Today we completed our shortest day of the trip – about 10 miles. I can only describe this day as short and sweet – short days on the river leave time for fun, sun, and relaxation. And the Ogeechee River delivered and delighted on all accounts. Well, except for maybe sun. Distant storm clouds treated us to cool temps and playful breezes. I must say it was one of the most enjoyable days I have had all my days of Paddle Georgia.
After sleeping in until about 6:15am I headed out to grab my daily Café Campesino, a must-have for an awesome day. Then, I sat down to enjoy Effingham County High School’s outstanding breakfast, which not only included a hot bar but also a selection of sweets. The Paddle Georgia Youth Program girls took full advantage of the doughnuts, sweet buns, and muffins to fuel up for the day.
The girls, all students at Camp Creek Middle School in Fulton County, make up our Paddle Georgia Youth Program. Each year, a group of underserved students receive scholarships to join the Paddle Georgia flotilla and I am fortunate to guide them down the river. All are “canoe-bies”, new to canoeing and camping and eager to learn. The Ogeechee’s waters have taught them to be fantastic paddlers and their skills improve daily – strategizing with their paddling partner to sneak through strainers, reading their maps to know what to expect ahead, and seeking out the best beaches for swimming.
Wildlife is always fun – we arrived at the put-in to find that a sneaky field mouse had made our canoe home for the night. A few miles into the day we spotted a water snake gorging itself on a fish. Our students snagged a live mussel out of the sand and peered into its shell to find it was still inside. We also spotted Swallow-tailed Kites, dragonflies galore, and even a darter.
The helpful current and low mileage left us lots of time to relax – a welcome break from the past few more challenging days. Water cannons locked and loaded, we ambushed some of our fellow paddlers in a friendly water war. Call me bias, but I think we had ‘em beat. We took a peek at our watches around mile 9 to see that it was only about 3pm, so we grabbed a beach and a cookie break and soaked in the river life, laughing with one another and coming up with river names for each other. Our crew now consists of “Nascar”, “Coach”, “Bacon”, “Fro”, “Little Dolphin Girl”….you get the idea. Don’t be surprised to hear someone say “Hey Tiki Torch!” as we banter across our boats to each other. Don’t be surprised to hear us singing, whistling, or trying to solve Mr. Joey’s (now affectionately named “Chilly”) latest riddle. With our crew, the fun never stops.
Speaking of fun, tonight’s evening programs were all about fun.
All 300-some odd thru-paddlers obediently gathered for the annual group photo and then headed to dinner. As I type, the sounds of fun surround me – the rhythm of Cornhole bags hitting the boards during the very-popular Cornhole Tournament, Victor’s gameshow music echoes through the cafeteria during Game Show Night, and the folks with Adopt-a-Stream share their expertise with a group of around 35 people so that they too can keep watch over our waters. The Paddle Georgia Youth Program girls are all also on their way to becoming certified by AAS, I can’t wait to hear what they’ve learned.
Days like this make it easy to see why Paddle Georgia has captured my heart. The community, the advocacy, and for me, the tradition. Good people abound. It’s contagious. My hope is that our Youth Program participants catch the love of rivers and help us sustain our water resources for the future.
Alicia Evans, Georgia River Network Board of Directors