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When Sharon Staph of Hollywood was diagnosed with lupus about 12 years ago, she knew she needed to “keep my joints moving,” she said, or she would end up in a wheelchair.
“Regular exercise, for me, is not really something I can do because bouncing, jumping and running, [my] joints can’t manage that,” Staph said of her condition, in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue.
Staph said that her husband, who is “a canoe person,” suggested joining him on the water for some exercise. But Staph said she’s not strong enough to carry a canoe.
On a whim, she said, her husband bought her a kayak to join him on his canoe trips, and she “quickly became addicted to it.”
“Kayaking is no impact, but you’re still using your legs and your upper body,” Staph said. “When you know you got to keep functioning, you go to find a way to do it. In Maryland, what better way than on the water?”
Longtime kayaker Karin Beausoleil of La Plata said that paddling along the waterways in Southern Maryland gives her entire body a workout.
“I never realized how much your core is affected through the paddling and the pushing against your feet,” Beausoleil said. “You just get your whole core section going, your arms feel like they’ve gotten a good workout and [you’re] breathing the fresh air — it’s just a great sport. I love it. I’m glad I found it.”
“It’s just a perfect exercise,” Staph said. “Plus, can it be bad when you’re exercising and you’re looking at herons and osprey, and finding sharks’ teeth?”
Exploring the extraordinary
Staph said she upgraded to a “more professional kayak,” began exploring the various coves in St. Mary’s County and started finding fossils, which she said “became an added bonus for getting out and on the water.” She said she “didn’t realize we had [fossils] around here,” but her fossil collection has grown during the 10 years she has been paddling in local waters.
Many fossils have been added to Staph’s collection over the years, including a whole scallop, moon snail, sand dollar fragment, murex and turritella plebian sea snail fossils, shark teeth, giant tree oyster and purse oyster fragments, and internal fossil casts.
Staph said she initially was unable to identify several of the fossils, but that discovering what they are has gotten her hooked.
“It’s not something I had an interest in before I started” kayaking, Staph said of finding fossils, “but it became very, very addictive to find out what I was finding.”
Staph was able to find many of her fossils by exploring areas otherwise inaccessible by other forms of travel. Calvert Marine Museum Canoe and Kayak Club member Ken Spring said that’s another great benefit of kayaking. Spring, of Lusby, said kayaking is a learning tool that allows people to see things from a different perspective.
“One of the things that you realize when you get down here is the shoreline has all these wonderful little coves and creeks and marshes, and you’d like to be able to explore them,” he said. “They’re not accessible a lot of times by motorized boat. The other thing particularly attractive is there are a lot of birds.”
People can view and learn about many types of birds from a kayak or canoe “without disturbing very much,” Spring said.
“Kayaking is great because it doesn’t pollute the water and we’re very quiet, so you can get close to nature and wildlife, which is another plus,” La Plata resident Paula Marquis said.
The Southern Maryland Paddlers group, of which Marquis is a founder and member, takes a trip to Tall Timbers Marina each year, Marquis said. There is an area paddlers can “quietly glide into,” she said, where they are able to see herons in their nests.
“We saw the babies, [and] we saw them feeding their babies,” Marquis said. “It’s really cool to be able to get so close and see something that very few people get to see.”
Beausoleil, like Marquis, said that kayaking is a good way to get to know Southern Maryland. Herons, egrets and ospreys are just a few of the birds Beausoleil said she gets to see on her kayak trips, but “we see all sorts of things — red-wing blackbirds, turtles, vultures.”
Spring said paddlers “get to go to some places that are extraordinary that you would never” otherwise find. The CMM Canoe and Kayak Club takes trips all over Southern Maryland, and one of the best examples of extraordinary places to visit by kayak or canoe in the region is Mallows Bay in Charles County, Spring said.
“Mallows Bay is a graveyard of World War I,” Spring said, adding that there are more than 200 sunken ships in the water. “You paddle right through the sunken ships.”
He said that the history of Mallows Bay is fascinating, calling it a “classic case of government waste.” He said ships were built to resupply Great Britain during World War I but were designed incorrectly, “so they never ended up going to England.”
“They ended up scrapping them all at huge losses to the United States government,” Spring said. “Some of them were scrapped as soon as they were pushed into the water.”
In fact, according to an article by local historian Donald Shomette on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website, a couple hundred boats were delivered, most after the end of the war, and the program became a political football in the aftermath of WW I.
Paddling alerts people to places such as Mallows Bay that could be otherwise overlooked.
“There are hundreds of creeks and places to explore. Some of them are right near your house and you don’t even know,” Spring said.
The value of group outings
Kayaking can be easy or difficult, depending on the experience one is seeking, Marquis said. “You can go very long distances and do challenging trips, but you can also enjoy exploring a little creek or cove,” she said. “It can also be very relaxing.”
Marquis, who began kayaking about six years ago, said kayaking in a group can be a great way to meet people with similar interests. She and another woman founded Southern Maryland Paddlers about five years ago because they wanted to meet more people to paddle with, and the group has grown from just a few members to nearly 300 people. Through the group, Marquis said, she’s met enough people so that she never has to paddle alone. The group schedules two or three trips a month, depending on the weather, but members also go on spontaneous trips together.
In June, 23 members of the group met at St. Jerome Creek for a “full moon paddle” to witness the “supermoon,” when a full moon makes its closest approach to the earth. After going to dinner, the group paddled out onto the creek and watched the sun set and the moon rise.
“It’s just beautiful and inspiring to be out on the water and to see [that],” Marquis said. “We live in such a beautiful area, and if you don’t get out on the water, you’re really missing half of what we have here in Southern Maryland.”
Beausoleil said she began kayaking years ago, when her mother lived near a lake. One of the reasons she joined Southern Maryland Paddlers, she said, was to be able to go on trips with other people.
“I do it because it’s good exercise, it’s beautiful, you get to see a lot of nature, and with this group that I’m in, I get to meet a lot of new people,” she said.
Beausoleil said she mostly kayaks with a group of friends in the Cobb Island area, but she also travels all over Southern Maryland and Virginia to find new spots to paddle. She said it’s hard to pick one favorite spot to kayak because “they’re all so pretty.”
Another benefit of being part of a group is that it encourages people to paddle more often, Spring said.
“I think that having the club with scheduled outings gets people to go; otherwise, they would find a reason not to go, so it helps to have these outings,” he said. “That’s one of the things that’s valuable, is having a group excursion.”
Spring said that everyone who participates in a group outing still can paddle at their own pace and go whatever distance they feel comfortable with.
The makeup of the CMM Canoe and Kayak Club has changed during the last 25 years, Spring said. Before, the club consisted primarily of canoers with a few kayakers. Now it’s the opposite, he said.
“Now we have about 75 members, and I think there are about four canoes,” he said. Spring said that most people find kayaking easier because kayaks are lighter than canoes and can be transported easily, and the “inexpensive ones are virtually indestructible.” He said kayaks are “much nicer for a novice or for someone who goes out occasionally.”
Beausoleil said kayaking also is a relatively inexpensive family activity she can do with her kids. She said she spent about $250 on her own equipment, and now her only expense is paying for gas to get to a public launch.