Monday, February 2, 2015

Saint Marys, Georgia

It's been more than two weeks now since we tied our kayaks to the roof of our car in Stonington with sub-zero temps numbing our fingertips. Afterward we joined a couple of other subdued diners at the Harbor Cafe for our last dinner in Stonington. We'd been trying to get on the road for a week, but since it was so cold, we decided to spend one last night sleeping on the fold-out futon in our now-empty, now-former apartment. The car was packed: two Delphins and the Cetus on the roof, paddling and camping gear making a solid wall of duffels in the back, with the middle seat crammed with whatever clothing, household odds and ends and art supplies we could fit. Just before dawn, with sea smoke drifting over the harbor, Rebecca positioned herself in the passenger seat with one last garbage bag full of clothing donations to drop-off in Blue Hill... and we were launched on our new journey.

There were stops along the way: coffee at the Blue Hill Coop, and breakfast at Nate's, sitting beside the woodstove with sea smoke still lingering over the Union River, just down the hill. Then it was all-out "lets get south" driving until late that night, when we stopped in Virginia, where our friend Ron was house-sitting. It wasn't enough south; in the morning, the trees were coated with ice, lit with brilliant sunshine.

After another twelve hours of driving, we made it to Georgia on a cool, rainy night. When you get off the highway in Kingsland, Route 40 is a gauntlet of big box stores and strip malls stretching most of the way to Saint Marys, but then the road narrows and takes a turn into the older part of town. First we drove down to the harbor and took a look out over the dark river flowing past. About half a mile inland, we found the house that the company had rented and would become our new home- a humble place to be sure, but the porch light was on for us, and the plastic Adirondack chair on the porch felt welcoming. We unloaded the car, spread our camping pads and sleeping bags on the floor and slept, hardly waking when Ryan and Sarah arrived from Chicago hours later.

In the morning we made introductions- it was our first meeting with Sarah, but we'd met Ryan at some paddling events. We'd had a lot of emails and conference calls with them, getting on the same page, planning how we would do this. Although they were starting the business and are the principal partners, they would be here for only a few days, leaving a pile of gear and a trailer of kayaks. A van rumbled up and we met Cody, our intern, finishing his degree at Western Illinois University. Later that day, after a lot of errands and running around, we launched our kayaks (our first paddle as Sea Surf & SUP) near Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, but we didn't get far before a procession of military boats and ships came down the river, escorting a submarine. A Coast Guard Patrol boat arrived and ordered us off the water, so we watched the sub pass from shore- we didn't mind; this was something new, to be sure.

Over the next couple of days we kept busy checking-out places to paddle, meeting people and just generally finding our way around.

Ryan and Sarah went back to Chicago.

We had a day-off to catch our breath. It felt like we'd had few such days since last summer. Our time over the previous months had been focused on my finishing my guidebook and guiding the gallery toward its final days as we looked toward our next step. Our life in Stonington was fairly public, and every day people asked us what was next and seemed to not believe us when we answered that we didn't know.

We had certainly considered Stonington our home, but we waited to see what opportunities arose as we prepared for the possibility that we would need to move out of the apartment and go someplace new. Over nearly a dozen years in our apartment, we'd become dug-in. The gallery had been our public, thousand square-foot living room... sort-of a fantasy of how we might like to live, surrounded by art with a view to the harbor. But upstairs our small, poorly-arranged apartment was packed to the gills, a third of it dedicated to Rebecca's work space for painting, and at its core, a couple of well-worn couches with a coffee table and television where we retreated at the end of the day. We had a series of yard sales and I sold books on ebay. We gave a lot away, carloads of books to the library, carloads of clothing and other stuff to the donation places. In a way, I mused, getting out on the water in a kayak was an escape from all this stuff. You just take what you need and your mind focuses on your natural surroundings. We watched a lot of good kayaking days go by, just dealing with stuff.

It was a difficult time. We had our last show in the gallery and closed by mid-December. By then we knew we were headed to Georgia. We focused on moving out of the apartment, carefully filling a nearby storage space. By Christmas we had terrible colds, and then a strain of flu that had been going around. We each spent our requisite high-fever days on the couch, staring at the piles of stuff around us that needed to go somewhere. Rebecca still managed a couple of Saturday afternoons at the Bar Harbor pool. Facebook friends posted photos from wintery excursions, but the thought of getting out for a paddle seemed a distant luxury. And all the while we looked around at Stonington, savoring our exchanges with friends, already nostalgic for the life we had there, because it was over. In those last days, friends really came through, taking away stuff that we didn't know what to do with, bringing us food, even lending us a home on the water where we stayed after the apartment was in total disarray.

Finally came that evening with the apartment emptied, car packed, and we tied the boats to the roof of our car. Only a few days later, we were here in our new home in Saint Marys, Georgia.

We have much to learn here, much to do. By Georgia standards, it isn't terribly warm yet, so our real season is yet to begin. This gives us time to explore, a process much like researching a guidebook, except that I'm seldom alone. In addition to instruction, we'll have a handful of trips to offer, so we've been trying them out in different conditions with different tides. We've been trying alternate trips- Plan B trips for windy days or trips for kids. We've been discovering the great variety of paddling we have within an hour's drive: marshy creeks, swampy brackish creeks, and sandy, surf-pounded beaches.

Cumberland Island is the big attraction. About five or six miles down-river from Saint Marys, this 18-mile-long barrier island is home to Cumberland Island National Seashore, as well as several private enclaves. There's sandy beaches on the outside, marsh and creeks on the sheltered side, and in the middle, plenty of history, feral horses and gorgeous walking trails overhung with live oak and spanish moss.

Or you could just paddle out there to hang-out beneath a palm tree.

The tides are a huge factor here, and they dictate what you can or can't do.

I've loved discovering some of the smaller creeks through the marshes. One day, as we prepared to enter an inauspicious opening in the marsh, right beside a public park in Saint Marys, a local woman we'd already met shouted to us that it didn't go anywhere. Of course I'd already checked-out the satellite maps (you can't rely on charts). We told her we just wanted to explore, and of course we found our way through (at high tide) to another creek, that brought us- well, to another creek. Last night I paddled solo through the same creek in the moonlight. That was after I mistakenly went down a couple of other passages that didn't, as the woman said, go anywhere.

In addition to the paddling, there's been much to learn, business-wise. Cody arrives each day and we delve into the mysteries of spreadsheets and marketing. I'm still resisting Twitter, but my resistance is fading. Rebecca and I have taken the plunge and joined most of humanity with new iPhones - these didn't make much sense in Stonington, but now they're indispensable- even as a navigation tool.

So... it's a new chapter. In December, I chatted with a reader of this blog (an extremely accomplished, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist by whom I feel humbled and am amazed that he's interested in my words about kayaking) who pondered whether this was the end of Sea Kayak Stonington. I replied that it wouldn't be, at least at first, since I could still easily end up paddling as much in Maine as I have in the past- just not constantly. We'll see. For now I'm overwhelmed with all there is to see and learn here, and I'll share it when I can.


Pam Powers said...

Thanks for sharing and bearing it all post....I wish you all the best and it's been a pleasure to meet and paddle with you both. I look forward to your continued adventures. Keep them coming .

Anonymous said...

Never met you or been to Stonington, but it feels a bit like I have done both. I am sad that things ended for you there, but I am glad there is a new beginning. I hope you do continue to blog. I will continue to subscribe.

Marjorie Glick said...

You got out of New England just in the knick of time - There is about 3' of snow right now! Best wishes for a wonderful new beginning- I hope you find your place in the sun!

Sandy Stott said...

Glad that Saint Mary's is attached to Stonington by water and words. Wrenching departure, new possibility - hard to separate them; good to celebrate them. Looking forward to each next paddle here.