Our First Anniversary

Our First Anniversary

Sparkleberry Swamp

Steve’s Blog July 20, 2010

I’ve been pulling trailers, boat trailers, for thirty years or thereabouts, and one thing I’ve learned is whenever the trailer lights decide to act up, at least two, and more than likely all of the following three conditions, must be met.  First, it should be night (night meaning dark, and this is usually accompanied by having misplaced a flashlight, or if a flashlight is present, the batteries must be dead… in any case, condition #1 is that you can’t see what you are doing).  Condition #2 is that it should be cold.  Preferably 32 degrees or lower.  And condition #3 is that some sort of precipitation should be present.  Combining conditions #2 and #3 so that you have a freezing drizzle is a plus.

I’ve come to realize, since moving south, that these conditions only apply above the Mason-Dixon Line.  Here in Dixie, trailer lights act up in the daytime…  under a blazing sun, in a bright blue sky with absolutely no clouds in sight, so that there is no possibility of clouds blocking the sun and providing a little shade. It must be hot, or rather HOT, with temperatures at least in the mid-90s, so that after you set a tool down, under that blazing sun (see condition #1) it becomes so hot that when you try to pick it up again, the skin on your hand sizzles.  And, the third condition is that the humidity matches, or is somewhat higher than, the temperature.

The combined effects of these conditions are similar.  North of the Mason-Dixon Line, you are cold, wet, uncomfortable, and can’t see worth a damn.  In the South, you’re hot, wet (from perspiration, not precipitation), uncomfortable, and can’t see worth a damn (from the sweat running into your eyes).

More about this in a bit.

We had great plans for the weekend to celebrate our First Anniversary, and notwithstanding the trailer light problem, we did have a terrific time. There are several members of CNPA (Carolinas Nature Photographers Assn.) who are also kayakers, and this year they’ve joined together as a sort of sub-group to combine the two hobbies of photography and paddling.  Saturday, July 17, there was an event scheduled at Sparkleberry Swamp, in South Carolina.  I love paddling in swamps, one of my favorite places to paddle when I was living in New York was the Basherkill Swamp…  about four miles long by a half mile wide, more or less, and full of reeds and other aquatic plants with both an active osprey nest and an active bald eagle nest, and full of various birds, frogs, turtles, various colored dragon flies, etc.  In my mind, this is what I had pictured Sparkleberry to be, and I was really looking forward to the trip.

We decided to make a long weekend of it, and Chari made reservations to bring the trailer to a nearby park, Poinsett State Park for three nights.  We’d leave on Thursday, and return home on Sunday. Over the previous week, I had just completed building a new storage box on the rear of the trailer…  the full width of the trailer (eight feet) by 30 inches deep by 20 inches wide…  to carry things such as lawn chairs, charcoal grill, folding tables, etc.  The size of the box meant that it would block the trailer lights, so I had to install additional lights on the box itself, tapping into the existing lights.  Everything worked fine, and by mid-afternoon on Thursday, we were ready to leave.

We were about five miles down the road when I noticed the trailer brakes weren’t working.  This had happened once before, when I had forgotten to plug the trailer to the car.  I knew I had plugged it in, because I had just checked everything in the driveway at home, but thought that maybe something had come loose, and stopped the car to check it again.  Everything was plugged in tight, but nothing, neither the lights nor the brakes, worked.  My first thought was that I had screwed something up when working on the lights for the box, meaning everything would have to be unloaded to get to the wiring to inspect it, so I found a place a hundred yards or so down the road to turn around, and headed back home. When we got home, I realized that there was no power at all coming to the receptacle at the back of the car… no tail lights, no brake lights, no nothing.  I found the fuse box…

“Ah-Ha!”  There’s a fuse marked “towing’ ”

But the fuse was good.  There were several other fuses there, as well as some empty spaces, and I started pulling them one at a time to check them, and they were all good.  Then I dropped one into the engine compartment…  never to be seen again!  At this point I may have mutterted my first four-letter word.  The fuse I dropped was 25 amps, and I found I didn’t have any 25 amp spare fuses.  I’ll need to go to the auto parts store.  I turned the key in the car, and it wouldn’t start.  Crank, crank, crank…  nothing!

Four-letter words #2 and #3 passed my lips.

“Honey, can I help?”

Four-letter words #4 through #57.

After using Chari’s car to go to the parts store, and returning home with an assortment of spare fuses, I looked at all the empty spaces in the fuse box, and had no idea which one used to hold the lost fuse!  They were all labeled with some sort of gobble-de-gook that made no sense.  I put a fuse into an empty space, and tried starting the car.  Nothing.  The third try produced results. Now I was back to square #1.  All the fuses were good, the car would start, but I still had no power to the receptacle in the back.  I tried following wires from the tail-lights back up to the engine, and they disappeared into spaces with no access. To make a long story short (or at least not quite so long… it’s already passed the point of being “short”), we didn’t go anyplace that night.

The next morning, I brought the car to our friendly neighborhood mechanic, and for an hour and a half, he was just as stymied as I was…  “I think you may need to bring this to the dealer.”

Then, while tracing a wire from where the electric brakes were connected, he found a single fuse up under the steering column.  It was bad!  He replaced it…  the receptacle had power! The next step would be to bring the car home and plug in the trailer.  I did.  The fuse held! By 10:30AM, we were back on the road.

Having missed one day, the rest of the trip would be fantastic! We pulled into Poinsett State Park two and a half or three hours later.  It’s bordered by the Manchester State Forest (Chari’s maiden name is Manchester), and also, a US Air Force bombing range.  You don’t want to stray too far off the beaten track!

Sign posting the site of the no longer existing town of Manchester

Poinsett is a beautiful park, and the RV camping section is very attractive.  Nice level trailer parking areas, separated from the next campsite by trees.  We were at the end of a row, so when the trailer was set up, our patio area was looking out on open woods.  But the camping area was almost empty anyway, so privacy was not an issue.  The only problem we had was that the water and electric hook-ups were too far from where the trailer was parked for our hose and cord to reach.  We found a Lowe’s about fifteen miles away, and solved that problem.

The park has a very small staff…  there were two state park rangers there, and they told us they were it! They’re extremely friendly, and we talked a bit about paddling in Sparkleberry, which is roughly five or six miles away.  Since we had missed a day of camping, and had planned on spending a good part of Friday paddling on our own, we asked if there was anyone scheduled to use our camping site beginning on Sunday, when we were scheduled to leave.  If not, would it be a problem if we went out paddling on Sunday and maybe didn’t get back until after check-out time (noon)?  Well, the ranger told us, since you missed Thursday, why don’t we rearrange your reservations from Thursday night through Saturday night to Friday night through Sunday night…  that way you’ll be able to leave whenever you want.

After setting up and relaxing a bit, we made some supper…  chicken cooked over charcoal, baked spuds, and fresh tomatoes…  then took a ride to see where the Sparkleberry landing is at, so we wouldn’t have everyone else waiting for us if we couldn’t find it the next morning.

It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. This is not a swamp full of reeds and bullrushes and aquatic plants like Basherkill is.  This is a cypress swamp, with cypress and tupelo trees growing all through it, and looked, from the landing area, absolutely gorgeous.  There were a few motor jonboats with people out fishing in the swamp, and one local youngster there told us, “If y’all gonna canoe out there, you’d best bring along some spray paint, so ya can find yer way back!  Y’all kin git lost out there!”

We went back to the trailer, sat outside nibbling on Haagan Daz ice cream bars and listening to the tree frogs chirping, then went into our air conditioned trailer to bed.  Trailer camping is so much nicer (almost decadent!) than tent camping!

Saturday morning was our anniversary, July 17.  We had a good breakfast of Spam and eggs, Chari made some sandwiches for our lunch, and we drove over to the landing.  We wanted to be on the water by 10:00AM, and were to meet by 9:40… to give everyone time to get their boats set up.

The trip had been arranged by Joe, a CNPA member from the Charlotte chapter, and was being led by a friend of his, John, a retired South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Biologist who was very instrumental in the establishment of the Congaree as a National Park. His picture hangs in the Visitor’s Center at Congaree.  Including Joe and John, there were eleven of us, most in kayaks, Joe and myself in canoes.  To keep us herded together, John rode point, and Joe took up the rear.  As the young feller last night said, it’s easy to get lost! After we were all in the water, we gathered around John, who told us a bit about the swamp, which lies at the northern end of Lake Marion and covers roughly 16,000 acres.  He told us about the various birds we’d probably see, and he also mentioned that the largest alligator measured in South Carolina was in this very area…  14 feet.  As a point of interest, my canoe and the kayak Chari was using (my fishing boat) each measure 12 feet!  But, as much as I would have liked to, we didn’t see any ‘gators.

We paddled a loop of just about 5.2 miles (Joe was marking our route on his GPS and later overlaid the loop on an arial photo).

Our paddle loop through the swamp

Some areas were open, and others were dark and gloomy, cypress trees and tupelo trees everywhere, and lots of stumps and logs floating, some just below the surface.  I got myself hung up on one, and two other guys had to come and help me off.  We found somebody’s hunting cabin built on stilts in the middle.  No one is supposed to build anything in there, but some of them have been in use since before the area was protected.  John said that eventually, the government wants to get rid of them all.  There were lots of birds… blue herons, night herons, egrets, white ibis, and something I’d never heard of, known locally as a water turkey, because of the way it fans out its tail.  It’s real name is the anhinga, and is also known as the snake bird due to it’s long neck.  Besides the trees, there were several interesting plants growing in there, including one known as a button bush, with golf-ball sized fruit covered with spines like a white sea urchin, and several wild hibiscus known as the marsh mallow. We took some pictures, but not a lot.  Mostly, we just enjoyed exploring and seeing the sights. The paddle was one of the best I’ve ever been on.  And, we are definitely going to come back and paddle here again.

Russ photographing Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus) flower

Close-up of Buttonbush flowers

Spanish moss hanging from Cypress trees

Cypress fruits

Hunting cabin in the swamp


Swamp turtle on a log

Snowy Egret

Marsh Mallow

It was early afternoon when we got back to the landing, and we had drank most of the water we’d brought along, so we decided to go back to the trailer at Poinsett to have our lunch.  We did, and had a Frapachino with it, which was very refreshing.  We relaxed a bit, then took a drive to do some sight-seeing.  There is an antebellum plantation called Kensington Mansion in the area that is supposedly open for tours that looked interesting.  And in the same area in the town of Eastover is the J. A. Byrd Merchantile Store, supposedly owned and operated by the same family since the 1700s, and right near Byrd’s is an old Farmers and Merchants Bank.  Kensington Mansion was closed, but the sign did list the hours for tours, so at some point when we come back, we’ll check it out.

We never did find Byrd’s, but we did find the old hulk of a building that used to be the Farmers and Merchants Bank. We did a bit more exploring, then back to Poinsett.

Our Anniversary Supper  started with a bowl of gazpacho followed by a peppercorn marinated pork tenderloin cooked over the charcoal, herbed and buttered egg noodles, and a salad of cantaloupe and fresh tomatoes.  Dessert was one-year-old wedding cake!

Our 1st Anniversary Dinner

It was hot outside, still close to 90° at suppertime, so we ate by candlelight in the trailer.  Very romantic!

We slept in until 6:30 or 7:00 on Sunday, then had a nice breakfast of sausage, pancakes, and eggs.  Then we headed down the road a few miles past the Sparkleberry Landing to a place called Pack’s Landing, which is on the main body of Lake Marion, below the cypress swamp area of Sparkleberry.  But the shoreline is lined with a sort of cypress swamp, and there are a few cypress islands there.

Steve on Lake Marion

We didn’t paddle very far, maybe a mile and a quarter before turning around to head back, but we spent a lot of time at two of the islands, which were home to several white ibis.  By paddling the boats up into the trees we were able to see a few groups of maybe half-a-dozen on the narrow strip of land that made up the actual island.  The islands themselves were really not much more than sandbars, maybe twenty feet wide, by a couple of hundred yards long, but with the cypress trees growing out into the water on either side, probably about a hundred feet wide.

Sneaking up on white ibis

White Ibis Trio

Hibiscus (Marsh Mallow) along the shore of Lake Marion

White Ibis

We didn’t stay out too long…  the thunder clouds were beginning to build, and we didn’t want to get caught in a storm.  Besides, we had to get the boats back on top of the car, clean things up in the trailer, and get hooked up for the drive back home.  While Chari was inside organizing things and I was connecting the trailer to the car, we did get hit with a short ten-minute cloudburst, but nothing serious.

We waited it out in the trailer, finished the hook-up, plugged in the lights, and the fuse blew!  But now I know where it is and on the second try, it worked just fine.  This is going to be a hard one to figure out…  it only blows once in a while, and then, only on a start-up.  But, NAPA Auto Parts has a whole shelf full of fuses, so I guess I’ll have to go over and buy a box-full!


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
This entry was posted in kayaking, nature, photography, South Carolina, Travel USA. Bookmark the permalink.

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