• The Great American Outdoors

    Kayaking and fishing are popular at the Cumberland River.
    Picture by Sarah Shatz
    Date:23 June 2011 Tags:, ,

    Be honest, now: although you love exploring your own country, isn’t there something awfully compelling about an outdoor adventure on a different continent? Of course there is. In this issue, PM goes native at Cabin Bluff, a hunting and fishing retreat in coastal Georgia, USA, and pinpoints a few more multi-sport destinations across America. By Matt Hendrickson | Pictures by Sarah Shatz | Styling by Inessah Selditz

    You know the kind of sleep that’s so deep you wake up wondering where you are? I remember, before dropping into the abyss last night, the patter of raindrops on the cabin roof and a whiff of salt air. Now the Sun is peeking into my room through wooden blinds. I rewind and add up the details: I’m at Cabin Bluff, on the Georgia coast, my base camp for a few days of bonding with Nature. Bleary-eyed, I shuffle to the dining room, grab a mug of coffee and head out to the dock on the Cumberland River. The cool air warms up slowly as the sun rises over the marsh. The water is as still as a wing-shot quail. A few egrets glide past me, flashes of snowy white. The strong coffee shakes the cobwebs from my head. All of a sudden – boom! Evidently some early risers are getting in a few pre-breakfast shots on the 13-station sporting clays course. I wander toward the noise and meet up with Scott Revels and Seth Brock, two locals with Beretta 20-gauges slung over their shoulders.

    “Wake y’up?” Scott says, smirking. “No, just scared the hell out of me,” I reply, my heart thudding in my chest.

    Beach getaways are fine, even if all you do is bodysurf and dip into the cooler of beers at your feet. Or maybe you’ve taken the family for a theme-park experience – also fine, but not the kind of trip that frees your mind and feeds your soul. To accomplish that, you need to head outdoors and get the blood pumping in a place that naturally lends itself to multiple activities. Cabin Bluff fits the bill.

    Michigan’s Howard E Coffin – a pioneer in the automotive and aviation industries – bought Cabin Bluff, a game preserve and playground for the rich, in 1928. Today, the compound is more accessible but retains its rustic charm; little time here is spent idly, which was also true back in the day. Sporting clays, pedal kayaking and fishing are on my to-do list. There are also bike trails and a six-hole golf course on-site (though I won’t have time to enjoy them). In fact, much of the territory around Cabin Bluff – along the coast and a tad inland – is dotted with places that suit the onelocation, many-activities concept, whether you prefer hunting, hiking, boating or off-roading.

    Right now I can’t wait to get my hands on a shotgun. I wolf down some eggs and grits (a porridge of Native American origin similar to mealie pap), find Scott and gear up. Cabin Bluff provides outfitting, or you can BYOG: bring your own guns. Then we drive about a kilometre in his pick-up to the course. At the first few stations, clays fly out of shacks along the shoreline, propelled by throwers operated via remote controls on the shooting platforms. The clays’ speed and flight paths differ, mimicking various fowl. I have some shooting experience, but eight clays whizz by before I nail one; Scott knocks out six in a row.

    “You’re waiting too long,” he says. “You gotta pull the trigger sooner.” I had been holding fire until the clay passed its apex and began its descent – and thus was farther away and effectively smaller. So, the quicker the shot, the larger the target. I adjust my thinking and hit two out of three.

    As Scott and I stroll along the piney path that connects the shooting stations, Seth and another friend, Josh Williams, join us. All three guys grew up on nearby St Simons Island; they’ve been hunting and fishing in these parts since they learned to walk. Now they’re my base-camp buddies, and we hit a few more stations, including one where the clays skitter along the ground like a rabbit: shooting clays is fun and good hunting practice.

    With river fishing and kayaking planned for the afternoon, Scott, Seth, Josh and I put up our guns, grab lunch at the main cabin – the nucleus of a cluster of eight guest cabins set among a grove of pines, live oaks and palms and just a short walk to the riverbank. This is the beauty of the base-camp concept: regardless of what outdoor sport you choose to indulge in, the action is always close at hand.

    Outfitter Michael Gowen is waiting for us at the sandy staging area at the river’s edge. He presents us with a range of watercraft, including a pedal kayak, which is like a recumbent bike on the water. It keeps a fisherman’s hands free for casting, but I just like the fact that it’s really fast. “People go for miles in these things,” Michael says, nudging me away from the riverbank.

    Once I find my lane, I’m skimming along at a wicked clip. Soon my thighs are burning, and I’m out of visual range of the other guys, who are fishing closer to land. I whip around and book back toward them, trying to hit the put-in point but blowing past it; the craft is fast yet hard to control. I glide to a halt, then circle back and beach the kayak, pouring sweat. “That’s one helluva ride,” I say, dismounting and heading to my cabin for a breather.

    At twilight I hear pounding on my door and the rallying cry: “Oyster roast!” Following Southern tradition, Cabin Bluff has laid out a spread of oysters, seafood chowder and more for a sunset feast. I’m not big on oysters, but I shrug and do as the natives do. I grab one from the pot, split it apart, add some cocktail sauce and horseradish and… down the hatch. It tastes as if the natural environment were distilled into this salty, earthy morsel. Later, filled to the gills, we sit outside around a roaring fire, enjoying a few beers. After midnight I amble back to my cabin, anticipating the morning wake-up call to go ocean fishing.

    I’m a bit late for the appointed 7 am launch, but I’m not the only one. All of the base campers are guilty of having overindulged last night. Regardless, we shuffle to the dock, where our guide, Toby Mohrman, wearing a bright yellow rain jacket, stands on the deck of an 8 m Sea Cat. “Y’all got after it last night, huh?” he says with a sly smile.

    We murmur and nod, grabbing the poles and settling in for the short ride downriver to the open sea. We’re a bit out of season for this type of fishing; in late spring, when the water is warmer, tarpon, king mackerel and black bass abound, Toby says. But now our casts yield just a few nibbles, and the drizzle becomes a steady pour, so Toby steers us back upriver and docks at Cabin Bluff. “Lay off the booze and get your butts out here early next time,” he chides us good-naturedly.

    He’s right, of course, and I silently vow to return someday to this hidden paradise. Beach vacation? Nah. This is where the action is.

    Local knowledge: Coastal Georgia is damp and often rainy; evenings are cool, except in summer. Be sure to pack water-repellent and moisture-wicking clothing, and dress in layers.

    Where to stay

    Cabin Bluff, from R3 150 nightly per person, includes all meals and most activities, with outfitting. www.cabinbluff.com

    House rental
    On nearby Jekyll Island, a home that sleeps six can be had for less than R7 000 per week. www.jekyllisland.com

    Jekyll Island Campground is a haven by the sea; from R150 per night. www.jekyllisland.com

    Three more great places to set up base camp

    Lake Havasu, Arizona
    Although it’s a major spring break destination, Lake Havasu – a 7 810 ha reservoir fed by the Colorado River and contained by the Parker Dam – manages to balance out beer quaffing and raucous good times with a healthy dose of sun-drenched outdoor activity. Lake Havasu City is surprisingly quaint, replete with a reconstruction of the original 1830s London Bridge, reaching across the lake to Pittsburgh Point. (Robert McCulloch, the automotive pioneer and maker of the eponymous chain saw, had the bridge relocated here in 1968.)

    Copper Canyon is the lake’s party central; on the weekend, so many boats tie up here that you can literally walk on water. There are also plenty of quiet, isolated places to weigh anchor and chill out on the shore. If you want action, diving, waterskiing and fishing outfitters abound (for details, see www.golakehavasu.com). The Copper Basin Dunes, 516 ha of sand hills and mountain trails maintained by the US Bureau of Land Management, are off-roading nirvana (go to www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/recreation/ ohv/copper.html).

    Local knowledge: Dehydration is a real threat in the desert. Drink at least three litres of water a day, and even more if you’re also enjoying some adult beverages.

    Where to stay

    Havasu Dunes Resort: Kitchen-equipped one- and two-bedroom condos that sleep up to six, with on-site laundry, are just right for base campers. In Lake Havasu City; from R765 a night. www.havasu-dunes.com

    The town is loaded with chain motels, but why not take advantage of the natural surroundings and stay on a boat? Lakehavasuhouseboating.com offers a range of floating palaces.

    The beachfront Crazy Horse Campgrounds is in the thick of things; you can escape for a hike on the Sara Park Wash, where the Crack-in-the-Rock trail leads through a canyon before you arrive at the lake. www.golakehavasu.com

    Upper Michigan
    The wooded ridges and 140 m sand dunes along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan make this popular mid-western destination feel more western than one would imagine – it’s like Big Sky country without the major trek to get there. Cool nights give way to warm summer days that seem to last forever: here in the far north, the sun sets late, and darkness doesn’t descend until well past 9 pm.

    Traverse City proper has a kitschy side, proudly wearing the badge of cherry capital of the world, and orchards and food shops dedicated to the fruit abound in the area. But the region is equally proud to be Michigan’s outdoor playground. Watersports dominate the activities menu – for instance, zipping around on personal water vehicles on the lakes, or canoeing, tubing or rafting on the Pine, Boardman, Manistee, Crystal and Betsie rivers.

    If you’d rather not get your feet wet, there’s also plenty to do on terra firma. More than a dozen golf courses lie within 30 km of Traverse City; hiking trails are plentiful in the area; and the gently rolling hills and well-maintained roads make for excellent touring by bicycle.

    Local knowledge: Bug repellent is a must; the mosquitoes and black . ies will try to eat you alive. Also, bring a sweater or two; nights are chilly year-round.

    Where to stay

    Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is a costeffective bet for a family or large group, offering hotel or house-rental accommodations. www.grandtraverseresort.com

    House rental
    There are literally hundreds of condo/home rentals – and numerous base-camp sites to pick from – in the Traverse City area. Check out www.visitupnorth.com to see the range of possibilities.

    There are 35 campgrounds within 50 km of Traverse City. The Sand Lakes Quiet Area allows no motor vehicles, so it’s ideal for tranquil hiking, biking and swimming. Timber Ridge is more action-packed.
    www.michigan.org/places-to-stay/campgrounds/ default.aspx?city=G3602

    Northern Oregon
    The Mount Hood area is among the most beautiful and geographically diverse outdoor-sports destinations in the United States, if not the world. It is possible – if you’re an ironman, but nevertheless – to ski the Palmer Glacier (elevation: 2 347 m) in the morning, rock-climb the bolted crag of French’s Dome in the afternoon and fi nish your day with a 30 m free-fall off a bungee tower at the Adventure Park at Mount Hood Skibowl before you hit dinner.

    While some areas can get crowded (the adventure park draws lots of families, plus skiing enthusiasts who need a summer fix), it’s remarkably easy to get away from it all, and from everyone else, to enjoy the outdoors in this part of Oregon, about a 130 km drive east of Portland (and two hours from that city’s airport). A big part of Mount Hood’s attraction for true outdoor enthusiasts is that while it is essentially a sprawling resort, it flies under the radar relative to other vacation destinations in the West, such as Vail and Aspen. (Upscale shopping near Mount Hood? Not happening.)

    The geographical feature that gives the area its name is a 3 413 m, snow-covered, potentially active volcano. It serves as a beacon no matter what adventure yen you happen to be indulging. You can see the craggy white peak from McCubbins Gulch, site of one of the only legal dirt-biking trail networks in the area. (The U Forest Service limits off-roading to a relatively small portion of the 404 600 ha Mount Hood National Forest.) Given the steep elevation changes and numerous rivers around Mount Hood, the whitewater rafting is also topnotch. Clackamas River gets the most traffi c, but outfi tters also offer trips to the more remote Hood, Molalla and Sandy rivers.

    Local knowledg: If you travel via 3 Portland, stop for a meal at one of the city’s many food carts; the Big Egg offers perhaps the world’s best fried-egg sandwich. www.foodcartsportland.com

    Where to stay

    Rooms at the Lodge at Government Camp offer entrancing views of Mount Hood. From R1 400. www.thelodgeatgovernmentcamp.com

    House rental
    Cabins, holiday homes, bed-and-breakfasts – take your pick, from bargain-basement to vestar prices. www.mounthoodinfo.com

    Mount Hood National Forest has 81 campgrounds. The Trillium Lake sits at the water’s edge, the Tilly Jane at the base of the volcano. Call 503-668-1700.