F3 Banjos: I hear banjos

F3 Banjos: I hear banjos

From 11/13-11/16 The Shore set out in his canoe from Lake James, to venture downstream in search of a little Silence, Solitude, and Simplicity.


The Thang:

It is a beautiful thing to be out in the peace and solitude of the river. The future paradise of our world already exists there. The veil between heaven and earth is indeed thin. At one point on the river, the rumble of a bulldozer clearing land materialized on the bank and my heartbeat truly rose 10 points. My anxieties were not calmed until I made my way downstream, out of earshot. Machines were the Enemy. Humans my greatest source of fear.

On the second day, sunset approached and I wanted to settle down on some safe land, start a fire, and get a better start to the night than the day before. Then I had arrived in the dark, wet and shivering. Now a sudden shotgun blast from the east side of the river startled me and I made a mental note to head to the west side. As I rounded the bend and approached the site of the gunfire, a bass boat shoved off from that side and fled past me. Strange and suspicious I thought as banjo music began to play in my head.

I did camp and start my fire. It was glorious and I made a priority list for the proper campsite on the river. Number one – stay away from private property, especially that marked by an old trailer dug into the forrest, perhaps with a Confederate flag hanging in a dirty window. Priority number two – plenty of dead firewood on the ground. I was taking advantage of point #2, when that bass boat returned back down to the scene of the crime across the river. They searched around the bank (looking for what they had shot?), seemed surprised to see that I had camped across the way, and fled off upstream. The banjo music got louder.

It was dark now and I settled into my sleeping bag. The night was miserable like the one before. My thermometer read 25 degrees each night, my drinking water froze, and all my belongings were covered in a thick frost. My feet were especially cold despite wool socks, wrapping them up in my heaviest jacket, and stuffing them in my 23 degree-rated sleeping bag. Could frost bite set in under such conditions? I kept moving in my sleeping bag out of necessity. My body would not let me sleep, instead preferring to keep my blood flowing throughout the night. The first night I had dozed off just twice, maybe for a total of 2 hours of sleep. The second night I would get only a half hour.

At midnight I considered getting out on the water and paddling away. More activity might keep me warm. But then, as I got out in the cold to prepare, I thought the sleep deprivation and desperation had me not thinking clearly. I crawled back into the warmest place I knew, my sleeping bag. By 3AM I decided I needed a purpose, and so my mission became to build another fire. I did, and warmed myself by it for 2 hours. I then prepared to leave, knowing the sun and warmth would soon arrive. Just then though, from downstream this time, a bass boat screamed. They stopped across the river and focused their spotlight into the woods, searching. Sure enough they found what they were looking for right at yesterday’s spot, shinned the light over the river (to see if anyone was looking?), and dug into the shoreline. These men came from the different direction from the day before, but seemed focused on the same scenario. I was glad my canoe was up on the bank such that it shielded my fire’s glow from them, and I froze. The banjo music grew disturbingly loud in my head.

Two headlamps moved off the boat and about 10 yards up the bank. The men whispered to one another and got to work. They were moving rocks. Piling them up. Burying something? What had been killed over there yesterday?

I remained frozen, barely moving to grind out my fire. An hour later they continued their work and I realized I had no escape. The river would be too noisy. And on land I was surrounded by a thicket of prickers. I committed myself to my desire to live though and decided to do everything necessary to survive. First, crawled down behind my canoe and texted 49er directions to my location (in case they needed to know where to find my body). Next, I called my wife. Hidden in the dark, I whispered my final thoughts. These men were up to no good and if I was found I could end up like that other guy, under a pile of rocks. “Send help and I love you.” I hung up, and with a new determination, got down on my belly, and crawled under the prickers and into the woods. When clear, I made a break for it. I knew from the night before, there was a clearing about a half mile away with a few nice-looking homes on it. I headed there, sprinting through the woods as if my life depended on it.

I made it to the road, called Sarah to let her know I was out of immediate danger, and called 911 to let them know my first-hand account. Up there, there must not be any cops. Instead I got 3 sheriffs, a regular posse.

With my armed backup we made our way by car, field, then woods, back to my canoe. “I can find it and locate the exact spot they were working.” They confirmed, “Yes, the lady said they were burying a body.” We made our way through the prickers to my site. An hour since I had left, and the boat was still there across the river! “That boat?” “Yes officer, that’s the one. And they were working just upstream from there. What’s our next move?”

“Well, just on the other side of that riverbank is a pond. A duck pond. And the local gun shop rent out space in their blinds. Those are duck hunters over there.”


And my heart and the banjo music stopped.

So after apologizing profusely and sending the officers back through the prickers, I blame my paranoia on 3 factors. My naive city-boy (dare I say Yankee) upbringing. My sleep deprived state. And watching too many movies (especially one in particular involving banjos!).



As my wife and I drove up to Lake James in Tuesday night rush hour traffic, it became obvious that the more roads bottleneck onto the highway, the more traffic deadens. On the other hand, with the river, the more streams that feed into it, the more speed, activity and life flows forth. God’s love and the Holy Spirit seem reflected in the natural life of the river, and not the man-made “conveniences” of our world.

The symbolism of the night and day were readily apparent in the wild. Nighttime for me was dark, cold, draining, and depressing. The day brought warmth, hope, confidence and energy. Life. Each sunrise was a blessing. Every day I was happy to be alive, and thankful for the gifts our world provides. That idea is lost too often in the busyness of our everyday lives.

Dams stagnate the river. The river is much more alive than the lake. Many more songbirds, heron, fish, turtles, and just activity. Also, it’s much more fun to paddle on the river.

Animal observations: Otters enjoy life. Beavers are territorial. Turtles love the rapids. Coyotes, in a pack, with a full moon, can be intimidating. In a group of ducks, the males often far outnumber the females (as in 4 males and 1 female) – what’s up with that? Blue Herons do not like to be scared off their perch and when they are, they first make several deep, guttural gargles – like an old man clearing his throat. Then when clear, they make their high pitched honk like a goose. Every time.

Stats: 4 days, 77 miles. Lake James Dam to the mid-point of Lake Norman. Day 1 – 28 miles (11 hours). Day 2 – 26 miles (11 hours). Day 3 – 16 miles (7 hours). Day 4 – 7 miles (4 hours).

I could generally paddle 2 – 3 miles an hour (my paddle broke 2 hours into the journey, and so I was left with 2/3 of my paddle for the rest of the trip). The river only really added 0.5 mph to my speed. Progress was thus slow and there were no free miles that flew by. Everything was arduously worked for. The turtle at the Lake James access point perhaps best foreshadowed my trip (I was certainly the tortoise, not the hare).

Well planned: Wheels for my portages. Poncho-made rain cover.

Poorly planned: Wearing my old sole-losing boots responsible for my wet socks the first night.

After 4 days, headwinds and fatigue slowed my progress to a crawl. Progress was even slower because I could no longer paddle for more than an hour at a time, before rest was needed. And so, I did not make it to Lake Wylie. Maybe next time. But I will need more paddlers!

“Life is not a destination. It’s a journey.”

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Big League Chew
10 years ago

Wow! That must have been some trip! I’d like to take a trip like that sometime. Preferably in the spring. Great story!

10 years ago

Shore that is one amazing series of events and some real good storytelling. Tom Sawyer you are. The drama, you took us to the edge with the climax that fell off with duck pond, and weaved a good account of nature and life and reflection. Glad your toes did not freeze off and cannot imagine how uncomfortable that was – well I do recall the cold overnight of Snowruck and can relate to some degree!

10 years ago

Awesome journey Shore and a great read! Sorry that I could not join you, but I have HC’d for the Spring/Summer F3 Banjo’s.

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