laura paddles delmarva

exploring the shorelines of Delmarva via kayak

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Oyster to Red Bank

Last Saturday was a BIG day on this journey. I finished the last leg on the Atlantic side of the peninsula! I’ve now paddled everything from Bowers Beach, DE to Cape Charles, VA (not to mention everything from Kent Island, MD to Hacks Neck, VA on the Chesapeake side).

The stretch between Red Bank and Oyster had me perplexed for a few years. It is long (15 miles), middle of frickin’ NOWHERE, and probably pretty susceptible to tides and wind. Because of all this, I decided a few years ago that this stretch would have to wait until I had a paddling buddy to go with me. Luckily the stars aligned last Saturday to make that happen! I made plans to paddle with Lisa and Kim (Kim came with me last year from Red Bank to Quinby). They are both members of the Badassawomen of Delmarva group (aka BAD) and I knew both of them had the stamina and the gear to do a 15-mile trip. Unfortunately, Kim’s kayak had a last minute equipment malfunction and was unable to join us, but she was still super kind enough to help shuttle us from one end of the journey to the other (thanks, Kim!).

I’ve known Lisa now for 15 years. She was actually the first person to ever give me a tour of the Indian River Life-Saving Station, way back in 2006. Our career paths have crossed several times over the years and I was stoked she could join me for this piece of the trip. Since she lives near me, we were able to ride together, and I was very grateful that she had a pick-up truck to haul both kayaks – so much easier than a roof rack.

When we arrived at the boat ramp in Oyster, we unloaded all of our stuff. Holy cow. It was so much stuff. When I looked at everything laid out on the ground, it looked as though we were headed out on a multi-day trip! But when you’re prepared and have everything from hydration packs and first aid kits to paddle floats, bilge pumps, and extra paddles, it adds up quickly. Lisa then drove to the ramp at Red Bank where Kim met her to shuttle her back down to Oyster. During the 40 minutes she was gone, I enjoyed relaxing on the dock of the kayak launch, watching the tide creep up the bank, and watching at least a dozen boats launch! It was a beautiful Saturday so I could see why so many people were headed out on the water.

As soon as we launched and paddled out of the harbor, I was thrilled with how high the tide was (thanks, offshore Hurricane Henry!) and how calm the water was. It was like a mirror and very reminiscent of the conditions that Kim and I paddled last year. And despite the many boats I saw launch at the ramp, there wasn’t a boat in sight, or in earshot. If we stopped paddling for a moment, it was completely silent. It was pretty cool. I hadn’t heard silence like that in… I don’t know how long.

When I scoured Google Earth last year to examine the possible paths to take on this leg, I figured we’d have to follow the marked channel, as Ramshorn Bay appeared to be super shallow, and if you’ve followed my blog for several years, you KNOW I don’t need a repeat of the great low-tide mud incident of 2015. But due to the high tide, we were able to stick pretty close to the mainland and enjoy the pretty views of the golden, fall marsh grasses, without any issues with mud! The first 9+ miles of this trip was mostly through open water and I found myself feeling pretty grateful to have a paddling buddy. Although this stretch was absolutely beautiful, it was a lot of the same scenery – open bay to the right, marsh on the left. For 3 hours. Having someone to chat with along the way was wonderful. Sometimes when I paddle long, open-water stretches alone, particularly in remote locations, I get too in-my-head about how far I’ve gone, how much further I have to go, was that thunder or aircraft… all kinds of thoughts. But before I knew it, we were 10 miles in, and entering the marsh creeks just south of Red Bank. Check out our path on the map:

The Virginia Water Trails map shows this creek to be navigable, but cautions that low tide could make for a challenging trip. Although the tide was on its way out, it was still pretty high, which allowed us to navigate the narrow creek without any issue. Since the tide was going out as we entered the creek, we definitely noticed we were paddling against the current, but luckily it wasn’t super strong. But when we passed smaller creeks that fed into the larger creek we were paddling, the water got weird. Swirly little eddies formed. It wasn’t super challenging to paddle through, but we definitely noticed our boats moving differently from time to time. And somewhere about halfway through the creek, we passed the threshold of the outgoing tide, and felt the tidal current pushing us towards Red Bank. I was enjoying the helpful current so much that we almost missed our turn into the creek that would take us to the boat ramp! We had to back track a tiny bit and as we turned around, that outgoing tide was VERY noticeable, along with the south wind which was against us as well! But once we got into the final creek to take us to our finish line, the last mile was pretty smooth sailing.

As I sit here and reflect on the journey, the words I would use to describe this trip would be “peaceful” and “quiet”. I still can’t quite get over how quiet it was. And not just because there were hardly any boats, people, or aircraft, but also because we saw hardly any wildlife! Not one osprey, bald eagle, or oystercatcher. Not even a terrapin. A handful of gulls, great egrets, two herons, and a jumping needlefish about sums up our list. We did see one bird species though, which we guessed was a whimbrel, but I had to look it up to confirm when we got home – we were right! Kim is a very skilled birder so we definitely missed her today when we saw those guys.

Despite few wildlife sightings, the tranquility was just what my soul needed. And I am beyond thrilled to have reached the milestone of paddling the entire Atlantic coast of the Delmarva peninsula! I’ve now paddled 460 miles of my ~650 mile goal 🙂

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Terrapin Nature Park to Jackson Landing

It’s that time of year again – my annual “staycation” to burn leave that will expire at the end of the year. And of course that means logging some miles. Although this is already the second week of my 2 weeks off, it’s the first kayak trip. The wind was not cooperating last week, plus I was a bit back-logged with work for Virginia Water Trails, so last week was mostly spent catching up on the side-hustle.

Not only was it the first official kayak trip of my staycation, it was also Patrick’s first day of kindergarten! Brian dropped him off, but I still stayed at home long enough to help him get ready for school and take the obligatory “first day” photos. Fast forward – he had a great day! The kid loves school so much.

After wishing him well on his first day, I headed up the road to Kent Island. I dropped my bike off at Jackson Landing, located just east of Kent Narrows. I then drove to Terrapin Nature Park, a waterfront county park that overlooks the bay bridge. The noise of the traffic just made me feel closer to the infamous “western shore”. Although I’m originally from that “western shore” I can’t help but feel my blood pressure go up a tiny bit as I approach it. The Eastern shore has been my home now since 2007 (plus a few summers prior to that) and I totally live by the slower, quieter lifestyle of the shore now.

And as I was unloading my kayak, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two early-20s women that were parked right next to me, discussing why they chose X agency over Y agency to sign with. “Well X won’t even consider you if you have a zit.” And then, “Well Y has a specific diet you have to follow.” “Oh no, I could never do that. But I don’t know why I even considered Z agency as they always choose the famous people, I would have had no chance.”

Uh, what? Where am I? Then, two other dudes walk up to them giving them info about when their galleries would be available to view and asking them if they should send the proofs directly to their modeling agencies. Oh my, I am not on the lower shore anymore! Clearly these girls just did a photo shoot down by the water, where I was about to go.

The water, however, was a 0.37 mile walk from my car, so this was the first time I utilized wheels! Nothing like a brisk walk through a flowery meadow to start off the day’s adventures!

The bay was like glass and made for super easy paddling. And there was hardly any boat traffic in the bay. I guess the day after Labor Day is not known as a big boating day, but man everyone was missing out. Such a beautiful day! And almost all of the houses I passed looked completely vacant. Like summer was over and people were already back to their busy autumn lives. Most of the houses I passed were GIANT mansions, but it was odd – the last house on the very northern tip of Kent Island was kind of a dump! Well, in comparison to the huge, manicured lawns, in-ground pools, fancy terraces, etc.

As I rounded the northern tip, the current got kinda swirly on me for a bit. I couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was the wake of a few boats in the distance hitting the point and the tide? Not sure. I didn’t take many photos for the next 2 miles as I wanted to concentrate on paddling, and be alert for any rogue waves.

I could see the Kent Narrows bridge WAAYYY far off in the distance, and I knew I had to go just beyond it to get back to Jackson Landing, so I started to feel overwhelmed by the fact that I was not even quite halfway through my paddle. My hands and arms were already starting to get tired and the sun was starting to beat down. Luckily, there still wasn’t as much boat traffic as I had imagine on this stretch, so paddling across the open water wasn’t too tricky (once I got beyond that weird swirly current near the northern tip). At times the water was so calm, my depth perception was challenged. The subtle ripples in the water water and the occasional boat wake made for a trippy feeling. Add that to being far enough away from the shoreline to not feel like I was moving at all, it was just bizarre. I checked my GPS multiple times to make sure I was making progress – I was, but not as quick as I thought, given my new, sleek kayak and ideal paddling conditions. I still haven’t looked at what the tides were doing, but I’ll just assume the tide was against me. That’s my only explanation for not paddling the pace I had hoped for. Or maybe it was the wheels that I strapped to the back of my kayak weighing me down?! I probably looked pretty ridiculous to anyone that saw me, with those wheels sticking up in the back!

I finally got to Kent Narrows and knew I wasn’t far from the finish. I did have to wait off to the side to allow 3 boats to go through the Kent Narrows channel before crossing, but that was it. Glad I didn’t try and paddle this stretch on the holiday weekend! Then I rounded the last little peninsula and I could see Jackson Landing in the distance, about a mile away. But for some reason the last mile was KILLER. The wind and boat wakes were at my back, but I still felt like I really struggled to paddle the last mile. Again, not sure why, so I’ll blame it on the tide that I never looked up 🙂 But to be honest, it was kind of all in my head. I had estimated that paddling the 11.2 miles would take 3 hours, and I finished in 2 hours and 59 minutes!

When I arrived on the beach, I swapped out my kayak for my bike, and took the Cross Island Trail back to Terrapin Nature Park. The ride was just shy of 7 miles and was a nice combination of marsh boardwalks, and paved paths through wooded areas.

Here are the paths I took today, both kayaking and biking on the same map:

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Romancoke to Matapeake

I have news. Like big news. I bought a new kayak! I wasn’t even seriously looking for one, but as I jumped on the facebook marketplace in search of a kiddie kayak for Patrick, I just stumbled across this beautiful Perception Solé. This model has been discontinued, and the kayak itself is 20 years old, but the previous owner kept it in incredible condition. It’s 2 feet longer than my trusty Necky Looksha, and it came with a rudder, skirt, and carbon fiber paddle. It was totally meant to be, because I was able to paddle my friend Kim’s Solé on Tuesday evening to be sure I liked it, and then it just so happened that Coastal Kayak in Fenwick, was offering a touring kayak course yesterday. Mitch, the owner and trainer, let me join in just for the wet exit and self-rescue training. This is something I learned how to do back in 2007 in New Zealand, but I hadn’t done a self-rescue since, so it was great to brush up and make sure I could still do it, in the unlikely, but possible, situation that I should capsize while paddling alone.

New kayak, check. Training in new kayak, check. So today it was time to log some miles in the new boat. And I decided to go big or go home: 13.25 miles logged today. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I paddled that far. Last fall I did some 11-12 mile stretches, but that was it.

I started my day at 5 a.m. and drove all the way to Kent Island. After 2 hours in the car, I stopped at Matapeake Park to unload my kayak before heading down to Romancoke with my bike. The Chesapeake was choppy. The wind was definitely stronger than predicted. I stood on the shoreline hemming and hawing over what to do. Not only was the wind more than expected, it was also WNW and slamming into the bulkhead at Matapeake, creating a sloshy mess of a current to deal with. I almost backed out, but something in me nudged me to drop off my bike instead, and launch at Romancoke Pier (instead of the opposite). So I did.

As I was locking up my bike, a man that worked for the county came by to tell me I had to pay to park. I explained what I was doing, and that I was about to leave anyway, and that I’d pay the fee when I parked down at Romancoke. He still didn’t quite understand the logistics of my trip, and told me to park in the overflow parking area a half mile away. No, dude. I need my bike close to the boat ramp. He still seemed confused, but wrapped up the conversation by making sure I locked my bike up (yes).

I then drove down to the Romancoke Pier, paid the parking fee, and launched my kayak. Being on the east side of Kent Island, the waters were pretty calm, since the wind was from the northwest. The first 4 miles flew by, but the whole time I was stressing over the choppy waters on the west side of the island, and at about the 4.5-mile mark, I’d be rounding the tip of the island and heading out into the Chesapeake. I was mentally preparing myself for the possibility of turning around and heading back to Romancoke if it was too windy and choppy, but I soooo didn’t want to do that. I would feel so defeated.

As my new kayak cut through the first little waves, it was actually kinda fun! I felt totally in control, despite paddling the tippy-est kayak I’ve ever owned. And even though the waves were coming at an awkward, annoying angle, it was totally doable. After about a mile though, it was getting old. There was a small little cove that was slightly out of the wind that I ducked into to check my GeoTracker app. I still had 8 more miles. EIGHT more miles of this choppy crap?! Although I felt exhausted, I knew my new kayak could do it. I made my way back out of the cove and back into the bay and to my surprise, it was like someone turned the fan down. The wind was dying out right before my eyes.

It still wasn’t calm enough to stop to take photos, but the water was way more manageable and enjoyable to paddle. The variety of houses along the shoreline was interesting. Everything from tiny, run-down ranchers to massive mansions with manicured lawns. On the other side of me was another interesting sight – ships! Although anchored, this was the closest I’ve been to giant ships since I started this journey 9 years ago.

The final 2 miles was a bit of a struggle. My arms were getting tired and my HANDS actually hurt from gripping the paddle. Not sure if it was just because this was the longest paddle I’ve done yet this season, or if I had a death grip on the paddle, but some of my fingers are still sore as I write this post!

Pulling up to the boat ramp I felt pretty accomplished. From a 2 hour drive and nearly backing out, to fighting the chop in a brand new kayak, I not only felt accomplished physically for finishing over 13 miles, but I also felt accomplished for listening to my intuition. Had I not listened to that nudge, I would have either turned around and drove the 2 hours back home, or I would have started my paddle directly in choppy waters and would have been miserable from the get-go. Oh, and another thing to feel accomplished about? Despite fighting the wind and chop, I logged my fastest speed yet – 3.9 mph! (it doesn’t sound fast, hah)

My trip wrapped up with a 6 mile bike ride on the Kent Island South Trail, and a stop at Rise Up in Cambridge.

Here’s the path I took today:

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Hacksneck to Broadway Landing

(paddled May 17 – forgot to publish the post until today, July 19)

The Chesapeake Bay is finally above 60 degrees F so I felt comfortable logging some miles for the first time in 2021. I did paddle once already this season on Nassawango Creek with my sister a few weeks ago, but this was the first official trip for the blog this year.

And today was ANOTHER FIRST. It was the first time I hit the water since landing some contract work that actually PAYS ME to go kayaking and write about it! On March 1 of this year, I landed a sweet side-hustle doing some marketing for Virginia Water Trails. The contract is a year long and I’ll be running their facebook, instagram, writing blog posts, and a few other odds and ends. I still can’t quite believe I’ve turned my hobby/passion into a legit source of income (not legit enough to leave my job with Delaware, hah)!

And WOW what an adventure this trip was for my first blog-worthy paddle! I started my day by leaving the house at 6 a.m. and arriving at Hacksneck Landing (a place only suitable for launching car-top vessels) by 7:30. The weather was absolutely perfect. Clear skies, 60 degrees, and calm winds.

Right as I was about to launch, this sweet dog came to wish me farewell! Hacksneck Landing is right adjacent to a working waterfront area and I believe the dog belonged to the watermen there.

The tide was definitely on the lower side, although I never actually look at any tide charts before planning this trip. And since the tide was low, it was fun to explore some of the exposed shoals in this area, something you don’t see in other areas of the Chesapeake. There were tons of sandy beaches to explore along the coast of the mainland, and there were also some sand bars and sandy islands to explore, not far from the mainland. Check out some of my views:

As if the scenery around me wasn’t enough to keep me happy, as I approached the mouth of Pungoteague Creek, a pretty sweet thing happened. DOLPHINS. Like a whole pod of them. As I was heading north, I started to spot them coming in from the west. Not a ton of them, but probably… 2-3 dozen? As I got closer, I started hearing them come up for air all around me! The wind was pretty calm so it was really easy to hear them. The only other time I’ve been THAT close to dolphins was on our honeymoon in Edisto, SC. One of them breached the surface only 10-15 feet from my kayak! But dang it’s hard to get photos or video of dolphins; you just never know where they’re going to come up for air next. And it was interesting as they seemed to split up a little bit. About half of them headed eastward, and another headed north, and at one point there were dolphins on all sides of me! It was so freakin’ cool!!!

Once I passed the pod and came down off my high from that whole experience, I decided to take a slight detour and paddle a narrow creek that is a recommended water trail on the Virginia Water Trails website. As soon as I entered the creek, a HUGE oyster farm and working waterfront came into view. This operation was enormous! Bigger than anything I’d ever seen while on the water before! I briefly spoke to one of the guys working and he explained the difference between the two types of oyster cages they have. One was the typical “cage” that I’ve seen before, but the other was a network of black, floating, plastic contraptions. He said oysters were growing inside, but the the black plastic material keeps the worms from getting into the oysters. He said worms have destroyed up to 15% of their harvest in previous years. Then he explained that some of the oysters were going to straight to local restaurants, and other were going to wholesale. Very cool. I’m so glad I stopped to ask. I typically would’ve been too shy to bother them, but I’ve learned a lot about aquaculture and the oyster industry in Virginia lately, so I couldn’t NOT ask!

Once I got out of the creek and turned north, the wind was coming at me out of the northwest (could’ve sworn the forecast said ESE – why does this ALWAYS happen to me?). I paddled by more and more sandy beaches, and finally took a turn east to get to Broadway Landing. The cove in front of the landing was large and VERY shallow. I did have to get out twice to haul my kayak over a mudflat. Once I got on land, the sun was high and the view was beautiful.

Now you’re probably wondering how I got back to my car, 8.5 miles later. Typically I would have brought my bike and did the whole drop off kayak, switcharoo to the bike crap, but not this time! I recently heard about a new local business on the shore called “Wave Riders”. They’re like a private version of door dash and uber. So the day before I reserved a shuttle to come pick me up! Jahiem arrived right on time, helped me load my kayak on top of his car, and drove me the 16 miles back to my car in Hacksneck – and saved me from biking 15 miles! I’ll definitely be using them again for future paddling trips!

And as always, here’s the path I took:

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Claiborne to Romancoke

Today was such a perfect day from start to finish. I began the day by kayaking from Claiborne to Romancoke, and thoroughly enjoyed blue skies, 70 degree weather, and flat calm waters. I also had a buddy shuttle me back to my car – my Aunt Margaret Ann! We stopped for lunch and a hike on the way back to to Claiborne. I can’t thank her enough for helping me complete this leg since it would’ve been WAY too far (and dangerous!) for me to pedal.

After dropping Patrick off at school this morning, I headed straight to Claiborne, about an hour and 45 minute drive from home. Since I used to live in St. Michaels, it was like visiting an old friend. I used to ride my bike to Claiborne Landing from St. Michaels on a somewhat regular basis, and the drive made me mildly nostalgic for my single, only-have-to-care-about-myself stage of my life in my mid-20s.

The morning had been foggy, but the fog had lifted enough for me to paddle safely by the time I got on the water around 9:45. And the paddling was soooo easy. The water was so flat. It felt like butter. My kayak gracefully sliced right through the whole way. The trip was definitely more of a “connector” trip, rather than a scenic journey though. The scenery was blah, and the only wildlife I saw consisted of a single jellyfish and a handful of gulls and common loons (loons are still cool though).

It was also a very short paddle in comparison to come of my other trips, at just 4.5 miles. I was done in an hour and 15 min, which might be a record for me! My Geotracker app said my average moving speed was 3.89 mph!

When I arrived at the Romancoke fishing pier, I wasn’t quite sure where to get out, since I had never actually been to this spot before. But I figured it out by paddling under the pier and finishing at the official kayak launch. And perfect timing – Margaret Ann was there on the beach, waiting for me and reading a book.

Here’s the path I took:

We loaded my kayak (and all of my crap) into her truck and headed up the road to check out Terrapin Nature Park for a hike, and then grabbed lunch at the Jetty on Kent Narrows. Wow, we were sitting on an outdoor, waterfront deck, and I was wearing a tank top… in November!

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Big Stone Beach to Bowers Beach

It’s November and I’m still kayaking! Today I left work early to squeeze in some paddling because it was sunny, 70 degrees, and 5 knot winds; no way could I pass that up!

Now if you read my last post, I kinda poured my heart out, so this post is going to be short and to the point. In fact, the paddling trip was short and to the point too – just 5 miles!

I began by driving to South Bowers Beach to drop off my bike (locked it to a guardrail). I then drove to Big Stone Beach to launch my kayak. Big Stone is so bizarre to me. It’s this weird, forgotten little beach village of maybe 8 houses right on the beach, some of which have been abandoned. There’s a small public access area, but few people seem to know about it and there’s probably only parking for half a dozen cars on the side of the road.

The water temperature was 59 today, and if I paddle in anything less than 60, I wear my farmer-Jane wetsuit. Some might say it was plenty warm between the water and the weather and that a wetsuit was overkill, but since I’m paddling alone, I don’t take any chances. I’ve taken enough trainings that cover hypothermia to know that freak accidents happen.

As soon as I launched and started heading north, this was my view:

Aaaannnddd… that was essentially my view for the full 5 miles! Beautiful, sandy, empty beaches, but that was it. I saw a few bald eagles and a handful of gulls, and… that was it.

Finally I landed on the south end of Bowers Beach and pulled my kayak ashore. See? I told you this post would be short and to the point!

I lugged my kayak about 100 yards to wear I locked up my bike. From there I swapped my kayak for my bike, but before I could ride back, I had to change out of my wetsuit. And let me just tell you. Peeling off a skin-tight wetsuit on the side of the road in the marsh was, well, interesting to say the least. I was also trying to time it so no cars were driving by. I was wearing a bathing suit underneath, but I’d still feel super awkward if someone witnessed my extremely ungraceful wardrobe change on the side of the road! Here’s a couple photos of where this all occurred:

I finally got situated, hopped on my bike, and rode back to Big Stone Beach which was about 7.5 miles. When I got there, several other cars had arrived and I saw some people fishing on the beach. As I was loading my bike into the car, a lady next to my car rolled down her window and said “Mindy, say hi!” I turned around to greet a toothless woman and her kitten, Mindy, sitting on her dashboard. Um. What? I politely smiled and said “aww she looks sweet” (about the cat, not the woman) and the woman went on to tell me how great the kitten is on a leash. Okay? I smiled again and said “oh how sweet, how awesome, have a great night!” And then I jumped in the car and left Big Stone Beach. I told you the place is bizarre. Clearly attracts some interesting characters too!

Here’s the path I took today:

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Happy Campers Farm to Cambridge

Today I paddled 11.8 miles from Happy Campers Farm (the cool AirBnB property from my last post) to Gerry Boyle Park in Cambridge. Here’s the path I took:

Beginning of my paddle today, taken by Lisa, the AirBnB host! Thanks, Lisa!

Today’s paddle was significant for a variety of reasons. I’m having a hard time prioritizing and laying out those reasons in a way to create an engaging post here, but here goes.

For one, paddling this stretch filled in a major gap on my map! I’ve officially surpassed 400 miles towards my overall goal AND there is now a continuous line on my map from the northernmost tip of Talbot County, allll the way down a few miles south of Onancock, VA. Check out my progress page to see the full map.

But now there’s a bigger reason why this paddle was so significant. I mentioned in the last post that my family is going through some pretty tough stuff. We lost my grandfather at the end of September, and just 5 days later, my mom lost her 4-year battle with ovarian cancer. The last few weeks have been filled with every emotion you can think of. And I’m exhausted. I was exhausted before I even hit the water this morning.

So as you can probably see, today’s trip was also significant because it was the first time I had been paddling since my mom’s passing. And this is the first time I’m writing a blog post knowing that my mom won’t be reading it (pretty sure she was my only follower until like last year!). My mom is the original inspiration in my life for pursuing adventures in the outdoors. She ensured that my sister and I played outside as kids, she told us stories about solo hiking with her dogs when she was a child, and she even taught me things like how to identify wildflowers and what the song of a bobwhite sounds like. When I moved to the beach and started working as a state park naturalist, I was able to teach her similar things in the beach version, which was pretty cool.

My sister, Julia, has spent a great deal of time on the east coast (she lives in Colorado) over the last 2 months which I am incredibly grateful for. I can’t imagine going through the last few weeks without her. Today, I was lucky enough to have her shuttle me from one end of my journey to the other (so I didn’t have to bring my bike). Julia has been here for over 3 weeks, and today she flew back home, but on her drive back to the airport, she gave me a ride. I actually hugged her good-bye right before launching, not knowing when I’ll see her next. I was feeling a bit stressed about the fog and uncertainty of the paddle, so I felt like I didn’t fully absorb the moment of saying good-bye. Just a quick hug and a “text me when you get to the airport.”

coots flying away from me

Like I said, a big concern I had today was fog. Patrick had a 2-hour delay and it was pretty thick on the drive up from Ocean Pines. It was starting to burn off a little when I launched at 8:30, but visibility was still touch and go for a while. I decided to hug the shoreline for peace of mind. This added a little bit of mileage to my trip, but it made me feel safe. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to forgo 5 knot winds and flat calm waters! Birding wasn’t bad either. I saw a good handful of common loons, several eagles, and two coots! Coots are sooo dang cute!

Around 10:00 the fog lifted. It was like someone pulled back the drapes and all of a sudden I could see for miles. Perfect timing as I was coming around a point and about to head across some open water towards Cambridge. I no longer needed to hug the shoreline, and I felt confident to paddle among the boaters in the area.

Here you can see the progression of the fog lifting:

Matt, the Choptank Riverkeeper

Speaking of boaters, I had an encounter today that was way cool! Matt, The Choptank Riverkeeper. I’m pretty sure most people that see me paddling solo in open water or remote locations, think I’m mildly crazy, but I’m okay with that. I saw his boat coming towards me from a distance and when he spotted me, he slowed down, we waved to each other, and then I decided to paddle over and say hello. Why was I excited to talk to the Riverkeeper? Well, I follow him on facebook, and my uncle has been a riverkeeper for something like 20 years now? He was one of the first Riverkeepers to work under the Waterkeeper Alliance. Larry Baldwin – google him. He’s been in some famous documentaries and is seriously badass when it comes to fighting for clean waterways. Anyway, turns out Matt knows my uncle! But I mean, even Natalie Portman knows my uncle! Nevertheless, Matt seemed like a cool guy, keeping a close watch on the river, pointed out Horn Point (UMD Center for Env Studies) which I was curious if I had passed it yet, and he seemed impressed with my ridiculous paddling goal. Oh, and he did make a comment about how he was wondering who the hell was paddling solo in the middle of the river – hah! That would be me.

After wrapping up the conversation, I continued on my way, but was exhausted at that point. I really struggled in the last 1-2 miles and I don’t even really know why. An 11-mile paddle is usually within my paddling comfort zone. And I hadn’t had to stress about the fog in over 2 hours. And there was no wind to fight. By the time I got off the water, my hands hurt and my arms felt like jell-o. I even struggled to load my kayak back on top of my car.

It didn’t hit me until I started writing this post that the reason I was so exhausted was likely a combination of physical exertion and the emotions of the past few weeks that had drained my energy levels. But at the same time, I felt pretty accomplished by the end, regardless of how tired I was. I was proud that despite the most significant, life-altering change in my life that just happened, I was able to push on and keep chipping away at my goal. And I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my mom. Her love of the outdoors and her encouragement to pursue my goals have been the biggest key factors in this journey of mine. And call it cheesy if you want, but there was something almost symbolic about the fog today and how it lifted so quickly. Life may have fog at times, and I may not know which direction I’m headed (like how I’ve been feeling lately without my mom), but at any given moment, sometimes when it’s least expected, the fog will burn off and everything will make sense again.

Here are some photos of my mom kayaking ❤

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Happy Campers Farm to Ragged Point

Last Wednesday, while at work, I checked the NOAA marine forecast and realized “whoa, like, the Chesapeake is predicted to be flat calm? Topping out at 5 kt winds? Must. Go. Kayaking.” I STILL have vacation time to burn even after my 2-week staycation, so I figured, why not? I have a conference call at 3:00 but I’ll be home in time for that. Nothing else pressing at work. I submitted my leave request and my supervisor approved it no problem (I mean, he’s a surfer, he gets it when the conditions are just right!).

Back in August, when I was planning out future legs of this journey, I was totally perplexed by how I was going to paddle from Cambridge to the southern tip of that peninsula in Dorchester, Ragged Point. It’s a 23 mile stretch with no public landings or boat ramps anywhere along the way to break up the 23 miles. And I really have no interest in paddling 23 miles in one day. Nope.

And then that’s when I had a brilliant idea – AirBnB! I hopped on and started searching for waterfront properties for rent and I kid you not, I found a wonderful spot that was EXACTLY halfway between Camrbidge and Ragged Point. Like down to the 0.1 mile. I messaged the hosts, told them about what I was doing, why I wanted to launch at their house, and that I’d even pay a fee to launch, even if I didn’t book their (very adorable) guest house. Lisa promptly replied and was more than happy to let me launch there – for free! How perfect! I told her I didn’t have an exact date in mind, since I very carefully watch the weather forecast, and that whenever I chose to paddle, it wouldn’t be much notice. She said she understood and said that was totally fine.

So that was back in mid-August when I made contact with her. And then on Wednesday last week I decided the conditions were just right to paddle that portion of the bay, so I sent Lisa a message on Wednesday morning. Within minutes she replied, said I was good to go, and that was that. I had a paddling plan for Thursday!

The AirBnB property is called “Happy Campers Farm” and I arrived there a little before 8:00 on Thursday morning. Here are some photos of their guest house:

You can check out their listing here:

After chatting with Lisa for a bit, I unloaded my kayak and drove down to the Ragged Point boat ramp. From there I unloaded my bike and rode back to Happy Campers Farm. I left my bike in their driveway and headed out on the water.

Almost immediately I encountered a common loon, first one I’ve seen this season! And the coolest part? It made a super loud tremolo call. If you don’t know what a loon sounds like, google/youtube it. It’s pretty recognizable. It’s also a common bird call you hear in movies, as well as in the intro of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse…….. #momlife.

my best attempt at catching “silence” in a photo

It was pretty much overcast the entire time I was outside today, so none of my photos turned out super well, but the few that I did take, really seemed to capture the overall feeling of the day: quiet. The calm water was so calm it had an eerie feeling to it. And there were times I stopped paddling just to listen to the silence. There really weren’t even many boats to disrupt the peace. The silence was almost deafening at times.

Another notable thing on this trip was the huge number of eagles I saw! Sometimes I could spot up to a dozen of them at one time! I’ve seen plenty of eagles over the years and I don’t even really get excited to see them anymore, but I’m pretty sure this was the most I’ve seen on a kayak trip before (although I used to see 25+ circling around when I worked on Poplar Island).

terrible photo of the rowboat

As I rounded the second point and started heading SW, what little wind there was actually did help push me where I needed to go. As I paddled toward Ragged Point, it was so calm that I saw a few other kayakers (believe it or not, other kayaks is a rare sight for me), and a rowboat! A single man in what appear to be a rowboat that had a mast, but no sail. I stopped to wave, he waved back, but we weren’t close enough to talk. I was very curious though. Who just has a rowboat anymore? And he was headed out into the open bay?! Very interesting.

The last interesting wildlife sighting was fish. Giant, jumping needlefish! I tried to get a video, but failed in my attempt. But dude, these needlefish were at least 8 inches long and I saw one jump clear out of the water like 3 times! Who knew needlefish could jump?

Anyway, here’s the path I took. Gives you a good idea of where the AirBnB is located:

As I paddled up to the boat ramp, I was tired and ready to be done, but at the same time, I had a moment where I just wanted to stay on the water, because as soon as I packed up, I was headed back home and back to the real world. Plugging away at this kayaking goal seems silly at times, but it is a much needed escape from the noise and stresses of everyday life. The Baldwin side of my family is going through some pretty tough stuff lately, and being able to do something for me, if only for a few hours here and there, goes a long way in my well-being.

I started writing this blog post yesterday, and I am finishing it today. Between starting and finishing, we lost my grandfather. My Pop Pop was 92, and wow, what a legacy he’s leaving in my mind. Fell head over heels for my grandmother in high school, had a successful career working in the railroad industry, raised 4 successful boys, watched 8 grandchildren grow up, and even got to experience life as a great-grandfather to 2 great-grandsons. I was lucky enough to see him just a few short weeks ago when I showed him photos of Brian and I taking Patrick kayaking. He enjoyed the photos, but then very seriously told me, “don’t you be taking any chances with that boy!” It seems only fitting that the last piece of advice my Pop Pop gave me was somehow related to both parenting and kayaking in the same comment!

Photo of Patrick and his “G-Pop” back in April 2017

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Crocheron to Frog Point

Well folks, this might be my last post for a good chunk of time. Staycation is ending soon and the weather forecast until then is looking far from stellar. But that’s okay! Things aren’t totally crazy at work, and it’s not out of the question for me to take a random day off (or even just an afternoon!) to go paddle. I love September paddling so much!

So yesterday, I paddled from Crocheron, the southern tip of Dorchester County, to Frog Point, the southern tip of Elliott Island. This was yet another gap in my map that had been stressing me out for a while! The 4-mile stretch of open water scared me, so I thought I’d launch from Elliott Island (McCready’s Point) last year, but the roads leading to Elliott Island we flooded with high tides. I had been trying to time a paddle from McCready’s Point with low tides on the roads, but it just wasn’t working out. I also considered paddling from Crocheron the McCready’s Point and back to Toddville and biking back to Crocheron. But then I still had to do a 12 mile out-and-back from McCready’s Point down to Frog Point. My head was spinning trying to select the perfect and safest itinerary.

However, once I completed the 6+ mile stretch of open water from Crisfield to Saxis the other day, I knew I was capable of doing an out-and-back paddle from Crocheron, across the 4 miles of Fishing Bay, around the corner to Frog Point (where I had paddled to some 3 years ago), and return across the 4 miles back to Crocheron. The weather forecast was 5-10 knots from the east, with 1 foot waves, so it seemed pretty ideal.

I left the house around 7 a.m. and headed for Crocheron. I had also been stressing about the potential of flooded roads down to Crocheron, but it was only a quarter moon, so it couldn’t be that bad. I chose to not even look at a tide chart and just bite the bullet and do it! Luckily, I only had to drive through an inch of water for 100 feet or so – not bad! Although I’m stressed about climate change, sea level rise, and land subsidence, it’s also fascinating to see it happening right here on the eastern shore – right here in our own backyards. Sad, but fascinating.

Whenever I drive to a boat ramp that’s far off the beaten path, it feels like I’m driving to the end of the earth. Cell signal gets spotty, roads get narrow, and I have fleeting worries of getting a flat tire and getting stranded. I also wonder what the few locals in these areas think of me. I definitely stick out in my Subaru and kayak on top. I’d definitely fit in more if I drove an old, rusty Chevy pick-up 🙂

a little foamy at the launch!

I arrived at the Crocheron boat ramp (with no flat tire – yay!), and was able to launch just before 9 a.m. Crocheron has jetties or breakwaters just outside the little harbor there, and as I approached the opening in the jetty, it was then that I realized just how choppy the water was! It was definitely 10 knots, and at least 1 foot waves, likely more! For a brief moment I second-guessed paddling out across the bay, but man, how defeated I would feel if I did that! I drove nearly 2 hours, to what felt like the end of the earth, to not go paddling? I geared myself up and paddled through the jetty opening. Although there were some white caps, the wind was coming directly at me, which I prefer, rather than at a funky angle where I constantly have to correct my direction.

After about a half mile, I got into a good groove and felt pretty impressed with myself at how strong I felt, cutting into that chop! In the distance I could see the treeline on the eastern shore of the Nanticoke River, but I couldn’t quite make out the marsh shoreline of Elliott Island. Because I was too far away, I wasn’t 100% sure what direction I needed to go, and it was a little too choppy to take the phone out and examine the GPS track (I mean, I knew to go east, but I like to be more precise than that). As I got closer and closer, I could finally make out some marsh and realized I was slightly off course. I made a minor adjustment and started heading straight for Frog Point. Thank goodness I was only slightly off! Last year when I paddled west from Crocheron, I added nearly 2 unnecessary miles to my trip!

land ho!

I was so excited to finally be up next to land again. It wasn’t as choppy, and I felt safer being close to land. But OMG the FLIES!! Green heads, black flies, probably 18 other species… all that have a vicious bite! I had to break out the DEET. I hate chemicals, but the essential oils weren’t going to cut it this time!

Once I got the fly situation under control, I continued paddling alongside the marsh until I rounded Frog Point. I DID pull out the GPS this time to make sure I “connected the dots.” Once I turned around to head back to Crocheron, the wind was helping to push me so I cruised back out to the open bay. As soon as I hit the open bay though, the wind nearly died out completely! What the heck, wind? I was counting on you to assist!

Oh well, no wind was probably a good thing in the long run, so I continued on. I was about a mile into the 4 mile stretch of open water, when a waterman abruptly switched his direction and started heading straight toward me! For a moment I panicked and started furiously paddling to get out of his path, but then I realized he was waving and trying to get my attention. I stopped paddling and he turned off his engine. “Hey! Are you okay?!” he yelled.

I told him I was fine and gave him a thumbs up. His boat drifted a little closer and we were able to carry on a conversation. “I saw you paddling that way, and now you’re paddling this way, and I just thought – is she lost?!” I explained what I was doing, and then he and his son onboard explained how choppy these waters can get and that I needed to be careful. I thanked him for the advice and assured him I select my paddling weather very carefully! They were very sweet – told me I was in 12 ft of water, offered me a bottle of water, made sure I was okay, and even offered their cell number in case I needed help! I told him I had a VHF radio so I was prepared in the unlikely event of an emergency. He was impressed. “Good for you! Well we’re on channel 72. You just call us on 72 if you need anything!”

the Michael Joe from Crapo

Of all the watermen I’ve encountered over the years, this was a first. So very sweet of them. I do think he thought I was mildly crazy, but he’s probably right, hah! So anyway, next time you’re out in the Fishing Bay area, be sure to wave to the Michael-Joe from Crapo, MD – nice guys!

Before long I was able to make out the Crocheron jetties. I paddled through the little jetty opening and finished my whole journey – 11.6 miles in 3.5 hours. Here’s the one-way path from Frog Point back to Crocheron:

heading through the jetties

Once I got off the water and loaded my kayak, I was feeling pretty accomplished. The drive I had stressed about, the remoteness of this paddle that I had had some anxiety about, and the 8 total miles of open water that scared me – I conquered it all! I was feeling pretty empowered with both my physical and emotional strength, and so I had to celebrate with another trip to Rise Up on the way home for a burrito and iced chai 🙂

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Crisfield to Saxis

For anyone that’s actually following my blog (you know, other than my mom), you’re probably wondering if I’ve gone absolutely crazy, or if I’ve quit my job. Well, I’m half way through a 2-week “staycation” and the weather has been ideal of paddling, so I have gone a little paddle-crazy, as I’m trying to take advantage of it all!

Yesterday I paddled from Crisfield, MD to Saxis, VA:

This stretch has given me a little anxiety as I’ve stared at the empty hole on my map and wondered how to conquer it. Is there a way to break it up? Can I really handle that much open water? I’ll need a paddle buddy or a ride; I can’t bike 41 miles after 12 miles of paddling. I scoped out a DNR-owned boat ramp on the north shore of Pocomoke Sound last year, and it seemed super sketchy, so I wasn’t all about using it as a half-way point. So how did I cover this leg?

Brian and Patrick to the rescue! We didn’t have any plans yesterday, and I couldn’t ignore the NOAA forecast of 5 knots and flat waves (like OMG it’s NEVER that calm), so Brian agreed to drop me off in Crisfield and then take Patrick kayak fishing around Saxis where I would meet up with them at the end of my trip.

Brian and Patrick dropped me off at Somer’s Cove where I had finished a trip over 6 years ago! I barely remembered what the boat ramp looked like. On the way to the the ramp, we explained to Patrick what was going to happen, and that Dad was dropping Mom off to go kayaking but that Mom would meet us later on. But still, as I paddled away from the ramp, I heard Patrick yelling “Mommy, what you doingggg?” LOL. Poor little dude. He’ll figure it all out in a few hours.

super calm waters!

Although the wind was super calm, I still had to deal with quite a bit of wake from boats passing by. Crisfield was hopping with boat traffic with the barely 80 degree weather. Once I got about 2 miles out from town, I was paddling along Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area and through a pretty marsh creek. Pretty until the flies set in. Yeah it’s great to paddle in little wind, but dang the flies are terrible when there’s no breeze. Every couple strokes I had to swat them. I must’ve been bit 25 times!

Another thing to note in the creek was a random guy on a boat that slowed waayyy down (honestly, I get annoyed when boats slow down for me – I can handle your wake, just keep going!). He slowed down enough to ask if I wanted to race! “I want to race you! You’ve got quite a wake behind you in that thing!” Before I could think of a witty response, his giant German shepherd started barking and going nuts. Not sure what that was all about, guess the pup didn’t feel like slowing down and chatting either!

Soon I spotted the open water (Pocomoke Sound) and knew the dreaded open water stretch was starting soon. Six miles across open water is just about the furthest I’ve ever gone and I was nervous about boat traffic and my own sanity. As I came out of the creek though, I didn’t see a boat anywhere, the water was still nearly flat calm, and I could just make out on the horizon where I needed to go. I did pull out my phone to make sure I was headed in the right direction though, just to be sure.

I started crossing the Sound by singing songs to myself to kill the time and not let my thoughts get to me (you know, those thoughts of ‘am I actually moving at ALL?”). For whatever reason I chose a few old summer camp songs, including 99 bottles of beer. You can make fun of me, but it killed the time and nobody could hear me anyway! Before I knew it though, I was nearly halfway across! 3 miles down, 3 to go. Still not a boat in sight, and the water was still flat calm. I really got into a good paddling groove. Was totally in the zone.

Another mile down, and I crossed the state line! How do I know? I crossed right near the state line marker! I didn’t even know there would BE a state like marker in the middle of the Pocomoke Sound – how cool! Had to take a selfie as it was a great visual milestone.

horrible photo of me, but had to post the state line marker!

A little bit further and I started to make out more shorelines of Saxis, and before I knew it, I spotted someone in a greenish/gray kayak with a white paddle! Must be Brian and Patrick! It was right around this time that the wind picked up too. Paddling got a bit more challenging, but probably more so because I was tired. When I was finally in earshot of my boys, I waved and called out to them. Patrick had a HUGE smile on his face and seemed somewhat surprised to see me. “Mommy, where’d you goooo?” I turned around to point to the other side of the Sound and realized you couldn’t even see it! I completed just over 6 miles of open water, and 11 miles total.

I paddled with Brian and Patrick for a short distance, but they ultimately decided they were done, so we all got out together at the boat ramp in Saxis. I felt pretty satisfied that I had finally conquered a stretch of this journey that I has spent too much time stressing about. But the best part of the day? Brian and Patrick caught dinner – speckled trout! I don’t have a photo of the trout, but here’s a photo of the little striper they caught and released: