunately it was 6 am, so I had quite a few hours to burn calories.

I pedaled to the mouth of the Albemarle Sound. The exact location of the mouth was difficult to establish as it’s very large and you can never really tell if you are truly at the mouth. It seemed to move always away from me. I finally got to the first buoy marking the passage at 10 am. The wind was very light and the waves minimal. I was in for quite a pedaling marathon. The wind was not helping. I set my sights on my watch and the compass. I knew I’d be doing 2.5 miles every hour. I got to my second buoy in one hour. I could not see the third buoy for twenty minutes. It took me another hour to get to it. By now I was seeing the other side. The wind was increasing, which did not mean much since it was really light to start with, but it was now close to 12 miles per hour. I simply missed the next buoy but I could set my sight on the land. I knew I had to go NNE or about 25 degree on my compass, so I took aim at something in that direction and kept going that way. When I did see the Buoy that marked that I was five miles from North River, it was about a mile to my right. I tried to get to the buoy but now the wind was increasing to 15, then 20 mile per hour. My boat does not do well going upwind but it does really, really poorly when that wind is above 15 miles per hour. I was now pushing those pedals with a dry mouth. I just could not accept getting pushed back after getting so close to the other side. I took aim for land in the general direction of the mouth and I told myself to pedal like a madman for an hour and see how far I’d get. I took standing break every 15 minutes to try to get some blood to return to my backside. It only took 45 minutes before I saw the outer buoy that showed that I was making progress. I pedaled merrily another hour to get to North River. The entire crossing took 5 hours.

Buoy making the end of the passage across Albemarle Sound.

I was so elated to have been all the way through Albemarle Sound that I started calling people. It was the first time I got phone service since Oriental. People did not really understand what was going on but they could see I was happy.

While on the phone I looked at the clouds to my left. A storm was now moving towards me… North River is quite a few miles wide so I did not want to be caught in a gale there. I was not close to shore at all so I chose to escape the storm. Again, I was pumping those pedals like a madman. I got away but I was really exhausted by the time I got to the end of North River.

Storm closing in

I had only half a liter of water left. Nevertheless I was now considering sleeping right there. My legs were dead. I looked and looked but I saw no access to dry land. I looked at my watch and I saw that it was now 6. I pedaled another grueling hour to get to Coinjock. I had no idea where I was going to sleep and was willing to beg my way on someone lawn. In any case I would get water at the marina.

It's difficult to describe just how run down Coinjock is.

One guy on a barge that had said hello to me earlier was in front of the marina. I started talking to him and I asked him if I could pitch my tent on his barge. He said fine and that’s how I got to spend the night with the Bearded Lady. That’s what he called his boat since he happened to be a cross gender person as well as a boat captain, fisherman, entrepreneur, happy husband and father to two children. He was talking the barge north while his Venezuelan wife was taking a vacation back home.

Sleeping on the Bearded Lady

Rodger really helped me out. I was dead tired. I woke up as he started his engine. He’s planning to write about his sea adventures and I promised to get his book as long as he pays retail for mine.

Waking up on May 9, I rolled my tent. It was totally drenched since the metal of the barge simply sucks the moisture of the morning. I took some pictures of the Bearded Lady and the cleanly shaven Rodger. I took a shower at the marina and waited for marina restaurant to open.

After my meal, I pedaled the 5 miles to the campground. Now I knew I was tired. It seemed to take forever.

The campground was really quiet during the day. It’s a very large open space with pretty trees overlooking the outer banks, only two miles away. I was so tired I walked around like a zombie.

Lights and clothing line all into one!

In the evening my neighbors showed up. They started drinking and got friendly. I drank one beer with them and went to bed. At around 11 the security guy came over. I thought he’d tell them to quiet down but he started drinking with them instead. That and the fact that the security trucks lights and the campground flood lights were directly over my site, convinced me to move my tent. I found a nice spot totally remote in the only dark spot of the campground. They continued screaming past midnight and then I just lost track since I fell asleep. Sleeping in the marsh does have its advantages.

7 Comments
  1. CAVENDISH62 permalink

    An incredible trip. Well done. I like your posts. Really good pictures also. Keep on!

  2. CAVENDISH62 permalink

    actually, you did 40 miles pedaling on one go?… that´s incredible!

  3. Susan Ferguson permalink

    We sailed up the Neuse beside you it appears,You are really tough to do what you are doing but you it appears have had more land showers than us,
    Taht luxury of the motel where I met you is a distant memory.
    We are in the Chesapeake aiming for WashingtonDC in the next week.
    Good sailing Sailor Sue aboard the Lady Simcoe

    • You should have seen me get beat up on the Chesapeake 😉 Super 8 last night! Now that was classy.

  4. Not sure if your snake friend is really a Water Moccasin. They are generally very thick in the body, and darker in color. The angle of the photo makes it hard to see the shape of the head, but it doesn’t look too triangular. My best bet: one of the water snake family.

    Looking forward to seeing you when you get up to the Albany area on the Hudson.

    • The locals said it was a water moccasin. They change motif with size, period and age. I now think it’s a female banded water snake but it’s pretty hard to say.

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