Cruising Hilton Head, Paddling Around Bluffton, and Giving Thanks

Our Thanksgiving involved the traditional turkey, stuffing, and gravy, but we also managed to sneak a little adventure into our trip to visit my folks in the Lowcountry. Because my folks moved across the country earlier this year, I’ve never had to travel farther than a few hours of driving to celebrate Thanksgiving. I’ve been fortunate to avoid airports around the holidays, but I was equally fortunate that my parents bought us plane tickets to come visit and organized some activities during our short stay in the area.

Cruising in Hilton Head, South Carolina

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In lieu of Black Friday shopping, we boarded a boat for a Dolphin Eco Tour in Hilton Head’s Broad Creek. The weather was breezy, the tour guide informative, and the dolphins more than obliging. In fact, the tour guide was so knowledgeable that he effortlessly chatted throughout the tour, peppering us with facts about the wildlife and ecosystems of the coastal regions and the history of the island.

In addition to the dolphins (yes, dolphins!) we saw on our tour, we saw pelicans, ibises, cormorants, herons, and bed after bed of oysters. As the tide was low, the birds all congregated along the exposed mudflats under the spartina grass or bobbed along in the water, taking a small break from their feeding. The entire trip was a thorough delight, not only for the dolphins (which, let’s face it, were the whole point of the outing), but also for the informative discussion on the ecosystem. My whole family enjoyed the trip, even my brother who is autistic and dislikes too much time in the sun. He felt comfortable enough to ask a few questions, and that means that he really, really enjoyed it!

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Pro tips:

  1. Strand feeding is when dolphins force the fish out from the water onto the mudflats and breech themselves to better catch and eat their quarry. Thus, strand feeding is more likely to occur when the mudflats are actually exposed. A tour at low tide may result in better odds at seeing such a treat, though we did not see it.
  1. If you’re in need of a treat yourself after 90 minutes on the water, I cannot recommend Stacks enough. I had their decadent Bananas Fosters Crème Brule French Toast for lunch. One minute, this lovely plate heaped with food was sitting in front of me, and the next I was forlorn, gazing at an empty plate as my family teased me for managing to eat everything. Apparently, they thought I wouldn’t finish it. Never underestimate my ability to eat French toast.
  1. Hats. Water bottle.

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Kayaking in Bluffton, South Carolina

We decided to forgo the guided kayak tours and rent kayaks for our last outing before returning home to Kansas. We had borrowed my mom’s kayak for a brief adventure on the May River (we each took a turn crossing between Oyster Factory Park’s public dock to the spartina grass and mudflats opposite), and we liked the idea of exploring the May River by ourselves at our own pace. We packed leftover turkey sandwiches and a bag of fruit and veggies, and we set off to Palmetto Bluff where we rented kayaks from the same organization that had led our successful dolphin tour.

Let me begin by acknowledging the opulence of the place where we rented our kayaks. Palmetto Bluff was so ostentatiously wealthy and perfect that we nigh well expected not only to be barred admittance but also to be chucked out. I did not belong:  I was wearing a shirt that I had purchased years ago from the clearance section at Eddie Bauer for under $10. Some people enjoy ambling about in wealthy neighborhoods; I am not one of those people. Although I felt a little uncomfortable, even the guard at the gated community was personable and friendly as he gave us our visitors’ pass. My initial discomfort probably reveals more about my plebeian roots than any genuine generalization about the people who can afford to live and vacation in such a place. Once again, though, the staff at Outside was helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable; soon we’d left behind Palmetto Bluff and were kayaking against the tide toward Bluffton.

The May River is an expansive, meandering, salty beauty, and she greeted us with another visit from a dolphin within minutes of our trek along the river. I thought our encounter with the dolphins in the boat was lovely, but I found seeing the dolphin from a kayak to be the more charming and magical experience. We again saw the flocks of coastal birds and especially enjoyed the pair of pelicans who flew around us at various parts of our trip, and we saw an oyster bed much closer than we had seen during our boat tour. We kayaked through some marshy areas off the river proper, and we had packed lunch at Oyster Factory Park before setting back off with the tide toward Palmetto Bluff. Kayaking, much like life, is easier when you’re going with the tide rather than fighting against it. Much as in life, though, the tides are outside our control!

Our kayak trip on the May River was wonderful. We had some much enjoyed quality time by ourselves, away from family, doing what we love to do:  have an adventure together.

Giving Thanks

On Thanksgiving, I gave many thanks. Thanks for my improved health, for my wonderful and supportive husband, and for the ability to be with my family on Thanksgiving. I’m particularly thankful that my mom paid for our adventure away from home when we’re otherwise mired in medical bills once again. I’m also thankful that as tired as I am, my body was able to handle kayaking without too much discomfort!

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