Since my affection for paddling became an all-consuming obsession I have longed to participate in an event in Charleston, South Carolina. The Holy City has long held a special place in my heart since I spent some time there in the mid nineties trying to live out a few chapters from a Pat Conroy novel. During my stint in Charleston I gained a few firsts that will always be with me. I built my first dock, rode my first wave during 1996's Hurricane Bertha, built my first boat as part of a team that converted a tractor trailer load of plywood and pine boards into a 50'x25' catamaran, crewed on my first ocean delivery from Charleston to Fajardo, Puerto Rico, which took 8.5 days and included ghost ship sightings in the Bermuda Triangle, changing sails in a squall without harnesses or lifelines, and swallowing gasoline while siphoning. There was also dating girl who grew up south of Broad, buying my first couple antiques, and being seduced by architecture. My time in Charleston was short but I took advantage of all that city had to offer a young man fresh out of college. When I moved away I honestly did not think it would be forever.
Being a good husband who spent most of the summer adhering to domestic responsibilities, hanging around holding purses and walking dogs, my wife politely suggested that I take some time away from the house and go paddle somewhere…somewhere far away. Lucky for me the Chucktown Showdown was taking place at a good spot on the calendar and I was released from duty and booted back east for a while. I left a little bit early to break up the drive by going to my mom's in Oxford, then down to Wilmington for some stretch paddles with the plan to end up in Charleston the day before the race.
Being 44, I like my own space. I love family and friends but I like alone time a lot. Being such an amazing husband means I am always putting the needs of my wife and dogs ahead of my own, which can be very demanding. When I get away I need to get away. When I am by myself I can enforce the rule of "No Talking" before coffee. At home, or even at my mother's, I have a hard time enforcing that rule. I told my wife that in the long run we could save money by getting an Airstream trailer because they were much more efficient than hotel rooms and I could put a great coffee maker in one! She countered with a tent and an extension cord.
What idiot goes camping south of the Mason-Dixon Line before November!!??
At the KOA Campground in Wilmington, NC on Thursday night at 7pm it was near 89 degrees in my tent. Wednesday night was a little better as it did finally cool down just before dawn so I could get some sleep. This year we didn't have much of a summer in Indiana so my body was not ready for the heat (that I used to LOVE) that I experienced down south. I felt like someone had wrapped me up in a dampened wool blanket and sealed the ends. The only time I felt normal was when I was in the water, which was good. The heat forced me to stay active. I can easily sit back and watch the wind blow the tree leaves and day dream for hours upon end and be content but the heat kept me on the move.
Moving about was great. I paddled with the Mullet, paddled by myself, met some new friends randomly roaming around Wrightsville Beach, visited my sister, brother in law, and goddaughter, ate shrimp and watched football over at my friend Katharine's, and enjoyed the air conditioning while bartering over at Carolina Paddleboard Company. Everything was great about Wilmington except for the nighttime heat and not having enough time to see all the folks I wanted to!
By Friday morning the heat had taken its toll. I lost 5 pounds of water weight just packing up the campsite. On my way out of town I did go for a quick surf and swim in the Atlantic because submerged in salt water is where everything is wonderful no matter what might be going on in your world. However, I was tired and feeling drained and as soon as I got in the car to make the drive the effects of the Atlantic started to dissipate.
That drive seemed to take an extraordinarily long time. When I crossed over the Cooper River bridge I had no desire to take in the surroundings. My focus was on the Marriott, the air conditioning, and the bed that would be in my room. After checking in and collapsing in my 65 degree room, I thought about staying horizontal on that king-sized bed until checkout Sunday morning.
I did manage to be social on Friday afternoon and wandered about the hotel looking at boards and seeing familiar faces. The vibe at paddle events is always so positive. Seeing all the familiar faces and meeting a few new friends is so uplifting. The collective energy that filled the Charleston Marriott was enough to snap me out of my heat stroke and re-ignite the excitement that had initially brought me down south. By the time I went to bed Friday night I was filled with all I would need to get me through 9 miles of prone paddling.
On Saturday morning I woke up to the false dawn and headed for the supermarket in need of some good water and other treats for my cooler. Instead of heading straight back to the hotel I drove on East Bay street toward the Battery and as the first warm colors of the new day begin the fill the horizon I was quickly reminded why they call Charleston the Jewel of the South. If there is a more beautiful place to be at sunrise please let me know. The kind of beauty I witnessed last Saturday morning is the kind that forces you to breath deep as you realize that you are in the presence of what inspires. There is the hand of God at work in the universe and my beliefs in a Higher Power are always reaffirmed when moments like that are witnessed. I drove into the middle of a scene that make writers sit at their desks to write, painters to paint, and cinematographers to fill the darkness with light.
I am glad I drove around the Battery Saturday morning because a few hours later I would be paddling around the Battery battling the currents, the chop, and the heat to complete the task I signed up for. There was no time for sightseeing along that course!
And oh my…that was a battle. Despite the tough conditions, it was quite fun to be part of an event with a large handful of prone paddlers. Nine miles was a challenge. At around mile 5 or 6 I was starting to have some mental issues as my body was drained, my left leg was starting to cramp, and my water bottles were nearing E. Lord help me, I prayed. Wouldn't you know it…on the way back to the finish line as we all paddled with the current (but against the wind) a rain squall came up. Rain flattened the chop and cooled our bodies down making for a great run back to the finish line. I am sure I was not the only one praying for a little Divine intervention around 10:15 am Saturday morning but prayer was sure answered. That rain shower, with no lightning, was a gift from above!
After the race I was toast. My underarms were so chafed that wearing a shirt for the rest of the day was agony. I tried to walk around the event site but the heat was just too much to stand. At the end of the Chucktown Showdown I didn't want a dang finishers trinket I wanted a bottle of cold water! That sure was a misappropriation of funds and my only complaint about the whole event!
What little energy I had left I used to get over to surprise my nephew who is in school at College of Charleston. Paddling a challenging course with good friends made for a fun getaway but seeing how my nephew has grown into a handsome responsible young man certified the long drive as well-worth-it.
I did hate to leave Charleston Sunday morning. After a few cold Sierra Nevadas, heavy applications of Neosporin and some good sleep I felt somewhat recovered. My wife and I had plans to spend an actual vacation up and down the Atlantic seaboard but she is exhausted after dealing with that respiratory funk sweeping the nation and only missing one day of work. Being the awesomely attentive husband I am, I dutifully fulfilled her request for me to return home (well after the contagious period had expired of course) and gave up all the surf sessions, seafood dinners, and birthday celebrations we had planned. Once she is fully recovered I think I will have the opportunity to start guilting her into an Airstream or better yet, an unlimited paddleboard!
Back home (and yes, it is wonderful to be home with the family) I am already thinking about the next excursion in order to be around all the good paddle people that are in our world. I imagine I will be in a tent so Wrightsville Beach in November sure sounds good to me. I just hope logistics might allow the trip to become a family adventure with my wife and mongrels so we can all enjoy the goodness! Eli sure enjoys a good run on the beach by Masonboro Inlet. Plus, if my wife goes she would insist upon a hotel room instead of a tent and that would be fine by me!