This story begins in the middle of the summer as my paddle sessions increased in time and distance. I wanted a distance race to train for but unable to attend Chattajack 31, I decided to create my own distance event, a paddle from my home in Oriental NC to Beaufort NC, a distance of approximately 20 miles. But wait, that’s not really where the story begins. The real beginning is June 13, 2013 when my husband and I provided boat support for Kacie Wallace and Kim Sutton who were paddling all of North Carolina’s Intracoastal Waterway on their paddle boards. We met them that morning just outside Beaufort and accompanied them back to Oriental. At that time I’d heard of paddle boards but had never seen one close up. I was inspired by these amazing women and athletes who were paddling 20-35 miles a day in varying conditions. I told my husband they were my S-heros. Three weeks later I purchased my own SUP from Kate and Charley Lewis of Stand Up Outfitters in New Bern. That is the true beginning of this adventure.
After coming up with the idea of an Oriental to Beaufort paddle my husband offered his boat support and we began looking at dates, tides and who would could accompany us. We picked a date based on favorable tides and what would hopefully coincide with Chattajack training for those going. By the end of August we had our date, September 20, and our group of local paddlers, myself, Kate Lewis of New Bern and Julia Nicholls, Miriam Sutton, Sloan Freeman and Bill Brophy of the Morehead/Beaufort area. We were hoping Lisa Schell of Raleigh, the Inland Paddler, would be able to join us but a virus kept her home.
The week leading up to the 20th was filled with excitement, packing, organizing transportation, messaging daily on Facebook all the while trying to ignore the weather forecast. We were waiting for the weather gods to suddenly change the winds from 15-20 mph NE to light and variable. That didn’t happen. With these conditions the crossing of the Neuse River would not be fun. At noon on Friday the 19th, O2B was cancelled and by 1:00 pm was rescheduled for Sunday October 5. Paddlers can be decisive when it comes to scheduling an epic paddle!
Julia Nicholls and Kate Lewis leaving Oriental, NC
I guess the paddling gods were on our side in the end because the conditions on Sunday were stellar! We began loading the support boat and prepping gear at 6:15am with an air temperature of 48 degrees, the coolest morning yet this fall. The glow in the east expanded, swallowing the stars as we took our first paddle strokes at 6:40 am. Our initial goal was to cross the Neuse River and enter AdamsCreek. The Neuse is 4 miles wide at this point and can be challenging in some conditions but all seemed well this morning with a 5mph NW breeze behind us and breaking dawn in front of us. We paddled, talked and released our nervous energy fueled by excitement, the unknown, coffee, and lack of sleep. This was great! We’d be across the river in no time.
And then the wind picked up. And the conversation lagged.
We still had a tailwind but it had increased so now we were in a downwinder with 2-3 foot waves. We went from a tight formation laughing and talking to every man and woman for themselves. I had to keep all my focus on the water and my balance to stay on my board. I knew if I looked around at others I would fall in for sure. At this moment two things played a huge role. One was knowing my husband was behind us in the boat, on the lookout for anyone needing help and the other was the type of boards we all had. I’d been worried that my 12’6”, 30” wide Starboard Touring board would slow us down but now was overjoyed with it. My Starboard managed the waves well considering my lack of experience in these conditions. As I adjusted, I even began to have scary fun. I kept my eyes on Kate Lewis ahead of me who was definitely having fun. She is an experienced paddler and surfer and had a SIC Maui Bullet 14’ that was made for these conditions. Meanwhile Sloan on a 12’6” SIC x 12, Miriam on a 12’6” Bark Candace and Julia on a 12’6” Bark Contender were having more difficulty. It didn’t help that Julia and Miriam had their boards loaded down with nutrition, camel bak bladders and other gear in preparation for what they would carry at Chattajack.
The true champion of this crossing though was Bill Brophy who was using a sliding seat rower atop a 14’ Bark Laird. This set up is designed for flat conditions which we definitely didn’t have. It was challenging for him to get both paddles in the water simultaneously and he had waves breaking over the front and back of his board. He kept at it with my husband close by in the boat. About 30 minutes after the wind had picked up, we reconvened at the mouth of Adams Creek buzzing with a mixture of adrenaline and endorphins. One of us got wet and one of us resorted to cursing but nobody shed blood or tears so all in all a successful crossing
Gathering at the mouth of Adams Creek after our downwinder across the Neuse
And then the magic began. The most challenging portion of our trip was complete. The NW wind was once again our friend, pushing us down Adams Creek in the golden, fall light. Three miles into the creek the outgoing tide joined the wind and we hit 5mph, sometimes more. We passed dolphin, egrets, herons, and non-paddling humans drinking coffee on their porches and taking video of us on their I-Pads.
Fifteen miles into our journey we stopped at Sea Gate Marina on the Intracoastal Waterway. We rested, refilled our camel baks and ate. A peanut butter and banana sandwich did the trick for me. A couple of us checked in on Facebook and saw that Lisa Schell, our virtual team member, was doing an awesome job keeping the100/100 Facebook group updated on our progress. She kept a close eye on the Followme app Julia had downloaded on her phone and knew our location, speed and when were were slacking off. Knowing others were cheering us on from afar was very motivating.
Julia Nicholls, Kate Lewis, and Heather Brewer discussing life on the ICW with our support boat close at hand
As we headed out from Sea Gate I think we all were experiencing a “paddler’s high” fed by physical exertion, adventure, perfect weather conditions and our camaraderie. Personally sharing this experience with 5 other paddlers is what made the day so special. We paddled in groupings
of 2’s and 3’s talking about the day, paddling, life. It felt as if we were suspended in a perfect moment those hours on the Intracoastal Waterway.
As the clock closed in on noon were checked the GPS more often, talked about what was aching (my traps) and began to think of lunch. My longest paddle had been 16 miles and I was getting tired. At around 20 miles Adams Creek emptied into the Newport River outside Beaufort. There were several channels to choose from, more boat traffic and shallower water keeping our support boat at a distance. Luckily we were entering home waters for Miriam who provided excellent navigation to get us into Beaufort.
The last 4 miles of our trip
Like a horse heading towards the stable, I felt renewed energy as we closed in on Beaufort. French fries and beer were close at hand. The reality of what we’d achieved settled in and I was elated. We paddled under a bridge, hung a left and I saw our support boat tied up at Stillwater Grill, our take out point. I couldn’t believe it. Something I thought was superhuman last June I had just achieved. We approached the dock at the back of the restaurant and family and friends cheered. We had just paddled 24 miles for lunch! Amazing! But why didn’t I want to get off my board? Why did I suddenly want to keep paddling down the waterfront? I didn’t want the day to end. I appreciated the gift and rarity of a perfect day, but wait, a perfect day does include a cold IPA, so I secured my board on the dock and joined family and friends in a celebratory lunch.
Celebrating at Stillwater with our official stickers
I still feel the stoke of our achievement and am grateful for 6 hours on the water with Kate, Miriam, Sloan, Julia and Bill and for the support of husbands, children and friends who helpedmake O2B happen. As I reflect on our 24 mile paddle I am struck by the power of following our dreams. Kim and Kacie followed their dream of paddling the ICW which positively impacted my life by introducing me to the world of SUP. I have pushed my physical limits, made wonderful new friends and have had lots of fun thanks to their inspiration. Following through with my dream of paddling from Oriental to Beaufort provided the opportunity for 5 other paddlers to share this experience and paddle the farthest they ever have. When I saw the smiles and fist bumps and heard everyone talking about what an amazing day they’d had I was grateful I’d taken my dream to fruition. My dream made others happy just as Kim and Kacie’s dream made me happy.
Whether in paddling or “real” life, I encourage you to follow your dreams. Life uses dreams to nudge you in the right direction, to push you outside your comfort zone so you grow physically and emotionally. Following your dreams is how you bring that special part of yourself to the world and positively impact others. So keep dreaming, keep paddling and we’ll all make the world a little bit of a better place.
The O2B team, Julia Nicholls, Kate Lewis, Sloan Freeman, Bill Brophy, Miriam Sutton and Heather Brewer
Not pictured: Captain Bobby Brewer – boat support