Guest Blog: Our Tar River Getaway

26 May 2018

By Peggy Schaeffer  and Diane Bryson 

Someone gave me a fridge magnet that shows a canoe with the message, Getting Away Works Wonders.  My vehicle of choice is a kayak, and May is a good month for paddling and camping in NC, so with the urging of my friend & fellow adventurer, Diane, we made a plan. It took about 10 minutes on the Sound Rivers website to peruse the platform map, pick out & reserve “our” platform, named Cypress Hideaway, just up the Tar River from little Washington.  It’s an easy paddle from town and near a few small creeks for more exploring. We thought 2 nights there would give us a chance to settle in and relax.

Between us we were able to rustle up the gear and provisions we needed, especially because half the platform is screened-in and roofed, so no need for tents, and with the warm weather, no need for sleeping bags.  A trial packing session made it seem like we’d be able to fit everything in our 2 sea kayaks. Food, water– lots of water, bug repellent, sunscreen, flashlights, camera, personal stuff– it was really pretty simple.  I had worried that our stuff would not fit, but we are both pretty spartan travelers, and the boats have lots of space if you can jam things into little spots. We began to feel ready for anything! With our kitty litter bucket, AKA portable kayak toilet, strapped onto the back deck with bungee cords, of course.

We got soft shell crabs at the Washington Crab Shack and then, well-fortified, launched from Mason’s Creek Landing on Clarks Neck Rd. around 1pm.  Heading down Tranter’s Creek into the Tar River we enjoyed a good view of an osprey on a nest in a tree in the river, but I don’t think the osprey enjoyed it as much as we did, squawking menacingly at us even though we were 20 ft away.  Cypress trees with their large sturdy bases lined the banks, and the calm waters were mysteriously dark. We turned away from the noise of town and the bridge traffic, and soon were meandering around in what seemed to be a maze of little islands and coves. We passed someone fishing from a motorboat, but soon we were alone with trees and the cormorants and great blue herons. Big muddy turtles slid off logs as we approached. My map was on my deck and I thought we were making good progress, as the river narrowed and became shady with overhanging branches. Then it was really narrow, and I suddenly had the thought, “I didn’t think the Tar River was so narrow!” and realized that perhaps things were not quite right.  We both pulled out our phones and Google Maps clearly showed that we were not on the Tar at all, but up a creek– way, way up, on Bear Creek. No wonder it was so lovely and quiet and shaded– I had seen Bear Creek on the map and had thought it would make a nice detour, but didn’t want to take the time on our first afternoon. So it was a lovely mistake, and it was easily undone, of course, although by then it was 4 o’clock, there was thunder in the distance, and we needed to make our way back among the maze of islands to find the real Tar River and our home for the night.

Back we went and we did find the Tar River, broad and moving slowly. We spotted a mile marker on the riverbank which was encouraging since it matched my Pitt County Paddling map. Hurray!  The riverbanks on both sides appeared solidly forested, giving me the sense that we were rapidly moving into a different world, far away from civilization. Lily pads clustered on the banks, with bright yellow flowers adding a splash of color on the dark water.  Keeping to the right bank we easily found our platform, with a little sandy spot to land and tie up the boats. It was perfect, although it looked like it hadn’t been visited recently, judging from the leaves and twigs littering the open part of the platform. I was glad to find the broom there, and soon the place was looking spiffy.

The platform is well-shaded by large cypress and other mature trees, so we were nestled into the woods, but with a good view of the quiet river. A little bit of dry ground between the platform and river was the only spot where we could stand off the platform, as the ground was mucky and wet beside and behind us.  Vigourous thorny vines and exuberant poison ivy ensnared nearly every twig or tree. Does this qualify as a jungle? I don’t know, but it was definitely a difficult landscape, hostile for humans –I wouldn’t want to try to walk through it without hip waders and a machete. And even then I think I would not be happy about the experience.  

Our platform, like our kayaks, seemed perfectly suited to allow us to enjoy this watery and foreign setting.  Beside the platform we saw a narrow muddy track leading from the river back through the trees to a wet area beyond, full of vines and cypress knees. Whose trail is this, we wondered…. No tracks were visible, but it was definitely well-trampled.  Hmmmm….

A quiet evening ensued, with distant thunder but no rain.  After dark the real chorus began…. frogs, crickets, owls and who knows what else were creating a cacophonous lullaby just for us. I think I heard faint yipping in the distance– coyotes? foxes?  Or maybe just dogs– the platform is in a deeply wooded swamp, but is not that far from houses on the other side. The rumble of a distant train reminded us that we were really not that far from town.

I got up to pee in the night and enjoyed a lovely few minutes gazing at the quiet river, until the silence was broken by an emphatic and resounding slap on the water — definitely a beaver telling me whose home this is. Twice he (she?) slapped. I got the message– we are certainly visitors in a beaver-y world.

The next day we rose early, ate our leisurely breakfast and compared notes on the sounds we’d heard at night. We paddled upstream in the shade of the tall trees to explore Old Grindle Creek, which turned out to be an even shadier and more beguiling little creek than Bear Creek had been the day before. More turtles, more cormorants, more herons. Two goldfinches suddenly converged in front of our boats, a flash of gold in the air– were they fighting? mating?   The day warmed up, and it was a lazy afternoon at the platform. One or two motorboats came up or down the river. Rain came but we were dry, enjoying it pounding on the metal roof.

After the rain ended, Diane stood on the platform, staring into the jungle and suddenly whispered, I saw a fox! Wet and reddish, It ran right up to the platform and then turned down a river path.

Our second night provided another delightful chorus, with the background of the leaves rustling in a lovely breeze. What a delightful way to sleep!  Our morning was another early one, as we packed up and gradually headed our boats down the river. The sights and sounds of civilization reappeared gradually– boats, traffic noise, distant thrumming lawn mowers, and soon we were back at the launch spot.

Our little getaway was perfect– 2 nights on a platform was a wonderful chance to really get out and away, even though we were never more than 5 miles from Washington.  Yes, Getting Away Does Work Wonders….  I’m already scouting for my next platform adventure.