Elk River Upstream: Dabbs Ford Bridge to Rutledge (not Patterson) Ford Bridge

NOTE:  If you are offended by religious reflection, quit reading after you get the word “pretty” a few paragraphs down.  I offer no apology.  Not any thing that I can think of to write about is all about one thing and nothing else.  I’ve also included a little political commentary.  It would be a mistake to think of this space as primarily a paddling blog.

(4/25/11) Also, this is the second of these “NOTEs” in as many blog posts, which strikes me as annoying. 

Finally, after looking at a satellite image of Patterson Ford Bridge, I realized it could not have been the bridge up to which I paddled on Friday because the bridge at Patterson Ford is really two bridges for four-lanes of traffic, and the bridge I recall seeing was only a narrow concrete two-lane.  A closer look at Tennessee Landforms showed me a couple of things:  a) I paddled as far as Rutledge Falls Ford Bridge, only about 4.5 miles upstream from my put-in; b) I never did make it as far as Bluebell Island and so my two previous blog posts about paddling this section of the Elk River above Woods Reservoir contain mistakes of fact that I’ll have to get around to correcting.  Until I can get around to making those corrections (lack of time), this extended editorial note will have to do. 

Rutledge Ford Bridge

I’ll try to get a topo-map image of the bridge at Rutledge Ford (satellite image, instead, above).  In the mean time disregard the image of Patterson Ford Bridge below. 

I hadn’t paddled since November 2010 when a friend and I put in at Normandy Lake.  This year my free time has been occupied in parenting, yardwork, and school work.  I’ve spent weekends plug-aerating, liming, fertilizing, hoeing, seeding, mowing, as well as playing outside with my son.  I have been strength training again, mostly pushups, chin-ups, pull-ups, dips using an Iron Gym I got  for Christmas, as well as dumbbells for biceps (shoulder’s still a bit weak for overhead shoulder and triceps work), and medicine ball for abs.  Also a lot of walking.

Thursday evening I sorted out my paddling gear and got it ready for Friday morning.  I wasn’t able to find my blue hat or my small yellow drybag with spare car-key, but everything else I got ready.  I even had a lunch handy because Thursday afternoon I’d had lunch with a friend from work, so I was able to repurpose my sandwich and generic fig-newton cookies.  Friday morning I got up early and dressed for paddling, sprayed down with Deep Woods Off, loaded the gear bag in the trunk, Campsis Radicans on Thursday’s roof, and forgetting my camera and wallet, took off.  My put in was the bridge where Prairie Plains Road crosses the Elk River above or upstream the confusing maze of islands that end of Woods Reservoir – Dabbs Ford Bridge, according to the topo map easily accessed at the Tennessee Landforms website (name not shown below, but near top-left of that image).

Starting Point

The road is roughly paved leading down to the put-in, but I was able to keep the 850 from bottoming-out carefully avoiding some ruts and potholes.  A gold 1990s model Nissan Sentra sedan was already parked below, but no other vehicles.  I nodded and waved at the thin-faced man who was smoking a cigarette behind the car’s wheel, pulled up to the packed-dirt ramp and unloaded boat and gear.  As I backed my car out of the way and parked it, the man in the Sentra drove off.  I figured he’d been up to no good.

It took me a couple of minutes to get the rudder rigged because I’d forgotten how I’d left things back in November.  Inflated bow and stern floatation, put my keys and cell-phone in my larger emergency drybag (stuff in there like towel, light anorak, extra gatorade-type drinks, etc.) in the stern, sealed the stern, arranged junk on the decks making the boat look like something paddled by a hobo, and got into the water.  Cold, surprisingly cold with a perceptible current right away there below the bridge.  Usually don’t encounter a current until much further upstream.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately, but I don’t think we get snow melt – our so-called mountains around here are hardly Alpine. 

I was happy about the current but annoyed because I’d forgotten my camera.  The current made me happy because I knew it would make for a good workout, and I thought with that much water flowing, the water level would be higher and I might get farther upstream without having having to get out and tow the kayak through shallows.  A couple of years ago, I paddled this stretch and had to drag the kayak over deadfallen trees blocking the river.  I had no real idea what to expect this time.

While paddling, I thought about fitness, and that one of the best reasons for maintaining fitness is so that I can do things few other people do and have experiences few other people have.  I thought about the President of the United States of America and that he is incapable of doing the things that I can do, although I could probably manage the work of presiding over this nation’s executive branch tolerably well.  I thought about that film, Chariots of Fire, and thought that my Creator may be indifferent to my aquatic activities.  But as I had that thought I heard the wind moving through a hundred treetops like the voice of God declaring that not even the thought of a man on a boat in a largely unknown river in Middle Tennessee goes unnoticed by him even though he doubtless has other interests.

As it happened, the river was clear as far as I was able to paddle.  The current was constant and swift enough in places that I was happy I’d read books by canoe guys explaining hydraulics (I think is the word) and why it’s better to paddle upstream in zig-zag patter and how to use eddies to make better progress and to rest.  A lot of people think of longer kayaks with no rocker as useless for paddling rivers, but I think they are mistaken.  My Pouch E-68 is 16.5’ in length and did just fine.  I wouldn’t have made much progress at all in a stubby rec-boat or the average, short wooden-shoe-looking kayak designed for river or creek paddling.  In places the current was not too strong at all, and in others I had great difficulty making headway.  By the time I reached Patterson Ford Bridge, I was tired.  The river there was narrow and water moving very quickly downstream had a gnarled, ropey-looking uneven surface.  Possibly what is meant by ‘swiftwater.’

Turnaround

I wished I’d had a laundry marking pen or a can of spray-paint to make my mark upon one of the generally unseen concrete pylons that support the bridge as a means of proving that I’d reached that point in my journey.  This because I’d forgotten the camera.  I settled instead for picking a sprig of purplish wildflowers growing on a muddy bank near where I’d dragged Campsis Radicans out of the water.  They were a bit wilted by the time I gave them to my wife, but still pretty.

Paddling back downstream was easy until God sent pollen from those hundred trees and a thousand others to humble me.  Still, I was grateful for a hyperactive immune system and the fact that germs, pollen, and sundry bits of crud don’t stand a chance against the biology with which God endowed me.  Clearly, I have failed to learn the lessons of humility.  Paddling a wood-framed kayak with wooden paddle at cross-ways is the most Christlike I will ever be, but in my pride and the pleasure I took and generally take in the roughly cruciform activity, I fall far short in Good Friday remembrance. 

Michael Willis on Facebook today (Saturday) wrote that today we commemorate probably the most frightening and disorienting day in history – the day after the Christ suffered unparalleled humiliation and total failure achieve this-worldly aim of restoring the nation of Israel to rule by YHWH through judges and to change the governance of the inhabited world by instituting the governance of God in Israel and through Israel the nations.  Sunday will be here before you know it; the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ changed the world and instituted the governance of God in ways that continue to defy the expectations of his elect.

Sprig

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