Sunday morning at 6:30 AM my outside thermometer read 25 F. The weatherman promised temperatures would rise to the high 60's. The skies should clear and a relative calm should prevail due to a high pressure system that lay off the coast of the Carolinas. I was already packed and the kayak loaded on the car. It was coffee for the road and out the door. DJ called on the drive down. He would be a few minutes late arriving, but was on his way. He'd call Cat and the others.
We decided on the Transquaking river. Cat explained there is a 6 mile long loop that we can do before heading down towards Fishing Bay. On the way back we could short-cut the loop and take 5 miles off our paddle by cutting through a canal that bypassed the loop. The paddle would be 10-15 miles. Our put-in would be Bestpitch launch; a state owned public boat launch south of Easton Maryland.
The fisherman must have read our minds, because he began pointing to another launch ramp across the river. It was downstream several hundred yards and we had missed it entirely. He yelled that we could put in there. Marcelino and Rose decided to drive over first to check out the ramp. If it was also muddy, we'd need a third option.
The ramp was concrete and clean. We launched from it and paddled out into the Transquaking. It immediately became evident just how strong the winds and current in the river were. It took some getting used to, but the winds were manageable. Cat and I both had brought tow ropes, should anyone of us get into difficulty.
The Transquaking has lots of turns. We quickly learned to select the lee side of the river for wind protection. Reaching the canal, DJ spotted a Bald eagle sitting in a large, solitary, tree down the canal cut. While the rest of us paddled into the loop, DJ headed towards the eagle for some photography. Several hundred yards up stream, he again caught up with us. The eagle had seen us all and flown. That seemed to be the theme of the day. Not much wildlife photography was going to be done today. The fowl were sitting close due to the windy conditions.
The conversations throughout the day centered on two topics: how did the river get such an interesting name, and how to get out of the wind. We never resolved the first issue, although several hypotheses were offered up. First, offered in evidence that the name arises from some geological phenomenon, it was noted that wherever the mud banks extending into the river, there was almost always a deep rut that ran back into the marsh. In some instances, the rut may be as much as a foot deep. The theory was advanced that these marshland washes may have been confused for land shifts.
The wind was another story. Weathermen never seem to get it right. Today was forecast to be clear skies, air temperature 67 F, and calm. Instead, the skies were overcast, the air temperature hovered around 60 F and the combination of the temperature and wind chill made the air temperature feel more like 40F. Damn the weather-guessers! I’m a firm believer that all trip decisions should be made on the fly; perhaps even on the toss of a coin. Too many trips have been missed because someone listened to a weather-guessers dour predictions; too many trips have been ruined because the weather-guesser predicted clear skies, and thunderstorm intervened. I have a saying, “Weathermen roll the dice; God laughs.”
While the wind was with us all day, we did find ways to minimize it's effects. The best was to keep crossing the river at each turn, keeping the nearest bank between us and the wind. The only problem with this was that it meant in some areas we had to paddle close to the muddy silt beds that build up in river bends; muddy beds that reek of sulfur and decaying organic materials. I was only half joking with I remarked "If you overturn and fall into these mud pits, you'll join the ranks of the dinosaurs. We'll never be able to pull you out." Luckily, no one did.
About half way around the loop we came across an old shored-up wooden embankment that bordered a small wooded area. Beside it, the beach looked reasonably solid, although it was small and barely sufficient for five kayak landings. We decided to pull in and scout a trail that ran back from the beach and into the woods. DJ followed it for awhile, but no lead to a dead-end with no places really suitable for a sit-down lunch. Reporting back, we decided to lean back into the bank and enjoy our lunchs. Or, as Cat did, throw down a paddle float for a picnic cloth.
The trip back turned out to be the most fun we had all day. It was middle afternoon; 2:30 PM, but in the short days of autumn, we were already losing daylight. We took a vote at the junction of the river with the canal that ran back to port, on whether or not to continue down river, or save that part of the trip for another day. I remarked that we didn't want to be caught in the marsh after dark, because no one had brought lamps or gear to protect against falling temperatures. We decided to enter the canal and return home.
As soon as our bows entered the currents of water passing through the canals, we began to rocket back to port. We had caught a flood tide. This was my first experience with a tidal river, so for me it was a new experience. The tidal current carried us along at a very even 3 - 3-1/2 mph pace. Cat and DJ took off paddling hard with the current and hit a ground speed of 9 mph! Wow! That's incredible for a kayak. We were surfing a tidal current home.
However, looking back, there were some things that I think we lucked our way through. Take notice if you choose to paddle this area. First, we had failed to consider that the Transquaking river is tidal. I will definitely note the tide tables on future trips on these waterways. Had we waited longer to return, and then ran into a full ebbing tide, we may well have spent considerable time paddling the marsh waters in the dark. Second, when leaving for any cool/cold water paddle, one should always carry along extra clothing. I recall asking one of the trip members before we left port if he was bringing along spare warm clothing. He replied, "No, we're warm enough and we will not be out that long. If needed, we have extra clothing in the car. Humph... Don't think present tense, think future tense when preparing for a paddle. What can happen? What may we need if it does? You have plenty of room in a kayak to put extra gear and you are much better having it when needed, than wishing for it. As someone once told me, "Anticipate the worst case. You may have to live it." But there were no incidents this time.
As we pulled away from Bestpitch, we were beginning to lose daylight. Cat took us on a driving tour through Blackwater. We checked out what we had missed, and fortunately, it wasn’t much. The Tundra swan had not yet arrived, for if they had we would have seen thousands sitting on the quiet waters of the refuge. We did see a few Canada geese, but even they were few in number. We did photograph two bald eagles caught sitting on perches in shallow water. I think I can honestly state, we each left anticipating our next trip to Dorchester county.
Post post script: The Dorchester County Library Information Desk replied to my inquiry about the origin of the Transquaking River's name.
In our collection we have a little "souvenir booklet of the Maryland Eastern Shore" entitled Discover why it's called... by Dex Nilsson, published in 1990 (copyright 1988). On page 34 of the 64 page booklet: "Transquaking River, which flows from the Linkwood area through the marshes of central Dorchester County, is attributed to an Algonquian word meaning "place of the white cedar swamp." Algonquian, by the way, refers to the group of Indian languages spoken, but not written, from Labrador to the Carolinas to the Great Plains."
I don't know if there is a dictionary (written) of the Algonquian languages that would help verify this.
Trip photo album
Transquaking River Loop – Kayak Trip/Canoe Trip
Haunted Eastern Shore: ghostly Tales
MD - Transquaking River, Fishing Bay WMA (a trip report)
MD - Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Migration map for Tundra swans
National Geographic video on Tundra swan migration
Nilsson, Dex, Discover why it's called..., 64 pages, 1990.