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September 2005

The Trip: Swamp-Whacking

Pioneer a brand-new trail in Louisiana's Atchafalaya swamp, where the gators are friendly. Really.

You get into a rhythm. You find the most efficient stroke. You blank your mind and just move. Still, hours have passed since we left Billy Little, and we still haven’t found land. The sun is dropping fast. We’ve covered so much distance today that we’re now only a few hours from this morning’s campsite. The last thing I want to do is paddle a few more hours.

After another bout of aquatic bushwhacking, a rickety old hunting cabin suddenly looms into view. It sits on stilts, and would be a great place to crash were it not for the creepy scattering of sunbleached deer skulls all over the deck. Besides, after our almost complete immersion into this swamp world, sleeping in a cabin would feel downright discordant. Less than a mile later, the bayou’s east bank rises and dries out and becomes land that we are soon sitting on, eating on, sleeping on.

And then, James Proctor’s voice is hollering through my cell phone: “You made it!” It’s the following afternoon, and we’ve just pulled our kayaks out of the water for the last time, the thrum of interstate traffic above us once again. When Proctor arrives, he pensively finger-traces our route on the map as we recount the trip. After we tell him about the dearth of dry land in this particular sliver of swamp, I get the feeling he’s not going to feature it on his Web site.

And, honestly, that’s just fine with Vance and me. If we ever return to these lakes, we’d just as soon have them all to ourselves again.

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