Kayak Camaraderie: local friends make memories floating county creeks

A group of five local men who call themselves the “HiYakers” have taken up the very popular water sport of kayaking. This band of merry mariners, consisting of Jody Carter, Travis Jeffries, Roscoe Parnell, Johnny Ray, and Andrew Marshala, have traversed most of Creek County’s waterways and many throughout the state.

The Sapulpa Herald interviewed the group’s co-founder and ad-hoc leader, Jody Carter, to find out more about the HiYakers.

“It was kind of an off-the-wall thing, myself and Johnny Ray just do a lot of outdoor things. This was prior to COVID, and I just enjoy being outdoors.

“When COVID hit, we had to basically find some new avenues to get out and expand because we had done so much camping, we just wanted something new.

“A few friends had done some kayaking and I had seen them on Facebook, and it was always something I wanted to do, the gist of it all kind of came from that,” said Carter.

Jody, who, along with two other members of the group, is a military veteran, also stated that the outdoors helps with depression.

 “We get away from a lot of societal issues that seem to come out when you are around town. It is a good place to bond, and to be able to talk in a secure environment. It helps you to get out and exercise as well as get rid of some of your anxiety issues.

“There are so many aspects to it, it is just mind-blowing how much good it has done in my life.”

Travis Jeffries has recently gone kayaking several times on Lake Sahoma and finds the lake is a good way to get out in nature and that it is “peaceful, quiet, and calm.”

When asked about the benefits the outdoors presents to post-military life, Jody replied: “Johnny Ray was Army, Travis Jeffries was Army, and I was a Marine, then I am retired from the Department of Defense as a civilian, and from the military. That is a lot of it as well, the camaraderie.”

The call of the outdoors drives this cadre of comrades.

“It always surprises you, that is why you see us going out so much. There is always something new, there is always something different. Even when we hit the same waterways it changes, we have a great time.”

Kayakers don’t limit their travels to local waterways and beautiful weather.

“We have been all the way to the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. We did a trip earlier this year, and it got down to fourteen degrees overnight on the river, and we camped right on the water.”

When speaking about the fact that Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any state in the Union, Carter said he had taken note of this at an early age: “That has always intrigued me that we had so many areas we could go to and that our State had this potential to be a draw, almost like Arkansas is in a way, for the Ozarks. What they use for their areas, we could do the same for what we have in Oklahoma.”

Carter agrees with many who say a number of kids today suffer a nature “deficit” and they often lack basic outdoor survival skills.

“That is what I teach my son. I grew up in the woods, my father lived south of Henryetta, so I lived in the woods in the summertime. I instill that in Johnny Ray, in Andrew, and all those other guys, we actually bring our kids with us. Whenever possible, we get out and camp overnight.”

Carter has traveled on Rock Creek from the old Bridge on Ozark Trail to Polecat Creek, all the way to the Arkansas River.

When asked why the group chose Rock Creek and Polecat Creek, Carter said: “Last spring, we had a lot of rain, it was an epic downpour of rain. When they were flooding, we noticed that they were passable in some spots, they were local, and we figured that no one had gone through there in years. We just hopped in the kayaks and decided to give it a shot.”

Jody has some ideas for improving Rock Creek, “A low-water dam behind the pedestrian bridge in Kelly Lane Park on Rock Creek would backfill the creek as a canal, almost.

“Along with a small spillway, it would help navigate the floodwaters… If that was full all the time, that would be a draw. From the food truck park to Kelly Lane, and then Kelly Lane has all its facets, they could do full time kayaking.”

The Sapulpa Herald reached out to Susan Bencke, Recreation Leader, Sapulpa Parks and Recreation, about the possibility of making local creeks navigable waterways.

“It is something that definitely has been on our radar, we have a couple of Park Friends members working on the periphery, and we would love for people to come up and help support that project.”

Anyone wishing to further the recreational use of local waterways should contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 918-227-5151. Fellow kayakers can join the “HiYakers” Facebook page.