by Julie Gyselinck
Monday, October 6th dawned misty and crisp. At Dawhoo Landing, our breath billowed out in clouds as we unloaded three kayaks from the Botany Bay Eco Tour pick-up truck. For the next three days the kayaks would be home base for Explore Edisto. Caroline Matheny, Adelia "Dilly” Hancock, and I planned to circumnavigate the island and beach by water.
What started out as a joke, while brainstorming adventure ideas, became a reality. Why not try to circumnavigate the island? It is an island after all. How long could it take? We would document our adventure with photos and videos to be broadcast via social media. Meg Hoyle helped plot the course and we secured campsites. Dates were picked according to the tides that would work with our course; outgoing tide for the trip down to Westbank, ingoing tide for the trip up the South Edisto towards Bailey Island. As far as crossing the beachfront, we just hoped for calm water!
Our first stop was Westbank Plantation where we planned to spend the night. Approximately nine miles of river ran between us and our first stop. Launching with an outgoing tide, we pointed our boats under the bridge and left our guide, Meg Hoyle behind to catch up with us later in the day via boat.
The weather couldn't have been better, the sky more blue or the water more calm. We planned for the trip to take three days, assuming we would take breaks and ride in the boat some. That assumption was correct.
Day one started out with a fast three hour trip down the river to Westbank Creek. However once we left the North Edisto River, we fought for every inch of distance. Just as the tide flowed out as we ventured down the North Edisto, the water flowed out of Westbank Creek with equal vigor. A distance that could have been no more than one sixteenth of a mile from the mouth of the creek to the dock proved to be the hardest paddling of the trip. Like wading through wet cement with a fifty pound weight on your ankles, it was almost impossible. A short distance that would have taken two minutes to walk, took us 45 minutes of constant paddling against a heaving current, fighting to keep us out.
To see every mile of shore line from our little bobbing boats was one experience we will not soon forget. Accompanied by wildlife both above and below, we were encouraged to press on. Exhausted at times, we would climb into the boat and rest. For the next two days we took turns resting, with one person rotating out as two continued to paddle.
Night two found us camping in the forest on Bailey Island. Meg made sure we were tucked in and safe then left us to our own devices. Sunburnt, sore and deliriously tired, we flopped down on the ground in the dirt by the fire. Somehow it seemed like we had been at it for weeks at this point.
We woke up the next morning resolute in our decision to finish. The amount of dirt caked to us and salt in our hair created the appearance of an apocalypse survivor. We started discussing jumping in the river to clean off. Trepidation about the deep water and swift current of the river stopped us from leaping in feet first. We established a plan to get in one at a time with our life vests on and a rope tied to the dock. We rationalized that two of us could pull the other up onto the dock. Alive with the thought of getting in that cool, clean water, we practically skipped all the way down the long dock, only to discover the life vests and rope had left us the night before. Dreams dashed, we ambled back to the campsite feeling sad and even dirtier than before. As luck would have it, we found a broken five gallon bucket in the woods and drug it down to the dock and filled it with brackish river water. One lucky fisherman out there witnessed the saddest bird bath known to man. To you, sir, my deepest apologies.
With the boats packed up on day three we departed Bailey Island and headed across the Helena Sound to Pine Island. This deserted island reveals an impressive beach at low tide but changes face drastically at high tide. Here we rested, walking the beach and discussing the habitability of the island. We were sure there was an Edisto native out there that could handle the chore with ease, we however, were not up to even considering spending one more night without a hot shower and clean clothes.
Before we got on the boat to head north we pulled out the cast net to see if we could get any shrimp. We got a few smaller specimens with each cast, tossing them back into their salty homes when we were done inspecting them. On the boat and much further up the South Edisto we stopped and threw the cast net into the mud banks and were able to pull in a number of shrimp and even a Mantis Shrimp aka The Thumb Splitter. This peculiar little creature was the show stopper of our trip. Yes, we are easily amused, but he was fascinating!
Our trip north back towards the Dawhoo Bridge and our starting point, was spent mostly in the big boat. We got out and paddled in various locations, at times feeling like a floating speck in the massive stretch of water all around us. The wildness of the estuaries was stunning. The river controlled the show and changed things up as she saw fit. Out of nowhere a sand bar that stretched almost all the way across the river appeared with malicious intent. What at first looked like a dirty film on the surface was in fact a rapidly appearing sand bar that had changed our course. Instead of running parallel to the shore as shown on the charts, it now divided the river almost perfectly in half. Our guide, Meg took her time and expertly navigated the obstruction. If we had been in anything but a flat bottomed boat we would have been in trouble until the tide changed.
We then cut down past the Jehossee Island Planation. This fresh water portion of the river is home to a multitude of alligators. Their little heads would pop up out of the reeds in suspicion as we neared, and they would slowly slide into the water. Out of our sight but not out of our minds. The average size for the alligators we saw was about four feet long, nose to tail. Not big enough to be scary, but it sure made us wonder where the big ones were!
As our trip around Edisto came to an end, we reflected through our exhaustion, about the vast wilderness that spread out all around us and the amazing array of wildlife we encountered. Explore Edisto got the great privilege of seeing all sides of Edisto. I recommend to everyone, step away from the sand and take a look at what really makes Edisto worth exploring; there is more to it than just the beach.