Morris Ferry Dock to Elk River’s Bluebell Island, and Back Again

And back again…

At one point, I found myself paddling almost due south on the Elk River

At one point, I found myself paddling almost due south on the Elk River

Conservative estimate 22 mile round trip. Probably only about 20 miles…Tiring, but not difficult. Because I missed my turn to Prairie Plains Road and realized my mistake at a point where Winchester Highway (upon which I was driving) wasn’t far from the causeway across Woods reservoir near the VFW hall, I figured I’d just drive on and put in at Morris Ferry Dock. Heck, I found my way through those islands at the Elk River end of Woods last year. No problem. Of course I’d remember the way through this time. Sure.

I shot a lot of pictures, and those worth keeping, for reasons documentary, are here. I have a little more to write, and will get it done in due time. The more I think about it, the more I think I didn’t make it quite as far as Bluebell Island. I know I passed the crescent-shaped creek branch that enters the river, seen about middle of the map, below. Probably the dock and ladder I reached and paddled about a hundred feet beyond is located due south of that last “L” in Sherrill Cemetery. The road that crosses the river near the map’s bottom right corner is Highway 64.

The woman in the golf-cart at Morris Ferry let me launch my kayak from the ramp without paying the $3.00 fee. I was on the water by about 10 ’till eight, and set off down the middle of the lake toward the islands. No interest in exploring the shoreline I’ve already poked around in several times. I had a long way to go.

Paddled from about one edge of the map to the other, and back again

Paddled from about one edge of the map to the other, and back again

My impression of the new hullskin on the frame of Campsis Radicans is that sponson placement and the fact that they’re tabbed into position with sewn and glued PVC semi-circles results in a slightly more steeply pitched deck. Also, when fully inflated, the sponsons make a wavy line of the hull’s sides. Dunno whether that latter glitch or feature affects performance or not. Because the water’s surface was mirror flat, the air windless, and I was fresh, I paddled as hard as I could for a little while. Bow waves rippled their note as I sped roughly northeast. Then I slowed, but kept a steady pace until I found myself at the first of many islands.

Foliage is greener this time of year, and the water seems higher than it appears in this picture.

Foliage is greener this time of year, and the water seems higher than it appears in this picture.

I spent about an hour completely turned around in those shallow water islands. Probably two of the miles paddled were spent looking for the main channel of the Elk. Deck compass was helpful, as I knew I’d need find an easterly course to find the the Elk. One of the things that confused me was the varying water temperature. Whenever I detected rippling, or felt the water radiating a coolness up through the hullskin, I imagined I’d come to the river. Actually, I think there are several springs in those now-flooded low hills, and the cold water I intermittently noticed was evidence of their presence below my keel.

My first mistake was in paddling along the left side of the first island. I should paddled to its right, and may have better recognized the pathway between the low islands, shallow, shallow water, and fallen trees.

Maybe an hour, but I’m not sure how much time I wasted (because I lost my 1992 Eddie Bauer waterproof watch at a put-in, somewhere in Tennessee) searching for the Elk. Must’ve seen the same styrofoam bait cup pushed up under leafy branches a couple of times. Thought, “I’ve seen that before. Just like some fool lost, in a movie.” Saw a dome tent hidden in the trees on one of the islands.

I saw a white bird wading. I saw dead wood covered in spiders’ webs. I saw a man smoking a cigarette while fishing from a bank, and asked directions. “It’s that way, I think,” he said, pointing the way I was already heading. I saw square metal box – a piece of junk that had been in the same place last year, and I remembered it marked the Elk River’s entry to Woods Reservoir. This time, the metal box looked shut, and had a piece of duct-tape on it. Last year, its door hung ajar.

At that point, looking up and sort of to my right, I saw the AEDC police boat further upstream. I paddled toward them, trying to point my bow out of their way, but the boat’s occupants evidently wished to exchange speech, motoring slowly toward me. They veered off a little and idled. I’d spoken to Troy Jernigan and another officer in the colder weather after umbrella sailing near Little Elder Island. I didn’t recognize either of the men in the boat this time. We greeted each other and went our different ways.

Upon reaching the bridge at Prairie Plains Road, my originally intended destination, I saw a family of plus sized people apparently breaking camp. Three women stood around the trunk of a green Camry or Avalon using cusswords. An older female child, possibly a teenager, sat sullen-looking in a lawn chair near the bank. A man removed the rain-fly from a blue and white dome-tent. I think the police in the boat had just told them to pack up their camp and move along.

In need of a stretch and a snack, I got out at the other side of the rudimentary boatramp. A shiny yellow small motorboat on a trailer was parked near where I stood and stretched. My way-past-expiration-date Power Bar had become melty in its colorful mint-green and purple foil wrapper. I rinsed it and my hands in the river water after I’d eaten the mint chocolate and crunchy stuff, then neatly folded the foil and put it back in my lunch bag. I stowed it near the bow hatch. The sullen-looking girl and the tent-man watched me like I was doing something extraordinary.

Last year, somewhat later in the season, when I paddled this part of the Elk, the river’s water was a sort of milky green in color, and felt cooler than it did last weekend. A large number of fallen trees and miscellaneous deadwood has stayed where it’s drifted, and looks like it would make passage difficult for most boats larger than human powered craft. In places the water’s too shallow, I’d guess, for even those 12 – 14 foot aluminum boats budget fishermen sometimes use.

Throughout the day, I observed at many points along the lake’s shore, among the trees on the islands, and along the riverbanks purplish-pink as well as orange plastic streamers tied to tree-limbs. I’m not sure if those were put in place by fishermen marking the many places where static lines were hung in hopes of catching fish in absentia. More likely, by Wildlife Resource Management Agency personnel to mark boundaries meaningful to people who rely, as I should have relied, upon maps.

A couple of places, I got out to stretch. I felt hungry, but ate nothing. I drank water only after I felt dryness in my mouth. Always trying to conserve something for the trip back.

My right elbow began to hurt. Tendonitis I haven’t felt on the water in over a year, since switching to the Eric Renshaw Greenland paddle I bought from his Ebay store for under a hundred bucks. Feeling pain, I concentrated on better form making exaggerated use of torso/abdominal crunch technique, and pushing off more with my feet. Found some relief. Found that if I moved my hands closer to my knees than to my waist, while paddling, and maintaining blade cant, torso-rotation, and low-angle blade-entry, I felt none of the tendonitis. So, that was the problem. I’ve developed a habit of holding the paddle too close to my waist, putting the blades in the water aft of my knees.

I paddled to a strange looking creek branch, on my right, that had a high, curling bank on the right curving around left and out of sight. The left bank lay like a gently sloping, low mound of mud, dirt, trees, fallen leaves. I paddled past it, then backed up and paddled into it looking for a place to get out and stretch. It was blocked further back by a couple of small, fallen trees. The sound of insects buzzing furiously informed me this was not the place to get out of the boat. Paddled backwards out, zig-zagging around other trees and branches in the water.

Farther upstream, I saw on the high bank to my left what appeared to be a lofted pole-barn without sides. Maybe a church’s picnic structure, then to a sturdy-looking dock and ladder with a flimsier-looking floating platform attached. I debated getting out there, but don’t much like to trespass. Across from the dock to my right someone had tied a long, thick, and at-the-bottom-frayed yellow rope to an overhanging limb. I paddled upstream a little more, and the water got pretty shallow among a greater number of fallen trees than seemed usual for the river. Beyond the trees, I turned around and headed back after getting out in a shallow place for a final stretch before reaching the bridge at Prairie Plains Road.

I paddled faster on the way back, taking fewer pictures. When I reached Mud Creek, I stopped and paddled closer to its mouth. It’s one of those oddities – a straight line in nature, and I could see a long way up, but could also see it was more or less impassable due to overhanging and fallen limbs. Near the mouth I saw a deciduous tree that produced what I thought at first were berries like raspberries, but seen closer appeared to be tiny pine-cones. Another oddity. I snapped a picture and moved on.

I stopped for lunch at the Prairie Plains Road bridge (I don’t recall the bridge’s real name, although I’ve seen it on a map). I “Hellooooed” the fishermen on the bank, asking whether they’d mind if I pulled in long enough to eat a sandwich. They welcomed me, and I paddled in, apologizing for interfering with their fishing. About halfway through my meal eaten standing up, I asked the older of the two men, a guy about my own age, “You guys catching anything?”

“No, not really,” the man replied, “Just playing with the bluegill, it seems.” He told me it was two o’clock. The campers I’d seen earlier were gone. I told the fishermen good luck, and got in my kayak, paddled on.

Finding my way out into the lake was pretty easy. I made the mistake of paddling to the outside of that one big island. I would have been out of the wind if I’d paddled with the island to my right. NOAA had predicted five mile per hour winds from the south, southwest. My experience is that winds are stronger on lakes than NOAA’s vicinity prediction. Fetch.

The shorter ramp at Morris Ferry Landing before setting out Saturday morning

The shorter ramp at Morris Ferry Landing before setting out Saturday morning

The last couple of miles were the worst. I was pretty tired, my elbow hurt again by the time I got to the short asphalt ramp at Morris Ferry Dock. A couple of women with little red-headed boys were fishing. The boys came up and wanted to look at the kayak. Their mother tried to tell them to leave me and the boat alone. The kids just wanted to look, I talked to them about their fishing.

Better than a sports drink

Better than a sports drink

My elbow hurt in the car all the way home. But when I got there, and disposed of the kayak and gear, I found that my wife had supper ready, and had made a pie with apples from my cousin Maxine’s tree. Glucosamine and Ibuprofin, an early bed, helped my recovery.

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6 thoughts on “Morris Ferry Dock to Elk River’s Bluebell Island, and Back Again

  1. It took some research to know what a bluegill is, but now I think that probably the bluegill were playing with the fishermen.

  2. While I was standing there eating my lunch, the guy caught two smaller than hand-sized fish.

    “Is that a bluegill?” I asked.

    “It’s a perch,” he said, “but it’s considered a bluegill.”

    Farther upstream I saw three or four large carp (not supposed to be very good eating), and a fair number of other, smaller fish I couldn’t identify.

  3. This is a good time to visit. Weak dollar, hot summer sun, green Tennessee lakes. Caution-Lady made some kind of raspberry pie Sunday, and is planning to pick up some blueberries tomorrow. Join me as I return to the Elk River this Saturday to see if I can paddle as far as Highway 41.

  4. In Late April, I again attempted to paddle as far as possible up the Elk from Dabbs Ford Bridge above Woods Reservoir and made it as far as Rutledge Ford Bridge. According to my reading of the topo maps available at the Tennessee Landforms website, I never did make it as far as BlueBell Islsand. Most recently, I made it as far as Rutledge Ford Bridge: https://christov10.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/elk-river-upstream-dabbs-ford-bridge-to-patterson-ford-bridge/

    So although it is a little galling to have to go back and revise my estimates of distances paddled, telling the truth is more important and useful generally than pretending a mistake of fact.

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