LAURINBURG — Though they dipped paddles into the soft current of the Lumber River on Aug. 12 without once looking back, Tim and Josiah Poole’s father-son kayaking trip has given them plenty to remember through the months before next summer rolls around.
Before this summer, Poole, the proprietor of Larry Poole’s Wrecker Service, and his 13-year-old son Josiah had navigated the river from Drowning Creek on the Hoke County line to Nichols on the north end of Marion County, South Carolina.
“We put in there and we did a section at a time on Saturdays at different times, and maybe with an overnight stay every once in a while,” Poole said. “We kept going the whole length of the river, but not all at one time, and eventually we had done it all the way down to Nichols.”
This year — though Poole insists it was Josiah’s idea — the pair decided to finish off the summer with a flourish by knocking out the rest of the river, from Nichols to the Wacca Wache Marina a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean near Murrells Inlet, in a single trip.
Into two kayaks went five days’ worth of gear: a tent, sleeping bags, cots, and military rations which, with flameless reaction heaters eliminated the need for a fire. Another concession to the modern world was a battery-powered booster pack to provide light and charge an iPhone. Most of it fit into the hull of Poole’s 17-foot tandem kayak.
“We pulled up at one place to stay the night and started unloading the tent and the sleeping stuff and the food and these guys came down just to look,” Poole said. “It was a two-person deal, so a lot of stuff fit in there.”
The Pooles set out without a strict itinerary, scouting for a dry spot to set up camp around 6 or 7 p.m. each day. Once, they pitched their tent right in the center of the river, on a sandbar surrounded by shallow water.
Their first night on the river, Mother Nature welcomed them with a show in the form of a 4 a.m. meteor shower.
“I guess I had that on my mind because I was awake,” said Poole. “We never put the canopy top on the tent, so just looking through the screen you could see the stars. We ended up putting our cot out and both of us sat there and looked up and counted 30 something meteors streaking across the sky that night.”
Around S.C. 917, halfway between Nichols and Galivants Ferry, the river becomes known as the Little Pee Dee. The placid demeanor of the wide river emboldened both Pooles to paddle standing up for long stretches. Josiah even perched on the rear of his kayak.
“Josiah, I think you’re supposed to sit in the kayak, man,” Poole joked just before his son toppled off the boat’s back edge, a stunt the teenager declared to be intentional.
Throughout the voyage, the Pooles made the acquaintance of much of the river ecosystem, from minnows visible through the clear, shallow water, catfish, gar, and turtles, up to an alligator and one of the largest water moccasins Tim Poole has ever laid eyes on. At one point, they even snagged a fishing pole abandoned at the bottom of the river and set it up in the hope of catching a fresh dinner.
The swamps approaching Bull Creek, which connects the Little Pee Dee to the Waccamaw River, can be tricky to navigate. Posted signs declare “You are lost without Jesus,” and plaques sport both directional arrows and quips from the Ten Commandments.
An eagle and a blue heron also seemed to provide guidance, preceding the boats around each went and shift in the river.
“It kept on and on, almost like leading you through there,” Poole said. “It was kind of wild.”
In the final four hours of their journey, the Pooles found themselves paddling effectively upstream, as the tide pushed back against the shallow river.
“When we were still on the Little Pee Dee River back in the swamp, Josiah throws out a handful of sand and realizes that the river’s actually flowing the wrong way,” said Poole. “I said, I know we’re going the right way, and I double-checked the map and sure enough it was flowing back.
“We were basically paddling upstream — the last day when we were trying to make it it seemed like if you stopped paddling, you started flowing backwards. So we really had a workout.”
A Laurinburg resident since 1983, Poole first went out on the river with his daughters about 12 years ago. In that time, Piney Island in Robeson County has also become a cherished getaway spot.
Next, Poole and Josiah plan to recreate their ocean-bound trip, but continuing down the Waccamaw River into the sea via Winyah Bay.
“Different people do different things for relaxation: it’s almost like therapy to take the first couple of strokes and paddle away,” Poole said. “Especially when you go out for five days, you’re there and the only way to continue is to put all your stuff back in and keep going.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.