Modern-day Huck Finn drifts down the Pamlico-Tar River

Published 12:55 pm Sunday, August 29, 2010

Staff Writer

Brad Simmons can scratch one thing off his bucket list.
A modern-day Huckleberry Finn, Simmons fulfilled a childhood dream by single-handedly navigating the Pamlico-Tar River from Louisburg to Washington. Using an eight-foot aluminum johnboat and a 12-foot bamboo pole, Simmons covered the trip in 17 days.
“I only had one day to plan this trip,” the 39-year-old tour guide from Goldsboro said after pulling up to the Washington waterfront Thursday week. “It was a rustic thing and I saw amazing wildlife and met amazing people.”
With the help of a friend, Simmons put his boat into the Tar River outside Louisburg at 7 p.m. Aug. 8. With little sunlight left, he set out to find a campsite.
“I was looking for a boat to buy, and I finally bought the boat,” Simmons said. “Then I was ready to go, and I told my friend. He said he only had one day to take me, and I was scrambling to get everything ready. He dropped me off in Louisburg at 7 p.m., which is pretty late because I’ve only got one hour to find a place to camp. Then I had the problem with the beaver.”
The “problem with the beaver” turned out to be a woodland creature who would smack his tail on the water during the night to warn Simmons to stay away. It was just one of many “Wild Kingdom” encounters.
“I saw wild turkey, herds of deer drinking water, snowy egrets,” Simmons said. “I managed to catch on hand-lines massive catfish. I caught a lot of bream and a few bass.”
As for the dangers of the river, Mother Nature didn’t pull any punches. Standing in an aluminum boat while holding a 12-foot pole, Simmons was most afraid of lightning.
“I bought a tent at Wal-Mart that didn’t work for five minutes,” Simmons said. “One night, it rained for 14 hours straight. So, later on down the river, someone gave me a tent.”
The most memorable thing for Simmons was the generosity of the people he met along the way.
“People, for some reason, were just giving me things,” Simmons said. “They were so enthusiastic about what I was doing. But I would never take money or a ride.”
As for his next adventure, Simmons was noncommittal.
“The job situation is not really good in North Carolina,” Simmons said. “I might have to move to another state. Maybe move to Austin, Texas, or something.”
Editor’s note: The Tar River changes its name to the Pamlico River east of the U.S. Highway 17 Business bridge at downtown Washington.