OBX Expeditions are as challenging as they are beautiful. Even after attending 4 sessions, taking a part in adventures that sometimes occur in the same place over multiple occasions, each and every experience is just as exciting as the last. You get to see something new and fulfilling every time, whether it is from the land, the water, the participants, your co-guides, or even yourself.
For me, my most memorable experiences on these expeditions are the sunrise paddles we do. At the end of the first week of our expedition we head just down the road from our basecamp on the White Oak River to a campground in the Croatan National Forest, which is also on the White Oak River. We arrive around midday with pre-packed lunches and a delicious dinner planned. We set up our tents at our campsite after a quick bite and head out for a mid-afternoon paddle upstream from the campsite.
The water and the scenery in this area of the river are pristine and peaceful. Tall reeds line the banks of the rivers in most areas reach up around you between walls of a wispy sea of green. The hiss of the reeds and the calls of various water fowl fill the earthy-brined air. Where there are not reeds there are tall Spanish-moss covered tress and an endless cacophony of low-lying shrubs that seem to fade back in into endless mystery. Presumably where all the Opossums, Snakes, Raccoons, even ALLIGATORS! and other animals reside. Them may rarely show themselves, but with quiet-patience, a keen eye and a bit of luck you can see one. I have seen Alligators on the banks myself. Don’t worry, it is not as scary as it sounds.
After we return from our paddle, we settle in in make dinner. My favorite dinner we have made is stuffed bell peppers filled with rice, beans, diced tomatoes, meat, and cheese that we prepared back at basecamp and kept in a cooler until dinner time. We build big, but responsible, sized fire and set the peppers wrapped in tin foil around the flame. Once they are ready we retrieve them with long sticks and let them cool before digging in. After dinner we enjoy our fire as it dwindles out, then we head to bed early for what lies ahead of us the next morning.
The next day we rise early, 5am, and by light of headlamp we take down our tents pack them away in our boats, have a simple oatmeal breakfast, pack away any other odds and ends, the launch our boats into the water. Keeping a safe formation of 2x2 with an expedition leader at both the front and the back we set off on our 6+ mile journey back to basecamp, which as I mentioned before is juts down river from this landing. The silhouettes of all the river features I described before look eerily majestic as the sun illuminates the sky from beyond the visible horizon. We venture downstream as the serenity of it all takes us over. We are the first ones who get to see the river that day in all its vulnerability, yet also, in all its greatness. Finally, we start to see the sun come up from over the trees. We all pause and gaze at the brief but indescribably gorgeous calming golden red sunrise. In that mystical moment we are all reminded of what kind of effort and work it is worth giving in order to see such sights.
Afterwards we continue on through the winding paths of the White Oak. The paddle is tiring, but fun. Great conversation, laughter, and much needed experience for our upcoming adventures is gained through this trip. The day can become hot quickly as the wind tends to not reach upstream as easily as it does in other places. We keep comfortable with plentiful water and snacks. Once we land back at the boat dock of basecamp we are all very proud of what we have accomplished. We have done more before 9am than most people will do with their whole day.
The boats get stored away for our next trip, the gear is put up and everyone gets cleaned up and changed for a much-needed rest time until we reconvene for lunch. Commence the lounging, reading, card playing, or the crowd favorite sleeping!
This is one of my favorite experiences during OBX expeditions because there is so much that goes into it and the pay-off is so great. This sort of thing is almost all encompassing of what it means to be out on OBX. It can be challenging, and you may find that you have to push yourself at times, but it is always worth it… every time!
Story by Sean Botzenhart