35th TSRA Duck River Float

Yesterday’s TSRA Duck River Guest Float was a pleasant trip, met some new people, said “hello” to a couple I’ve met before. The group assembled at the Henry Horton State Park restaurant’s parking lot. I got there early because I wasn’t sure how fast I could safely drive with Campsis Radicans on the Volvo’s roof racks. Turns out I can drive about 65 to 70 miles per hour without mishap, but tended to motor along at about 60 mph, 50 on the narrower roads.

I wasn’t the first to arrive. When I pulled up a woman with a European accent named, I think, Christine, was inflating and rigging a white tandem boat for herself and her daughter, a child of about nine whose name I never did hear. Don and Jeffrey from Paddlers for Christ showed up with four short kayaks on top of a white Dodge Caravan pulling a trailer. A couple from LaVergne pulled up next – Alison and Ken (apologies if I’ve got the names wrong – I have read Dale Carnegie’s book but have yet to get good at remembering names) with a couple of Old Town boats green and blue, all shiny and comfortable looking. Pointing to the green boat, Ken said, “That’s my Cadillac.” Jim and his wife, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, showed up about then. I don’t recall Lynn showing up until right around 10:00 am. A couple in advanced middle-age brought their 15′ river canoe with end and middle float bags, spare paddles, reinforced with additional thwarts – a serious boat. Others brought sit-on-tops rented or owned. The state park rangers provided paddles, pfds, and about six ancient canoes that’d seen some hard use. Nat, a seasonal interpretive specialist, and another ranger whose name I didn’t catch, accompanied the group.

Frank Fly set up a small camp table he unrolled from a bag – I watched with interest thinking it looked like more trouble than it was worth to get a relatively hard surface, but probably more necessary for writing than for general camp use. Frank registered everyone, waivers were likewise distributed and signed.

That done, the group proceeded to the put in at, I think it was, Hardison Mill dam. I was proud my Volvo 850 had no trouble getting back up the rutted, dusty gravel and dirt road from the put in to the parking area. What a car. Once all the boats were ready to launch, Mr. Fly outlined the rules and we all launched and paddled up to have a look at the mill. The rules were something like:

1. Don’t get out of sight of the other boats

2. We’re not in a big hurry here, so don’t get impatient and race to the take-out

3. If your boat flips, save yourself and let someone else worry about getting your gear

4. PFDs are mandatory

5. We will take a lunch break of at least one hour – if you eat fast, you’ll just have to entertain yourself until the hour’s up and we’re all ready to go

6. Only two to a boat

I took too many pictures (and they can be found here), but like others hope that if I shoot a lot, at least a few will be worth keeping. I heard folks talking about Jimmy Carter’s attack rabbit, mussels, global warming and snow-sledding in Middle Tennessee. Sharon talked about being on the lake at Camp Buckner and some cadets screaming and paddling as fast as they could to get away from a snake that followed too quickly and close.

Christine’s daughter used a brightly colored parasol to keep off the sun. I didn’t get a good picture, but it was a quaint sight. We stopped while some of the group jumped off a tree-swing into the river, then just a little while later, for lunch on the cool, mossy banks of a nearly straight spring-fed creek. Paddling into the creek I felt cold rising heavy off its rushing surface. Temperature along the banks felt like 75 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the fellows, I think his name was Mark, brought his maybe 10 year old son along. The boy spied a small water-snake in the creek’s very cold water. It had diamond markings, but a blunt shaped head, so maybe was not poisonous.

I got well ahead of the main group of paddlers with some others. A lot of folks were on the river, many in the red River Rats canoes, a number of others in their own boats. Saw a couple of anglers in small motorized boats.

Past the River Rats take-out, the group I was more or less with stopped at gently sloping bank, swam, skimmed stones, and waited for the others. Nat, the UT guy working the summer as an park interpretive specialist (maybe another job titled, but something like that) found and showed us a plant called Dutchman’s Pipe. All day I’d been seeing these little gray-blue moths or butterflies. One lit on my left hand between the knuckles of my fore and middle fingers. I was able to get a couple of pictures.

After what seemed like a long time, some of the others paddled into sight. Mr. Fly gently chided us for missing out on an interesting hole of uncertain depth. Paddling on, we came into sight of the bridge at the take-out beyond which lies the remains of a low-head dam and a class maybe 2 but probably 1 rapids or drop or whatever the people who know call them. Locals were jumping into the river from a much more elaborate tree-swing consisting of one line to haul to up the other line that is the swing. The swing terminated in a chrome set of moto-cross bicycle handlebars. As I paddled into view, a kid in his teens was air-borne, and executed a flip before hitting the water.

Rangers were waiting for us at the take-out under the bridge. Some of us ran the rapids. I paddled up to them, but turned away thinking that would add to the distance I’d have to haul my boat up the hill to the parking area. Don asked if I’d use his camera to shoot some photos, and I did. His camera’s memory card must’ve been nearly full because its LCD display flashed a no-more-pictures message. I took a few with my own aged Pentax Optio WR 3.2. Shutter’s so slow I didn’t know what I’d capture. Got a few pictures.

We loaded into a van driven by Randy, head ranger at Henry Horton State Park, and were taken back to the put-in to retrieve our cars. Alison and I talked about our babies on the ride. She and Ken have a little one, five months old, named Rose. We talked about baby life-jackets, parenthood, baby bug-spray and sunscreen.

I had no idea how to get back to the take-out. Fortunately, I’d gotten to my car quickly and was able to follow Mr. Fly, who fairly flew (45 mph felt fast on these roads), down a different route of unfamiliar, narrow roads back. Once again, Thursday the 850 acquitted itself well, easily negotiated the rough dirt track down under the bridge. Only thing about this trip that struck me as problematic was lack of organized return to the take-out. Two of our number, Alison and Lynn, got lost – I was able to see Frank turn right, but Alison, who was behind me, went straight. Both of them eventually got back to where Ken was waiting by the boats.

Editing when I find the time – If I’ve got names mixed up, sorry and feel free to comment