The Rappahannock and Northern Neck

Oyster shells as mulch?
June 14 -- All of a sudden I felt like I was finally getting close to the Chesapeake Bay when I walked out of the wheat and corn fields and into downtown Urbanna.  Marinas, crab cakes, plant beds mulched with oyster shells...I had made it to the Rivah - the great broad expanse of the Rappahannock River!  After a couple weeks back home, Ryan drove out to meet me there in Urbanna so we could finish the trip together.  These mountain kids both needed some lessons on Tidewater ways.

Leaving Urbanna (before full throttle).

To get from the Middle Peninsula to the Northern Neck across the wide salty Rappahannock River would have been a challenge on foot.  Lucky for us, our friends Rob and Linda live across the river on a side inlet of the Corrotoman River and were willing to come pick us up in a boat.  It would have been 40 miles of walking instead of a twenty-minute boat ride to get to their house.

Rob picked us up in a motor boat (though he called a skiff).  He said that it was a little rough coming over, because of the breeze. Sure enough once we got out of the harbor a ways, there were some small waves.  Well, apparently the best way to not get tossed around too much is to go on top of the waves as much as possible.  "I'm going to pick it up here now," Rob informed us calmly.  Within a minute, Ryan and I were soaked and gripping our seats and Rob was surprisingly still standing up behind the wheel.  It was exhilarating!
Tidewater Lesson #1:  Toss the car and get a boat.

That evening, Rob and Linda treated us to a washing machine, a shower, steamed crabs for dinner, AND a boat ride to their neighbors' house to swim in the pool at sunset. First class accommodations!  We had a great time spying on the osprey family nested in a pine tree in their front yard.  Rob and Linda are adventurers themselves.  This summer they will deliver a sail boat up to Maine - one of many sailing trips they have taken. over the years.  And Rob biked across the country when he was seventeen, during the "Bikecentennial" of 1976, the inaugural year of the Route 76 TransAmerica Bike Trail.  Before my trip, it was comforting hearing Rob's stories about the kindness of people he encountered along the way during that trek. And here he was with Linda, helping us in turn.

Fast boats make pirate hats.

Rob delivering us to Merry Point on the Corrotoman
Our next mission was to get across the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  The original plan of sailing with Rob and Linda across the Bay fell through, because the boat they planned to use was undergoing repairs.  But we had a good Plan B:  we would walk up to Reedville where we could hop on a ferry to Tangier Island and then another ferry to Onancock on the Eastern Shore.  As has been a theme throughout this trip, there was someone down the road who could help us out.  Rob and Linda called up their friends who live only seven miles from the ferry, and got permission for us to camp in their back yard the next evening.  Rob also offered to give us a short boat ride up the Corrotoman to Merry Point so that we could reach their friends' house in a day (15 miles instead of 21).

Linda (right) walking with us on the Northern Neck
In the morning, the four of us got into the motor boat and headed out to Merry Point, with fewer waves this time, but still plenty of speed to make it exciting.  Rob pulled right up to the beach and dropped us off.  Linda gave us some company and walked a good five miles with us. We can't wait to visit  them again when we can sit and stay a little while longer.

Crossing the Great Wicomico River
I'm here to report that not even the Northern Neck is flat as a pancake, contrary to what I had imagined...but it's pretty darn flat.  On our way to Dave and Trish Geeson's house, we crossed over the Great Wicomico River on a bridge with delightfully wide shoulders.  It certainly was a beautiful scene from up there.  On our way down the other side of the bridge, Ian Geeson (their son who'd just returned from several years in New Zealand) drove by and figured that we were probably the backpackers who were coming to his folks house that evening.  He pulled over in his car and asked if we were Ryan and Laurel.  Yeah, we're hard to miss.  He offered a ride, but we decided to walk it all the way.
   Trish got home from work and immediately cooked up a feast in which she insisted we partake, and Dave offered us some cold beers.  We asked Ian lots of questions about New Zealand and shared stories about our Virginia trek.  Later, Dave went down to his dock to check on the crab pots to see what he'd caught.  What looked like a lot of crabs to me apparently wasn't a great catch, but I guess I'm easy to impress. 
Dave Geeson, lifting out one of his crab pots

We spent the evening at the dinner table, among other things, hearing about Dave's work with the Virginia Department of Health.  His job is to go out in a boat throughout the year to test waterways for bacteria to determine if shellfish from the area are safe to eat.  It's an important job that must have profound affects on shellfish harvesting in the Tidewater area.

What a nice surprise to meet the Geesons.

Dragon Run with Teta Kain

June 12 --Over the last few days, when I would mention that I was meeting up with Teta Kain to see Dragon Run, folks would say, "Oh yes, I know Teta - she's a legend!"  Sure enough, she is something is the Dragon.

Teta Kain telling me some of the history of Dragon Run.
I had spoken with Teta over the phone once before when I was working on a small research project about Dragon Run and the Piankatank River, which the water body is named once it becomes tidal open water.  Dragon Run is one of Virginia's most pristine waterways, in large part because of centuries of isolation from development.  Teta is an especially vibrant and active member of Friends of Dragon Run, a group of citizens in the area who have worked for several decades to buy up parcels of land to preserve and promote good stewardship of the Dragon. She joined Dave and I at Mascot, a dot on a map where a road passes over Dragon Run and which serves as one of only a couple places where people can access the river.  A parcel of land there is owned by Friends of Dragon Run and hosts a nature trail and canoe landing open to the public.  

Kayakers quietly fishing on Dragon Run, at Mascot.
I noticed that almost all the photos of flora and fauna on the kiosk at the Mascot property were taken by Teta Kain.  She is out there on the river multiple times every season and sometimes goes out to explore by kayak at night. 
Dragon Run after a rain

But Teta certainly isn't the only one who is curious and cares deeply about Dragon Run.  Teta drove us to the Friends' "Big Island" preserve further up river, to give us a walking tour through the forest there. As we finished up our walk,  another FODR member drove in, with wet legs and muddy shoes.  He was making his rounds to several locations up and down Dragon Run, wading into the swamp to check nesting boxes built for prothonotary warblers to see if they are inhabited.  And he does this every week.

Although Dragon Run is difficult to access, Teta is not. She volunteers her time to lead paddle trips and walks through the woods, for anyone who asks.  This spring, for about thirty days between April and May (the only time that the Dragon is fully navigable), she and other Friends members led daily kayak tours for over 280 people.  This is the group's primary way of raising funds and a wonderful chance for the public to get up close to some plants, birds, insects, and fish that you can rarely see anywhere else.
Mud turtle

Bald cypress "knees"