Hey Everyone! I hope everyone is safe and healthy. This week I want to talk about exploring one of North Carolina's four national forests. At 159,000 acres, it's the third largest of the NC national forests. Located in Eastern North Carolina, it has lakes, rivers, and hiking trails. Lots to explore. This may take longer to explore than I previously had planned in my yearly project, but I'm going to stick with this plan even if it takes me many years to do. I plan on doing most of my exploration mainly in colder weather because the bugs and the heat are crazy during the spring and summer. This national forest is the closest to my home, and I plan on taking many one-day trips to explore and a few overnighters. I'll be using my trusty old truck Betsy that I have talked about in previous blogs. She's a 21-year-old truck but in very good condition with a camper shell on it, and on top of that I have my new exploring vessel, my canoe. No name for the canoe yet, but I'm still searching.
Last weekend I took my first exploring trip to Croatan. I have taken a couple of look-and-see trips just to get my bearings. But the weather has slowed down my exploration. We have had a very wet end of last year and start of this year. The ground everywhere is very saturated with water, so just a little rain floods the land. The rivers are swollen and the currents strong, so I haven't ventured onto the rivers yet with my new canoe. Being a new paddler, I don't want to have to fight currents and such yet until I get some more experience with the canoe. Next year I plan on starting river exploration in North Carolina, but I need to get my skills better with the canoe first. My first trip was to Catfish Lake where I planned to do some paddling around this lake. I went to this lake fairly early in the morning. You have to go on a forestry road that is not paved to get to the lake. The main road was in good condition, and I could tell that it had been graded recently. The road to the lake off of this main road was another matter. The rain had done its damage to the road, and large potholes were everywhere. I had to dodge and endure the holes and probably could only do 5mph down this road. The lake is surrounded by thick overgrowth and can only be accessed in a couple of places. I came to the first place just a turn out with about a 30-foot clearing. I decided to go farther to the main boat launch. When I got to the road, it was flooded in one place. My truck is not 4-wheel drive, so I didn't go to the main launch. I turned around and went to the first launch. I got my canoe off the truck, got my camera and all my stuff together, and went out on the lake. I was probably the only one on the lake. As the wind started to pick up, I tried to stay close to the shore out of the wind in the protection of the trees. I really didn't see any wildlife but did see a lot of duck decoys, so I'm sure if you're here at the right time of year there would be migrating birds here. I had my camera loaded in a pelican case, and as it was my first time with my camera in the canoe, I practiced getting it out and back in the case. I took a few photos, but just at decoys. After about an hour, the wind got too strong for my paddling skills, so I did the smart thing and got out of the water and put my boat back on old Betsy. It was now mid to late morning, and I wanted to do something else while I was in Croatan. So I found a trail to explore.
Island Creek Trail is about 2.5 miles off the trail and follows the creek. This is a black water creek where the minerals from the soil and trees make the water tea-colored, but in the creek it makes the creek turn black. I am horribly out of shape and overweight. I was already overweight when the virus started, and I just got fatter after that. Its been a while since I did some hiking, so even this little hike was quite a workout for me. I started at the trailhead. This is a loop trail, so when I came to the fork, I took a right and went by the creek. The creek is filled with cypress trees and knees by this winding creek. This trail gets lots of traffic as the path was well worn. There are lots of side trails that can take you toward the creek. The trail has some signage telling you what trees are what and very little in trail markings to let you know that you're on the right trail. But it's very easy not to get lost. This is a delightful trail and took me about an hour and a half to complete.
My first exploring trip to the Croatan National Forest was a success. The idea that I had taking my canoe with me was a success and there will be plenty more trips. I already have reservations to take my little teardrop to Cedar Point Recreational Area to do some more exploring with my wife. Forrest, the wonder dog, did not accompany me this time. I want to get better at paddling before I try to get him in the boat, but I hope to soon. I have another trip planned with my wife and the teardrop trailer to Cedar Point near Swansboro. So until next week keep exploring and get out and shoot.