Challenging Memorial Day Weekend on Satilla
Burnt Fort, GA-Every so often the Fellow Travelers plan a spur of the moment outing, and often insufficient thought is given to the outing. Such was the case for Memorial Day weekend. The plan was for a leisurely thirty-five mile paddle from Atkinson to Burnt Fort on the Satilla. This would be new territory, but should be far enough downstream to avoid the low water that made the Satilla almost unnavigable on some past trips, and it was apparent that drought stricken south Georgia would not have a Satilla so high as to be dangerous, as it has been on some other trips.
Charlie Stines secured parking permission from the owners of the Satilla Club. There was to be a rally of the Christian Motorcycle Association at the the put-in, but the Satilla Club owners were nice enough to grant permission to leave vehicles there anyhow.
Donald May planned to go, but wimped out late in the plans. His feigned excuse was that the river would be low, and the temperature would be high.
Greg Baker decided to make the trip and give his beautiful blue-black Bell Magic solo its first gear-carrying overnighter. Haley Chauncey brought her beau de jour, Mike Spiers along for his rookie Fellow Traveler adventure. Art Shelfer came, and he soloed the Penobscot 16. Charlie got another chance for some lonely paddling in the Prism.
Art and Charlie drove to Folkston on Friday night and spent the night in the Western Patel, a decent motel operated by Far Easterners. Everyone met at the take-out, Burnt Fort, which is just east of Folkston. Greg's canoe and everyone's gear was loaded on to the rejuvenated canoe trailer, and the five boarded the Suburban Profane for the trip to the Satilla Club for launch. After dodging hundreds of motorcycles, the canoes were put in the river. A nice (and nice looking) lady invited us to stop at her place on the river about three miles down, but by the time it was reached, the Travelers had forgotten the invitation.
It was obviously going to be a scenic trip. The Satilla is billed by its promoters as Georgia's most scenic river, and the first impression would cause little quarrel with that assessment. The tannic water was very shallow, but there was a beautiful sandbar in almost every bend, and never does any other river bend as much as does the Satilla. There are also some banks, and the river flows through a corridor of mixed hardwood and conifers. Wading birds were plentiful.
But shallow was the keyword. It became apparent that Donald was right--it was shallow. And it was hot! Getting out of the canoes to pull across the shallows was common. The river is also crooked, and sometimes it was hard to tell which route was best as the river divided into oxbows. It was Memorial Day weekend, and it seemed that a goodly portion of south Georgia's population had come to camp, sunbathe, or just play in the river. The group asked one lady where we were, and she replied we were somewhere in Georgia, and it was mighty close to heaven. Except for the oppressive heat, the weather was perfect.
Less than three miles downstream (by GPS) the group chose a wrong direction. Rather than do the wise thing and paddle back upstream, the gang portaged the canoes about a quarter mile partly through knee-deep mud and partly through woods. The most observed wildlife on the portage was yellow flies. It took way over an hour to complete the portage, but it was relatively smooth paddling after that. There were still many places where the paddlers had to get out and drag the canoes through shallow water, but the water was refreshing.
A lunch stop came a little after one o'clock. Haley and Mike took a swim. Greg and Charlie took out their folding chairs and relaxed. Upon leaving, Charlie folded his chair but forgot to put it back into the canoe. So the throne was left somewhere on the Satilla, never to be seen again.
The GPS showed nineteen miles from the Satilla Club to Burnt Fort. It became obvious that the five paddlers were covering little ground, as the river kept circling. The scenery remained superb, and the river remained shallow. There are several lakes along the Satilla, and there are lots of places with vehicle and four-wheeler access, so it was not a deserted river. Most of the people had no idea how far Burnt Fort was downstream, and many of them had never even heard of it. That was a bad omen.
The lead canoes usually see the most wildlife. Greg and Charlie were leading and came upon a topless sunbathing lady. She quickly covered herself and apologized. Haley and Mike were about a hundred yards behind, and when they arrived at the site they witnessed the lady tongue-lashing the man she was with for not warning her that canoes were coming.
Campsites are everywhere, but due to the slow progress showing on the GPS, the five paddled until a bit after six o'clock. The campsite was on a nice sandbar. The GPS indicated that the first day had covered a little over five of the nineteen miles. Everyone set up the tents, and the weather allowed the campers to skip the rainflies. Charlie erected his new major award, the outfitter wing. It is similar to the parawing John Williams has, but will accommodate more people. The weather did not make it a necessity this time.
Charlie brought nice ribeye steaks. One pile of charcoal was used to bake potatoes, and another was used to grill steaks. The steaks cooked too slowly on the charcoal, and they were finished in the frying pan using another of Charlie's new major awards, a stainless steel Brinkman two-burner propane stove. There was salad, too. Greg forgot to bring the brownies his imaginary wife, Lillian, had prepared, so there was no real dessert. The five ate supper in the dark.
Mike built a nice campfire. Everyone sat around the campfire way past bedtime. After river baths, everyone turned in for a good night's sleep.
The King made coffee before everyone else got out of bed. Haley prepared a sausage, egg, bread, and cheese casserole for breakfast. After that, it was time for the second day of paddling.
Within the first mile, the group encountered a downed tree that almost totally obstructed the river. There was a way to float under at the extreme right bank, and all four canoes made it through, only to find the path obstructed by more brush. A bunch of semi-skilled paddling got everyone through with no upsets.
There were more obstructions which required getting out of the canoes, and the river was not appreciably deeper. Thus the getting out and dragging canoes continued. Needless to say, the GPS offered mainly discouragement.
The paddlers found a nice shady spot for lunch. By that time, the Weatherman (Art) had fallen way behind. Haley and Mike took a swim. Art caought up after about an hour. He confided to Mike and Haley that he might just stay behind. He was offered the opportunity to switch boats with Charlie or for Mike to take the Penobscot as a solo and allow Art to join Haley in the Canadienne, but he declined the charitable offers.
After taking off, Art still lagged behind. The river began to have more deep sections where the paddling was easier. The entire trip was blessed by many nice breezes, but it was hot anyhow. The deeper sections were not constant, and there were still many places which required pulling the canoes through shallows. The GPS still showed a remarkable lack of progress toward mile nineteen.
Mike, Haley, Greg, and Charlie decided to stop about six thirty. Greg and Charlie were far enough ahead of Haley and Mike to allow a nice bath before Haley invaded the privacy. The GPS said the group still had six miles to Burnt Fort. It was another nice sandbar. After pitching the tents, Greg prepared a meal of beef stew and rice. The four waited for Art before eating, but there was no sign of the Weatherman. Finally Greg heard shots being fired, and everyone assumed Art was about to the campsite. Greg fired back to let him know we were just downstream, but it was a false alarm. Dinner was served, and Art camped somewhere upstream.
No live alligators were encountered, but Mike found a gator skeleton and pulled himself some teeth.
After supper, the bushed paddlers sat around the fire for only a short time before sacking out for the night. Since Art had the paper plates and cups, there were dishwashing chores. For breakfast, there was no coffee since Art had the cups. But Art had been scheduled to prepare the Monday morning breakfast. The sausage and eggs were in Charlie's cooler, so breakfast was fixed in spite of the cook's absence.
Greg had an appointment with his granddaughter, so he left before breakfast. Mike, Haley, and Charlie ate Art's sausage and eggs. After that, it was downstream. The three remaining Fellow Travelers were on the water shortly after eight o'clock.
Monday's paddling was in deeper water. There was a supposed to be a fish camp about six river (not GPS) miles above the take-out, and it was anticipated that we could replenish the ice which had melted in the hot weather despite being in so-called five-day coolers. At about ten, the paddlers reached the 3R Fish Camp. It was a community of vacation homes and a landing, but there was not a camp store. Fortunately, a nice man was mowing his yard and happened to have a bag of ice which he freely contributed to the cause. Drinking water was almost running short, as everyone had drunk a lot of it during the hot paddling.
After leaving the fish camp, the river had become a big one. Motor boat traffic was heavy, and a few created unsettling wakes. The scenery continued to be very pretty, and there were still lots of ducks, herons, egrets, and hawks. Lots of fishermen seemed to be catching fish.
Finally, Burnt Fort arrived just before one o'clock. Haley and Charlie drove to the Satilla Club to retrieve the Suburban Profane and get some soft drinks at a convenience store. Upon the return to Burnt Fort, the two canoes were loaded. Haley and Mike left, and Charlie waited for Art. Just before he arrived, there was a boating mishap at the landing. A boat capsized, and several people had to be pulled from the river. Art came just in time for the rescue.
The weather changed just as the Weatherman arrived. South Georgia finally got the downpour it so needed. After waiting for a slack in the deluge, the trailer was pulled beneath the bridge and the Penobscot joined the other canoes. Art and Charlie left a little after three o'clock.
This was a scouting trip for the planned September trip. After making the trip, the consensus is that the September plans need revision. All agreed the river was beautiful, and that it had excellent campsites everywhere. But everyone also agreed that it is too long a trip for a comfortable three-day excursion. The tentative plans are to take out at the the 3R Fish Camp, and possible put in a landing or two below the Satilla Club.