Antietam Creek Kayak Trip, September 13, 2008

Bob doesn't even need a kayak to go down the creek!

Devil's Backbone Park is the put-in location

Bob -- our fearless leader:

Gayle -- our most repectable teammate:

Bob looks preternaturally serious:

Bill -- nice goggles, dude. ;-)

An oft-seen occurrence on our trip:

Burnside Bridge -- an important battlesite during the Civil War

Below is Bob's version of our trip. It is rather hilarious and not far amiss, with the following correction... I got stuck on a rock at one point and my kayak completely filled the cockpit with water. The good news was that it washed the spiders out of my boat. To slightly correct Bob's version--I didn't have a wolf spider. Rather I had bunches of smaller spiders. They were spinning webs apace. I was wondering if I would be encased in a web like a cocoon by the time we finally reached the Potomac.

Logistical notes: We met in Bruswick at 8:00am. By the time we shuttled the vehicles and pack the voluminous lunch that Gayle graciously packed, it was 11:36 when we took off. We stopped for ~1 hour for lunch. Later we had another rest, and arrived at the take out on the Potomac at 6 pm. It was ~12 miles as the crow flies, and >14 miles as the kayaker paddles.

Well, we decided that, since the water in the Antietam Creek goes into the Potomac River, and the last leg of the paddle was in the Potomac River, this paddle qualified as a Potomac River trip. So we did it. We met at 8 AM. We had two teams of two: Gayle and Bob along with Barbara and Bill. We each had specific assignments: Gayle had to say when to bring out the canary, I had to say don't go sideways, Barbara had to say when we were at the halfway point, and Bill had to say that it was time to eat.

This whitewater trip was special in that we did not allow every single one-eyed, three-legged cat to just show up, whether medicated or not. There was too much of a chance of serious injury unless it was kept as a controlled activity. What we did was ask the advice of the outfitters who specialize on running trips on the Antietam Creek. It worked. We are all alive and well.

It was truly a learning experience. We learned about moving water, the force of gravity, and the power of procreative love amongst arachnids.

Following the advice of those who have gone before us, and returned (that is a very important qualifier for adventurers), we used the buddy system, and we mandated that proper safety equipment be used. We also ate a lot.

Thus, we carried out the second summer kayaking shuttle, combined with an exploratory scouting of the largest rapids in the creek. While we stood on a one-lane bridge with no sidewalks, just west of Dale Earnhardt Junior Road (that's what the sign really says), and I calmly explained which side to safely negotiate Furnace Rapids, I became aware that 25% of our attentive group members decided that there were some really pretty flowers at the banks that just had to be photographed. It was going to be one of those days.

But it was a marvelous day, in the eighties. No rain and no wind. The creek was moving rapidly at a depth of 2.6 feet. We were ready.

After the shuttling part, our actual trip began at the properly named Devil's Backbone Park, one of the best places in the area for trout fishing. When we commenced our multi-trip shuttle earlier, though, there was a group of canoeists from Mount Saint Mary's getting ready for their own paddle down the Antietam. Their objective was Molly's Hole, which was only a few miles downstream. The ladies (and a few gentlemen) were each assigned a unique grey bottle that looked like all the other bottles, they had wetsuits on, they wore neoprene boots, and they performed elaborate warm-ups, capped with a very emotional group hug (I am not making this up). We wore shorts, tee-shirts, sandals, PFDs, helmets, along with questionably legal edged weapons, and we just sat there watching them. The group hug scared us. After a long time, the two young ladies who were the leaders of their posse came over, looked at us, looked at our weapons, and asked us when we were going to paddle since they did not want to be in front of us or anywhere near us. We said we would launch after we had a cup of coffee. They shared a look that said, this armed bunch will not do a group hug with us, so we better stay away from them.

And so, they took off in their two-woman canoes. And then we took off after them, on an aquatic gallop.

We were told that the creek averaged a seven foot drop per mile. Well, we were not told that that figure counted the upper and flatter 10 miles as well as the lower and steeper 12 miles, averaged out, with the result that that there were times we were literally looking downhill seeing the creek snake and bounce over many large rocks. And the 12 miles were figured out if one drew a straight line from one point to another. This was, for the record, an actual 14-mile trip.

Greg, who runs the Antietam Creek Canoe Outfitters, gave us a warning to watch out for the stuff you can't see, such as the numerous "just below surface" rocks and gremlins that tend to knock your boats all over the place. I did not want to sound ignorant, so I thanked him and said we'll keep a diligent eye on everything we can't see. We also parked at his facility at the put-in. I would thank him for the parking, but since he didn't know we parked there I'll hold that thanks to myself for awhile.

Once you left the put-in, we were told, there was no turning back.

It did not take too long for us to catch up and pass the canoeists. They were all okay, except for their two trip leaders. The leaders were on the only canoe that was stuck on a rock. We asked them if they needed help, and they thanked us but said they would be okay. One of the Mount ladies was taking our picture, so she asked us to look our best, and then she let out a blood curdling scream. I thought it was because of our looks, but it turned out to be because a huge wolf spider had crawled on her camera and must have been looking at her from the other side of the eyepiece. That was going to be our first of several encounters with wolf spiders.

We paddled single file and quickly shot through and under the Route 68 Bridge, avoiding the strainers therein. Then we went by Beaver Creek on our left. We alternated with slow moving water, quickly moving water, and then rapids. And then more rapids. All surrounded by strainers. There were rocks and logs and strainers were everywhere. We shot though and under the Manor Church Road Bridge. Barbara looked at her map, and said we were halfway there. I looked at Barbara and said nothing. We went by the old Railroad Grade, and decided to pull off to the side and have lunch. Later on, we saw our Mount friends, peeling off their wetsuits and looking like the victims in "Alien" ready to give birth to some chest busters. It was probably in the nineties, with the temperature combined with the paddling exertion, and we were sweating our heads off in shorts and tee shirts. They certainly looked hot. From a temperature standpoint, that is.

We made an unscheduled stop along the way and visited Scott's house, who owns Outdoor Excursions Outfitters. Actually, we pulled his wife out of the house and yanked him off of his tractor, but sometimes the
element of surprise is advantageous when visiting along rivers and creeks.

Scott and his better half came down to the creek banks and shared paddling stories with us. When we told him about the canoeists from Mount Saint Mary's, he knew who the two trip leaders were, and he said he was going to get a beer and just sit there and wait for them, since they would be asking for help. When we told him we were going to do the entire run all the way to the Potomac River, he gave us that look that said, "You are completely out of your mind; so, can I join you?" Let me say something about this kayaking mentor. Once, I went to visit Scott in the winter, and, as I was driving up the long steep hill to his house, he flew by me in the opposite direction on the snow. In his kayak. He also used to practice paddling against artificial oceanic waves in the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Cabin John. The U.S. Navy gave him and his fellow paddlers special permission to do so. That was because they were on the U.S. Olympic Kayaking Team.

Okay, back to our trip. Scott warned me that they had a recent tornado on the Antietam Creek, and that a big tree was across the entire creek. I asked how big. He said big. I asked if it was really big. He said it was really big. As we took off, Coalminer's Daughter asked what was that about a tee, and I said Scott said there
was a little tree up ahead and not to damage it.

Barbara then looked at her wet map and said we were halfway there. Scott told her she had 7 miles to go. Bill said let's eat. We then went under the Keedysville Road Bridge. Fast. Then we went by the famous Antietam Falls to our right. Really fast. We wanted to get a picture, but we were moving way too quickly to take our
hands off of the paddle for any photographs.

We stopped farther down, and took some pictures of the creek and falls upstream. And that gave us an excuse to eat some more. At this point, Coalminer's Daughter got a wolf spider with an attitude in her kayak. This spider must have been a cheetah in a prior life. She commenced to attack herself with her paddle because she was sure the spider was on her. I asked her to stop beating herself non-stop, and to alternate instead; that is, paddle then beat oneself, paddle then beat oneself, and so on.

Then, it was Barbara who got spider fever. Apparently, a number of wolf spiders gave birth in her kayak. Wolf spiders, you may like to know, have a very direct method of giving birth as well as sending their young off into the world: The mother shakes them off, and those that do not take off fast enough, she eats them. That is why the little critters run like mad. So, while one was beating herself with the paddle, the other one was doing the "Macarena" in fast motion. What a sight. We continued on nonetheless.

And then a man with a large dog decided to play a game with us. The cretin stood in the creek and had the dog swim after us and try to jump into our boast and capsize us. I yelled at the dog to stay back, and so he came after me. He sure could swim fast, and he managed to get one paw on my hatch cover as he started to lift himself out of the water. The man thought it was funny. The dog thought it was funny. And I thought it was funny when I hit the dog upside its head with my paddle and the dog let out a yelp and took off after his misguided master.

Meanwhile, 50% of our contingent was under a sustained arachnoid attack.

We then took off again, and, as we rounded one of the many bends, we saw the tornadic tree with many branches. It was more like a wooden wall. The creek was not visible behind it. In fact, nothing else was visible behind it. And we were moving right towards it. So Coalminer's Daughter decided that it was time to…… Bring Out The Canary. I went as fast as I could through a spot between the branches in the middle, hit the tree trunk, and flew over it on the other side. Since I lived, everyone else followed suit, and we made it across.

Then we went under the Route 34 Bridge. More strainers and many more rocks. Then we went under the Route 65 or Sharpsburg Pike Bridge.

More strainers and many more rocks.

After a while, everything got quiet. The water was still moving, but without the regular splashing sound that we were accustomed to. We were entering a special place.

We saw, and slowly went under the famous Burnside Bridge. This is a sacred area. Civil War historians will tell you that, approached in silence and reverence, one can hear the whispering voices of the thousands upon thousands who gave their lives in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, when the Antietam Creek ran red with blood for two days. It was so strange, floating around one another therein, in absolute silence, beneath that old bridge that was once covered with the blood of so many of our nation's sons.

We paddled through that area with true respect, and lingered therein to think about what it all must have been like. Finally, when a group of tourists peeked over the stone fortifications on the sides of the creek, and saw us, taking our pictures, that was when we decided to leave.

Then the Antietam came back to life. Church was over. The whitewater triad commenced again: Water, rock, air…… Paddle hard, hit a rock, go airborne…… We then flew over a spot appropriately called "The Surf." More strainers and many large rocks.

I don't remember who asked this, but it was an appropriate question: Where is the creek? You see, we had to go over a dam. Yup; a wall. On the other side it was much lower, so you could not see that part of the water beyond the drop. Now, if I told this bunch that we were going over a wall, they may have resisted. So I told them about it in a pictorial manner. That is, I went over it and disappeared, and they had no choice but to follow. Everyone did great.

We heard it before we saw it. Furnace Rapids. Not one, but a series of them. Decision time. We picked the left side which was the right side. The right side would have been the wrong side. It was like an amusement park ride. That was where we were told we could not fall out of our boats. And, as I reminded everyone for the umpteen time, we could not go sideways. It would have resulted in a kayak being found downstream.

And then we went under Harper's Ferry Road Bridge. After that, we went under the C&O Canal Aqueduct Bridge. Finally, the trees opened up like a curtain and the majestic Potomac River was in front of us. The Potomac looked huge. And so we paddled upstream, in the manner we were accustomed to, with a renewed understanding and appreciation of where much of the the river's water actually comes from. Then Coalminer's Daughter found the arachnoid antithesis to her agitated spider (which I was ordered to attack but not harm in any way). She eventually found its rural cousin, a laconic spider, that I was ordered to rescue and not harm in any way. You just can't make this stuff up.

We took out on our right side, which is river left. In this case, the river right was the wrong side but the river left was the right side. Remember that one. At the take out, once we got the boats out and retrieved all the cars, it was dusk. We finally hit the road at 8 PM. A fantastic 12-hour adventure.