ROCKINGHAM, N.C. — Richmond County sure knows how to make a good first impression.
Rockingham Middle School Principal Julian Carter coordinated approximately two dozen fellow educators and administrators in kayaks, canoes and on bellyaks down the 3.67-mile stretch of Hitchcock Creek, from Roberdel to the Steele Street access point. Among the paddlers were two Shippensburg (Pa.) University students who, next month, will be newly credentialed teachers looking for jobs.
Carter said Saturday’s trip was originally to be another staff development day, much like the ropes course teachers completed last fall at Big Pine Retreat in Hamlet.
“This is what holds staff together,” Carter said.
What made Saturday’s journey a little more interesting was that two paddlers, Laura Hoyer and Kristin Keiser, traveled down from Pennsylvania. The kayak trip for them was part of a sight-seeing tour planned to introduce them to the Richmond County way of life in case they’re hired for the 2014-15 school year.
The effort might have worked.
“It’s a beautiful area,” Keiser said. “As soon as I got here, I felt welcome. You don’t always get that in the north.”
Keiser, who met Carter during a job fair in Millersville, Pa., said she was instantly interested in Richmond County if Carter himself was an example of the rest of the people here.
“I knew right away I was interested in coming here,” Keiser said. “I felt he truly cared. That left a lasting impression. I could see myself working here.”
Hoyer, 21, agreed.
“The No. 1 thing on my list is the people,” she said. “Even though I am a foreigner, if I feel like I belong here …”
Many scenic views, Keiser said, reminder her of home — with one key exception.
“The weather’s better” here, she said.
Keiser, 22, recognized that many things on a list for a typical 20-something to be interested in, such as having a variety of shopping and dining opportunities, are at least 30 minutes away from Rockingham. That wouldn’t be unlike her situation from her home near Williamsport, Pa., she said. Even the theater back home is 20 minutes away.
The morning started out on a fun, lighthearted note as Mari Bennett, of LMO Paradise Rentals, gathered everyone around the Steele Street trailhead and let veterans and first-timers alike become familiar with the end point of the 3.67-mile journey.
Bennett emphasized safety but in a manner that stuck with those in the crowd.
“We’ve got a few newbies,” Bennett allowed everyone to observe as those who’d never paddled before raised their hands — showing others who to pay particular attention to while on the water. “The final takeout is probably our toughest part. There’s a 100 percent chance you’re going to get wet.”
Bennett also noted she would “not swim after (lost) sunglasses” or other items at any point during the trip, which took approximately 90 minutes to complete.
“If you fall in, I want to see nose and toes,” she said. “If all else fails, stand up. It’s 4 feet (deep).”
Upon nearing the shore at the finish, Bennett cautioned, “stay in the middle of the creek.”
Despite the word of warning, many missed the center of Hitchcock Creek on the final rapid and became lodged by a fallen tree. Upon loosening themselves from the log, it was easy to lose one’s balance. Just ask Carter.
“I was dry the whole time,” Carter said before reaching the log, freeing himself and then capsizing.
The group enjoyed hot dogs and hamburgers under the pavilion at the Steele Street access point. The four-day recruiting trip was expected to wrap up Sunday.