The Kayak Chronicles

by Darren Caffery


Paddling the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Sunday November 9th, 2003

This is the second of two trip reports from a recent trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with seven other kayakers from my kayak club, Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association.  Paddlers included myself, Tom Kelly, Deborah Zajac, Eric Fleming, Frank Davis, Bob & Christine Smith and Valorie Nash.

On Sunday November 9th,  our second full day of paddling in the Outer Banks of North Carolina,  we started with a 7 am breakfast at a local joint called Sam & Omies, down on the beach road in Nags Head.  After walking back from a hearty breakfast we assembled in the parking lot of our hotel and shortly after 8:30 am were on our way to the Alligator River National Wildlife  Refuge.  After departing the densely populated Nags Head area we drove to the less developed area of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge which was about a 25 minute ride on Route 64 West from our hotel.

For the 3rd day in a row since we had arrived in the Outer Banks, the winds blew hard and the skies were again gray. Temperatures continued to stay only in the high 50s to low 60s.  After initially missing Buffalo City Road because the sign was knocked down, we finally found the road and trekked the 2 mile dirt road down to the Milltail Creek Launch site in the refuge.  We launched at about 9:30 into the cold, dark cedar water of the Milltail Creek.  Near the launch, the creek was relatively narrow (10-15 ft) and a canopy of trees over us made the dark skies seem even a bit darker.  There were plenty of fallen trees from the storm which hit earlier in the season and all of us did our best to "limbo" under them.

 For our first route, we followed the meandering Milltail Creek past the thick forest of hardwood trees.    With each mile we paddled, the creek got a bit narrower and more heavily canopied from the trees.  The water did not look like it had any flow and the silence in this part of the refuge was spectacular. After a few miles of paddling we passed the old "moonshine shanty" which we joked about acquiring as our kayak club boathouse.  Shortly after passing the shanty, we noticed a nice size deer with small antlers on the shore of the creek.  He did not appear startled by us, but rather curious.  He cautiously peered at us as we paddled by.  As Val, Tom and Frank paddled past, Eric, Deborah and I slowed up a bit to take some pictures. 

 After taking a few pictures, the deer splashed into the cold waters of the creek and gracefully swam across to the other side less than 10 feet in front of our kayaks.  We watched in amazement as he 'deer paddled' it with only his head sticking up in the deep water.  After reaching the other side, he quickly shook himself off and pranced into the woods.  It was a beautiful sight.

 After about 4 miles of paddling we reached the vista at the mouth of the open water of the Alligator River.  This is the point where the relatively narrow Milltail Creek feeds into the vast Alligator River.  The Alligator River is about 5 miles across at that point and looks more like a bay than a river.  We paddled into the open water for a little while and just admired the vast undeveloped shoreline.  In addition to the remoteness of the area, some leaf-less trees stuck out of the water and added an eerie element to the landscape.  One had an osprey nest in it but we saw no osprey.  After admiring the landscape and the open water of the Alligator River we began paddling back to the launch area where we planned to have lunch.

We arrived back at the launch area by about 2 pm and landed to stretch and have lunch. After a short break, we decided to paddle another route on the Milltail Creek.  After launching back into the cold water of the creek, we paddled under another canopy of trees, and under some more fallen ones.  After reaching an obstacle of fallen trees which appeared unnavigable and unportageable, we took another tributary into the more open water of Sawyer Lake.  When we finally made our way to the lake, the clouds seemed to be moving out and the sun tried desperately to shine on a number of occasions. After some very nice paddling on the solitude of Sawyer Lake, the sun was able to stay out for a while and it warmed us up rather nicely.  After paddling under the gray skies and heavy winds since we arrived in the OBX, the sun on our faces on Sawyer Lake felt very good.  I absorbed as much sunshine as I could while it was out and enjoyed a few moments in the Tao of Paddling.

The setting on the quiet lake was very 'Zen like' and we all separated for a while to enjoy the paddling, the natural beauty, the silence, and the emergence of the sun from the clouds, each in our own way.   After a brief but very revitalizing exploration in the lake we reassembled and again made our way back to the take out at Buffalo City Road.  We all landed safely at about 3:30 pm and after about 12 miles of leisurely paddling for the day. As the weather was a bit chilly, we didn't see any alligators or snakes this trip..only a swimming deer! 

On our way back to Nags Head, we stopped off the highway and snapped some pictures of our friend, the sun, as it set over the Croatan Sound.  Dinner and Margaritas were consumed later  at LaFogata Mexican Restaurant in Nags Head.


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