Kayaking is Another Way to the Water
Taking Back Bay Feature
Meyera E. Oberndorf, mayor of Virginia Beach, recently told me about the wonderful “eco-tourism” opportunities here. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but after asking around, I heard about Wild River Outfitters’ Back Bay kayak tour.
The tour started early one Saturday morning, and I, having overslept, rushed out to the Sandbridge Lotus Garden Pond put-in without time for breakfast. Everybody else brought snacks, bottled water, and bug spray. I was empty-handed and feeling cotton-mouthed after a big cup of espresso.
About 10 folks had shown up for the tour, and everybody seemed anxious to start. First we all had to listen to instructions on safety and paddling technique that make a flight attendant’s pre-takeoff spiel seem brief. Eventually we all got our lifejackets properly secured, and we were off into the great Virginia Beach wilderness.
That is — into a massive swamp. Take away the strip malls, roads, and big houses, and you have wetlands. Virginia Beach is really just one big wetland. And way down in the southeast corner of the city, practically in North Carolina, is what’s left of that swamp — Back Bay.
You have ducks and herons, marsh grass and bald cypress. You even have a few bald eagles. Most noticeably, there are lots of carp. Big, spawning carp that really go at it. These suckers start splashing in the reeds and they sound like alligators wrestling. Lillie Gilbert, owner of Wild River Outfitters , does a wonderful job of pointing out the local ecology; informative without being too talkative.
Unfortunately, you also have power lines, contrails and the distant sound of traffic. It’s not so nice when you’re paddling along, carefully avoiding bald cypress stumps and water moccasins, to have your ears distinguishing 18-wheelers from SUVs from quiet little Japanese cars on the road just behind the tree line. But still, kayaking Back Bay makes for an agreeable morning. You fall into the rhythm of paddling, a bird catches your eye, the morning breeze keeps the mosquitoes at bay and you accomplish exercise without straining.
For the first hour, that is. I knew I was in trouble when I started getting tired before we had reached the halfway point. I was still thirsty, and now I was hungry and bored with the endless views of marsh grass. But my increasingly poor attitude dramatically improved when Lillie offered me a couple of energy bars. A few moments later we reached our destination — a good view of the expanse of Back Bay — and turned around. Now, the wind pushed at our backs, and we made quick time.
As we neared the parking lot and the end of our Back Bay excursion, I thought about eco-tourism. The term has always sounded a bit hollow to me, especially coming from Mayor Oberndorf’s lips, but I was glad to have taken her advice. It turns out that you don’t have to go to Costa Rica for an eco-tour — we have them right here in Virginia Beach.
For more information, call (757) 431-8566 or visit WildRiverOutfitters.com.
(Originally published in the August 2003 issue)