Mr. Softee

Nothing could derail the ultimate southeastern paddling trip—except a dandy travel partner.

Jun 7, 2010
Outside Magazine
Boneyard Beach, Bull Island

Boneyard Beach, Bull Island    Photo: Photograph by Wilson Baker

Jimmy, the Iron Man

Jimmy, the Iron Man

"SHOULD I BRING my scarf?"

I'm not sure how to respond. I'm suiting up to paddle to Bull Island, a 5,000-acre barrier island and wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, with a buddy from back home, Jimmy. But ever since we met in the Atlanta airport for our dirtbag reunion tour, a 100-mile trawl through the salt marshes and palmetto trees between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, it's become increasingly apparent that Jimmy and I have gone our separate ways.

First, Jimmy deplaned wearing designer jeans and a button-down shirt and carrying a bag full of legal briefs for his job as a power-suit lawyer in New York. Then he refused to camp and, invoking a constant need for wireless Internet, booked us at a resort with valet parking and immense bottles of moisturizer in the bathrooms. Now, as we're about to set off, he prepares to shawl up.

I talk him down and we push off. The paddle to Bull is relatively easy—or should be—but an encounter with a friendly porpoise nearly sinks our plans. "You sure it's not an orca?" Jimmy asks. Once ashore, though, we seamlessly execute a seven-mile round-trip hike to Boneyard Beach, a tangle of dead oak trees bleached white by the sun and salt. In five hours on Bull, we see exactly two people.

But then, back at our boats, the wind shifts and three-foot swells erupt over the incoming tide. We need to paddle back through them. On our first try, waves crash over our decks, taking Jimmy with them. I steady his kayak until he situates himself in the cockpit and is able to push off again. He bobs in the roiling water, screaming as he paddles across the three-mile estuary. Near the opposite shore a fisherman comes out of his shack to find out what in the hell is going on. "Oh, hi," Jimmy says, realizing he's the one screaming. Eventually I catch up with him and we continue back to the landing.

We hop in the car and head south—in every sense of the term. But then a funny thing happens: Jimmy's BlackBerry battery dies. We actually start talking. And reminiscing. When we pull in to Savannah, I care less that he still insists on a downtown hotel and oysters. It's the good old days, only six times as expensive. After dinner, we spend the night barhopping; in the morning, we tour Savannah's 19th-century mansions. Halfway through the afternoon, perusing a chocolate shop, I realize my flight leaves in three hours. It takes four to get to Atlanta. "Damn," Jimmy says. "Wanna get shrimp and grits?"

EXPENSE REPORT Cheese, bread, Snickers, and Chili Cheese Fritos: $24.29. Kayak rentals: $96. Starbucks: $8.39. *Optional and ill-advised traveling-with-a-New-York-lawyer overhead toll (beach resorts, four-star restaurants, etc.): $493.93. Extra night in an Atlanta Best Western after a missed flight: $72. Total: $694.61

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