June 4. Ken Chamlee. The front half of my kayak lifted completely out of the water and dropped into the wave trough with a loud smack, sending spray in opposite directions. The wave washed to my belly and past, but my cockpit skirt kept the boat from filling. The wind was whipping in our faces, so I gave my hat a tug, lowered my head, and kept digging. This was the crucial point of the day—where the river meets the ocean at Tybee Point.
A current flowing out, a tide shifting to come in, and a 15-20 mph wind driving us toward the beach before we completed our wide swing around the jetty and moved safely away from the rocks--all these had to be dealt with before we were done. “The Savannah River is not going to give us up easily,” Clyde yelled to me over the wind. “Whoo-hoo!” I yelled back, our now-common cry for those moments of sheer fun or time-to-get-with-it-and-paddle. This was definitely both.
Suddenly two kayaks in front of me stopped moving, dead in the water. What the heck, I thought, and then—bam—I’m grounded too. We were 500 to 600 hundred yards from the beach, still trying to make the turn around the point. I rocked myself backwards and forwards—nothing. I tried pushing off with my paddle but I was still stuck. Oh, great, I thought. I do not want to get out of my boat in these waves and drag it to deeper water. “Just use your hands,” Graham yelled, and that gave me leverage that the paddle blade could not. Soon we were all free of the unseen sandbar and paddling toward a rally point a safe distance from the jetty, and there we would begin our solo tacks into the surf.
Last night was a hot and sticky beach night. I slept restlessly—partly uncomfortable and partly anxious about the finish of the trip. After breakfast we had our last class session—a piece by Gary Snyder called “The World Is Places” and an photo essay titled “A Passion for Rivers.” We have learned that place is both transient and permanent, and that who we are is not only where we’ve been, but how well we have listened, how we give and receive with grace, and how honestly we value the world that is ours, day by day or mile by mile. What photographer Tim Palmer says of his work, is a capsule of the VOR mission: “to bring a greater depth of understanding to something that so many take for granted.”
We drove our boats to the Savannah Hyatt which graciously let us use their dock to put in. After all of the worry about huge container ships and bow waves and propeller wash, we passed no moving cargo ships on either day of our paddle through the harbor. The first few miles down the front channel went quickly, but after lunch the wind started up and our 5 mph pace dropped to 1 ½. It was slowing going but eventually there was the Tybee Island bridge, the water tower behind the campground, the flag at Fort Pulaski, and, finally, the lighthouse.
At the rally point we grouped into a pod and paddled constantly to stay even with a designated spot on the beach. Clyde and Margaret Ann took the tandem in first with the VOR flag flying proudly. He then became the beachmaster and gave signals for each of us to begin the paddle home. Merek went next, then John Wargo and Jenna. One by one we angled toward the shore, watching the waves so as not to get turned over, and then right at the end turning with the surf and riding it home. All made it in safely, and no one rolled. We had done it! 363 miles from the mountains to the sea, under our own power. As soon as all the boats were dragged out of the incoming surf, we all took a plunge in the Atlantic, whooping with excitement and joy while friends and parents snapped pictures.
Tonight at the campground we feasted on a low-country boil of shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes. Many friends, parents, and grandparents joined us for a slide presentation of the trip, produced and organized over the last 48 hours by Brian and James. What a great show they put together! Later, when it was almost dark, we had our last circle-up and talked about what the trip had meant and how we had mattered to each other. We each attached a small piece of rope to wrist, ankle, or neck as a symbol of our solidarity and the bond of friendship and achievement.
“All the rivers run into the sea,” the Bible says, “but the sea does not fill up.” We fourteen adventurers are filled up today, however, with rich experience, intersected lives, and humble gratitude for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. While we savor our accomplishment, we say with anticipation, “Here’s to the next Voice of the Rivers!”

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June 3. Scott Brown. This morning, everyone woke in good spirits. We could tell that even the pre-dawn air outside was the same sticky, sulfur-smelling air it had been when we went to sleep. A night inside the air-conditioned space of Trustees Garden had been exactly what the team needed. We breakfasted on leftover barbeque and fresh muffins baked by Ashleigh Davisson, James’s sister. As we broke “camp”, Kathy Kurazawa returned with the VOR flag that she had helped us complete overnight. The project that a few of us had been working on since probably day four, sewing by hand inside of our tents at night, was an exciting symbol of our adventure. Everyone was looking forward to seeing it flying high on the tandem as we paddled, with Old Glory at its peak.

We took the time to carefully pack the van, with a common anxiety about relinquishing our air conditioned barracks. It was now day 20 and the team’s morning routine functioned like a well oiled machine. Our ride back upstream to Millstone Landing was quiet as those who were still half asleep were not offended back into consciousness by our collective odor. We were quick to unload the boats; the sun was up in all its fury and the boat landing offered no shade. Most of us were dripping by the time we started paddling. Everyone was aware that the sun and the 19 miles we expected to cover would make for a tougher day than some people were feeling this close to the finish line. The Hyatt Hotel on River Street had agreed to allow us to use their private docks to take out this evening, and a few of us had gone to scout out the harbor last night.
Our morning paddle was brief and noticeably lacking of beaches or other places to take our breaks. It’s hard to describe what it means to have as few as five minutes every hour to stand up and stretch one’s legs; for some of us, it could be equated to coming up for air when swimming underwater. When it came time to stop for lunch, we extracted ourselves from our boats and began to divide up our traditional rations. We stood in the shade of some oak trees and watched the current pass us by; it looked much like coffee with creamer in it. Our surroundings had changed from the wooded southern banks of a black-water river this morning, to the reed grassed flats of the tidal zone, almost without warning. The reach of the tide was visible here even though the water still tasted fresh. We each felt the sense of urgency that the tide had given us. It seemed that those who knew how futile paddling against a tide could be finished our lunch just a bit sooner than everyone else.
Within minutes of our return to the water, the distinct sulfur smell of coal burning power plants and paper mills mixed with the smell of the river, warning us that the harbor was close. For some, that smell brought with it the unsettling knowledge that we would soon paddle past some of the largest ships in the world, with no guarantee that we would find them all stationary. The foreboding presence of these ships had been enough to evoke warnings from acquaintances up the river over two days ago, from “You best stay far away from them things, they have a current that will suck you under them!” to “That harbor has some strong and unpredictable currents, but as long as you stay INSIDE your boat, you’ll be fine!”. Even the All-Clear from the harbormaster last night had been unable to settle all of our apprehensions about this place, but the current and the tide seemed determined to take us there.
It was about three or four miles from the harbor and the wind was building quite a bit; then the tandem’s rudder broke. The tandem, our flagship both in word and deed, is a boat that takes every bit of two people to navigate. Undoubtedly our saving grace was the strength of our group. Even though the end of the trip was in sight, it was a test of our focus and commitment to reach the Hyatt’s docks on time.
Our paddle into the harbor was an awe-inspiring experience. The scale of the cranes and ships was hard to comprehend from a vessel only 17 feet long, making a stark contrast with this place to the rest of the river. We had to struggle to find the natural world in the immense harbor, and it seemed to say “maybe this mechanized existence is getting it all wrong”.
As we loaded the boats onto the trailer on River Street, the attention we drew was different than it had been upriver. The people of the city that saw us were not necessarily river people any more. Many simply lived in a city with a river beside it. I found myself wondering if people in this city had any idea how connected they were to this river. It was then, in that preponderant city, that I could hear the voice of the river, our meaning for this trip, and I bet it sounded the same to each one of us.

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June 2. Elizabeth Thompson. Today was quite an eventful day. This morning, sometime around 1:00 a.m., we were awoken to the lightning from an oncoming storm. We all acted quickly: putting rain flies on our tents, flipping boats, securing gear and assuming the lightning drill position. We all retreated to the trees where we would not be the tallest thing around and then crouched on our sleeping pads, watching the beautiful show. There were flashes of light coming from all directions, bolts that lit up the whole campsite and some bolts went all the way across the sky. Although it was a wonderful show, by three o’clock we were more than ready to get back to bed.

Due to the exciting events of the early morning, we changed our wake up time from four to six. Six still seemed early but we had places to be and we wanted to get our paddling done before it got too hot. We had heard about 400 year old cypress trees and the oldest building in Georgia so we really wanted to go check them out. They were located on Ebenezer Creek only seven miles down river from our campsite. The trees were amazing! Some of them had to have been at least 17 feet in diameter! We were surprised when we found the church because it wasn’t just a church, it was a small community, all of which was founded in the early 1700s. We wanted to stay longer but we had to make it to the landing by three.
We made it to the landing by two but as always James had beat us there! We ate some ice cream and then quickly loaded the trailer with our gear and kayaks so we could shower. We have been showering fairly frequently but with all of the paddling we have been doing, we can use all of the showers we can get. Before we got to shower we went to Trustees Garden to unload our gear and meet our hosts, the Morris’s. Before we could do too much looking around, Mr. Morris took us to the Downtown Athletic Club in Savannah. It was a great facility and the owner was so helpful. Not only did he provide us with more than wonderful facilities but he even washed a load of our presentation clothes that were less than presentable at that point. I had just gotten out of the shower when Kelsey came running into the dressing room to tell me that we had to leave ASAP because we were going to be on the news in twenty minutes! So we were whisked away yet again. When we arrived back at Trustees Garden WOTC-TV was there waiting for us. Merek, Brian, Clyde and Ken were all interviewed. Once that was all over it was finally time for dinner. We had missed lunch because of all of our running around and were starving.
There was so much wonderful food but the company was even better. The whole VOR team was there, Mr. and Mrs. Morris and even the President of Brevard College Dr. Drew Van Horn. We started the dinner off with toasts to our trip, the people we have met and just all of the wonderful memories we have made. Over dinner we shared our story with them and Mr. Morris told us about Trustees Garden. His plans for this garden are to create a place that brought people to respect and enjoy a “liberal arts community”. His vision is a blend of fine arts, children activities, live music, great food, and encouragement of local agricultural and economical growth.
After a tour, we gave a practice run presentation. We gave a power point detailing the day by day progression of our journey, with each person talking about a day. It was very helpful to have the practice run because we were able to decide what we liked about our presentation and what we could do differently to improve it. Later on in the evening some people made some changes to the presentation while others went out to explore Savannah. By eleven we were all tucked away in our sleeping bags enjoying one of the recently renovated and air conditioned brick buildings at Trustees Garden.Thank you again to Allen from Downtown Athletics Club for the use of your wonderful facilities, Dr. Drew Van Horn for coming to see us, WOTC-TV for helping us be the voice and get our story out there and an especially huge thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Morris for taking us in, feeding us and making our stay in Savannah so special!

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