Frank Marsden now knows what it must have been like for Maryland's early explorers.
The Pylesville resident recently finished a solo, weeklong adventure in a canoe traversing the Chesapeake Bay.
He left Havre de Grace on April 3, paddling 154 miles to Mobjack Bay in Virginia -- about 20 miles from the bay's gateway to the Atlantic.
"You feel like you're going back to another world," the 44-year-old Marsden said. "I'll never look at the bay in the same way."
Marsden encountered constant reminders of the 1990s: Trash littered beaches. Pollution made bay water murky. Houses encroached on shoreline.
Even a small, uninhabited island Marsden discovered off the Virginia coast revealed signs of man's presence. While following raccoon tracks along a white, sandy beach, Marsden found a pile of old tires and barrels that had washed ashore.
"That really upset me," Marsden said. "It really hit me."
Marsden took the trip to bring attention to efforts to start the Eden Mill Nature Center near Pylesville.He is chairman of a committee overseeing the center, which is to start operations this summer.
Since canoeing on the Deer Creek will be one of the main activities at Eden Mill, Marsden got the idea to take the Chesapeake Bay trip.
Most of the equipment Marsden used on the trip, including the canoe, a tent and sleeping bag, will be raffled off this summer to raise money for the nature center. Manufacturers and sporting goods shops donated the equipment.
Marsden plans togive presentations on his trip at school and civic groups throughoutthe county.
He's already planning his next canoe trip -- a tour of the Susquehanna River from New York state to Havre de Grace, possibly next year.
For now, Marsden is busy telling others about his journey on the Chesapeake.
Facing strong, westerly winds and swells up to four feet, Marsden had to struggle to keep on course -- particularly the first couple of days of the trip.
Throughout the trip, he taped his thoughts on a recorder he carried along.
"The first couple of days I wondered what the hell I was doing out there," he said. "I felt like I was an agitator in a washing machine."
Marsden said he lost nearly 15 pounds during the trip because of the strenuous workout of paddling. He paddled for about seven hours a day, covering12 to 27 nautical miles daily.
Marsden, who has been canoeing fornearly 20 years, stresses that he couldn't have made the trip without the special boat he used. The vessel, equipped with a rudder, has elements of a canoe and a kayak.
He wore a plastic-and-nylon suit and brought along a VHF radio, flares and other emergency equipment. He took his own water and food, such as soup, raisins and sardines.
The canoeist traveled down the Eastern Shore, stopping at Still Pond, Kent Island and St. Michaels. He crossed to the Western Shore, going to Calvert Cliffs and Solomons Island. In Virginia, he stopped at Smith Point, Stingray Point and finally North Point Comfort off Mobjack Bay.
He took an easier path back to Harford, renting a truck to carry his canoe and equipment.
Marsden took about 150 photographs along the way. Looking at them now, he's surprised by how monotonous they all seem: water here, water there; a flock of herons or osprey; a barge in the distance.
"I did not see much in the form of sea life, not one fish jump," he said. "I kept hoping to see a whale come up the bay. I didn't see anything. I didn't see a crab.
"I anticipated more wilderness."
On most nights, he pitched a tent or stayed at motels along the bay. A fisherman allowed him to sleep in his boatone night. He slept in the bathroom of a maritime museum on another night because it was the only room with heat.
By the end of the trip, Marsden was covered with salt residue. His beard grew thick. The skin on his face was peeling. He was damp from sweat and the swells.
"As each day went on, I realized how much a nice shower meant to me and how much a soft bed meant to me -- the real basic things," he said.
Marsden said he'll never forget the people he met along the way.
He plans to write notes to those who helped him, like the marina owner who lent him tools to fix his canoe's rudder.
At the end of the trip, Marsden arrived at another marina off Horn Harbor Creek near Mobjack Bay. There, he met two commercial fishermen working on their boat.
One of the men, Ed Rablits, had been Marsden's neighborbefore moving to the bay two years ago to take up the life as a watermen.
Rablits wife, Kathy, offered to drive Marsden back to Harford so she could visit her mother.
"To go all that way to meet someone I know about blew my mind," Marsden said.