MD - Honga River - 2009/10/25 to 2009/10/26 - 42 miles

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The Honga River is so sparsely developed that it is one place of the Chesapeake Bay where you can easily imagine that you are seeing the water and land as it looked when John Smith wandered up the bay. A three day trip is shortened by a rainy forecast to two long nice days with a spectacular sunset in between.

The Honga River is an open bay and twisting river surrounded by pine woodlands and wetland marsh along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The tall pine trees make it much different than the low marshes further south. Yet the large tracts of sunken marsh and swamp have pushed back development from what otherwise would be the fate of the rest of the Chesapeake Bay - development by those who like to look at the water from their house, grow grass on a bulkheaded shore and keep everyone else away from their land. This rare conjunction of land forms, swampy marsh and pine island ridges makes this the easiest place on the Chesapeake Bay to do a kayak trip with overnight camping.

So I had planned to go down to the Honga with two friends on a late weekend in October. But when the time to head off came, one backed out for family reasons and the other with an eye toward a dubious weather forecast. I delayed the trip for two days, hoping that the weather might move on, but prepared to spend two long days in a dry suit being rained on.

When the others dropped out I modified my plan for the paddle as I had already done some of our proposed route. I chose an itinerary that included several areas I had not explored before. I had been in the area several times before but had not explore the twisting rivers and creeks along the east bank of the Honga. On the previous visits I had paddled along the outside of Hooper Island in the body of the Chesapeake Bay when I came south from Taylors Island. There is a twisting channel on the inside as well and I wanted to try that.

The forecast for the morning I left had sunny skies and no mention of the rain that had dampened the previous Friday and Saturday. The sunny skies held all the way down to the boat ramp at the inlet on the north end of Hooper Island. There next to two large garbage bins was the single ramp. In spite of the sign warning of the dire consequences ($500.00 fines) of anyone but boat users using the garbage bins, a steady stream of local pickup trucks unloaded can after can of household garbage into the trash.bins.

Along the docks surrounding the landing, several crab smashers (local style of boat built for the catching of crabs) floated patiently, idle on Sunday in the devout community. All were well maintained, painted and cleaned, nearly done for the crab season and perhaps waiting for the oyster season to soon begin.
I loaded the kayak with all my gear. Not having to carry it all on your back allows a certain sloppiness as to volume and weight that would never be tolerated on a backpacking trip. So my tent was an old style canvas tent, I was carrying 16 liters of water for just three days and some extra clothes for the possible wet conditions. I set off from the ramp, wondering whether I should mention to the just arrived captain of one of the boats that I would be off for a couple of days and not to notify authorities if they noticed my car sitting there over two nights. I just nodded and paddled out into the inlet, hoping that any concern would be allayed by the contact phone numbers I had displayed on the dash.

I headed off across the wide open river after passing under the fixed bridge that spans the inlet between the mainland and Hooper Island. There was a 15 knot breeze pushing me directly downwind to the southeast. The location of the possible campsite was easy to see as the copse of tall pines stood forlornly on the edge of the marsh on an island across the river. It was about three miles from the ramp and just across from the twisting creek I wanted to explore.

The wind brought up a few small waves and white caps as I paddled across the shallow Honga. A passing crab boat was churning up a trail of mud as it made its way across the open bay-like river. I arrived at the little group of trees and was immediately disappointed to see that the trees were a good ways across the marsh from the water, making it a difficult place to camp. I continued on over to the mouth of Charles Creek.

On the very end of the point on the north side of the creek was a tempting area of lush grass under a few pine trees. It looked like a good possibility for the nights camp, so I got out to take a look. The lush grass made a spongy cushion underfoot. The land was plenty high enough above the high tide mark and it was solid. There was a nice little spot of sand for pulling up the kayak. Although the spot was a little exposed for a stealth camp, and the marsh lay just behind, I decided that this place was worth considering.

Just a little farther up the creek was a tree island that came all the way out of the marsh and ended right along the shore. Numerous trees had been blown down by some strong wind from the southwest. I stopped here also and took the time to have a snack. There were several openings in the pine forest where small holly trees were establishing themselves. The ground here was solid also and covered with a nice thick layer of long pine needles. The uprooted trees however had created a number of holes in the ground which were filled with stagnant water from the rains of the previous several days. They looked like great mosquito breeding pools.

I headed northeast up the creek checking several more pine islands for other possible campsites finding nothing better than what I had already discovered. The creek became progressively narrower as many tributaries and splits divided the flow of the water. I followed the main branch all the way up until I was stopped by a road with a tiny culvert. Behind the road I knew that the creek continued but not far enough to justify a portage across the low lying macadam. I turned and joined the current that always flowed downstream, sheeting off the water that had fallen over the swampy surrounding countryside in the previous several days.

By now the sky had become filled with heavy grey stratus that had moved in from the southwest. The sharp edge of the front lay just a few miles to the north and I could see that in Cambridge, it was still quite sunny. But a somber silver had taken over the scene here, making the still waters into a perfect reflection of the marsh and pines on the bank.

A small patch of blue sky appeared in what was otherwise a stationary front. This patch drifted off to the northeast, perfectly aligned with the frontal edge that did not advance to the north or south. The sun still shone just a few miles to the north while this heavy layer of cloud remained overhead and to the south.

I returned to the little peninsula with its lush covering of grass. The lowering sun cast a pink shower underneath the clouds overhead. An eerie glow filled the sky to the northeast as I set up camp and began to make dinner on the little gas stove.

To the west, the setting sun was making an even more spectacular wash of changing color. Clear to the west, the red light reflected under the sharp edge of the front that had stayed steady all afternoon. With each moment it became more spectacular until it seemed the entire western half of the horizon was on fire.

As I was trying to get the stitched photos for a panoramic of the sunset, the mosquitos came up out of the marsh grass on the edge of my little campsite. They were incredibly numerous and incredibly large, but seemed non aggressive and lumbering in their attempts to settle on my exposed hand holding the camera. They never did seem to get around to biting me before I had a chance to shake them off. I had to wonder if any of them would show up in the picture.

Red sky at night........

I returned to the tent to discover that the grass was making a huge hill in the middle of my tent. I got back out and pulled it a foot toward the shore to put the bulge under my knees instead of my back . The grass made in incredibly comfortable bed.

I turned on my phone. I got just one bar of reception. I made a call to home but the connection dropped after the third sentence. I left the phone on as I had promised to monitor the phone from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM on the emergency sheet I had left in the car. Then I pulled out the VHF to get the weather report for the next day. As I turned it on I discovered that the knob was already in the on position. Apparently the unit was activated in my deckbag. The battery was quite dead. So much for that. Muttering something about the reliability of electronics, I laid back down and fell instantly to a heavy sleep.

I awoke early the next morning to the beeping of my phone declaring that the battery was dead. I had fallen asleep with it on. Normally it would last several days activated, but with a weak nearly nonexistent signal it apparently boosts its power struggling to get a signal (analog instead of digital?) running the battery down in a matter of hours instead of days. More muttering about electronics.

I got on my clothes and bug repellent and exited the screened protection of the tent. There was no need for the precautions however as the cool temperatures of the morning left no mosquitos in the air. Overhead the layer of clouds was still there, but there was clear skies to the southeast and things looked good for the day. I made breakfast, broke down the tent and packed the kayak at the little beach.

I paddled up along the eastern shore on the river under still conditions and a bright sky. The clouds of the previous night and early morning had retreated to the south and I was in the sunny area that had stayed stubbornly to the north on the previous day. There were only a few house along the shore, most of which was a combination of marsh and pine islands. I continued along the shore which led directly to Wallace Creek. I passed several large houses near the mouth of the creek, wondering if the large opulent oversized house there was owned by the proprietors of the large marina and boat sales outlet at the middle of this very creek.

Past the house the creek narrowed and began to loop back a forth as is the want of a small creek in nearly flat marsh. I passed under the bridge I had gone over on the way to Hooper Island. Remarkably there were many pieces of duct tape covering holes on the underside of the bridge. I wondered just what type of construction problem called for the use of duck tape on a concrete bridge. I will have to ask Harding about it. I decided that it was just another piece of information that the users of the bridge were better off not knowing.

Tall grass lining both sides of the creek obscured the view to the immediate rear of it, but the pines set further back were easily seen. The dead trees and bare branches of many pines seemed to offer wonderful habitat for bald eagles but I saw only one this day. Many vultures were circling high overhead riding the subtle uplifts of this sunny fall day.


I followed Wallace Creek all the way to the end where a fallen tree blocked my passage. I had to back up several hundred yards through what had come to be just a drainage ditch. I retraced my course up the creek and rejoined the Honga, paddled west out around a large wooded peninsula with several good camping options and resumed my course north toward the creeks passing through to Taylor's Island.
I entered Uncle Robert Creek and passed under another bridge - no duct tape on this one. It was near high tide which was good as the passage through can be shallow in places. The leads and pools here are numerous and it helps to have a satellite map or good chart of the area. Paying attention to where you are is important also. I paddled through the labyrinth of leads until I came to Punch Island Creek. There I turned west and paddled out to the Chesapeake Bay. Once out on the bay, I could see that there was still a bank of clouds sitting low on the horizon to the southwest. These clouds had a more mean look to them than the smooth stratus clouds of the past several day. I turned around and followed a different lead back through the marsh, looking for a place to camp. All the woods were set way back from the marsh and I did not find a camping spot . I paddled all the way back to the Honga River. At this point it was only four miles back to the car. I didn't like the look of the cloud front to the south so I paddled back to the car, packed up the gear, put the boat on the roof and began the drive back home.

By the time I got to Cambridge I was getting really sleepy, so I pulled over into the Walmart lot and went into the back of the van a slept. Around nine thirty, the rain started beating on the car roof. It was coming down in buckets. I woke up again at midnight in a lull in the rain. Now I was awake, so I drove back on the empty streets arriving home at three on the morning.

P.S. I saw no kayakers/ canoers and only two boats (watermen) in the entire two days.




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