Outer Banks Sea Kayaking

Excruciating sunburns, aggravating bug bites, and blistering heat may not seem the most appealing way to spend eight days, but it was my reality.

From July 11-18, I was blessed with the most incredible opportunity to go sea kayaking in the beautiful Sounds of the Outer Banks thanks to the generosity of the Cutler Scholars Program at Ohio University. In addition to a full academic scholarship, my wonderful benefactor, Ms. Joan Wood, funded my trip to North Carolina where I would participate in the most physically and mentally challenging week of my life. Despite all my challenges, it was deeply rewarding.

Throughout my journey, I kept a journal. Here are the chronicles of my adventure:

journal

Day 1: Monday, July 11

Lots of firsts today: flying alone, layovers, sea kayaking, wet exiting a kayak, etc.

I started the morning at 2:30 (yes, a.m.) and was accompanied by my parents to the airport. Considering the last time I flew I was four, I was, of course, nervous and scared to fly alone. After my parents waved goodbye, I felt emotional and immediately petrified…But then an emotion overcame me I haven’t ever felt: excitement for the unknown. I felt giddy and light. The entire flight I just stared out the window at the sunrise, completely happy and in awe of God’s beautiful world. After airports and layovers, we got to the course and it is beautiful. We took the kayak out to a nearby shore and had to practice wet exits, which was kind of terrible and kind of fun. The instructors flip you over and you have to escape the splash skirts and the kayak underwater. We then learned proper rowing techniques and to be honest, it’s hard work. I feel like I won’t be strong enough for the expedition. I’m very excited (and nervous) for what lies ahead.

Praises

  • new opportunities
  • good company
  • safe travels
  • I saw three dolphins

Prayers

  • strength
  • courage

kayak

Day 2: Tuesday, July 12

Today was hard. I got so wrecked. We bused out to Harker’s Island and learned how to pack the kayak (which is hard, by the way, and makes the kayaks extremely heavy). Then, the kayaking itself. It was very difficult for me to row. Strength is not my strong suit for sure. Then, we had to unpack the kayaks and “put them to bed” (raccoon-proof them, cover them, lift and move them on shore) then carry all of our gear and take a short hike to our campsite. That hike killed me. For some reason, it was my breaking point lugging all of that weight after such an exhausting day at sea. We set up the tent and then split off for about ten minutes to be alone with our thoughts. It felt cooler on the beach and the waves were beautiful and I started crying. My spirit felt broke. I was hot, sweaty, exhausted, and somehow sunburnt (despite the eight reapplications). The top of my hands are fried (tomorrow will not be fun paddling). I couldn’t escape my feeling of despair and cried out to God. I was sobbing. I missed my family and my home.

I pleaded for God to give me strength and courage and almost immediately I felt peace as the waves swelled. If God created such a beautiful, intricate world, surely He can take care of me. I have faith, but I don’t know how I will repeat this for another six days. On the bright side, the sat by the ocean for a long time and just marveled. SO BEAUTIFUL.

The sunset was incredible. I still feel physically and mentally exhausted, but I trust Him and thank Him for the opportunity to grow both in myself and in my faith.

Geography

Shackleford Banks (tonight’s campsite) used to be home to many, including early settlers and Native Americans. This is due to the Maritime forests, a rare ecosystem that grows because of its protection from the salt by the sand dunes. But, once a major hurricane rolled in and split Shackleford and the Core Banks, many people lost their homes and the rest picked up and left. As a result, there are wild horses that roam Shackleford Banks. I saw a mom and baby horse today. Very cute!

Praises

  • beautiful scenery
  • new opportunities
  • God’s unconditional love for me
  • the waves and the ocean
  • good group of people

Prayers

  • physical strength
  • mental resilience
  • physical healing of sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, etc.

kayaks on beach

Day 3: Wednesday, July 13

God is GOOD. I am writing this as I sit in the sand amongst colorful and large seashells overlooking the beach. My prayers worked. Yes, today was hard and hot and challenging, but my attitude and stamina were better. I was in a tandem (a two person kayak) today, which was much better. It was nice to have someone helping with the paddling, as well as someone to have a conversation with. We went about the same distance, but it honestly felt shorter. Instead of crossing a big expanse of sea like yesterday, we wrapped around a few islands and peninsulas to end up on another part of Shackleford Banks. After we unloaded the boats, we went back out and learned some new paddle strokes. After that, I’ll admit, I started to feel tired and the feeling of hopelessness struck me again. I noticed that hits me around five while unpacking the bags and setting up camp, but our camp is closer to the beach tonight, so there’s a better breeze.

Mother Nature is really kicking my butt. First of all, a crazy thunderstorm rolled in at about two in the morning. I used to find storms soothing–that is, until I was in a flimsy tent on the beach. Secondly, THE SUN IS MY WORST ENEMY. I applied sunscreen 12 times (yes, I counted), and I’m still burnt. There are splotches all over my legs and my hands are still awful. The long-sleeve Columbia shirt did aid my arms. Tomorrow, I will break out the gloves to protect my hands.

This trip is really testing me to adapt and go way outside my comfort zone (I will definitely have a newfound appreciation for toilets and plumbing when I get home!). I know that’s a good thing, but oftentimes I feel hopeless and sad and lonely and just can’t wait to go home. But this moment right now–seated beneath the cotton candy sunset, the scent of salt striking my nose, sand pressed against my legs–this moment is perfect: something I would never give up.

One third of the way finished!

Praises

  • BEAUTY and MAJESTY of His world
  • the cool breeze
  • some overcast to help a little with the sun
  • hydration (I drank more than a gallon…much better than yesterday, which helped me feel a lot better)
  • good opportunity

Prayers

  • physical healing
  • positive attitude
  • enjoy the present

beach 1

Day 4: Thursday, July 14

PRAISE THE LORD!!! By far, this was my best day. Now that I’m somewhat used to this, it wasn’t terrible at all. I woke up an hour early and watched the ocean. It’s mesmerizing. Then we ate and packed up the boats and set out. It wasn’t hot–thank goodness–due to the wind. I felt good. The wind, however, was a huge disadvantage. We had to cross a huge channel from the Shackleford to the Core Banks. The currents were working against us too. In addition, wind was 15 to 20 knots in the opposite direction (which is awful for kayaking, especially without any cover from land). We had to stop right before crossing and wait there for an hour with lunch because of the weather and the general attitude of the group wasn’t so good (people were feeling sick, upset, etc.). We came up with a game plan to stick close together and began to cross. We had to continuously paddle nonstop. It was tiring as we overcame extremely choppy waves. The water splashed everywhere. I was soaked. The waves shook us and it was incredibly difficult, but dare I say…FUN. It was the most fun I had on the whole trip. I felt so successful when I finished.

We are camped tonight by the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. There are trees (the first shade we’ve had in days)!!! We are camping in the woods. There are others nearby (our first human contact outside of our crew) camping and they have the most adorable chocolate lab puppy I got to play with. There was also a freshwater outside shower. It was the most refreshing feeling I have ever felt. Cold(ish) water that was salt-free! I felt brad new. We had a chance to fill up our water bladders for the group for the next few days and even use real bathrooms. There was even a pavilion we could use for eating. It was a rewarding night for a difficult day. I am joking around with the crew and laughing and finally feeling like myself. Yay!

Geography

The Outer Banks is referred to as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Thousands of shipwrecks litter the area as a result of the shifting sandbars and shallow waters. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was created to help combat the problem.

Praises

  • group safety during the crossing
  • health
  • freshwater showers (no soap, but still!)
  • less sand!!!
  • shade
  • good attitude
  • fun group

Prayers

  • safety in the heat
  • experience the present instead of rushing it

Halfway there!

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Day 5: Friday, July 15

Sand everywhere. Normally, this would drive me crazy, but not today.

This morning, I woke up with a splinter completely lodged in my foot (which I got while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and no, there were no tweezers), an extreme rash (from walking around in wet clothes all day), and a swollen lower lip twice my size (from saltwater, sun…basically everything I’ve been exposed to all week). We were falling apart, so the instructor threw us a lifeline. We stayed by the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We started the morning with breakfast. I made some delicious hashbrowns. We then headed to the lighthouse. Since our arms had been working out all week thanks to the paddling, it was our legs’ turn (216 steps straight up). The view was totally worth it. It was breezy and beautiful. On one side, I could see the breathtaking Atlantic and on the other, I could actually trace the path we paddled through the Sounds. I felt accomplished. After lunch under the shelter (shade!!!), we took the kayaks on the water to practice rescues and have fun. I stood up in a sea kayak in choppy waves and 10 knot winds! Very cool. I got to relax in the water and rinse off again in the showers. Our instructors decided we were getting a little too comfortable with the facilities, so it was time to head back into the wilderness. Let me tell you, trekking across an island with a heavy pack, two gallons of water, and a tent in the blistering heat is not fun, so my 5 o’clock sickness struck me again. Luckily, clouds rolled in and covered the sun and I was able to eat.

Okay, back to the sand. I’m on solo time now: a 12+ hour stretch of being completely alone and sleeping in the sand dunes (not in a tent, just under the sky). I had my little sleeping mat and sleeping bag set up and was seated by the beach in the soft, white sand. I was praying and suddenly burst into tears at completely amazement in God’s power. That’s never happened to me before. I could not believe that He created the tiniest grain of sand stuck to my skin to the magnificent ocean crashing white-capped waves on the shore. I was filled with total, awe-struck wonder. Then some bad clouds rolled in promising a terrible storm. The instructors raced down the beach telling us to go back to our tents. I was so upset. I wanted to stay there forever. I never felt closer to God than I did in that moment. I prayed for it to pass so I could just experience Him and sure enough, I’m back sitting on the beach, slathered in sand and happy about it.

I’m glad to be in this moment. He gifted me this incredible opportunity. Instead of thinking to the end of it–praying for showers, cold water, etc.–I should be happy in this moment. To be alone and not lonely is a wonderful feeling.

(Okay, random side note: I just moved up to my sleeping bag and found a ghost crab–a small, white crab that roams Carolian beaches at night–on my mat.)

Tomorrow will be hard. A 10 mile expedition, according to the navigators: our longest yet. But I’m not worried. God said it best: “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).

I’ve struggled with anxiety and worrying constantly about what lies ahead and I know God is using this trip to teach me that He will take care of me and I am stronger than I think.

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Day 6: Saturday, July 16

Today was extremely eventful. Here’s why:

  1. Sleeping outside may seem like a good idea, that is, until the bugs decide to make an appearance.
  2. Despite the bug net I wrapped myself in, I have, no exaggeration, at least 500 bug bites. When I get bit, not only does my skin turn bright red, but it swells immensely. Some have even combined into one giant, softball sized lump. Yay!
  3. A thunderstorm rolled in at about 3 a.m. I sat straight up on my lightning mat wrapped in a rain tarp, praying not to be electrocuted.
  4. I got to see a beautiful sunrise with lightning strikes behind the clouds.
  5. Someone was sent home. The instructors believed he was posing a danger to us by being negative and disrespectful. He took a ferry off the island.
  6. Another crew member got sick and had to go back to base camp.
  7. With two people down, our group felt a little discouraged. The clouds began rolling in and the winds were bad.
  8. The storm passed, luckily, and we began our longest trek.
  9. Conveniently, my rudder was broken, so steering was a pain.
  10. We finally stuck together as a group. Smooth sailing!
  11. We boated through marsh today instead of beach. Nice change of scenery, but it was very muddy.
  12. Since we docked the boats, we didn’t have to lift and move them. Yay!

Tomorrow is final expedition. We plan our route to base camp and execute it with no instructor help.

One more day!

Praises

  • happy crew
  • teamwork
  • good attitudes

Prayers

  • finish strong
  • good weather for the four mile channel crossing

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Day 7: Sunday, July 17

Today was perfect.

4:30 a.m. wake up, which was hard, especially with the no-see-ums (or as we coined them: the tiny bugs from Hell). They were everywhere and they swarmed us. I was going crazy. I am covered in so many red bumps. We were efficient in getting the boats packed and quickly eating breakfast. We were on the water by 6:15.

We got to see the sunrise on the water. Since it was so early, the water was so still and reflected the rising sun like a mirror. That meant easy paddling. The channel crossing wasn’t difficult at all. We finished at 8, which was super impressive for my team. The instructors said it usually takes a crew until about 2-4 p.m. to finish on final expedition. This meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the day. After we cleaned the gear for a few hours, we got to take a SHOWER!!!!!! I never knew a tent, a hose, and some soap could make me so happy. I felt clean and content. It was an amazing feeling. I even broke out a fresh outfit!

Since there was plenty of time, they drove us from Marshallsberg to Beaufort. We visited a nice little museum all about the Outer Banks. I liked seeing the route we travelled on the map and being able to learn more about the environment. There was a film about Blackbeard, whose ship was wrecked in the Outer Banks. Interesting history. We walked alongside a marina to a small post-office-turned-visitor-center. It honestly felt weird to be a part of civilization again. And the air conditioning was cold! I had gotten used to the heat (which, by the found, I found out this was the hottest week of the summer with a heat index of over 100 degrees every day…) Then our instructors bought us all ice cream, our first cold food in a week and it tasted so good.

Back at base camp, we had it made. They set up lawn chairs (a luxury so we didn’t have to sit on the ground), and made us a dinner as a celebration. We spent the night laughing and talking and having a great time. We ended the night by driving out to a beachside patch of grass and circled up for our final evening meeting. We discussed how meaningful the trip was. We hen presented each other with our course completion awards. Finally, we picked up an Outward Bound pin and picked a moment that we’ll carry with us forever. It was touching.

I am sitting in my tent contemplating the trip. I will miss these people. I will miss the ocean. I will miss this experience.

Thank you, God for this.

Praises

  • great company
  • my optimism
  • WONDERFUL experience

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Day 8: Monday, July 18

Final morning waking up in a hot, buggy tent in North Carolina. We ate breakfast and did some paperwork. After that, one of our instructors did a reading of an essay about what we’ll take home with us. We hugged the instructors goodbye and loaded the van.

Turning on my phone felt weird. I was suddenly connected again. I loved being able to call and text my parents, but there are some sad aspects of being back on the grid. I saw news reports of a major terrorist attack in France, political turmoil in Turkey, etc. It’s odd you can be gone and it feels like the world is different from your perspective but it’s the same and nothing’s changed. Well, that’s not true. I’ve changed.

I’ve been sitting in the small New Bern airport for about 6 hours now. I’m an hour away from my flight. The rest of my group filtered out. We mustered our final goodbyes and headed our separate ways forever. We all have a shared experience though.

No, I can’t take home the boats or the ocean or the beach. It may seem I’m arriving back in Cincinnati with only sunburns, bug bites, and an Outward Bound pin to show for my experience, but in reality, I’m bringing back so much more. I am taking with me some less tangible things: confidence in myself, compassion for other, mental resilience, teamwork, and so much more.

Thank you, God (and Ohio University!) for this life-changing experience.

 Click on an image below to enlarge and view in slideshow mode.

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