Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It Was Worth It

After a great morning of eating and exploring, LC and I found ourselves at the Elk River boat ramp adjacent to Tims Ford Dam.
A couple of months ago I walked with Jamie at Tims Ford State Park and then stopped briefly at the dam, reminiscing about my youngest son who I seem to miss more and more each day he is gone.
He is still in Winnipeg and has left the ski resort where he spent most of the winter.
He is now working and living in the city working at (as he wryly described it to me) "moving metal around".
I am not certain exactly what that means but it involves a forklift.
After a long phone conversation a few days ago it sounds like he is planning on taking some kind of training in preparation for moving further west and working on oil rigs.
Where once he restlessly dreamed only of girls he now restlessly dreams only of money.
A link to a blog post on Tims Ford Dam:
When my Mountain Boy and I were at the river today the water level was incredibly low..............
With work men working to reinforce the concrete and metal of the bridge spanning the river, LC and I parked high up on the driveway and walked down towards the river rather than parking down underneath the bridge close to the boat ramp.
As we wandered down the paved driveway I looked over to my right and saw these three boys intently focused on something in the water.
I wondered what they were doing but LC immediately knew - they were catching crawdads.
Of course.    
A completely southern thing that all young boys do.
Tennessee boys for generations (including LC when he was a boy) have played by the river and caught crawdads (to use as fish bait but also just to catch and play with before releasing them back into the river).
I smiled when I saw them, enjoying their quiet seriousness................
One of the boys proudly showed off his catch..............
This section of the river is a very popular fishing spot with locals and many times people drive their vehicles down the boat ramp and park on the rocks alongside the river when it is low.
Which is fine as long as they pay attention to the sirens that blast when water is released from the dam.
The water comes very quickly and a river that was low can become very deep in only a few minutes.
A friend of mine told me of vehicles that have gotten caught in the surge and ended up floating freely in the river....................
Still enthusiastically involved in craw-dadding..................
When my youngest son was on leave from the military he and LC fished at this river.
Chris knew every single fishing hole within a 50 mile radius of the house (a wanderer like his mother) and fished along this shore many times while in high school and college.
On the day he went fishing with LC, Chris dragged my Mountain Boy 1/2 mile down the side of the river to fish in his most favorite and quiet fishing hole.....................
I haven't seen him skip rocks since we were in Juneau.
Only this time he is not the angry, trapped, barely contained man that he was while we were in Alaska.
We have both come a long way since that time.
I very clearly remember watching him in Juneau, knowing that he was angry about what I was facing each day and knowing that he felt helpless to do anything about it.
I in return felt helpless to change the way he was feeling.
Today we joked and smiled while he skipped rocks...............
Quintessential Tennessee river....................
This is long but is something I wrote about four years ago about a canoe trip with LC on this river that began in this very spot:

A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to do an all day canoe river paddle.
I picked a river not that far away from home (that I hadn't been on before), talked somebody into doing it with me, and we dropped off one of our trucks at the takeout the night before.
We had decided on a distance of 23 miles.
The put-in was at a dam and takeout was a canoe rental place downriver. While at the takeout dropping off one vehicle the night before, we asked the owner of the rental place (who charged us 10 bucks to just PARK OUR VEHICLE on his property) how long it took most people to do that distance.
I had heard from locals everything from 2 days to 15 hours.
I'm thinking "23 miles"? There's no way it's gonna take that long. Neither one of us had done the river before though, so who knew for sure?
Anyway, the guy said most people broke the trip into 2 days (they camped overnight along the shore), but the record in a canoe was 12 hours. Record? Hmmm......record......
That was it. If it was doable in 12 hours we decided we were going try and break the record.
We checked the weather report one last time before we headed out the next morning and it said 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms. 
We didn't like the odds, especially on the water.
But we were both psyched up to do it, and decided to head out and hope for the best weather wise.
Hit the water at 8:10am - 2 people, a cooler of food and drinks, a couple of rain jackets/headlamps/change of clothes in a dry bag, hand drawn Internet "maps" of the river and distances to various points of interest along the river (with mileages) in a map case, using 2 kayak paddles and a canoe.
When we headed out we couldn't see 50 feet in front of us because the fog was so dense. There was no way to pick lines in the water because we couldn't see them until we were right on top of them, so we bottomed out quite a few times in shallows, and ran into logs a few times in deeper water, but we just muddled ahead.
The water and scenery were awesome (why hadn't I done this river before??? Cause it's easier and quicker to just head to the lake I guess....).
We hit the 9 mile point at a bridge in 2 hours flat (to the minute), and the hand-drawn map seemed pretty accurate up to then.
The trip had been pretty and uneventful to that point, and the fog had burned off. The sky looked dark but not ominous, and I hoped that the clouds would burn off.
For real - there WAS a 50% chance of sun in the forecast (working the whole half-full/half empty theory to the max).
The next time-gauge we were using was a spot supposedly 5 miles further down river.
We climbed back into the boat after eating and drinking and continued on. About 1/2 hour into this second section we moved river left where the water looked deepest, ducked under tree branches (as we had done a bunch of times before, throughout that morning).
One end of my kayak paddle got caught in tree branches, which pulled it into an upright position, which also pinned the other end of the paddle to the bottom of the river and wedged it immobile.
The boat was still moving forward with the current but my paddle wasn't.
I just had enough time to yell to my friend in back "grab my paddle" when ANOTHER branch caught me under the arm (which had been yanked overhead when the first blade of my paddle got caught up in the tree).
So now the boat's still floating forward, the upright kayak paddle is almost behind me at this point, and my arm is tangled in another branch. Over we go. The boat is totally swamped.
We both hung onto our paddles, the dry bag was tied into the canoe, and surprisingly the cooler didn't spill drinks and food all over the river.
The water was chest deep and we hauled our soaking wet selves, our cooler, our boat and paddles over to shore and we bailed out enough water so that we could flip the boat over and drain the rest of the river water out of it.
My friend was cursing as only my friend can curse, because he thought we had just blown the record. 
I was laughing at the dumb-@ss happenstance that caused us to flip and the knowledge that with the speed we were travelling the record was still easily within reach.
A minor blip on the river.....
We headed out again.
We pulled off the river about 90 minutes later, wondering where the hell the spot we were looking for was, and wondering just how accurate this hand-drawn map was.
Even with swamping the boat, we were still making decent time. If the map was accurate we should have hit it by now.
We ate and drank, and started to load up again.
I got in first and while my friend was getting in the back the canoe slowly began to edge forward. I was trying to stop forward momentum, he was half in and half out of the canoe, and bam. Over we go. The canoe was half full of water, so we dragged the thing back to shore AGAIN, and emptied it out AGAIN.
About 30 minutes later we finally saw the point on the map we had been looking for.
There was no way we had only travelled 5 miles.
At that point we were a little disheartened, because with distances not being accurate on the map, we were beginning to wonder exactly how much further we had to go.
I should have Topo Mapped it (or at least had a look on the Internet), but had made the assumption that the hand-drawn map we picked up from the canoe rental website would be reasonably accurate.
We checked our watches and estimated time to one final "checkpoint" that looked to be 3 miles or so from the takeout.
A couple of hours later we still hadn't seen the bridge we were looking for.
We DID see huge trout and carp, a raccoon, a river snake, bunches of Canadian geese and herons, a few nice camping families, fishermen in the river and in boats, a bunch of drinking rednecks, kids swinging off a rope swing, and two TN Wildlife Resource Officers in our travels on the last third of the river though. Very cool.
We passed our estimated time to the bridge, and finally asked a couple of kayakers who were floating around drinking good drinks out a cooler built into the back of one of their boats, if they knew how far the canoe rental place was.
We got estimations of between 15 minutes and not more than an hour..........OK.
The entire river trip had been a series of deep fast moving water, deep non-moving water, and a bunch of very shallow areas where we bottomed out numerous times.
There were logs and downed trees all over the place that we had to maneuver around while picking lines to move forward.
Not long after we ran into the kayakers (and after we finally hit the elusive bridge) we picked a line river left, where it looked the deepest.
We ran close to the shore and I am not exactly sure what happened even now.
There was a downed tree on the surface, but also major limbs right under the surface.
Somehow with the current of the water, and the angle of our approach we hit the tree, and we flipped fast.
The water was deep and very fast moving, the current tried to pull my friend down into the strainer below the surface but he eventually found his footing, the boat was 3/4 upside down, I had my paddle.
The cooler (amazingly) was half hanging in the canoe but still shut tight (why there didn't end up being a bunch of bottles and cans of drinks floating their way downriver after swamping three times I'll never know), and we were both hanging onto the canoe.
Eventually my friends' paddle popped up to the surface and I made a grab for it, while still holding onto the boat.
I told my friend to take his paddle and the cooler to shore.  I, in the meantime, was hanging onto the thick limbs above the surface with one hand and the canoe with the other.
The current and the weight of the canoe moved me slowly along the limbs of the tree until eventually I could not touch bottom.
Alright, enough of this foolishness already..........
My friend made his way across the river again on foot.  
I consciously worked against the current to move the boat back up river 5 or 6 feet until I could touch bottom again, and we both worked the canoe still further upstream (still using the downed tree for leverage) another few feet until we were both on surer footing and the water was just below waist deep.
We dragged the boat to shore.   Again.
This time we were both cursing, and instead of bailing enough water out to be able to flip the boat upside down, we flipped it upside down while close to shore but still in the river and dragged is upside down to shore.
Hey! We were getting pretty good at this emptying-a-swamped-boat thing.
'Course, we had had a fair amount of practice at it by then.
We got everything back into the canoe, rounded a bend and the canoe rental takeout was right there. Damn! We pitched the freakin' canoe for the last time probably 300 yards from the takeout.
What a crazy fun day.
Fog, threatening thunderclouds, sun, wildlife, wild people, a river I underestimated, a fun paddling partner.
The skies opened up with crazy lightning and rain as we were driving back to pick up my truck, so we couldn't have timed it any better.
And we pulled off the water at 2:45pm.
It took us 6 1/2 hours.
And now we're both sore as hell from our successful attempt to claim useless bragging rights.
It was worth it....................

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