Paddling on the Bartram Canoe Trail

Growing up, my family’s idea of “camping” consisted of roasting marshmallows in our fire pit outside, stargazing, then eventually returning to the safety of indoors to sleep. With experience like this, you can imagine my initial apprehension when Julia and Anna invited me on their overnight paddle in the Bartram Canoe Trail.

We were all first-timers for an overnight paddle, but Julia and Anna were at least vetted campers. I figured if I was going to start, it might as well be with them. I threw what I considered to be gear into my 25 L Granite Gear backpack, and we headed to Stockton the next morning.

Less than an hour drive north from Mobile, we put in at Upper Bryant’s Landing. We kayaked for about three hours and rested a bit at a platform in Dead Lake- a great place to dry off and stretch- then headed to camp to beat sunset.

Luckily the gator sightings, caved-in houses, and cypress trees helped distract us from the growing soreness.

Around 6:30 pm, we turned into a narrow break in the trees to make it to our platform in Rice Creek. Only about thirteen feet wide, four feet deep, and overgrown with brush, this side creek was the perfect dwelling place for the alligators of the Delta. We were racing a setting sun, and our only option was to keep paddling.

Thirty feet in, we maneuvered our canoe around two fallen trees, only to find a similar obstacle about thirty feet later… then again further ahead… then again. After constantly avoiding fallen trees, we eventually employed Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to raise our spirits- and to deter any lurking gators. Unfortunately, spiders paid no attention to us and would present themselves any way, whether it was falling on us, or just crawling right in our canoe to save themselves. Twenty-five minutes and countless spider later, we were attempting to squeeze under the crook of a fallen tree, when I saw only the largest spider to date, resting and camouflaged on the same spot I was going to cross.

I may have said some things I’m not proud of. In the moment, I considered this life or death. I just was ready to reach the safety of our platform so I could stress-eat all the granola I had packed. We continued for about twenty more minutes, experiencing more showers of arachnids, but no longer fearing our eight-legged friends.

Eventually, we reached tall grass and shallow water, so we were forced to go back the way we came, back through the hellish jungle that we fought so valiantly to get through. Julia had spotted a trail blaze, so we knew we were on the right path, but something just didn’t feel right.

We popped out of the opening with twenty minutes to sunset, and at our navigator’s suggestion, headed back to our resting spot from earlier in the day.

Once the sun set, we could hardly see five feet in front of us. Only until we saw the headlamp reflect on the platform’s metallic sign did we realize we had reached our promised land.

In no time, camp was set up, food was cooked and I swear, a dehydrated meal never tasted so good. Pasta primavera and a spinach salad- I was eating better out in the Delta than I would be eating at home.

Our night passed well and before I knew it, we were waking up in the morning and getting ready to head back. By the time we arrived back at Upper Bryant’s Landing, I was already planning my next adventure, despite my achy shoulders and itchy bug bites. Maybe with a better map next time…