KAYAKING IN CHESAPEAK
By Robin O’Neal Smith
Kayaking is a fun water sport to enjoy. Anyone who loves being on or in the water will enjoy kayaking.
During a recent press trip to Chesapeake, VA, another travel writer, Heather Raulerson and I enjoyed a kayaking adventure like none we had experienced before. Our kayaking tour was with River Dogs Kayaking and it was three adventures rolled into one.
Chesapeake Convention & Visitors Bureau and River Dogs Kayaking hosted our Kayaking Tour. All opinions are my own.
A Unique Adventure
It was a fun and unique experience from start to finish. We arrived at the Atlantic Yacht Basin and boarded a well-equipped, comfortable pontoon boat. After some brief safety instructions, our adventure began.
We began in the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, part of the Intercoastal Waterway and is made up of freshwater from the Currituck Sound in North Carolina. Shortly after our boat trip began, we had to wait in line to go through a draw bridge. Now that was an experience in itself.
The Great Bridge
You had to hit the Great Bridge drawbridge at the right time, or you would have to wait an hour till it opened again. I think we were third in line to go through with several other boats behind us. It was fascinating to watch the bridge open. Once we slowly puttered through the draw bridge, you could see it closing again.
The Great Bridge Lock
Our next unique experience came when we entered the Great Bridge Lock. Locks are used for lowering and raising water levels to help vessels easily travel between bodies of water. Up to 20 boats at a time can fit in the Great Bridge Lock while operators open and close four sets of gates and valves. The Great Bridge Lock is unique in that it’s a guard lock, protecting water quality and the ecological systems on both sides of the lock.
The Great Bridge Locks are used to move boats between the fresh water and the salt water. When we entered the locks from the freshwater, we were at one level, and the water level had to match that of the salt water. The Lockmaster helped us secure the boat and then began equalizing the water levels using gates and valves. Once the water level matched that of the salt water (about five feet difference), the lock opened, and we entered the salty Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Blue Heron Art Project
Our pontoon passed by Chesapeake’s Great Bridge Lock Park with a dozen or more heron sculptures decorated by local artists using a variety of themes, colors, and materials. These herons are part of the Blue Heron Art Project the city has undertaken.
We traveled approximately a mile on the Elizabeth River, learning about the area’s history and enjoying the scenery. We stopped along a quiet part of the river, and the kayaking fun began.
Usually, when you kayak, you launch your kayak from the banks of the river, a marina dock, or the sand along the beach. You usually have to at least get wet up to your knees as you crawl into the kayak. This experience was totally different, with us launching directly from the pontoon into the kayak in the middle of the river.
Spencer Hull with River Dog Kayaking had a unique launch device to stabilize the kayak while boarding and exiting called a KayaArm. Spencer modified the KayaArm to fit his boat and align appropriately to the ladder. The KayaArm attaches to the side of the boat and holds the front of the kayak in place as the kayaker climbs down the ladder, steps directly into the kayak, and is seated. As you use an oar to push away, the device is turned, and you paddle away. It was easy to get into the kayak and get started safely. All three of us were able to begin our kayaking without a drop of water on us. No cold, wet feet to start. Completely dry!
We spent about 45 minutes on a beautiful paddle along the pristine protected wetlands of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and Bells Mill Creek with Spencer as our guide. He provided lots of history and details about the area and pointed out birds and other wildlife. Then it was time to head back to the pontoon. We traveled approximately two and a half miles round trip. As we got out of the kayaks, the KayaArm device was used again to hold the front of the kayak. This was a bit more difficult since you had to use your arm strength to pull yourself up from the kayak onto the first step while the back of the kayak could wiggle a bit. But we all made it without falling into the river.
Once we returned to the pontoon, we enjoyed snacks and water and headed back toward the dock. We again experienced the Great Bridge Locks, this time from salt water to fresh water.
After we were through the locks, we floated into a line for the draw bridge. On the hour, they lifted the bridge, and we traveled back to the Atlantic Yacht Basin. An experience with River Dog Kayaking is like three adventures rolled into one. It is educational, fun, and a great way to experience nature and the Chesapeake area.
WALK THE MILE
Virginia is a hiker’s paradise – from walks through coastal marshes to epic backpacking trips along the famed Appalachian Trail, From the Montebello Fish Hatchery the two-mile climb to the Appalachian Trail and then on to Spy Rock is a moderately strenuous one. The payoff is tremendous with 360-degree panoramic views from the rock outcrop. Virginia has a footpath for all abilities, offering stunning views, flowing cascades, rhododendron and large hemlock trees. Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park at 4,050 feet. Access the summit from parking areas at milepost 45.6 and 46.7. The trails vary from a steep 1.7 miles round trip to a 2.9 miles moderate circuit. Mount Rogers is the highest point in Virginia at 5,729 feet! Try and find the plaque signifying this for a great photo-op. This nine-mile out-and-back hike begins at Elk Garden Gap. Take the white blazed AT trail north. An opening awaits you at about mile three and again at about mile four. The summit will take your breath away.
Virginia offers soft adventure for families to high adventure for adrenaline junkies. From the leisurely bike rides on the Creeper Trail to the complex mountain biking trails found throughout the state, you can find an adventure that’s just your speed. Many of Virginia’s old railroad grades have been converted into multi-use recreation trails. These gentle, mostly flat trails range from a few miles to more and wind through some of the most beautiful scenery in Virginia. The 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail was named after the steam engine that once creeped up the rails into the Iron Mountains. Also, a plant called the “Virginia Creeper” grew along its tracks. By the 1970s, many railroads were abandoned. And in 1986, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy began converting old railroad beds into trail systems for hikers and bikers. Abingdon at Mile 0 is the one of the most popular places to enter the Virginia Creeper Trail. Parking is available, and a steam locomotive is on display at the Trailhead. Other popular access points are at Alvarado Mile 8.5, Damascus Mile 15.5, Creek Junction Mile 25 and Whitetop Station Mile 32.3.
VIRGINIA BEACH – Get ready for the exhilaration of take-off, followed by the panoramic view of the Virginia Beach coastline while soaring in the sky. Fly up to 3 people 800, 1,000 or 1,200 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. See schools of dolphin, surfers and jet skiers from a bird’s eye view. All captains are US Coast Guard certified. Stay dry or get dipped, it’s up to you. Conveniently located 2 blocks off the resort strip. Call 747-422-8359 for reservations. Sport boat, jet skis, and kayak rentals also available. >MORE