Dragonfly, July 3, 2006


Choptank and Tuckahoe paddle, bike, and hike
July 2006

Last updated July 5, 2006



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four

Day One: Saturday, July 1, 2006

Just a few days prior to our trip, the Maryland area received record rainfall. Hyattsville, the town in which Norma lives, received over 10 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. Such heavy rains were expected to occur only once every 200 years. Needless to say, a great deal of damage was done to property and vegetation. We weren't too sure just how feasible our plans would be.

Packing was done the night before with my tiny Acura Integra loaded to the hilt with two bicycles, a tandem kayak, kayaking gear, camping gear, and plenty of food. On July 1, 2006 we were up at 0430 and left the house at 0515 to get across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge before the mad holiday rush. We were successful. After getting across the bridge, we stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Denton to buy breakfast. At a local newspaper stand, we saw how the carnival grounds in Greensboro made the front page due to all the flooding that had taken place recently. That is exactly where we planned to launch that morning.

Norma and I set up camp at Martinak State Park and ate breakfast. Despite the long weekend, we had most of the area to ourselves as much of the campground was vacant.

Next, we drove to the Greensboro Boat Ramp. While the water was a little high, it was clearly no longer flooded. We launched at 1015 and paddled south towards Denton along the Choptank River scenic water trail. A fisherman asked us where we started and when we told him, he asked if the area was still roped off. Apparently, our launch site was just recently opened back up.

This was Norma's first time kayaking so I brought my Ocean Kayak Cabo, a big, wide, slow, heavy, plastic, sit-on-top kayak. We saw the usual ospreys, herons, and turtles...more than I could count. While the river was scenic, it became especially pretty once we explored the Chapel Branch tributary, which lies 6.4 statute miles south of the boat ramp on the east side of the Choptank River. See first photo on left.

We were stopped by a tree that fell across the creek. This gave me a chance to use my brand new, never been used Sven Saw to cut a means for us to pass. See second photo on left. While the area was quite scenic, I was a little disappointed that most all of it appeared to be privately owned. Hence, I wasn't too comfortable pulling over and stopping for lunch even though we did.

For lunch, we ate meals ready to eat (MREs). This was another first for Norma. As with all my friends, she liked it though I think there is a inverse correlation between one's culinary standards and one's level of hunger. I used trioxane compressed fuel (heat tabs) to heat her MRE coffee...another thing from my military past.

There were numerous fuzzy caterpillars on the water, wiggling about. Not sure if they wanted to be there or if they just got blown in by the wind. See third photo on left.

After paddling 13.2 miles, we arrived back at Martinak State Park. We pulled out my kayak cart, attached it to the bottom of the boat near the middle, and wheeled it back to our campsite. Then, we unlocked our bicycles and rode 9.3 miles through Denton to Greensboro to get back to my car. It felt good to stretch and work our legs after sitting in the kayak for 4.5 hours. We put the bicycles in the car and drove back to the campsite, finishing our day's adventures at about 1630.

I picked up a small bundle of wood for $3 in the B loop of the campground. Norma gathered kindling and refilled canteens while I got a fire ready for the night. After washing up, we drove to the Denton Plaza Shopping Center just outside of the park and had a great dinner at the Collosseum Italian Restaurant. They had just moved and expanded their business. We spoke with the owner and were pampered like restaurant critics. Their sauces were delicious!

After returning to the campsite, we went for a short walk (maybe a mile or less) around the park on the wooded exercise trail. We sat around the fire then turned in for the night.
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Day Two: Sunday July 2, 2006

The night was warm...very warm and humid. It is oftentimes a losing situation when trying to find that perfect balance in comfort at night. If you remove the rain fly from your tent, you get good ventilation but then if it starts raining during the night, you'll get wet and have to get up to put on the rain fly. If you leave the rain fly on, you are guaranteed not to have to get up in the night but then you lose some ventilation. I slept fine but Norma was a little too warm at times.

We were up at 0600. Norma found a baby praying mantis. See first photo on left. After eating breakfast and getting ready for another big day of kayaking, we drove to Kingston Landing and launched at 0930. We paddled downstream on the Choptank River for about a half mile. Then we turned right (northwest) and paddled up Kings Creek. We saw several bald eagles...or perhaps it was just one. It was hard to tell because it would fly away and then we'd either see it again or see a new one.

Unlike yesterday's paddle, this one was much more secluded. I wasn't even sure if we'd be able to get very far since there were no boat ramps or reason for this tributary to be maintained. But this was precisely what kept this area pristine...the lack of human interference.

About 4 miles up from the mouth of the creek, Norma and I encountered a tree that blocked our path and was half submerged in some areas. We got out of the boat, climbed on the log, and managed to pull the boat over the lowest part of the tree. Paddling onward, we encountered a tree that required me to saw our way through. About 5.5 miles from the mouth, the creek became quite narrow with too many trees blocking our route.

Somewhere along the way, a camel cricket hopped on the boat...at least that's what I think it was. Maybe it was a katydid. See second photo on left.

We pulled over for a short break and were quickly devoured by mosquitos. Norma and I saw several holes in the mud, each about 1.5 inches in diameter. Some had mud piled up around the sides so they resembled small volcanoes. Later, we found out they were the dwellings of crabs or crayfishes.

We paddled back downstream then turned right (north) at Beaverdam Brook. Once again, we found the area minimally affected by people and almost left to its natural state. After paddling up the brook as far as was reasonably possible, we headed back to the Choptank River, stopping along the way for lunch. We ate at a small clearing by a road where there had obviously been beaver activity. See third photo on left.

Norma took to kayaking quite well. I got her started with a standard Euro paddle then had her try a wing paddle. She preferred the latter. Unfortunately, like most beginning paddlers, the skin near the base of her thumbs was rubbed raw. Hence, her thumbs look like that of a mummy. See fourth photo on left for Norma with another one of those fuzzy caterpillars.

We continued kayaking downstream. After about 5 hours, we finally saw another boat.

By the mid-afternoon, the Choptank was a little windy. Our sheltered little paddle on one of its tributaries was definitely one I will remember for a long time. By the time we landed, we had paddled 12.6 miles in 6 hours, including breaks. Our average pace was about 3.2 mph.

I found a small tick on my hand. We started checking each other for ticks. Norma had a few. Fortunately, I had recently purchased a tick remover which I added to my first aid kit. It came in quite handy for removing ticks that have latched onto their host. For the rest of the holiday weekend, we made it a habit to stop and check each other for ticks every few hours.

We drove back to the park and launched at the Martinak ramp. Then Norma and I paddled 2.6 miles up Watts Creek. We paddled under route 313/404, seeing some new bridge construction along with several swallow nests below the old bridge. See fifth photo on left. We continued paddling a good distance...much further than I originally anticipated. Some of the upstream areas had nice tree cover to protect us from the sun. See sixth photo on left.

By the time we finished, we paddled 17.8 miles! Not bad considering we were paddling a recreational boat.

That night we ate at Snappy's Bar and Grille. Not sure how big their burgers were but I'm guessing it was a good half pound of beef in each patty. We returned to the campsite then turned in early at 2130. We were both exhausted.
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Day Three: Monday, July 3, 2006

Some light rain had fallen the previous night and that morning. Considering the weather forecast called for 30-40% chance of showers for much of the weekend, we were fortunate to have gotten so little rain over the last few days.

We were up at 0645 and left camp at 0845. Feeling a little fatigued from yesterday's kayaking, we decided to alter the weekend plans just a bit and spend the day bicycling. We drove to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. On the way there, we encountered some road detours, most likely due to the heavy rain. There was also a section of the railroad tracks that had completely washed away during the flooding from days prior. See first photo on left.

We stopped at the refuge visitor center and decided on a route. Having biked the lower 25 mile loop around the wetlands area back in December 2005, I chose instead for us to explore the 20 mile loop which goes into Cambridge.

Norma and I started biking at 1100, heading east on Key Wallace Drive to Egypt Road. On the northwest side of the intersection is a new trail called the Key Wallace Hiking Trail. We picked up a map and began hiking. Much of the trail was muddy. It was easy to follow but also easy to get lost. I expect we hiked a fast 3 miles, seeing several Woodhouse's Toads along the way. See second photo on left. We avoided stopping or even walking slowly for fear of losing too much blood to rabid mosquitos.

After our short hike, we biked on Maple Dam Road into Cambridge. Norma's bicycle made a loud, annoying squeaking noise. We managed to find an auto repair shop in Cambridge with an ultra-friendly owner who oiled the chain and gears for free. He also recommended a place for lunch. Later, Norma's bike seat had problems, but none that needed immediate attention.

We stopped for lunch at Portside Seafood Restaurant. Having burned a large number of calories, we felt no guilt in eating the beer battered shrimp, fried fish, and french fries. We ate on the deck under an umbrella and watched ships pass under the Market Street Drawbridge as a gentle breeze kept us comfortable, despite the humid weather with temperatures in the low 90s. See third photo on left.

After lunch, we biked across the drawbridge into the west side of Cambridge. Norma and I biked along the shore near the mouth of the Choptank River and saw the Senator Frederick C. Malkus Memorial Bridge. We saw several old homes (some built in the 1730s) as we biked along the designated scenic drive. Despite the age of the houses, they were immaculately maintained with equally beautiful yards and trees.

After leaving Cambridge, we decided to deviate a bit from the bike map and head back to the refuge on Egypt Road which it a bit shadier and shorter than route 16 and 335.

Next, Norma and I biked the first two thirds of Wildlife Drive. For bicyclist and hikers, there is a fee of one dollar per person. We saw a good deal of wildlife including mud bird nests, organ pipe mud dauber nests also made of mud (see fourth photo on left), a Northern Water Snake (see fifth photo on left), ospreys, herons, frogs, turtles, and something we were never able to identify. We saw about 8 of them in muddy water. They swam with about a half inch of their heads sticking out of the water. They made no noise and swam in what appeared to be random patterns, never interacting with each other. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my camera to focus when zooming in on them. We don't know if they were mammals, snakes, or fish. On the less exotic side, the photo at the very top of this page in the left corner is a dragonfly I saw at the refuge that day.

We finished our 32 mile bike ride at about 1750. Unfortunately, the refuge visitor center had closed over an hour earlier. The gate was locked. Fortunately, I was able to drive around it on the grass to exit.

On the way back, we saw an observation tower with dozens of turkey vultures resting on it. See sixth photo on left.

Norma and I stopped at the Food Lion in Denton where we picked up dinner to eat back at the campsite. We sat around the fire then called it a night at 2230.
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Day Four: Tuesday, Independence Day, July 4, 2006

Norma and I were up at 0630. We ate breakfast then started taking down our campsite. I found some strange insect that resembled a small wood chip or large piece of lint. Norma suspected maybe it was an insect version of a hermit crab and chose a piece of camouflage to wear.

Greg and Jenny from the Chesapeake Paddlers Association stopped by to visit. They had been exploring the Wicomico River with Rich and Sue.

We left camp at 0915. We drove to Tuckahoe State Park and launched at 1000 just south of Crouse Mill Lake on the scenic water trail. The narrow Tuckahoe Creek was indeed scenic and also very well shaded with tall trees on both sides. Unfortunately, the flooding from days prior sent some of these trees falling across the creek. In the first photo on the left, Norma sits in the kayak next to a fallen tree. The dirt from the roots towers next to her while the trunk faces the other direction.

With the water being very high, the current was relatively swift. Hence, paddling upstream back to the car was not an option and walking back with the boat would have taken a long time. We were determined to paddle the entire length of the scenic water trail. If we encountered a low tree that was partially submerged, we were often able to get out of the boat and pull it over the tree. If the tree was a couple of feet above the water, we could paddle under it. We did this several times with some trees so low that we had to turn our heads to the side to fit underneathe. Some trees just had too many branches and were impassible without some cutting. Thus, Norma and I did a good deal of sawing. See second photo on left. Our little 5 mile paddle took 3 hours due to all the work required to get past the obstructions.

We ate lunch at our take out point, the Hillsboro Boat Ramp. Then, we locked up the boat and secured much of our gear in the hatches. The hatches were then locked with plastic twisty ties (cable ties).

At 1330, we began hiking back to the car, walking through the town of Hillsboro, through the Green Mount Cemetary then north through the state park along the Tuckahoe Valley Trail. Along the way, we saw a four foot long Black Rat Snake (see third photo on left) and a wild turkey. We also saw a multitude of frogs. It was hot and humid but neither of us complained. How could we? We were walking in a pine forest on a carpet of pine needles. At 1530, we were back at the car. We checked each other for ticks. I had none and Norma had many. Perhaps the difference was that I sprayed my clothes with permethrin several days prior whereas Norma did not want her clothes sprayed. I guess the stuff works.

Taking the advice of Greg and Jenny, we avoiding driving on route 404 as much as possible, instead taking route 309 northwest to route 213 (Centerville Road) north, to route 301 southwest, to route 50 west. This got across the Bay Bridge quickly and easily.

It seemed the weather we encountered on the eastern shore of Maryland was much gentler than that in the Washington D.C. area. Norma's town had a downed power line, blackouts, and numerous fallen tree branches. Driving was a nightmare because so many roads were closed off. In my town of Elkridge, there was also a blackout. Maybe we should have stayed an extra day.

Looking back over the last 4 days, we accomplished a great deal; we hiked 9 miles, paddled 36 miles, and biked 41.3 miles. Believe it or not, it actually was a relaxing weekend, in a stimulating sort of way.
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