With fuel tanks full, we still had another night of camping on the river and a half-day’s travel to Savannah.
As planned, we left the spare gas cans behind for refueling on the way back upriver.
I found the second day to be a tiring one, so, as soon as we were back on the river, I started looking for a campsite for the night. This time, it turned out to be on a large sandbar on the north shore of the river. The thick forest behind the open sandbar was almost jungle-like. This time, I made the boys help set up camp and gather firewood for the night before going exploring.
We still had a few hours of daylight, so I decided I would try a little fishing. The rods and reels I had brought were rigged for bass fishing with a light test line. This was not a fishing trip, so my gear was really not suited for the large catfish I had heard stories about being pulled from this river.
I stood at the water’s edge casting various lures and enjoying the late afternoon fall sunshine. The river current was slow and the sparkle of the sun mesmerizing. I soon found myself almost automatically casting and not really paying much attention, when the boys came running back with tales of a graveyard they had discovered. They had climbed a high bluff back in the woods, when they found themselves in a graveyard. I think it had spooked them a bit, and they had returned to be sure I was still there.
I had been enjoying the quiet, so I sent them off with instructions to find the oldest date on the gravestones — followed by the always automatic, “Be careful and don’t stay too long.” They were off.
Supper that night was a simple, but fun, weenie roast. The night was cool and just being around a campfire felt good. Earlier, as I was getting the hot dogs from the cooler, I decided to sacrifice one as bait for a catfish. I put a larger hook and a couple of heavy lead weights on the line and added half of a hot dog. Catfish are bottom feeders, so I just sent the dog, hook and weights flying to the center of the river to sink to the bottom — and waited. After setting the drag to allow the line to slowly play out if taken by a fish, the rod was left unattended in a rod holder on the boat.
After enjoying my second hotdog, I took a lantern to check, and, sure enough, the line was slowly playing out. I set the hook with a jerk and could immediately feel something pulling back. I called for the boys and started reeling. About half of the line had been taken. There was something a bit scary about knowing there was something on the other end of the line in a dark river miles from nowhere. I played on this with the boys. Was it a monster catfish, an alligator, an eel or an unknown creature? The line snapped, so we’ll never know.
The next morning we woke up to what sounded like a war had broken out. It was duck season and the early morning hunters were blasting away. Later that morning, we motored into the lower reaches of the river where it spread out, and the channel became hard to follow. Before I knew it, we were in what must have been an old rice paddy, and had run aground. The motor shut down, and the boys gave me a frightened look. I was able to raise the motor and we poled our way back to the channel where the motor started, but would run at only about half-speed.
It wasn’t long, as we limped downstream, before we started seeing new channel markers, and, for the first time in two days, I knew exactly where we were. Using navigation charts, I could get us to a marina.
I had planned all along to spend a night in a Savannah hotel where Peter’s father would pick him up. We left the boat to be checked out, and were soon enjoying showers and even room service.
It was Robert Burns who wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” The next morning proved that to be true. The marina called to say that in running aground, sand had been sucked into the motor and parts would need to be ordered and replaced. The really bad news was that this could take a week or more.
There we were, over 300 miles from home, in Savannah, with a wounded boat and my Jeep in a parking lot — in Augusta.
A trip back upriver was now impossible. Madison never said so, but I would bet he was saying to himself, “That’s just fine with me. Get me back to McDonalds, the radio and my bed.”
I rented a car and went to the marina where we loaded all our gear from boat to car — then off to Augusta,130 miles away. Transferred everything from the rental car to the Jeep, turned in the rental car, got a ride back to the Jeep, and off to Highlands — another 170 miles and home. Thank God for credit cards.
The trip that was meant to be an adventure and learning experience had turned into an exercise in problem-solving.
Two weeks later, with an empty trailer in tow, I returned to Savannah to reclaim our boat. I did not even think about retrieving those gas cans we left in that man’s yard, but I have often wondered what he must have thought when we never returned.
PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THE EXPERTS ON COVID-19. KENT COUNTY IS DOING GREAT. THANKS TO ALL.
Bill Minus lives in Chestertown, Maryland where he writes about his observations and memories.