- Tides will change faster than you think.
- Use a ramp if there is one.
- When you find yourself mired in the muck, crawl your way out (and other tips on how to escape quicksand below).
Our close friends Dan and Sandy came down with their three girls for Presidents Day weekend. We’ve done this before and they are the type of visitors you want to return again and again. He’s a long time GORUCK Cadre, she’s my mid-life crisis surfing buddy. On my calendar it read “Plants Family Visit” and the only thing I had planned besides a couple of meals was to borrow a surfboard for Sandy and to ask her to bring her wetsuit.
Sandy and I have gone on two surf trips in the past two years. We have another trip planned in a few months with Sara Wilkinson who first had the idea to try something new. Surfing is completely out of our comfort zones. We cut our teeth on the cute waves of Costa Rica in 2021. Last year, Sandy and I neglected to read the fine print and ended up in Chicama, Peru at the longest left breaking wave in the world. To say we were in over our heads was a literally descriptive understatement. That intermediate course involved full wetsuits, zodiacs to fight the strong current, and other hazards like sea lions and jellyfish as big as beach balls in a location that could be on the moon if the moon had killer waves and ceviche.
I say all that to say that Sandy and I have a pre-existing Type II fun bond that comes in handy. Back in Atlantic Beach, the water temp was 58 degrees F and the surf report looked decent but the wind kept picking up the more we hesitated. Three times we walked to the beach to check the waves aka building up the courage to brave cold water and sharks. On one such walk we ran into Miss Lynn, my youngest son’s outside school teacher. She was putting away the canoe she uses to take Outside Kids on adventures.
That’s when I got an idea, “a wonderful, awful idea” one might say. Let's scrap the surfing and take all six kids on a canoe/picnic instead! It was a beautiful day and it would give us something to do while the dads talked business. Miss Lynn was game and got us paddles and life jackets. She and I discussed the tides and decided we had to go now to avoid low tide. We filled water bottles, threw some snacks and a first aid kit into a ruck, and got a couple of moody preteens plus their younger siblings into two vehicles, one with a huge canoe strapped on top. We headed to Dutton Island Campsite 8, scenery you might recall from GORUCK Selection. What possibly could go wrong?
First, there were the gnats. Ryan, who spends most of his school days at this site, had warned us the insect repellent with DEET would be useless against them and, well, he was right. The team mobilized into the canoe, sinking into the muck ever so slightly. I transported a ten year old to avoid her shoes from getting muddy.
We set off, Sandy in the front power position and me steering with a six year old seasoned Outside Kid as our guide to Little Bluff Island. With the back alley channels already looking too swampy, Sandy and I considered venturing out to the Intracoastal Waterway with its visibly swift current and weekend boat warriors creating capsizing wakes. Images of six children getting whisked out to sea kept my adventurous spirit at bay and Sandy breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t have to veto another wild idea.
Instead, we paddled around close to the shoreline, mostly to make it feel worth the trouble before banking our vessel and eating with the gnats. Things parents do to justify our efforts, no matter how poorly they turn out. Solid ground was in sight. I sent Ryan in his ankle boots and local knowledge out first. He scampered quickly through the muck and made it to dry land easily. I sent out my second born child followed by Sandy’s oldest daughter, both in knee high boots. That’s when things started to go awry.
Jack screamed out that he was sinking. “Keep moving,” I yelled to him but it was too late. He was stuck up to his thighs in the oyster-filled muck. Ainslee took a couple steps out of the canoe and immediately sank to her thighs. Thinking I would pull them out, I grabbed little Tessa and stepped out only to be swallowed by the ooze myself. Flashes of articles and videos on how to get out of quicksand that I showed my kids ran through my head. “Stay calm” and “take a deep breath” directives from parents attempted to calm the panicking children. I passed Tessa back to her mom in the canoe and focused on getting the two stuck children out of their growing discomfort of sinking and being unable to move.
It took me at least ten minutes to get myself unstuck. This took great effort and I fortunately could use the canoe as leverage. I could feel shells poking me in my boots and prayed they were not oysters laced with flesh-eating bacteria. My legs emerged looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, caked in smelly, black mud up to my hips.
Ainslee, quietly weeping and frightened by the situation, was closest to me so I honed in on helping her. I locked arms with her and pulled hard. She screeched about her knee being turned in the wrong direction from which I was tugging. She lost the boot off her left leg which made a disgusting, squelching noise as she scrambled back onto the canoe. Before the gap in the mud could close up, I dove my hands into the mud and located the boot. It took at least five solid minutes to pull that thing out and all of my strength (thank you Sandbag and Ruck Training). Next target: Jack, who was growing more hysterical having sunk further down halfway between the shore and canoe.
We drew a small crowd of people wondering out loud how they could help with the “Navy SEAL training exercise” we were undertaking. Sandy fired back that we were a Green Beret family and this water stuff was for the birds. Alas, there was not much for them to do aside from recording the disaster. Then, like a whisper from above, I overheard the words “increase surface area” and I remembered the man in the quicksand video creating a larger footprint to distribute his weight. I crawled on all fours toward Jack and it worked! I made it in record time, almost dislocating his knee before lifting and pushing him to more solid ground. At this point, Ryan had found several fishing hooks, I was covered in muck, and Sandy was wondering how to extract the other kids from the canoe.
Those people who thought they weren’t helping? Well, they provided us with another idea. “Why don’t you use the boat ramp over there?,” pointing to the nearby access point. Insert lightbulb and forehead smack emoji. Sandy and the remaining children butt-bumped the canoe out of the muck and used the ramp to exit without a drop of mud. It was so easy. The gnats were back and the once silenced-by-fear children returned to bickering and being hangry.
All that trouble. All that mud. It could have been avoided. We spent the rest of the day washing off the discomfort of that outing until the only thing remaining were the stories of what little Tessa called our “Kookslam in the Mud”. Mired in the problems of our own making, would we have it any other way?