THE OCMULGEE — Rivers can be deceptive. Although a single waterway, you can forget how they’re made up by the contributions of numerous creeks, brooks, and streams. Ultimately, the river itself flows into an even larger body of water, whether it be another river, lake, or the ocean.
Something that appears small, can be part of something big.
Ray Singleton is a contributor. Whether through his two tours in Vietnam with the Navy Seabees or as a part of Stone Mountain Baptist Association’s Bold Mission Builders, he’s looked for how he can help, in whatever way he can.
On May 12 Singleton celebrated his 70th birthday by setting off on his second canoeing trip across Georgia with the purpose of raising money for missions. Bold Mission Builders is among those benefitting from Singleton’s current excursion. Gifts will also go toward the missions work in Honduras of friends Wesley and Susan Jarrard, affiliated with Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Dudley, said Singleton.
“If we can enjoy God’s creation while raising money for missions, what better way to do it?” he asked. “That’s where I’m at in my life.”
A love born
Singleton’s love for the river existed long before he retired from a 30-year career as a network manager for Bellsouth in 2000.
“Ever since I was younger I spent a lot of time on the Broad River in Elbert County with my Uncle Clyde, who taught me how to fish,” he recollected. “We would walk the creek and find out how they got back to the river. I caught a 22-pound blue catfish when I was 12 on Anthony Shoals with a ‘rock worm’” (larvae).
Lessons from Uncle Clyde are still used by Singleton on the river today. Each day on his current trip, he paddles until the afternoon, when he’ll typically start fishing. Often, he uses rock worms he found under moss on a rock or under the rock itself. Whatever he catches, he cleans up and cooks up with some rice on the riverbank. Then, he beds down for the night.
Larry Cheek, Stone Mountain Association’s director, served as Singleton’s pastor in the 1980s and baptized at least some of the latter’s children, maybe all of them. Cheek can’t recall. What he can recall are the times the two have spent working through Bold Mission Builders.
“That group has been around since the early 90s and is probably the largest volunteer building group in the state,” he testified. “We do projects all over the Southeast, year-round. And, every time they do a project their criteria is for that person or group to help someone else, pay it forward.”
Sweepers and Devil Wedges
Singleton’s first expedition, in 2010, began in the town of Gay and ended 24 days later at the Gulf of Mexico near Apalachicola, FL. Along the way he dealt with a huge rain storm that dumped four inches of water in his boat. Approaching wildlife also brought caution, particularly the alligators in the southern part of the state and into Florida.
The 2018 version of Singleton’s trip has proven to be even more challenging. At the time of this writing, he’s been off the Ocmulgee for over a week due to heavy rains. He’s used that time off to help Bold Mission Builders with a project in Cordele. Like eight years ago, he has to keep an eye out for “sweepers,” low-hanging limbs that could knock him out of his canoe, and “Devil’s Wedges,” logs just underneath the water over which he could float and be turned over.
“Your canoe can run up on it easily,” he said, “and as you go your center of gravity gets too high and it flips you out.”
And if that happens, what equipment goes in the water along with Singleton? A cooler; a foldable tent-cot; his food barrel holding rice, grits, olive oil, peanut butter, jelly, salt and pepper, cured ham, and other foodstuffs; biodegradable toilet paper (for those wondering); two fishing poles; paddles; the 10/22 Ruger rifle like the M-1 Carbine he carried in Vietnam; and a lawn mower battery he keeps strapped to the front to power the LED lights in case he gets trapped on the water in a storm. A solar panel also on the front of his canoe – an Old Town Discovery 174 he bought in 1984 – keeps the mower battery charged as well as the two chargers for his phone.
Singleton started his trip on the South River at the Panola Shoals Trailhead in Lithonia. For the first couple of days his granddaughters Savanah, 18, and Joy, 23 – whose father/Singleton’s son-in-law is Lt. Hardy G. Owens, an SBC chaplain for the Navy stationed in Norfolk, VA – joined him. Singleton’s son, Dwayne, went with his father that first day as well.
But since Tuesday, May 14, the 70-year-old has been on the water by himself, other than his wife, Jane, picking him up and driving him around the dam at Jackson Lake. The isolation has led to the peace of Georgia backcountry as well as views of wood ducks, deer, wild hogs, Blue Herons, and yes, alligators once he got close to Macon.
But it was near that city where Singleton also saw something unusual. His encounter eventually grabbed the attention of Atlanta media.
A hollar for help
“I was fishing for my supper around three o’clock on a little sandbar,” he remembered. “I caught a bream, then a channel cat[fish], then another channel cat. I had enough to eat, so I threw the second cat back. Then I heard someone calling way in the distance.
I thought it was a kid swinging into the river from a rope; I’d seen a lot of that. But when I left the sandbar I heard someone yelling for help. I hollered back and he responded he was lost.”
A man had walked away from his job site the night before and couldn’t find his way back. Exhausted, he eventually sat on a log beside the river. Singleton had already passed him, and so had to paddle 200 yards back upstream.
“Being by myself, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a trap of some kind, so the first thing I did was take a picture of him and send it to my wife. He told me he’d been there 12 hours trying to get help.”
Singleton contacted Bibb County EMS about the situation and agreed to meet them at an access point downriver. On the way, the man would sleep for an hour and guzzle two liters of water Singleton provided.
“I talked to him about how God had led me and taken care of me. It was a good opportunity to witness to him,” Singleton said.
A definite purpose
Whenever the river’s condition improves, Singleton will continue down the Ocmulgee past Hawkinsville and Lumber City. It’ll change to the Oconee, which he’ll paddle until it connects with the Altamaha. From there he’ll continue to Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island.
Where someone else sees a long journey, Singleton see the opportunity to combine two things he loves.
“I’m merging my passions for missions with my passion for the river. If you can take your passions and merge them together, you have a definite purpose. Mine is building up the kingdom of God.”
He’s one 70-year-old retiree in a 38-year-old canoe. But don’t be deceived. The large impact doesn’t happen without the small, first step.
Or in this case, paddle.
To keep up with Ray’s progress, give him an encouraging note, see numerous video updates including devotions from the riverbank, and contribute to his effort, visit his Facebook page at River Run 2018.