Each year, since my family and I moved to Florida from the frozen north, we make the 1,500+ mile trek back to New England each summer to reconnect with our childhood, family and friends. This time is very special in our lives as it opens opportunities to travel places we wouldn’t normally, due to the proximity of where we live. Some people would rather fly, skipping over all of the wonderful country and history the East Coast holds, but not me. Once our kiddos are out of school for summer, we load up the JET LIFE mobile and with skis in tow, begin the journey north.
By: Kev Hemingway
JETSKI JUNKIES USA
Each year is different with places to stop, whether it is for an historical reason or to jet ski a new area, but this past summer marked a milestone for me personally, a dream better describes it.
I dropped my wife off at Tampa International Airport as she was flying to New Hampshire to surprise her mother who hadn’t seen her in over a year. My wife also had her 20th high school reunion the following weekend and our children were still in school. Not wanting her to miss this opportunity, I told her I would make the drive this year with the kiddos on my own.
This was the first time in 7 years I would be driving without my best friend Angi beside me. The good news is, for our children, traveling by car is just another day for them and they were very excited to make this year’s trip.
We packed everything we needed for two months away from home and Sunday late afternoon loaded it all up, and hit bed for a very early departure.
It was Monday, June 10th at 4:00 am when we hit the road. Our first destination was Taw Caw Campground and Marina located on Lake Marion in Summerton, SC. Taw Caw sits on the shores of Taw Caw Creek, a tributary of Lake Marion. It’s a nice campground with grocery store, boat ramp, marina, fuel, beach, motel and lots of full hook up campsites for permanent or transient RV’ers. The drive in off I-95 showcased an eclectic mix of small newer homes to large plantation mansions.
The area overall felt pretty backwoods country and even somewhat forgotten with large tracts of land and not much going on. Once we arrived we were greeted by the Taw Caw resident parrots, dancing about and chatting away. The kids took instantly to them. After getting settled we headed back to the nearest place to eat, which incidentally was approximately five miles off the lake to a gas station convenience store with a sandwich/ pizza shop. The fuel was ethanol free and under $4 a gallon so fueled up the rig and ski, and headed in to get some eats. Normally getting grub at a gas station would not be our thing but considering the options, or lack thereof, we went ahead and to our surprise, had probably one of the best homemade sandwiches ever.
Back at Taw Caw the kids hit the beach, while I chilled on the office porch in a rocker looking out over the water. After a little bit I loaded the ski into the creek, took a few short runs up and down opening up that growly free flow exhaust and ensuring everyone around knew of our arrival. After that, the kids and I went out on the fishing pier looking for Crappie but it rained like hell so we headed in for the night.
The next morning we loaded up the ski and one thing I always like to do when in places with which I’m not familiar, is to speak with some local fisherman to get the lay of the land. Well this was no better served than this time. Lake Marion was primarily a river that cut through a cypress swamp and long ago the decision was made to dam off and flood the swamp thus creating Lake Marion. At this time of year the water was all muddy so seeing anything was impossible.
The lake has marked dredged paths so if you are outside those channel markers you are taking your life into your own hands. Armed with this information, we headed out and not long after leaving the campground, found the opening into Lake Marion.
Right in the middle of the exit of Taw Caw Creek is an island with nothing marked whatsoever so we went to the right of the island and seeing stumps and logs coming out of the water, turned right around. Normally this would not bother me but I did have both Lexi and Carter with me and no riding partner so I was erring on the side of caution.
As we played around for a minute, a bass boat came up the creek and went to the left of the island so we took that opportunity and followed. Still not in any channel, we could see stumps all over. Finally the markers were in sight but they were at least two miles away from the entrance of the creek. The markers went to the other end of the lake along the north shore and just stopped about a half mile before the dam. Luckily we had no incidents and made our way there and back. Once in the channel markers again, we headed back to the middle of the lake where the channel comes to a Y and you can cross the lake to the south side taking us northwest up the lake to the mouth of the Congaree River.
In most cases you can ride all the way to Columbia, SC but in these water conditions it was not a good idea. We ended the day covering approx. 80 miles of Lake Marion. I would certainly love to do this again but towards the end of summer when the water is clear.
It was now Wednesday as we hit the road about 4:00 am en route to fellow JJ members and good friends, Brad and Annie Howell, our amazingly gracious hosts in the DC area. When we arrived Annie made us feel right at home. We met their two boys for the first time, Jack and Tom, along with the family pup, Alfie, with whom Lexi absolutely fell in love.
The next morning we woke to cold rain and wind, not the best conditions to jet ski the Potomac River. Instead, we took in all DC has to offer, hitting the museums, monuments and national buildings. The kids had a blast and Brad and I were exhausted but nothing a few drinks and great company wouldn’t overcome. We made a plan for the next day and with luck the weather worked with us.
Putting in at Gravelly Point Park at the north end of Ronald Reagan Int’l Airport, you sit under the planes as they land and take off. Talk about an experience! From here, we headed out into the Potomac River crossing to the DC side taking in the views of the National Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Kennedy Center, Watergate Hotel and Georgetown University before ripping up into the Upper Potomac, the rocky section.
After nudging a few logs and rocks with the skis we decided it was time to turn around. On our way back, Carter wanted to hop on some of the rocks so we slowly cut our way in between for a pit stop. There we just took a moment to look over the Potomac and take it all in.
Heading back down the river we were circled by a government chopper a few times, perhaps just checking us out, but we were fine so we pulled into the Pentagon, right up to the lawn. Hard to believe there is a marina directly across from the Pentagon on the Potomac or that anyone could just ride right up to the grounds of the Pentagon, crazy.
Heading south on the river we had some fun bouncing back and forth between Maryland and Virginia. Back at the ramp we watched the DC Duck Tour boat come up the channel, drive right out of the water up the ramp and down the road back to DC. They use amphibious vehicles and man was that not the coolest thing to watch!
From here we continued north to where the Harlem River T’s the Hudson. We then entered the Harlem River riding by Columbia University Campus. You will not miss this as it is marked with a large “C” spray painted on a rock wall across the river from the campus.
We found ourselves riding parallel with the Major Deegan Expressway till we came in front of Yankee Stadium. Whether you like the Yanks or not, the stadium is amazing to see.
Continuing south down the Harlem River into the mouth of the East River took us past Roosevelt Island, under the Brooklyn Bridge and right out by the Staten Island Ferry station and you best be paying attention, not only to the crazy ferry drivers but to the water.
Right at this very southern point of Manhattan the waters are in complete turmoil with all the large boat traffic.
After playing submarine to a few large waves we crossed the Hudson from Battery Park into the Morris Canal. As luck would have it, it was the same day as the Power Boat Poker run so we were able to check out these awesome power boats, all custom and very expensive. We refueled at the Liberty Landing Marina, tied up and headed to lunch at the new Liberty House.
With most likely the best real estate location for a restaurant in New Jersey, it sits directly across from Lower Manhattan and the famous NYC skyline. Once finished we hit the water, headed south passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, back into Newark Bay and up the Hackensack River into the Meadowlands where we stopped to check out Giant Stadium.
Talk about an amazing and unforgettable day with some great jet ski friends, it was hard to call it quits for sure. Back at the ramp, we were able to wash and flush the skis and that was a blessing because the next day we were heading to New Hampshire.
It was now Sunday, an amazing full week on the road meeting up with great folks and jet skiing multiple locations along the East Coast. Arriving in New Hampshire early afternoon, we stayed in the Lake Sunapee area.
We have ridden this lake many times over the past 7 years but the 120 miles of shoreline offers something new every time. During our stay we also made our way to Down East Maine, visiting family and taking the time to enjoy the amazing rugged coastline, beauty and festivals Maine has to offer.
The sum of the story is, after a 7 year long dream to jet ski in every state on the Eastern Seaboard, this trip finalized that dream with absolutely no disappointments!