You know those moments where you’re stopped in your tracks and can only think, “I can’t believe that just happened?” I have them every so often. Like when I spent all day cooking barbecue in my crockpot and carefully prepared a plate I’d been waiting for patiently only to drop it all over my kitchen floor. Or there was the time my 3-year-old asked for a sip of water at bedtime and then decided it would be hilarious to spit it out all over his bed. He lost his bedtime water privileges after that one.
But nothing compares to my most recent adventure in Congaree National Park where I went paddling on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail.
I flipped a kayak, y’all. Now, I know what you’re thinking … “Devyn, how does someone flip a kayak on a slow-moving creek?” So, let me attempt to defend my most memorable moment from this entire series and explain how I got here.
I’m not an outdoorsy person. I could blame it on never doing Girl Scouts as a child, but I mostly credit it to a dislike of bugs. I wouldn’t call my fear a phobia, but it’s a little embarrassing how easy it is to make me jump just by saying, “There’s a bug.” All of that aside, I was really looking forward to my first visit to Congaree National Park. While it is special enough for being South Carolina’s only national park, there’s so much more to it. Even though Congaree is less than a half-hour from the capital city of Columbia, you’ll think you’re in a whole other world when you enter the park.
Like with any protected land, the park service’s aim is to never interfere with the integrity of the ecosystems, but simply enable visitors to enjoy and appreciate nature as it is meant to be. Through its efforts, Congaree has thrived. Today, it encompasses the largest intact expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the Southeastern United States, providing ample habitat for fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, insects and other aquatic life.
That whole concept of “being one with nature” became a reality for me on this trip. Despite being an inexperienced paddler, I was assured by the volunteer paddling with us that “nobody flips a kayak!” My fantastic guide, Ranger Jonathan Manchester, reiterated this assurance when he noted that in his seven years at Congaree, no one had ever fallen out of their kayak. Enter me.
When I first put in and started paddling, it was awesome. Remember when I said Congaree was other-worldly? The forest is so thick that the brightness of the sun is distinctly blocked on the creek, and you can sense the wildlife humming all around you. One of the distinctive features of the floodplain forest is the trees that thrive there. Their trunks protrude from the creek bottom, and their branches hang down low to graze the water’s surface. It’s truly beautiful to behold and to find yourself in the midst of such a unique environment.
That day, the water was rather high for the season, so the creek was moving steadily, making it more challenging for a paddler with little experience like myself to navigate all the plant life. Still, I was doing fairly well as Jon and I chatted about the park. That is until I realized I was about to float in between some branches that were serving as an anchor for a spider’s web with its giant resident mere inches from being on my face. I quickly learned it really doesn’t take much of a lean to tip a kayak, and suddenly found myself swimming in Cedar Creek.
Jon was a total pro and immediately got me over to the bank and back in my boat. Among all the life lessons I learned that day, the most important was that one should always keep personal belongings in a waterproof bag that floats when paddling. Shout out to my husband who had to come retrieve a phone-less and car key-less me that afternoon.
So friends, my visit to Congaree didn’t go quite as planned, but I still think it was an invaluable experience for me. Just because something isn’t traditionally what you might gravitate toward in a leisure activity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. I got to experience one of South Carolina’s true natural gems first-hand, and I have a pretty fun story to tell for the rest of my life. I call that a win!
With options for camping, hiking, fishing and paddling, plus a beautiful boardwalk through the woods that’s perfect for easy exploring with families, Congaree National Park is an ideal outdoor venue for adventure every day of the year. Don’t hesitate to venture out and visit Congaree National Park on your next South Carolina road trip!
Filming for this show was done in part prior to Covid-19 and SCPRT recommends following local guidelines for social distancing and your personal protection. Some of the activities depicted in the “Go For It’ series might be affected, or even unavailable, due to Covid-19. Please check with the local provider or attraction for the latest schedules and hours of operation.