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ROW YOUR BOAT: Kayak tours and food and fellowship are only a smidgeon of what Eco Odysseys offer adventurists. Photo courtesy of Deen Craig, Eco Odyssey founder.

ROW YOUR BOAT: Kayak tours and food and fellowship are only a smidgeon of what Eco Odysseys offer adventurists. Photo courtesy of Deen Craig, Eco Odyssey founder.

Eco-Odyssey All-American
Paddle and Campout
July 6th, 2 p.m. (through 7th)
Tickets: $60-$75
www.ncecoodysseys.com

The All-American campout: hot dogs, s’mores, beer, camaraderie and kayaking. Deena Craig of NC Eco Odysseys will take a group of adventurists out to Black River on Saturday, July 6th, for the quintessential summertime excursion. Everyone will gather at the Ivanhoe Boat Ramp in Ivanhoe, NC, at 2 p.m. for a guided tour down the scenic river in Sampson County. The tour will transition onto the Cape Fear River just around 14 miles south of Wilmington.

The river adventure is approximately 7.6 miles, but after 3 miles, paddlers will pull over to set up camp and enjoy a bonfire with traditional American food and drink. The next morning everyone will be treated to breakfast (bacon, French toast, orange juice, and most importantly, coffee) before paddling the remainder of the distance.

“The Black River is a beautiful paddle, ranked as one of our most pristine rivers,” Craig says. “The water is constantly replenished by underground aquifers. Gorgeous cypress trees line the river banks, creating the black colour of the water. We should see some wildlife on the river as well. The best part is the friends you make on these adventures.”

Driven by her love of travel, dining and event-planning, Craig started Eco Odysseys last fall after planning it for over eight years. A medical director and PA for a rural health clinic in Holly Ridge, she started the business more as a hobby. Now it’s evolved into her retirement plan. To date, Craig has 18 events planned, five of which have taken place already. She has done a hot-air balloon ride, winery tours and many kayaking adventures. In May, she hosted a luau on Masonboro Island with hula and fire dancers.

“We kayaked over to the island, set up camp and enjoyed a Polynesian feast prepared by Chef Matthew Gould of [pop-up restaurant] Canapé,” she says. “The dolphins even put on a show for our waterside festivities!”

Using her organizational skills from founding other meet-up groups, such as Wilmington Singles on the Go and Wilmington Dining Adventurists, Eco Odysseys already had the framework for development. Also a foodie, Craig decided pairing food with outdoor activities would be perfect. She strengthened the concept by connecting with local businesses for all aspects of her events, including lodging, transportation, catering and entertainment.

“Canapé currently prepares the food for the majority of our events,” she says. “Good Vibes Brewing and Fortunate Glass have supplied the brew on recent occasions. For the July event, I’ll be selecting craft beer from Fermental. My aim is to find a mix of American brews from different regions, in keeping with our theme.”

Craig’s brother, Kerry, helps out, along with Scott Schmolesky, both from Expedition Organization. They act as kayak guides and outfitters. Kerry, a musician and lead vocalist for The Fury, will be providing camp-fire entertainment for the July 6th excursion, too. Experience in kayaking isn’t required for the paddle; Craig and the Expedition Organization partners ensure safety. Everyone will wear a life jacket.
“I am a medic and a PA in the Army Reserves,” Craig says. “Scott is certified in basic life support and field first aid, should an emergency arise.”

For the All-American Black River Paddle and Campout, adventurists will need to bring a tent, sleeping bag (weather-appropriate) and pad. A small camp chair is advisable as well. The gear will fit onto the cordage of the kayaks. Eco Odysseys provides 14 kayaks, two of which are tandem; however, folks who have their own kayaks can receive a discount on tickets. Expedition Organization will have a small Jon boat for larger equipment, such as coolers and food items. Craig also recommends guests bring their own drinking water, as the weather can be quite hot in July.

Anyone who wishes to join the All-American Paddle and Campout can book tickets online. The cost of the trip, $75, includes rental and related equipment, food and drink. For those bringing their own kayaks, the cost is $60. If weather and current conditions look unsafe, either the destination will be changed, or the event will be rescheduled.

Eco Odysseys is planning a full-moon paddle for July 22nd, a Lumber River paddle on July 27th and another luau on Masonboro Island on August 3rd. In October Craig will bring a group to the Carolina Balloon Fest in Statesville, NC. In addition to enjoying festival activities, guests will have the chance to ride in a hot-air balloon, visit a chocolate factory, and dine on a cruise on Lake Norman.

In May 2014, Eco Odysseys will go international with a paddle trip in Tuscany, Italy. They will stay in a Tuscan Villa, and visit Florence and Cinque de Terre. Winery tours and a wine-pairing dinner are on the agenda while overlooking a sunset in San Gimignano. Paddling will take place on Lake Pontecosi. Folks who wish to participate in any of the events, including the All American Campout, should contact Deena Craig as soon as possible.

Eco Odysseys also does custom events for businesses or personal enjoyment. “The events we cater should give people ideas of what they’d like to do,” Craig says. “We aim to provide an outing tailored to what they want. These can vary from corporate team-building occasions to island-themed weddings, even romantic dinners on an island.”

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