Indescribably beautiful! Now I know that some of you think I sometimes exaggerate when describing nature trips. I do. And I believe that a few accuse me of confusing fiction with fact while reporting adventure outings. Guilty! But on this trip none of those story telling measures were necessary. It was an unbelievably beautiful trip — canoeing and camping along the Satilla river in South Georgia.
Jacques Artley, Lou Rizk and I launched our canoes below the Highway 121 bridge near Hoboken, Georgia, at 3 o’clock on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. Seven hours earlier we left Atlanta with two canoes atop a mini-van stuffed with camping and river gear. It was loaded. We were ready for anything.
The river was tea stained (from the oak tree’s tannic acid) and was low but flowing well. We paddled for somewhat over one mile and stopped at an expansive white sand bar that would be our camp site. Tents were pitched, fire wood gathered, gear was reorganized and the ole Dutch oven was heated with coals and prepared for cooking. That DO delivered a cheeseburger pie and peach cobbler. We ate well, enjoyed the campfire and retired early to the sounds of owls and unexplained splashes in the river.
Jacques was up early serving oatmeal with peaches, raisins and hot black tea to start the day. After paddling for one hour we encountered four large trees across the river, blocking our passage. We unloaded the canoes and carried all gear and boats 80 yards to a point beyond the blockage. That was the first of about eight portages. The other seven were not as bad and did not include a complete unloading of the canoes. But cutting tree trunks and limbs with hand ax and bow saw and dragging canoes were occasional activities in the following four days. The river is lined with white sand bars, tupelo gum trees, old twisted oaks and cypress trees. The forest beyond looked what I imagined how an enchanted or forbidden forest would be depicted in a movie. Deer, raccoon and turkey tracks covered the sand bars. The scenery was truly invigorating.
Lunches by Lou were a favorite noon time routine with PB&J sandwiches, bananas, apples, prunes and plenty of water. After about seven miles on the second day, we settled on a eastern facing sand bar and watched the river while the Dutch oven baked chicken with onions and vegetables — followed by chocolate cake with glazing.
My routine at night is to place my flashlight, shoes, jacket and hunting knife within easy reach. I do not want to search for them in a moment of panic. In the event an unwelcome intruder demanding money and valuables comes upon us, I would give him what little money I had and the hunting knife. It’s a fine knife and belonged to my father-in-law. Besides his daughter, it’s my most valuable possession. That night however, only the rather loud cry of a nearby coyote and the chirping sound of a raccoon disturbed a peaceful night on the saucy Satilla.
Hunting dogs were in full cry as we made breakfast and prepared for our third day afloat. One dog with a radio collar followed us along the river for a short distance. He wanted to get in the canoe. Perhaps his hunting days were past him as he sensed it was with us. We were simply paddlers, enjoying all of nature and its inhabitants and leaving no trace or tragedy in our wake.
Roswell Courson is a really fine gentleman in an extremely inviting cabin overlooking a wide expanse of the river. He welcomed us, gave us soft drinks with ice, a detailed chart of the river and took us on a tour of his digs. We talked for over an hour, promised to visit him again then headed on downstream. The wizened top sergeant described a bend in the river ahead that had harbored a 14 foot alligator for the past 8-9 years. We gave it wide berth and passed at flank speed.
Another beautiful sand bar hosted us overnight. Mr. Dutch presented without problem a bulky beef stew with biscuits and a fluffy yellow cake. After a long campfire discussion of nothing in particular, we set the alarm for 3 am to watch the Leonid meteor shower (forecast for 3-5 AM) that was predicted to be the “most spectacular in 35 years.” As the earth moves through the trail of the comet, Tempel-Tuttle, the trailing debris burns up in our atmosphere.
We got up. It was semi-spectacular — and we were cold! We held on for one hour. There are no competing lights in the wilderness, the sky was very clear and the viewing was exceptional. But the cold soon drove us back into our respective tents and to the comfort of a zipped-to the- top sleeping bag.
All day Sunday was bright, warm and clear but that evening the temp headed down. We stopped a little earlier that day to get river baths and needed shampoos. A large campfire helped heat what had cooled considerably in the river while the ol’ DO offered hot chili with cornbread and chewy chocolate brownies — with an emphasis on chewy.
With my aluminum canoe inverted and used as a table, we had a splendid meal with wine and many toasts to such great camping and river canoeing. In the distance we could hear a freight train as it passed over the river near our destination and take-out point. We were close and this was the final supper.
The fifth day was exciting with the sighting of five black bears and an alligator. It was the worst in the way of downed trees which required sawing and chopping to allow passage. As a result, we finally reached our goal at 3 PM, much later than we had planned and which indicated we would arrive in Atlanta about 10 PM. But we had seen kingfishers, ducks, owls, great blue herons and thousands of deer, turkey and raccoon tracks — and had spent five days and 26 miles canoeing and enjoying what the SE GA RDC declares in their canoe guide, “Georgia’s Most Beautiful River, the Big Satilla.” And believe me, it’s a true statement.
by John Henderson
November 15-19, 2001