We go from a pirate’s gathering at the extreme eastern end of Heater’s Island to the extremes of endurance on our paddle back to Virginia, our first self-propelled aquatic return voyage ever. In between we meet some very particular beauties, come upon a buzzards’ bungalow, and enjoy a picnic on the Potomac.
dagdvm and I’d propelled ourselves via borrowed two-person canoe — the first-ever water navigation for us both — from Virginia into the middle of the upper Potomac River near Maryland’s Point of Rocks in order to attend July 17th’s Pirates of the Potomac: Revenge on Heater’s Island (GC2BQ05) geocaching event (an eXtremeJeep – Maryland Geocaching Society production). Even though we’d landed on the island too late to make the meetup we still were having a fantastic time finding the island’s traditional geocaches while hiking the edge of the eastern half of the canoe-shaped mass in a counterclockwise direction. Just before we reached the eastern tip we met some very particular island residents.
Trees sheltered us from the blazing sun as we moved eastward but once in awhile we’d step into a sunny opening. One of the last before we reached the eastern tip of the island was a butterfly feeding ground filled with beautiful swallowtails moving deliberately from flower to flower. I wasn’t sure what species they were so I took a few pictures. Later I discovered they were zebra swallowtails, whose caterpillars feed only on the leaves of pawpaw trees. Reading about and looking at photos of pawpaws solved an earlier mystery for us; we’d emerged from Hemlock Overlook Regional Park some weeks earlier unable to identify this same tree. Now we know zebra swallowtails and pawpaws when we see them, and we know where zebra swallowtails feed in summer pawpaw trees are never far away. Every moment spent in these beautiful spaces reveals more and more wonder.
Shortly after we left butterfly clearing a number of the day’s geocaching pirates found us as we searched for Hobo’s Lullaby (GC13EMR) down at the eastern tip of the island. rufnredy, iceleftd, MD8baller and several others arrived in an unruly pirate-worthy mass from some point west. wirtz found Hobo’s Lullaby and we we all queued up to sign the log. After a few minutes of togetherness the mob evaporated and dagdvm and I turned west along the northern shore of the island.
We found two more traditional geocaches along the northern edge of the island plateau — Heaters Island WMA – Plateau (GC1JJW) (a deviously clever hide) and Heaters Island WMA – Powtomack Panache (GC13K2Y) — once again encountering ZigZagMI, JennSSM10, and Driddy (Geo Peeps). From there the three of them went back to the water for the paddle back to the Virginia side while dagdvm and I turned south, crossing the middle of the island to return to our canoe-for-a-day.
As we walked game trail and waded stinging nettles near the island’s center, the shape of an abandoned white house gradually made itself visible through the trees. This area had been the meetup point for the day’s geocaching event. Drawing closer we saw the house’s full-time occupants had completed their return to roost; turkey vultures’ big black wings flapped from darkened windows. Not quite pirates but they’d make fine residents until next year’s event.
dagdvm and I arrived at our canoe back on the southern shore about 4:30. The day’s heat was still at its peak. We were hot, tired, thirsty, nettle-pierced, hungry, and happy. We sat down to a picnic of dagdvm’s famous peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — some of the most satisfying food I’ve ever eaten, in part because I’m always eating them during outings like this — and ice-cold water.
After an hour’s rest, replenishment, and conversation, we paddled back upstream to our launching point just west of the Route 15 bridge. The mile’s journey took the better part of another hour; we’d never done any kind of upstream paddle before, ever, and at the end we were dehydrated and exhausted, and still we did just fine. This was a great end to an incredible day’s adventure. As we stepped ashore from our beautiful green canoe we were no longer quite the landlubbers we used to be.
Previously, in “Landlubbers Paddle the Potomac, Part 2”: landfall on Heater’s Island; stinging nettles; great geocaches; and our fellow Pirates of the Potomac.
Initially, in “Landlubbers Paddle the Potomac, Part 1”: an audacious proposal; the Potomac lowers itself just enough; and two land-lovers paddle water for the first time.