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by Dave Gentry - NE Virginia - USA

Taking advantage of some sunny and relatively warm weather, my wife Anna and I did some paddling this weekend. We live in NE Virginia these days, on the Northern Neck . . . the old stomping grounds of Mike O'Brien (of Boat Design Quarterly), whom I have been corresponding with lately. He recommended nearby "Dragon Run" for some cypress swamp scenery, and on Saturday we headed that way.

At the put in. Anna is paddling my SOF baidarka.
Dog is my co-pilot.
And away we go.

Unfortunately, for us at least, Dragon Run is very "wild," which - practically speaking - means it is nowadays impossible to paddle. A couple hundred yards both upstream and down the river is obstructed by strainers or beaver dams, depending on which way you go. We had zero desire to portage through cold water and muck, so we loaded back up and drove to another put-in. This one was a bit better, but you could still only go a half mile or so in either direction.

Upstream of the second put-in, it really did turn into a cypress swamp, complete with lily pads. Definitely not something I expected to see this far north, despite Mike's assertion. Last time I was in waters like this, there were alligators and cottonmouths, which I'm glad we didn't have to contend with here. We were still in quite a remote area, though, if you discount the road where we launched.

The lily pads started to become overwhelming soon after this, though I forced my way through looking for a channel. About the time I thought I saw one not very far ahead, I also saw an anomalous object - a red ball or something, hanging from a tree over the water. Anna and I had a loud conversation about it - loud because she had stayed back in clear water - and then the shooting started. It was obviously a .22, and there were at least a dozen shots in about a minute or so, all coming from near the red ball. So, not a very long target shooting session, nor a duck hunter since it was a .22, and I can't imagine any self-respecting squirrel hunter winging shots like that. To be clear, I did not hear any bullets whizzing by me, but I decided vacating was prudent.

Here's Anna, unfazed, on our way out. That's a Greenland style paddle, btw, not just a stick.

We bailed on the Dragon Run swamp after that, likely never to return unless someone goes in there with a chainsaw and/or swat team, depending on where you wanted to paddle.

But, the next day - Anna's birthday - we noticed the boats were still loaded on the car, so we took the hint and headed off for some saltwater action. We put in at a public kayak launching area near Windmill point on the northern neck (right at the mouth of the Rappahannock River on Chesapeake Bay).

No gunfire this time, and Anna is able to charm even the crustiest of professional watermen, so no dramas to report - just nice scenery. Very shallow water - often just inches deep, and some interesting tidal creeks and inlets to explore. The dog may or may not have overcome his abiding fear of crab-pot buoys, but he did finally decide that all oyster shells are not monsters in disguise. He still is a little leery of them.

Anna loves the baidarka but it's not ideal for navigating twisting tiny creeks. So we'll make her something more useful. As for me, I find myself suddenly needing a traditional poling skiff. We'll see what comes of that.

My ride is my Dad's old Chingadera solo canoe, designed by the late Thomas Firth Jones, and pretty crudely built by me, many years ago, on the porch of an apartment. It works great, but the dog does have a tendency to fall out when perched at the bow.

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