We're LUCKY to Have
ESCAPED with OUR LIVES !!!
by Warren Olsen
The excitement was rampant as several borrowed canoes, whitewater boats and even a cross breed - the Poke Boat - gathered at the put-in on the Mullica River. Now a trip to the Pine Barrens isn’t new (Matter of fact, in the summer, the waterways are so choked with canoeists that the few scattered campsites resemble shanty towns), but it was new to me.
Jane Ahlquist was leading this epic first; and, unknown to us, it was also the last weekend of Deer Hunting season. We put in at the Ranger station by Lake Atsion after shuttling our cars to the take-out in Batso Village.
In the weeks before the trip, stories, misconceptions and outrageous propaganda were circulated by various kayaking club members. There were dangers lurking everywhere. The Pines were routinely terrorized by the Jersey Devil, a two headed monster caused by in-breeding. Over the years, many canoeists have been dragged from their campsites and are now enslaved as sex toys to various primeval swamp creatures. The literature that circulated via the fax network was reminiscent of P.T. Barnum and guaranteed adventurers that after this trip they would never be the same again.
HISTORY OF THE PINES
The Pine Barrens are a 1.5 million acre tract located in the Southern portion of densely packed New Jersey. The Barrens are an extreme contradiction to the surrounding normal flora. Its unique face is a result of a bedrock of sterile acidic soil in combination with a vast underground reservoir, augmented by an average annual precipitation of 44 inches, and catalyzed by over 2000 spontaneously occurring fires per year.
Pitch Pine is the tree of dominance; however, Red Maple, Swamp Magnolia and Black Tupelo are also present in abundance.
Co-habiting the area are large numbers of rare and otherwise endangered plants, including Sedge, Orchid, Lily, and Lobelia. Fox, Raccoon, Wild Turkey, Beaver, Vole and Timber Rattlers also abound in this wilderness treasure only 80 miles southwest of the shimmering spirals of Manhattan.
The sand is clean, almost white, with scattered spots of yellow or pink. The tea colored rivers wind almost endlessly through this pristine area and provide a slow but constant current, ideal for the exploring canoeist.
The Pine Barrens are rich in history. In the 1700s, they served as a hiding place for emigrants, thieves and pirates. Later, they provided early America with its rich resources of bog iron, trees and sand for its early industrial growth.
"DUCK!.. HOT LEAD!!"
As things would have it, this trip coincided with the last weekend of Deer Hunting season and there they were, in full camouflage attire, heavy boots and carrying enough armament to siege the state capital. We watched from our vantage point as a battalion of hunters trampled the fragile shoreline.
As we rounded a bend where the narrow river doubles in width, multiple shots rang out overhead. We blew several loud blasts from the whistles which dangled from our PFDs to alert those firing that we did not have cloven hoofs.
From behind a bush, up jumped 9 determined looking hunters, armed to the hilt, staring at our contingent. John Petrocelli, paddling close to the shore, glanced down in the foot deep waters and yelled, “Hey... there’s a deer over here.”
To which several suspicious looking hunters cautiously yelled back, “How many points does it have?”
“What... what’s points?” replied John.
“The antlers... how many points .... count them,” screamed the impatient hunter!
“What do you mean! You blew its head off! There’s a neck but no head!”
If 9 guys could look like a heavy dose of Ex-Lax just ‘kicked in,’ they were it! We could hear the mumbling from the shore. “Well... I didn’t shoot at it!”
“Me either! The one I shot had a head!”
We watched them arguing as we beat a bee-line down the river in record speed.
OUR SECOND ENCOUNTER WITH WILDLIFE
At the next bend in the river two deer startled our group when they jumped out from the brush and landed in a mud hole, sinking about two feet in the quicksand like bottom before struggling free and scrambling into the interior.
“Deer....look .... Deer,” screamed John Petrocelli. “Did ya see them? Did ya???”
Mrs. Pohl looked back at John incredulously as she did several times during the trip and commented to Jane Ahlquist, “Is this his first time out of the city?”
Jane nodded, “Yes.. they only let him out on weekends!"
Joe Borker, our sanitation engineer, decided that the Mullica was no place for dumping. Consequently, he was continually jumping from his double canoe to pick up debris, from empty beer cans to luminescent condoms hanging from tree branches. By the end of the trip, Joe’s boat resembled a N.Y.C. Sanitation Barge, complete with sea gulls circling overhead.
DANGER LURKS AROUND THE BEND !
Capt. Al and Erika Soldano (his faithful First Mate) were negotiating a hairpin turn in their tandem canoe and were just about to plunge over a perilous beaver dam with a treacherous 2 inch drop when... OOooops... over they went sideways.
Fellow trip members tried ineffectively to conceal their amusement and offered to perform a rescue as Capt. Al and Erika dragged their water filled canoe to the shore. Needless to say, Capt. Al wasn’t amused as members began to fabricate a tale of the capsize that would live forever in Kayaking's ‘Beerhall of Fame.’
THE PADDLING BARRES CLUB - PADDLE THE PINES er ... NAKED !!!
Meanwhile, as the captain and his mate slipped into something more comfortable, Larry Pohl, of the Paddling Bares, reminisced about the time he led 58 canoes, crammed with paddlers wearing nothing but their PFD’s down a popular Pine Barrens river. Our respective members gave Larry their undivided attention and deluged him with questions.
“But Larry, the sign at the put-in said no changing allowed.”
“Yeah, that’s a problem. In N.J., we can come naked to the put-in, but it’s against the law for us to put on clothes after the trip!”
Several kayaking members volunteered to join Larry on an upcoming Paddling Bares trip, but first they were ordering several X-tra, X-tra Large PFDs.
DINNER NJ DINER STYLE - EPICURIEAN DELIGHTs !!
The trip concluded at the Red Lion Diner - Southern N.J.’s answer to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” - where both patrons and food are bathed in garishly colored fluorescent lights.
Those Gourmets under the pink lights had a healthy glow, while the Epicurean under the yellow lights appeared to have Hepatitis or Yellow Fever. My Pot Roast looked like it had Dysentery, while a friends Spaghetti was alive with glow-in-the-dark noodles. Larry noted that a stop at the Red Lion was a long standing tradition with most canoeists. I guessed a stop at the Red Lion is supposed to snap you back into reality after the dreamlike experience of the Pines. My only question was - whose reality - Stephen Kings?
SPRING & FALL ARE THE BEST TIME TO AVOID MOSQUITOS !
The Pines are absolutly at their best during the Spring and Fall. In Summer, those narrow little rivers can ressemble the rush hour at Grand Central with as many as a hundred boats passing through on a warm day. Not to mention the gregarious mosquito whose population peaks at that time.
Believe me... I have never been the same after this trip. You won’t either!
Warren Olson is a new staff member. Formerly an outpatient at Happy Estates, Warren was accidentally released in the care of 'A Salty Dog' (although we may be shipping him back ASAP).
Back to Adventure Page
Index of Pages!'
The Norwalk Islands
Kayaking AROUND Manhattan
The New Jersey Devil Lives in the Pine Barrens
WHO TO SEE IF YOU'RE TERRORIZED BY THE NJ DEVIL !!!
Secret Ritual of the Horseshoe Crab
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