|Three years ago I had made a tour through Dorchester County and had paddled on the Transquakking River, from Bestpitch up the western branch of the river as far as I could go. Then I hd gone down to Elliott and looked out over the bay, but 25 knot winds on the rough open bay had kept me ashore. It looked like this weekend would bring the perfect weather for another trip to the area. My old friend Wayne had finaly secumbed to the lure of kayaking and was just beginning to take trips in a kayak borrowed from http://www.kayaktraiing.com. This would be a new adventure of first for him and an introduction to the wonderful world of the tidal marsh.
The Transquaking River is at the head of Fishing Bay, a funnel shaped bay lying between the Honga and Nanticoke Rivers. It drains a large area to the north of Fishing Bay through its two major branches. The eastern branch is divided into two branches also. The western branch travels north some 15 miles into the farmland of Dorchester County and the eastern branch, the Chicacomico River, also turns north and goes for 25 miles.
This river can be accessed from Bestpitch, a one house town and micro bridge that replaces the old ferry that use to take the rare passenger over the narrow river. The rattletrap wooden one lane bridge replaced the ferry but sees little traffic either. There is a ramp on both sides of the ferry. (See ramp info.)
We headed up the Transquaking River and were soon at the fork of the two major branches. From here on this would be new territory for both of us. We paddled the smooth still waters between the banks of four foot high marsh grass. Most of the rest of the marsh was hidden except for a few islands of pines
We left Bel Air at 6:30 AM and were on the water by early morning. The weather was perfect . Blue sky, no clouds, cool with a 10 knot wind blowing. There were no mosquitos out and the few deer flies and green heads left us alone once we had launched and pulled away from the ramp. They certainly seemed to know when you were busy with pulling down a kayak or untieing a rope, landing and biting with the precision of an air force squadron. Repellent seemd to have no effect so I was happy to have the long sleve cottom shirt for protection from both the sun and the bugs. Long pants would have been nice for loading and unloading.
We saw a bald eagle, several osprey and blue herons and an occasion great white egret as we paddled along. An undulating wake of a snake crossing the river attracted our attention. I paddled between the snake and its intended course to get a closer picture. I manoevered up real close to the little fellow, which I guess he took exception too, He struck my hull just above waterline at the cockpit. I did without my picture.
We looked at the eastern branch of this portion of the Transquaking River. it spread out into a wide lagoon from the previously narrow channel. Correspondingly, the water got shallow. Since I was interested in the other branch for today's paddle we did not spen much time looking for a deeper water channel, but it is likely that a half tide and less this branch may be too shallow to pass. Try to plan to be here on the high tide. At least there are no dams, beaver or man made to block the passage to at least this first lagoon.
We passed several wild rose bushes along the banks. Most of the blooms were past their prime, but a few of them in the shade were still resplendent.
Turning back we regained the other branch and started to follow the loops of the river through the marsh grass. It too fed into a lagoon of shallow water that we could not pass. However, after some investigation I found that the main channel of the river made a sharp turn at the entrance of the lagoon and continue up along its east side separated by a small island of pines. We follwed this for a mile until another lagoon was reached. This one was also quite shallow and the channel meandered back and forth like the snake we had seen earlier. We were ready to get out and stretch our legs and have a little lunch. but where? ther did not seem to be any dry land around that could be accessed from the water without wading through the muck.
We considered getting out on a duck blind platform but the wood on them looked rotten and the structure unsound. Approaching them was difficult anyway because of the shallow water and deep mud. We spotted a bridge over a small side creek. The wooden afair stood about four feet over the water. If there was enough water to get to it, it would provide a comfortable place for lunch. Although the passage was very shallow, we managed to get over to it. Now all we had to do was get out of the kayaks onto the top of the bridge without tumbling into the stinking sulforous mud.
Well that was a little more difficult than it sounded. the bridge was pretty high and there was nothing to place one's paddle on to brace with any reliability. But after a few moments we managed to gain the bridge deck. unfortunately after I got up on the bridge on my side I spun on top of the boards to bring my legs around from over the side of the bridge. About half way through the turn, my wood side leg came to an abrupt halt. Something was stuck through my shorts and into my leg. I managed to get my shorts unhooked and stood up on the bridge. With some small splinters left in the cloth surrounding a large tear in the material, I raised m pant leg to see what else was damaged. There was a small hole in my leg and a large thin and long swelling under the skin next to the hole. it wasn;t bleeding much which seemed strange. But the hard lump made me think tht perhaps a hefty chunk of the wood bridge was now embedded under my skin.
I couldn't see any discoloration but the whole thing seemed to hurt a lot more than just the quarter inch hole in my leg ought to. I squeezed it to see if this would bring anything to the surface. No luck except for a little blood. I couldn't tell if there was anything in there or not. Since it wasn't bleeding at all, it wasn;t even worth pulling out the med kit. So we had lunch.
It was nice sitting on the brige watching all the little minnows mucking about. A crab came scuttling over the mud bottom, its red claws held out in front like a boxer's gloves.
The bridge itself was quite small and looked like it would not really hold a car but more likely was built for an ATV. On each end the bridge connected to a trail covered in wood chips. Fresh cattail shoots were gowing up through the soft soil and it was evident that noone had passed here in weeks. We wondered if the little road was to provide access to the duck blinds and if all this effort was associated with the huge building we could see nestled in some pines several hundred yards away. We wondered if it was some type of hunting lodge as it looked much too large for a single residence out here in the middle of nowhere.
After wandering around for awhile we got back in the kayaks and paddled down river reaching Bestpitch Ferry about 4:00 PM in a returning tide. We loaded up the boats through the every vigilent flies and headed over to Blackwater national Wildlife refuge to check out a new ramp there. (see ramp info).
After that we headed back to Cambridge for dinner at hardees. By the time dinner was over, the leg was stiffened up and hurting more. I still couldn't tell if there was anything in it so we headed for the hospital emergency room. Three hours later with probing, x-rays and tetanus shot and antibiotic pills, we were off to sleep in the back of the van.
We awoke early the next morning and headed to the McDonalds for breakfast, then drove south from Cambridge toward Elliott Island. The island has a small community on it surrounded by the waters of Fishing Bay and separated from the mainland by a large tidal marsh. It glowed golden in the early morning sun and made me wish I had been heere earlier to catch an even lower angle on the sun. It looked like we were going to get another gorgeous day.
We headed generally east through the loops of the river until we came out onto Fishing Bay. We were going to cross about three miles of open water to the mouth of the Blackwater River on the opposite side. This was to be Wayne's first crossing of significance and further away from land than he had ever been. We stopped at a small point just before starting off across the bay.
We found the launch ramp along the side of the rode. This launch was much improved since the last time I was here when it was just a sandy area on the side of the road. (see ramp info.) The tide was coming in as high tide would occur late morning. We took down the boats with little annoyance from the flies, shooed the snake away from the ramp (same king as yesterday) and put into the narrow river lined with high marsh grass.
While we were on the beach we investigated some turtle tracks which disappeared into the beach grass at the high tide line of the beach. A nest had been dug into and at least one egg had been distroyed. I piled the sand back into the hole. As we returned to the kayaks a turtle ran quickly from the grass into the safety of the water. With legs at full extension and her carapace well offf the sand she quickly hit the water and was gone. even though I had my camera, i could not even get it ppointed in time to snap a picture. All I got where the tracks.
I used the shape of the shore as a range to decide where we needed to head on the opposite bank and took a bearing. Just north of due west magnetic. We started off keeping a steady pace. It took about an hour to cross the 3 mile distance. We stopped at a niece little beach with some trees just on the south side of the mouth of the Blackwater River.
After a short rest we got in the boats again and headed up the twisting Blackwater River. ( Movie of me paddling the river.) We were looking for a small lead that cut across one of the large loops of the river. I wanted to poke up it just for fun. After a false start on a similar looking opening in the high marsh grass, we finally got onto the right one. It looped back and forth through the marsh, gradually becoming narrower. It was about half tide. We finally came to a place where a downed bush blocked our way and we had to back up a little ways and turn around. We returned to the beach for a rest before crossing acorss Fishing Bay. The biting flies and green head flies kept us dancing on the widening sands of the little beach. After a brief rest, we headed off across the bay.
For the return I guestimated where we needed to be on the way back and we paddled steadily over to the opposite shore. The low featureless marsh grass does not give one much to aim for on the long open crossing. i erred purposefully on what I took to be the upwind side. But when we got to the opposite shore, I could not see any landmarks that showed where the little creek we had paddled out of came into the bay. I headed into shore to get on the beach to take a better bearing and to make sure that we were indeed to far upwind of where we needed to be. the wind was blowing about 15 knots by now and I did not want to make an error in deciding which way to go because paddling back up wind would be difficult.
The shore was guarded by a wide flat of oozing mud so I canned the idea of getting out to take a steady bearing. But from close to shore I could see the road and I knew which side of the road we had launched on so I was sure that we needed to head downwind to find our little creek.
We had a nice little downwind run, surfing down a few waves as we paddled the 1/2 mile to the creek opening. We paddled back up the small creek which was now ebbling its waters from the extensive marsh. When we left we had to fight the current too. In kayaking you can have to work "uphill" both ways.
We soon came to the little launch site where several other cars and trailers were lined up along the road side. We loaded our boats with a minimum of insect interference and headed back up towards Cambridge and US 50 for the high speed ride home.