the chaotic life of austin simmons

CAPE FEAR Expedition 2010


Friday, March 12th

[the day before we put in at Jordan Lake Dam]

Austin is putting the final touches on the customized topographic maps in illustrator. Ian is getting an MRI of a lump [later identified as a tumor] in his finger.  James is in class praying that his ingrown hair doesn’t flair up on his lower back. Alex is finishing his web assign homework due at 5:00 while his mother packs a bag full of 3 jackets, 2 pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of pants, and sunscreen for his precious bearded face.  Murphy is so excited his voice is cracks every time words come out of his mouth. Jonathon is the most stressed he has ever been in his life.  When asked how we are going to get two 16′ canoes on a 8′ trailor, Jon responds, “We’ll figure it out.”

Only 1 of the 3 canoes was in our possession.  No groceries were packed yet alone bought.  Oh and we weren’t going to find out the results of Ian’s MRI [which would determine his participation in the journey] until 5:00pm.  Some would say that we were cutting it close, BUT…this would be a false assumption.  Like Jon would say [which later became the theme of the trip], “We’ll figure it out.”

Murphy, Austin, James, and Jonathon pile into Murphy’s truck with an 8′ trailer attached to the hitch at 12:15 to make the trek to Greenville where the two other canoes were being kept [we were borrowing them from Jame’s old scout master].  Once at the house of Kernel Parson [keeper of the canoes], James walked to the front door to let the Kernel know we had come to pick up the 2 canoes. James entered the house. 5 minutes went by. 10 minutes went by. After James had not come out of the house for 25 minutes, we [in the car] began to start asking questions.  “What in the world was taking so long?”  Austin’s phone vibrated.  The text message from James read:

“I think we might be screwed guys.”

There was then a heated exchange of words that led to an interesting dialogue within the car.  We won’t get into the details.  Long story short:  There seemed to have been a little mis-communication between the Kernel and a certain individual on our team.  After driving all the way to Greenville for canoes, we ended up with only 2 pfd’s [personal flotation devices] and 2 paddles [totally worth the whole tank of gas] in the back of Murphy’s truck.  This series of unfortunate events would of course end by the truck not starting.  The battery had consequently died from sitting in the driveway for 45 minutes…

Back at NC State, Alex sits in the parking lot of Campus Rec [a place for renting gear on campus] with two canoes that he was able to reserve last minute.  It is important to note the importance of this particular move by the dependable Alex Peden.  After we realized the canoe arrangements had fallen through, we called Alex explaining him the situation.  He then sprinted [seriously he was really moving] to Campus Rec to reserve two canoes before they closed at 6:00pm.  He then waited in the parking lot for 2.5 hours while we came back from Greenville with the trailer.  You may ask, “Why didn’t you just reserve the canoes from Campus Rec in the first place?”  This is a very valid question.

We got the call from Ian.  He was going to be okay for the trip.  Things were looking up.  All we had to do was pick up the wonderful topographic maps the wonderful Betsy Simmons [Austin’s beautiful mother] had laminated for us, shop for groceries, consolidate all our gear, and then pack all the cars so we would be set to leave early the next morning.  Piece of cake.

All 6 of us met at Food Lion.  We ran through the store with Jon shouting out lists of items to find.  “Pita Bread!  Canned Tuna!  Don’t forget to get the Grits!”  We were running because Food Lion closed at 11:00.  It was 10:45.  After a hectic scramble intense of grocery shopping, we came out of the store with 116 dollars worth of non-perishable food items.  80% of the bags were filled to brim with 90 packs of Top Ramen.  Check out this interesting video of the checkout process:

Alright so we finally made it to Jon’s house with all of our gear.  Packing all of the gear was an interesting process to say the least, but we wont bore you with the details.  After a group prayer session, we crawled into bed at 2:30…plenty of time to sleep before we had to wake up at 6:00am to hit the road!  Tomorrow was the big day!

Saturday, March 13th

[Day 1 | 26 miles]

Woke up at 6:00.  Waffle house at 7:00.  Forgot 2 of the pfd’s in the back of Alex’s car.  Mr. Dobson and Mr. Carrol graciously woke up early to drive us to Jordan Lake Dam.  Once at the Dam, we realized we would have to carry the canoes 1/4 mile to the spot on the river where we would put-in.  Everyone was excited.  Mr. Dobson had his doubts.  We got onto the river at 10:45.  After ten miles of paddling, we were met by the Deep river that poured into the Haw river [the river we were on] creating the CAPE FEAR.  This of course was only the beginning, as the river would continue all 170 miles to Wilmington, where it would dump into the Atlantic Ocean.  We were in for a ride.  We came to our first Locke/Dam today.  We were forced to portage around it.  Portaging is a term referring to the carrying of a boat or its cargo between navigable waters.  This usually takes place when there is some sort of obstruction on the river that keeps you from progressing any further.  In this case it was a dam.  Once around the dam, we continued down the river where we would encounter serious white water.  Once through the ‘eye of the storm’, we became overly ambitious, deciding that we would paddle until it started to get dark.  Well…it got dark quicker than we expected.  Finding a campsite in the dark proved to be quite difficult.  Ian got out of the canoe and attempted to start hacking away thorns to create a path from the water to land.  Jon of course found humor in the situation, as he says,

“Why don’t you put your knife in your mouth like Bear Grylls”

Meanwhile, Alex slips as he gets out of the canoe and plunges into the brisk brown water.  He climbs out yelling….and then does it again.  Oh Alex.  Tonight was the worst night by far.  What will tomorrow bring?

[if we were to describe the day…]

Rapids. White water.  Rocks.  Sunburn. Excitement.  Big Dam.  Waterfalls.  Rocky Canoes.  Scooping out water from canoes.  Rubber ducky.  Peanut Butter and Jelly.  Mud.  Mud.  Mud. Ambition. Yelling.  Screaming.  Stress.  Fast sunset. Thorns.  Alex up to his waist in…you know.  Wet stove.  Wet Lantern.  Dry Ramen.  Rain.  Spiders.  House Party in the distance.  Early night.  Miserable night.

Sunday, March 14th

[Day 2 | 32 miles | 58 cumulative miles]

Woke up at 9:45…oops.  Pop-Tarts for breakfast. Loaded the gear down the muddy slopes into the floating canoes.  We were anticipating the worst of the rapids near Lillington today.  Everyone was a little nervous for sure.  Sunny Morning.  Beautiful weather.  Slight mist on the river.  After the awful experience of setting up camp in the dark the night before, we all agreed we would make it an effort to get off the river earlier today.  We encountered swift water for sure, but surprisingly not the “rapids” we had expected.  We caught a break.  32 miles in one day was quite the accomplishment.  Everyone was tired.  We ended up finding a spot off the river down a little creek that fed into the river near railroad tracks right outside Fayettville.  There were a ton of animal holes.  Alex says,

“Should i stick this branch into the hole?”

Jon says,

“You can do what you want Alex.”

It was a much better campsite than the previous night.  We all were stoked for the progress we had made thus far.

[if we were to describe the day…]

Swift water.  Beaming sunshine.  Wild Dogs.  Canned Tuna.  Nervous paddling.  Few Breaks.  Confidence.  Laughter.  Animal Holes.  Mud.  Spiders.  Alex falling [again].  Railroad tracks.  Freight Trains.  Drug deals going down at the base of a waterfall.  Hot Ramen.  Pipes.  Reflection.  First Camp Fire.  Sense of accomplishment.

Monday, March 15th

[Day 3 | 30 miles | 88 cumulative miles]

Woke up at 9:oo.  Oatmeal for breakfast.  On the river by 10:15.  We were finally getting into a rhythm.  We were way ahead schedule.  We had originally planned on paddling an average of 23 miles a day, but had obviously under estimated our speed.  Will there be any obstacles thrown at us?  Hmm…we will have to wait and see.  The site we found to set up camp on was by far the best spot of the entire trip.  A gentle bank where we could pull our canoes out of the water.  A double-decker [two distinct elevations] landscape with a fallen tree served as seating, a place for an ENO hammock, and tons of dry firewood.  A bamboo forest on the back portion of the bank with luscious green plant life interspersed throughout the site.  Ian and Austin made a flag for the Meridian [name of their canoe] out of a piece of the bamboo.  Were we in North Carolina?  Ian had brought tea leaves to smoke out of our pipes.  James was the only one that enjoyed it.  James the fire-chief whipped up a blazing fire.  Ian sat in the hammock for an hour trying to glue back together his glasses that had cracked in half as we were portaging around the lock.  Alex slipped and spilled all of his ramen on the ground.  He yelled and screamed. A lot.  Austin and Jon laughed at him.  James offered to help him scoop it back into the bowl.  Alex didn’t like that.

[if we were to describe the day…]

Early start.  Calm water.  Boring scenery.  Lots of bridges.  Slight soreness.  Cliff bars.  Apprehension.  Jon getting stuck in quicksand.  Broken Glasses.  Portaging canoes.  Killer camp-site.  Blazing fire.  Dripping sap from the vines.  Mud.  Spiders.  Bamboo forest.  15 packs of hot oriental ramen.  Pipes.  Coffee.  Iodine tablets.  Orange sunset.  Alex falling.

Tuesday, March 16th

[Day 4 | 15 miles | 103 cumulative miles]

We woke up at 8:45 to the sound of James throwing up [out of both ends].  This was not good.  We all worked to pack up camp while James laid on his back groaning.  He obviously was not feeling to well.  After getting all of our stuff loaded into the canoe, we set off down the river towards Elizabethtown, which was only 15 miles ahead.  We were relieved that James had chosen to get sick on a day we had intended to take slow.  With only a short distance to travel today, we took our time, pulling over frequently so James could do his thing.  At this pace, there was no way we were going to make it to Wilmington on time.  What were we going to do?  After we had eaten lunch and there was no signs of James feeling better, we discussed as a crew our options.  Elizabethtown was one of the last places of major development between us and Wilmington, and if James wasn’t going to get any better, we would run the risk of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.  We arrived at Elizabethtown and bumped into a group of college students from NC State!! How crazy is that?  They weren’t paddling any distance down the river, but lived close by and had decided to take the kayaks out for a spin.  James decided he was gonna have to get off the river.  He wanted to push onward, but realized he would only be holding the group up.  Alex did the honorable thing: deciding to get off the river with James so we would not have to paddle 3 canoes with 5 people.  We stood on the banks of Elizabethtown speechless.  No one wanted to separate.  Not now.  We were 103 miles into the trip with 67 miles to go, and we were loosing 2 of our guys.  This sucked.  Real bad.  The four of us [Jon, Murphy, Ian, and Austin] paddled away from Elizabethtown to try and find a campsite before dark while James and Alex stood on the bank, waiting for Mr. Carter to come pick them up.  We were down to 4 guys. 2 canoes.  Could we make it the remaining 67 miles? We set up camp at the first spot we found past Elizabethtown.  Top Ramen for dinner again.  As Austin hands out flavor packets to the Jon and Murphy, Ian abruptly spins around and spews all of his dinner behind the log…right on top of Jon’s jacket…and pant-legs.  Another member of crew had come down with the sickness.  As Ian stood in an awkward crouched position, the three of us just looked at each other in dis-belief.  We were gonna be in for quite the journey.

[if we were to describe the day…]

Puke.  Bodily Fluids. Dry heaving.  Floating.  Sympathy for James.  Discouragement.  Questioning.  Decision making.  Sadness.  Frequent stops.  Spewed noodles.  Hawks.  Circling Vultures. Fresh toilet paper.  Dis-belief.  “And then there were 3”.

Wednesday, March 17th

[Day 5 | 33 miles | 136 cumulative miles]

We woke up at 8:30….except for Ian.  He was dead.  At least he wasn’t throwing up.  We packed up everything in hurry, anxious to get on the river.  With everyone getting sick, we all just wanted to get off the winding waterway.  We paddled hard the entire day.  Ian laid on his back for most of the day.  He only ate half a cliff bar.  After 22 miles, Jon switched with Austin to give him a break.  We paddled hard for another 11 miles until reaching the 3rd and final Locke.  The Lockes were open from 8-5 Monday-Friday, and if you were lucky, someone would let you through it so you don’t have to portage all the way around it.  We arrived at the Locke right at 4:56.  There was a man that agreed to let us through.  We couldn’t believe it.  Not only did we not have to haul all of our gear around this massive Locke with a sick person, we were actually going to be able to go through it!  This was definitely the highlight of the trip.  When the Locke-man found out we had traveled all the way from Jordan Lake Dam, he threw us two packs of MRE [Meals Ready to Eat] and a Pepsi throwback!  It was so knarly!  We had traveled 33 miles down a pretty stagnant section of the river with 3 healthy paddlers and 1 sick person.  We were all exhausted.  Only 34 miles to go!  Ian went straight to bed.  The three of us talked strategy.  Would we be able to make it all 34 miles to Wilmington in 1 day!  Murphy got on the phone with James, who was feeling a little better, to ask him if he could find out information on the ocean tide schedule.  This was crucial because if we tried paddling into Wilmington during high tide, we would be forced to paddle against the current.  We also found out some interesting news about Alex.  Turns out he had gotten the bug too!  So, to recap: James was sick.  Alex was sick.  Ian was sick.  We were 34 miles away from Wilmington after 5 days of paddling.  We all agreed we needed to get off the river before another man went down.  The Hersey chocolate was whipped out to make smores.  We had picked up some marshmallows up in Elizabethtown.  Austin must of had 7 smores.  We all joked about what would happen if one of us got sick that night.  With all those smores, it would definitely put us in a sticky position.  Only time will tell…

[if we were to describe the day…]

Boring landscapes.  Bald Eagles.  Blue Herons.  Limp body.  Sore shoulders.  Lower-back pain.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Dry Ramen.  Carrot cake cliff bars.  Frustration.  Desperation. Hersey chocolate. Smores. Pipes.  Good fire.  So close, but yet so far.

Thursday, March 18th

[Day 6 | 34 miles | 170 cumulative miles]

Jon is sick.  He had been throwing up all through the night.  He says,

“The smores tasted just as good coming out than they did coming in”

Yeahhh…that’s not funny Jon.  Although Ian was feeling a little better, he still wasn’t looking too good.   So then there were two.  Murphy and Austin’s healthy immune systems holding it down.  So here we were: 2 canoes.  2 sick people.  2 beasts.  1 day to get to Wilmington.  It is important to note:  TODAY WAS THE MOST MISERABLE DAY OF THE ENTIRE TRIP!  We woke up at 7:15.  On the river by 8:00.  We had to get an early start.  We basically paddled for 7 hours straight, occasionally taking small breaks [on the river] to rest our mangled bodies.  We were in complete Marshland.  No dry land.  No people.  No roads.  No bridges.  Nothing.  With 15 miles between us and Wilmington, the river decided to grow incredibly in width, making it seem as though we were not making any forward progress.  This was no time for mental game tricks.  Jon and Ian became progressively worse as the day went on.  We didn’t drink a lot of water because we all were paranoid it was the reason everyone was getting sick.  We just had to make to Wilmington by 6:00, that was when the tide started to go back up.  Our paddling became slower and less efficient as the day went on.  Miles seems to go by slower and slower.  Would we ever make it?

At 4:35pm, we passed under interstate 421, dumping into the Northern Cape Fear River right next to the Battleship!  We were in Wilmington!  WE HAD MADE IT! Hauling our canoes up onto a private dock within the city, we all sprawled out on the cobblestone paths, waiting for Mr. Dobson to pick us up.  Ian walked around the city looking for lemonade.  Jon ran to a bathroom.  Murphy and Austin watched the cars drive by.  Mr. Dobson arrived shortly after our arrival, meeting us all with a big smile.  We stopped through Wendy’s to pick up fast food…how weird.  We all were knocked out on the way back to Raleigh.  Of course, 20 minutes from home we popped a tire on the jeep!  It didn’t phase any of us.  I mean, how fitting right?  Ian fell asleep on two different toilets.  He wore sunglasses because his other pair was out of commission.  Plenty of people gave him funny looks.  Oh Ian.  We were all greeted by our parents!  It was a great reunion.  We were off the river!

[if we were to describe the day…]

Absolute Misery.  Body aches.  Parched lips.  Dead bodies.  Wide rivers.  Marsh.  Swamp.  More Marsh.  More Swamp.  Broken Seat.  Wind.  Clouds.  Nothing.  Scary.  Nerve-racking.  Cold.  Distance.  Navigation.  Anxiousness.  Relief.  Accomplishment.  Reward.  Dirty gear.  Dried sweat.  Mud.  Spider bites.  Wendy’s.  Flat tire.  Beautiful reunion.  Shower time!

the Conclusion

6 of us set out to canoe down the 170.3 long Cape Fear River over our spring break.  Many thought we were our of our minds.  I guess we kinda were.  Despite the odds we were up against, we fought threw the many battles we encountered along the 6 day journey.  Although only 4 of us made it the entire way, all 6 of us stand in victory.  The trip was more than just an extremely long trek down a big brown river, it was an experience that we all will never forget.  I am thankful for the opportunity I had to travel down the river with my brothers.  It was through this experience that I discovered what true brotherhood was: its ability to last the strain of frustration, the struggle of decision-making, and the exhaustion of direct controversy.  I am honored to have experienced this adventure with all of you!

Until our next wild adventure,

In love,

_Austin


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3 responses

  1. awesome post bro. like yo s-t-y-l-e.

    April 1, 2010 at 1:25 am

  2. Jason Cooper

    What an adventure. What a Spring Break. What a six days. What a river. What a strong group of MEN! haha, I really enjoyed it. Really enjoyed this.

    April 1, 2010 at 1:36 am

  3. Zac

    Great story Austin….you sound ready for the Mississippi. Glad you’re stomach held strong

    April 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

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