Last weekend, my good friend Eric drove out to Stepford from his home in North Carolina to visit with us. He’s my son’s godfather and I’ve known him since we were at seminary in the Nineties. You may recall that we last saw each other at Ashville, North Carolina, in January of this year when we exchanged gear – Pouch E68 and Razesa road bike. The plan was to paddle at least one day during Eric’s visit, possibly two.
We got a late start Saturday. If you’ve never tried to accomplish a task with an interested and active young child around, you won’t understand why it took so long to get the kayak assembled. I hadn’t done anything with the RZ96 since patching the hole in the bottom it sustained during a short Duck River paddle from Henry Horton State Park a couple of years ago. Hole repaired, I carefully packed the boat away and stored it in the better of my two sheds. I was interested to inspect the repair and hoped the patch hadn’t pulled loose during storage (although I very carefully followed the patching instructions). When I opened the bags, I inhaled the smell of varnish from the boat’s frame, a restorative reminding me that I a waterman.
Water’s low at Tims Ford and Normandy, but Woods Reservoir is always full. The bridge at Prairie Plains Road is a long drive, but worth it to paddle upstream the Elk River from what is, essentially, the top of Woods Reservoir (the bottom being, of course, down by the dam if you mentally reckon things the way I do). When we drove down the rutted hillside road to the dirt parking area, I saw only a couple of pickup trucks backed in by the trees on the right, and noticed that someone, possibly the county sheriff’s department, has placed what purport to be surveillance cameras on a phone-pole, also on the right side as you drive in. I backed Thursday up to the ramp and we took the Great Blue Heron off its racks. Got the gear out and in the boat, and rigged the rudder.
As we were doing that, what might have been a family group consisting of one adult male, two adult females, and several children pulled in to the parking area in a small pickup truck. One of the kids had a great mohawk. I’m too old, now, for a mohawk, but I’d like to get my hair cut like that maybe once more in my lifetime. The people from the pickup truck moved off to fish from under the bridge, over to the left.
The last time Eric and I paddled the RZ96 was around Thanksgiving maybe five years ago Normandy Lake. We’d put in at Barton Springs boat ramp and paddled around Negro Hill and straight on up the branch beside the mouth of which, in high water, is a small island. I remember we paddled against a headwind and cooked a camp lunch on the rocks partway up before continuing as far up as water level permitted. On the way back down we umbrella-sailed using my old green and white Roundup golf-umbrella. I recall the November hillsides looked tiger-striped with shadows and orange fall leaves still clinging to the wooded slopes.
Here’s a picture of Eric about to take a picture of me taking a picture of him at the put-in – neither snapshot showed our best likenesses:
Last Saturday at the Elk River put in, however, it was hot and windless, the foliage full and green, the water likewise a murky green common to the lakes in this part of Tennessee. We paddled upstream, past the group fishing on our left. I wondered whether I’d remember how to paddle a kayak, but it was not a problem. I used my $100.00 Eric Renshaw Greenland paddle, and Eric used a 230 centimeter Werner Skagit. A few years ago, I intended to install backbands to replace the Stasi torture devices Pouch included as backrests. I wish I’d got that done. Still, as long as I remembered to take responsibility for my own posture and correct for my peculiar leaning bias (I wonder whether the same portions of my brain failed to develop properly that, when damaged in some people who have strokes, produces Pusher Syndrome or its mirror-image), I was able to paddle without too much pain for most of the journey.
After awhile, we came upon two couples in separate row-boat style craft lazily paddling. I don’t normally snap photos of people I meet while exploring because I don’t like to be photographed, myself. Eric had no such scruple and took a picture, but much in the way of detail is obscured by distance.
For about an hour we paddled upstream. At one point, the water was shallow, but deep enough for us to pass over the rocky and weedy bottom. I’ve noticed this on other trips, that the water of the Elk appears a milky blue in color maybe a mile up from the bridge at Prairie Plains Road.
We continued until our backs were sore past the point where we discerned the river’s current and decided to turn back around and head downstream. Then we kept paddling upstream to see if there was a place just around that bend and then the next bend to get out and stretch. Finally, our progress was completely impeded by fallen tree across the river too low across the water’s surface for us to get the kayak under. Actually, looking at that picture at left, it appears we might have been able to get the boat under the tree there at the right bank. Truth is, we didn’t notice, and it may’ve been too shallow there.
On the way back, having found no convenient place to get out of the boat to stretch my back, I raised and secured the rudder, then sat on the seatback swiveled to receive my overlarge buttocks. I experienced great relief at the lower back and paddled thus for awhile. Along the way, we saw some pinkish-purple wildflower in bloom. We saw a great deal of driftwood. We saw an otter swimming and I noted its peculiar pointed ears, like those of a cat, but smaller and wider set. We saw one or two great blue herons in flight. Eric saw a couple of turtles, but I saw none. I saw no fish except minnows at the put in swarming about in the bathwater warm shallow.
I don’t like being photographed, but have been working on a fake smile for those occasions when the ordeal is unavoidable. Eric shot this one over his shoulder, without looking. It is less self-aggrandizing than the one wherein while paddling I assumed a heroic three-quarter sort of profile while pretending not to notice the camera.
Back at the put in, we witnessed a young couple that’d been drinking something with alcohol in it jump off the bridge into the green water. They swam back and waded ashore, the woman saying she’d touched the bottom and the man saying he’d managed not to. By the time Eric and I got back to the house, my wife had prepared a dish of kale and Italian sausage along with a dessert made with almond-flavored cream, blueberries and mandarin oranges.
LATER: Here’re a couple of pictures of Eric that are better than the two above. I took them the day after we paddled the Elk River – a week ago last Sunday: