This
March we had a GCA canoe/ camping trip on the Altamaha River in SE
Georgia. This was a two night three day adventure. We began with two
kayaks (Lamar and Scott) and two tandems (Vince and David &
Kimberly and Agustin) then picked up a third tandem (Rod and Sara) on
Saturday morning at the halfway point. Charlie Ford of Three Rivers
Expeditions ran shuttle for us both to and from the river. We stayed
at McDonald’s lodge in Hazelhurst that Thursday night before we
launched. Mr. McDonald was kind enough to let us leave our vehicles
in his lighted parking lot over the weekend.

On
Friday morning we met in the parking lot of McDonald’s Lodge. We
drove to the river bridge on Highway 341 at Lumber City where we
unloaded our gear from our cars into our boats. We carried everything
we needed with us in our boats. I personally carried everything I own
except my camp chair. David and I opted to leave chairs behind as our
boat filled with junk very quickly. We were concerned that it would
fill just as quickly with water upon launching and sink to the bottom
of the river. [Do not leave your chair behind. That is a bad
decision.] Everyone else did a great job of selecting and packing
gear. We returned our cars to the lodge and Charlie gave us a ride
back to the water.

We
launched around ten o’clock and paddled for a couple of hours before
taking a lunch and stretch break. I ate a ham sandwich, Pringles,
some mixed nuts, a bagel and some Turkey Spam. BTW, Turkey Spam is
very good but does not include the gelatinous ooze that comes
complimentary with the regular Spam. Everyone soon learned not to
offer me food unless they wanted to get rid of it.

Then
back in the boats and paddle some more to the Wildlife Management
Area land where we found a suitable sandbar for camping. We set up
our tents in a very strong breeze which died down once the sun set.
We built a fire on the sand and roasted hot dogs and Bubba’s Turkey
Burgers. Kimberly generously shared a bag of marshmallows. Apparently
I like mine burnt black and sprinkled generously with sand.

Then
we discussed the likelihood of bears in the area. The general
consensus was that bears are especially fond of mustard and so anyone
who spilled mustard on his person while eating hotdogs was likely to
be eaten by a bear during the night. We had a good laugh but secretly
checked ourselves for spilled mustard. For good measure I put some
mustard on David’s sleeping bag. You can’t be too careful around
bears.

David’s
fishing skills yielded a small catfish and an eel. My fishing skills
yielded nothing but disappointment. Kimberly and Agustin fished with
fly rods for a while and got in some good practice. Even if they
catch nothing, fly fishing is interesting to watch. By eleven o’clock
we all yielded to the sandman and all but Lamar slept well. Says he
was a bit too cool. But in the morning we had a fire going and coffee
perking so life was good again. We needed to get an early start
because we wanted to meet Rod and Sara at the 221 bridge by 10:30.

We
were only a little late (on a geological scale). Rod and Sara paddled
up to meet us at the bridge from the landing down river. After
introductions we started off again. Just below the bridge one of our
tandem teams decided to practice the fully-loaded-tandem-boat-roll.
This advanced maneuver is best done when both paddlers are fully
aware that the commencement command of “Oh No” is about to
be given. Since Kimberly was caught off guard they had to be
satisfied with a rapidly executed wet exit, giving two paddlers the
opportunity to practice swimming a boat loaded with camping gear to
the shore. They had their gear tied in so well that they didn’t lose
a single thing. That’s exemplary performance. We got the water out of
the boat, then we crossed the river to a boat landing with a
bathhouse where they changed into dry clothing. Some of their gear
was wet so we decided to paddle for about another hour then choose
our camp so that any wet stuff would have the afternoon to dry out.

The
crew found another beautiful sand bar to camp on, even better than
the one the night before. We had a lazy afternoon of fishing,
snacking, talking and napping. You won’t believe this but Rod and
Sara cooked pizza. Pepperoni. With thick crust. After that we all
grilled and ate. More campfire talk. More mustard on David’s sleeping
bag. It was a very good day.

The
2nd night was a bit warmer or Lamar was getting acclimated or
exhaustion simply kept him from noticing that he was cold. After a
good night’s sleep we had coffee and breakfast, repacked our boats
and launched again. This time we were heading to Benton Lee’s Steak
House. This eatery sits on the river and will allow paddlers inside.
We arrived about 11:00, which is opening time. Reading the menu,
which seemed obsessed with “children’s plates” seemed odd.
Even the waitress mentioned that we could get a child’s plate if we
wanted, she just needed to know which we wanted. When the food
arrived I understood why she mentioned the child’s plate. The plates
are so large that my pork chop plate had four pork chops. I ate them
all. {Note to self: Get a child’s plate next time.}

Back
on the river and heading to both the take-out and the “cut
through”. This is still the most treacherous part of the river.
The river has rerouted itself by cutting off a meander. The channel
is narrower, faster and was full of treetops two years ago. We
discussed following the old riverbed to be safe since no one was
interested in swimming in treetops. We got there and looked. It
looked clear enough. It is still narrow and fast but there were few
treetops to negotiate. We sent Scott first in case it was dangerous.
The rest of us followed, including a motor boat that slowed down but
still passed us all in the “cut through”. Immediately after
that we saw the take-out and were all a bit disappointed that we were
there already. We called Charlie Ford, who came to get us in about
ten minutes. We loaded all our gear onto his canoe trailer and all
our bodies into his Suburban for a ride on one-lane dirt roads thru
the WMA to drop Rod and Sara off at the 221 bridge. Then we went back
to Hazelhurst to drop off the rest of us. Yet again it was another
good day on the river with a great group of folks.

by
Vince Payne
March 12-14, 2004

Georgia River Details