I got called out on Instagram.
On May 9, I got tagged in a post from the Serene18 Paddle Trail account
“What a great week to get your next Serene18stamp, don’t y’a think” was the message.
On March 27, I’d written a column about taking a kayak trip to Stallings Island to see the donkeys. My guide Andy Colbert of Outdoor Augusta asked if I wanted to do the entire Serene18 and offered to be my guide.
Of course, I wanted to, but scheduling conflicts, Masters’ Week, vacation and more than a month slipped by without the second stamp.
I had actually messaged Andy a few days before I was called out, but he had some scheduling conflicts related to filming. Andy plays Benny, the silent partner of Redford in Columbia County’s Serene18 videos. New shorts should drop soon although he doesn’t have a date.
With filming out of the way, we scheduled a kayak trip around Betty’s Branch for Tuesday. It was the day after the full moon paddle, which is a popular event.
The Serene18 Paddle Trail involves five different kayak routes in Columbia County. People can get a passport, and for each route that’s completed, they get a stamp. Five stamps and they get a T-shirt.
It was part of a tourism campaign to bring people to Columbia County and its waterways, and Shelly Blackburn with the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau told me last year that it worked and attracted people from other areas to experience Columbia County’s waterways. The Serene 18 promotional campaign even won a national award last year.
We agreed to meet at 8 a.m. May 17, and it was a perfect day to be on the water. The temperature was slightly cool, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Betty’s Branch is a good route to start with and is marked as “novice” on the passport. Take a drive to Hardy McManus Road and turn near Riverside Middle School. The boat ramp is at the end of the road.
You can make it what you want it to be. It can be a short trip or you can go all the way around German Island. The short trip is about four miles while the complete trip that goes up Little River and comes back along the Savannah is six miles. To complete, takes about two leisurely hours for the short trip or 3.5 for the long one, according to the Serene18 passport.
Those times are relative. If your guide has another group that he’s taking out at 10:30, then you can do the full six-mile trip in 2.5 hours. Trust me on that one. Expert kayakers can do it in a little more than an hour and 15 minutes give or take for the annual kayak races, Andy told me.
As soon as Andy shoved my kayak off the boat ramp and into the water, I took a deep breath and let all my cares roll off me and into the water. The water looked like glass perfectly reflecting the terrain and the sky onto its placid surface.
In that moment the Serene18 moniker made perfect sense to me. It was indeed serene. The sounds of crickets chirping in the background provided the soundtrack for the morning paddle.
Herons and egrets are among the birds you might see along the route. This time of year, the ospreys are visiting for a spell. Not far past the boat ramp is a huge tree that the herons rest and nest in.
Andy and I talked along the way.
He remarked at how the area seemed to be miles and miles from civilization, but we were still so close to neighborhoods and bustling Columbia County. The only hint of that came as we passed the Champions Retreat Golf Course.
As we took the bend and headed back down the Savannah River, homes dotted the riverbank on the South Carolina side.
Multiple turtles sunned themselves on the logs that stuck up out of the water. Some paid us no attention as Andy passed by on his paddleboard and I glided by on the kayak.
Other wildlife that might be seen along the way depending on the time of day are otter and beaver, and possible a snake or two.
How high the water is along the route also can depend on time of day and the release of water from the Thurmond Dam upstream. If the water is high, Andy said, then the kayak can pass into inlets in German Island. If the water is low, sandbars emerge along the way.
With all the variables, a trip from Betty’s Branch is never the same.
We made it back to Outdoor Augusta’s shop in time for Andy’s 10:30 appointment, and once back Andy’s wife, Amy, stamped my passport.
Two down; three to go.