Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway/St. Augustine, Palm Coast, Fla. (June 24, 2022) – Traveling 800 nautical miles to complete a challenge seems doable. In a 22-foot custom built Seaward Kayak, on the Intracoastal Waterway is enough to do a double take.
But for Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Brock Dick and the Portsmouth, Virginia-based Keith Menefee, it’s almost like another day at the office.
Ok, not really.
While Keith may be a retired career Navy man, and Brock has done 10 tours in five years in combat zones, paddling the Atlantic Ditch as the ICW is often referred to, has been a new challenge for these hardened tough guys.
Since setting out from Virginia Beach on May 3, 2022, they’ve been blown around by a nor’easter, gotten hung up in Barefoot Landing’s ‘Rock Pile’, a 3-mile stretch of treacherously narrow waterway in South Carolina, and run across a congregation of gators in route to the Belle Isle Marina, but it hasn’t been all bad.
And at the end of the day, it has all the makings of a fantastic campfire story.
“We actually got blown out of the water one day. It was pretty crazy, we ended up at a farm, kind of like Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, and this lady somehow snuck up on us,” recalls Keith.
“She walks out with a frozen Daily’s in a bag and says ‘I own all this land and you guys can stay here as long as you need to’. She was super nice and it was like the first indication that the trip’s going to be alright because this is only 3 days into the trip.”
Describing one experience, the pair holed up at a marina for several days then struck out, hoping to capitalize on 25 mile per hour winds out of the north to push them along their southerly route.
“It was a terrible idea,” said Brock with a chuckle.
“Probably one of the most mentally, physically challenging things that we had been through at this point. We’re moving and getting pushed by the ocean and as it narrows down, the waves are getting bigger. It felt like a 25-foot wave but in reality it was probably a six foot wave, and carried us. It was massive.”
The pair were picked up by a family on their sail boat and given refuge.
“Luckily we met Nico and Marta and they let us get changed and sleep on the boat,” recounted Keith.
They’ve also acquired some notable meet ups along the way, running into Valerie Weiss, a director for the hit Netflix show ‘Outer Banks’, and meeting the ‘Paddling for Pennies’ firefighter Allen Williford, whose mom put them up for the night.
Throughout the trip people have opened their hearts and doors to the pair as they try to raise $50,000 for the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“We’ve had the most crazy adventure this entire thing,” said Keith.
From the Beginning
After meeting one another in Africa on work-related missions two years ago, Brock and Keith talked about taking the big kayaking trip.
Brock, a Department of Defense contractor and member of the Air Force National Guard reconnected with Keith just before his retirement from the Navy after 22 years of service, and the two began making plans in earnest for what they expected to be a 33 day trip.
“I’ve mapped it out 7,000 times but in reality once the trip happens it’s not exactly how I imagined it. It’s better,” said Keith, who completed kayaking instructor school before the trip.
They try to travel 20-25 miles per day but the weather and current play a factor.
“We’ve had days where it took us 6 hours to go 9 miles because the current was so bad,” he said of the ‘Rock Pile’ section of the ICW. “That was a bad day but really fun.”
Along the Way … Howdy Neighbor
Making a stop at Genung’s Fish Camp in Crescent Beach, Florida this week, Captain Adam Morley and wife Jeanine hosted the travelers for two days as they rested and recuperated from the intense heat and physical exertion.
“It’s been a blast,” said Morley.
“It started as like ‘yeah, you guys need a place to crash and recharge and it turned into you guys can’t leave yet, we’re not done having fun’,” he said, treating them to a site seeing experience in St. Augustine that included a trip on the Old Town Cycle Cruise boat.
“Adam’s been has been nothing but one of the greatest hosts. You meet somebody and it’s like we’ve been friends for 20 years,” said Keith.
Continuing south on Thursday, they made a stop at the Marineland Marina where dock master Chris Kelly directed them to Bings Landing. Putting in for the night, they enjoyed Captain’s BBQ and some local hospitality as the restaurant staff stored their massive kayak on the porch for safekeeping overnight, before the pair tucked in at the Palm Coast Villas.
“The people have made the trip the most amazing part of the whole thing,” said Keith, with appreciation.
An Eye Opening Experience
Putting a cause to the challenge, both men wanted to make an impact with their journey.
“I’ve always been like, how do you help because that’s such a vague thing to say. A lot of friends passed away sadly from suicide and injuries, and you get kind of like what can you do to make it better? I don’t know what the royal ‘it’ is, but I’d like to help,” shared Keith.
Inspired, Brock contacted the Gary Sinise Foundation pitching their idea, and with a little persistence, they received a call back one Friday evening.
“Not only yes, but heck yes. We love this idea, we love what you’re doing and we’d like to definitely be part of it,” shared Keith of the foundation’s response. “One hundred percent goes directly to the foundation and Brock set a high goal.”
While the trip has been about raising funds for veterans and awareness for the Gary Sinise Foundation, the trip has been beneficial for them, as well.
“What I’ve actually learned is America is not what you see on CNN or Fox News,” said Keith.
“Seeing the country from the water, which is something I’ve never gotten to do, even though I was in the Navy forever, I just wasn’t a ship guy, it’s been fascinating. The people have been absolutely amazing. Adam has literally opened his home and this area to us and been like, hey, you guys are great. Everybody you meet has been so interesting and unique, and I think that’s probably been my favorite part of the trip,” he said.
Brock too has felt the restorative qualities of being out on the water and engaging with people from different communities along with way.
“It’s been a good trip. Part of the trip for me in particular, the last five years, 10 deployments in five years just kind of mounted up a whole bunch of stress. I think it was more or less wanting to slow down, get into the moment and kind of link back up with a good friend, doing some epic trip like this,” he said of the once in a lifetime experience.
“It’s re-centering. I am genuinely, one hundred percent happy right now. I had kind of forgotten what that felt like. This is back to life. People are giving, they’re forgiving, respectful and kind. You don’t have to consistently be worried about an environment where you’re either having to control the situation or bad things happen to people or you’re at home, away from that situation and you’re having to control everything that’s going on in your life because you have to leave in 90 days to go back. Being able to find such a cool place like this and awesome people where can take a second to breathe and enjoy the now and people, I’m pretty sure I’ve cried twice,” he said, with gentle humor and appreciation.
The Home Stretch
Seven weeks in, the trip to ‘storm Little Jim’s Bridge’ – a local landmark for World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans, has taken a bit longer than planned and the guys are motivated to see the finish line.
Keith hopes to pull in to their destination at Fort Pierce before his 41st birthday on June 30th, connecting with his sister, wife and daughter along with members of the Florida Chapter of the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“July 5th is when we’ll be with Gene Russell and some other guys that are from the foundation that want to do an event and congratulations,” shared Brock.
The pair hope to complete their journey in time to attend a Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band USO show in Tampa or Jacksonville with Sinise.
“We got to finish the trip first,” he said.
To find out more about the Atlantic Ditch Run 800 follow #ADR800 on social media or click here for the fundraising page.