It took Ocean Pines woman 11 yrs. to achieve her goal, just short of 40th birthday
By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Nov. 9, 2023) It took 11 years, but she did it. Laura Scharle paddled 600 miles around the entire Delmarva Peninsula.
That includes nearly the entire coast of Delaware from Delaware City, down the Eastern Shore of Maryland, to Cape Charles in Virginia, and back up through the Chesapeake Bay all the way past Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Kent Island and up to Chesapeake City.
Her entire trip is documented on her blog, laurapaddlesdelmarva.com/
She did not paddle each leg in order around the peninsula, but “bounced around based on the weather, my own schedule and how far I could drive on any given day, and where I could bike versus. find someone to shuttle me,” Scharle said.
Each leg required some serious logistics. She tried to not have to double back in the water. That meant either having someone pick her up, frequently her dad, husband, Brian, or Aunt Margaret Ann, or bringing her bike and dropping it at her destination.
“The first time I did that, I had to draw a flowchart on how it would work with the biking and kayaking,” Scharle said.
She started her trip in June 2012 at Wisharts Point in Atlantic, Virginia. The last leg she traveled was under the bay bridge, ending at Terrapin Nature Park on Kent Island a few days before her 40th birthday.
Scharle was an avid paddler before she committed to this goal. She lived in Easton and did tours for the YMCA. Her boyfriend, now husband, lived in Chincoteague and they paddled together there.
“I had paddled all these different sections of Delmarva before I decided to do the whole thing,” Scharle said.
“I set this goal back in 2012 when Brian and I were driving northbound over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. As we approached Fisherman Island, I wondered what it would be like to paddle to some of Virginia’s barrier islands. And then I wondered what it would be like to paddle around the whole damn peninsula.”
Some of her biggest challenges were the lack of public access, including a 25-mile no-access stretch near Cambridge.
“An Airbnb let me launch from there for free. I got very creative,” she said.
Another area in Northampton County, Virginia had a stretch of 40 miles with no public access points. There she met an oyster farmer who let her launch from his family’s property.
“There were a few trips with specific legs that had challenges I did not expect.”
Even though she was a stickler for reading tide charts, one low tide left her stuck in mud.
“The mud was like quicksand, it was 90 degrees, greenhead flies were attacking me,” she said.
At first, she thought she would have to wait until the tide came in, but then, “I pulled myself together and shimmied across the slippery mud until I was in navigable water again. I was seven weeks pregnant at the time,” Scharle said.
She traveled through a variety of waterfronts. In Cape Charles Harbor, she passed giant barges and excavators. In Crisfield, Maryland, she passed by crab shacks. In Lewes, Delaware, she went under the drawbridge and passed the big charter boats. And in the Delaware Bay, she paddled out on a beautiful day with a view of the giant power plant on the New Jersey side of the bay.
“The steam coming out of the cooling plants was actually calming to look at. It was nice to mix it up sometimes. But my heart and soul are with the very remote nature areas,” she said.
Not to say that nature doesn’t offer its own surprises, including an incident involving a rambunctious stingray.
“One of the wings of the ray smacked the hull of my kayak. I screamed, it scared me so bad,” she said.
“I feel like Delmarva and the Chesapeake Bay should be an international paddling destination. The scenery is so beautiful and so untouched. Kayaking gets you into areas that boats cannot get to,” Scharle said.
Kayaking around the Delmarva peninsula was not just an adventure. It was also therapy.
During the past 11 years, Scharle has had a lot happen in her life. She married, had a son with special needs, and lost her mom, who inspired her love of the outdoors.
“This was a form of self-care for me. There were some really stressful times over the years and I would go to it for stress relief.”
Scharle said she hopes that her journey inspires other people to get outside and explore.
“We live in a beautiful area, and I don’t want people to miss out on that.”