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Vacation Adventures

Back to field trips

Some families go on vacation together and do stuff, competitive stuff. They get hurt, they play elaborate games on the beach and they plan time together that challenges their fitness and their mental toughness. My family, not so much. And it is all my fault.

I like to relax when I am on vacation. The bank has rolls of quarters that are perfect for feeding into newspaper machines. Reading four newspapers every morning takes a while and by the time I am through the papers I am hungry again, or maybe sleepy. I take a lot of naps on vacation.

Some years ago I read an article in the newspaper about the tobacco auctions in the Pee Dee area. Most tobacco companies were changing their method of buying tobacco, preferring to buy directly from the growers rather than at auction. We were at Pawleys Island that year and I thought that would be a fine field trip so I called my second cousin Charlie in Mullins and the next day the car full of us headed up 701 from Georgetown to Mullins. That was a great day. We picked up Charlie who was moving slow from trouble in his hip and he showed us around the tobacco auctions. We watched the auctions, not understanding most of what was going on, and we smelled the sweet smell of cured tobacco. When we had enough, we went to Charlie’s favorite meat-and-three in Mullins and we enjoyed lunch together before dropping him by his home on our way back to Pawleys.

Field trips, however, are rare on vacation. I cannot get organized well enough to do much of anything at the beach more complicated than taking a walk with Sue every morning and finding a hidey hole to write or to read. I am subject, though, to the sudden urge, the big idea, the “event of the week” kind of idea. That is what happened when I saw the sign hanging by the South Causeway promoting the kayak race that week on the creek between Pawleys Island and the mainland. The creek all but disappears in places at low tide as it winds through the marsh. Everyone at the beach has easy access to a tide chart that shows when the tide is coming in or going out; otherwise, how can one plan to go crabbing or to plan a day on the beach?

When the tide goes out in the creek behind Pawleys, it is moving! Someone pulled a plug. The kayak race started at a time when the tide was going out; we were supposed to paddle to a buoy about a half-mile downstream, go around it and paddle back. Some people owned kayaks and had lots of equipment and the bodies to go with it. Some of us rented a kayak and were less prepared physically but hey, this is about fun! The family vote to participate in this race was not unanimous; in fact, there was intense disinterest by at least one family member who may have been representing the silent majority but I had rented the kayaks and the equipment and I was excited so everyone agreed, reluctantly it seemed.

To be candid, I thought this would be a fun family event; who cares who wins? We could sort of float around the course and visit and laugh and watch the crabs on the edge of the marsh. As with other family experiences, this is not what happened. The horn sounded and there was a huge splash of water as everyone in the race started paddling as fast as they could. The tide was helpfully going out so the trick was to find the current and ride it. We had eight adult family members all over the marsh and it was obvious that the least interested family member was intent on finishing this event as quickly as possible by getting out to the buoy and getting back and out of the water. I was in the back, still looking for crabs and wildlife that had disappeared when dozens of crazy people started beating the water with paddles.

Did I mention the paddling was difficult? I work out with an excellent personal trainer but good grief, my arms and shoulders were dragging my heavy self through the water in a kayak and I was getting tired. My family members started passing me on the way back to the starting bridge as I still saw the buoy in front of me. One family member was not laughing and joking; the goal was to get through this course and to get back on that bridge. I looked around and saw two other people… ok, men… ok, heavy men… trying to get to the buoy and one guy looked ragged. I started worrying about him and decided to stick close in case he needed some help; what help I could give I was uncertain. So I slowed down and we turned to head back together. We now were fighting the tide. I did not have a good time going back to the bridge. For one thing I could see family members standing on the bridge talking to each other. There were not many people left on the water by the time we got half-way back to the bridge and one of the three of us had pulled ahead. My new buddy who I had tried to chat up was looking a bit better as we got close to the end and suddenly, he gave it all he had. He started paddling like he was about to win the Olympics and I realized he was trying to beat me back to the bridge. I processed that for a minute and decided not to race although I did pick up the pace. As I pulled myself out of the water, I heard him tell his wife, “At least I did not come in last”..