Hillsboro Pollen Ride


I’d been scheduled to attend an activity at Nashville yesterday that would’ve brought me into contact with a number of state legislators, but I called-up early yesterday to cancel my participation.  My hotel stay, parking, and two meals would’ve been paid for and my mileage reimbursed, but those staying overnight had to have roommates.  Mine would have suffocated me to put an end to the noise of my labored respiration, snorting, hawking, coughing, spitting.  Furthermore, I reckoned the elected officials didn’t deserve to have to shake hands with a guy who’s been wiping allergy snot on his suit-sleeve.  Since I already had the leave approved, I stayed home to take my car in for service.

My wife got to work on time, and I got our son ready for his day, then we walked over to the sitter’s house.  We jogged part of the way because it was pretty cool this morning and the movement helped warm him up.  Then, I went back to the house and called my independent Volvo garage to see if they could work Thursday in for service.

The tech gave me a time, and I decided I’d ride around Hillsboro instead of waiting around the yard while they worked on the car, which is what I normally do.  Let me explain my decision –

  1. It was a foregone conclusion that whatever I did yesterday, I was going to feel as if I had poison ivy inside my head and on my eyes
  2. Riding a bicycle in public is as close to invisibility as anyone gets because nobody really looks at a cyclist – they just notice the odd clothes he’s wearing, maybe whether he’s got a helmet on, and whether he’s slowing them down
  3. Or maybe they rate his appearance by thinking a) the guy’s wearing technical garb and riding a bike with curly handlebars – he’s probably a bicycle racer or something, or b) the guy’s dressed a little like a hobo – maybe he’s a dumb peckerwood who got his license revoked for DUI and has to ride a bike to his two-hour a day job picking up nails at a construction site
  4. Nobody will look at your face because nobody wants to make eye-contact with a drunk hobo who’s probably got a bag of nails he can huck at your car if he’s really not right in the head
  5. Thus, my eyes could leak streams of water in their attempt to flush out pollen, and likewise my nose snot, and nobody would be the wiser
  6. And, that was going to happen at home yesterday, anyway
  7. Or it would happen at the garage where I’d wind up sickening the guys who, like the politicians at Nashville, deserve a better quality of interaction and, unlike (a number of) the pols, have useful skills and do meaningful work that helps people
  8. So why not lean into the pollen-storm a bit and dare it to cusswording smite me

I made a snack, got a couple of water bottles and filled one with a five or six years old Gatorade powder mixed with water, the other with water, ate a banana, ate a sandwich, put snack and an Epi-Pen (in case the pollen-storm were to strike me down) in a small rack bag, put the bag, my helmet and gloves in the car, mounted my bike on a trunk-rack, and drove to the garage.    Jim Long Imports has an impressive collection of wrecked Volvo parts cars, and usually when I wait for the car, I’ll spend the time wandering around the property looking at stuff.

Today, after exchanging speech and reminiscences with another customer who is from the same city where I was born, I walked my bike out to the street and turned right on Howell Rd.  That took me to Winchester Hwy., where I turned left and proceeded to Calls Rd., where I turned right.  Calls Road must run parallel to a slough on Woods Reservoir, because I observed a house to my left that had to have been a house I have seen from the water two or three times before.  The wind was in my face on Calls Road.  At the four-way stop where it intersects with Wimble Road, I turned right, thinking that would get me back to Winchester Hwy.  On Wimbles Road, what is obviously a former schoolhouse now painted grey with green trim sits near the crossroads.  The well-kept building has double doors on either end and double doors in front; it is obviously somebody’s residence, now.  Further down the road, at a slight uphill curve, and aged beagle ran out barking and chased me, faster than I expected.


At Winchester Hwy. (where a sign seemed to indicate I’d been on Dean Shop Rd., as opposed to Wimble Rd.) I turned right and road past Howell Rd., past Calls Rd., on to Miller’s Crossing, where I turned right intending to pedal as far as Prairie Plains Rd., then turn back around.  Not too far down Miller’s Crossing, I was chased by an earnest mastiff-German-shepherd mix that I almost didn’t outrun.  When I finally did outrun him, I gave a whoop and complimented him on his speed.  It occurred to me that I’d have to come back past him on my way to get the car.

When I came to a bridge over an unknown stream that doubtless flows into the Elk and thence into Woods Reservoir, I stopped and took some pictures from both sides of the bridge and of the United States Geological Survey’s stream gauging station mounted on the bridge’s parapet, if parapet is the word I want.  I took a picture of my bike and when I looked at later, thought the bike appeared to’ve been lollygagging.  I misspelled “lollygagging” when I titled the image.  Here are those pictures – click on them to view larger versions:

Unknown-Stream Lolligagging Waterweeds USGS-Gauging-Station-1 USGS-Gauging-Station-2
Miller’s Crossing runs through scenic farmland.  If you turn right at the end, Prairie Plains Rd. will take you to a bridge over the Elk River under which is a rutted dirt parking area and dirt-ramp put-in I’ve used many times.


On my way back, I was prepared for the mastiff-shepherd mix – prayed up, geared down and pedaling fast up the hill where I’d encountered the dog earlier, but he didn’t appear.  On Miller’s Crossing past the intersection with Winchester Hwy., I noticed at my left the ruin of what must have been an imposing house set up on a gentle, grassy hill.


The property wasn’t posted, so I rode up the hill a ways and then got off and pushed the bike until I reached the porch.  I spent a few minutes walking around the exterior walls and through the exposed basement of the house.

Front-Porch Machu-Pichu
Back-Porch Side-of-House
Full-Basement Shed

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.’


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.


Roof Better Now & Island Paddling

Island maze is visible at far right - click for larger image

Island maze is visible at far right - click for larger image

I got out and cleaned the rain gutters yesterday morning. After the roof shingles dried, around 11:00, Don came over and fixed the roof. I was going to act as his helper, but got preoccupied degreasing Thursday’s motor, then trying to figure out why it quit running as I’d left it in neutral, hood-open to dry out the engine-compartment. By the time I climbed up the ladder, Don had pretty much got the chimney work done. Then I got hung up trying to figure out whether to pay off this house, list it, sell it, before buying another, or do those things without first paying off the mortgage. Trying to think through emergency funds, investments, Seventy-Six college funding. By that time, Don had completed the work and I wrote him a check. I felt bad leaving him to do that work alone when his goal had probably been, in part, to teach me how to do some of that stuff. Somehow, when I’m trying to manage things, I often manage to disappoint myself and others. Maybe just myself.

Car started again, probably some moisture in the distributor cap that dried off after awhile, because the plug sockets were bone-dry when I checked them, earlier.

Around three o’clock, I loaded the car with gear, and roof-racked Campsis Radicans, took a check out to my Hillsboro mechanic to pay for that replacement radio I got a month or two ago from a smashed 850 Turbo in his field of parts cars. Brian and I talked about parenting, Tommy educated me on the finer points of engine-compartment beautification, I looked at an ’01 Cross-Country and ’89 745 that still had both corner lights and something I’ve never before seen on any 700 series car – the towing-eye cover. Yes, I wanted to buy both cars. Heck, we need a wagon. My dream car has always been a Volvo wagon. Caution-Lady would love a wagon. We could trade or sell Whitecar (’93 940T)…

A fellow named Denny paddling upstream from Dabbs Ford to fish

A fellow named Denny paddling upstream from Dabbs Ford to fish

Yeah, so about an hour later I made it to the put-in below Prairie Plains Road Bridge at Dabbs Ford, and saw something I’ve never before seen on Woods Reservoir – another seakayaker. Guy in a truck with a 17′ Wilderness Systems Unknown-To-Me model kayak on the roof racks. We talked about paddles, the unlikelyhood of meeting another long-boater at Woods. He paddled upstream to fish, and I paddled downstream to challenge myself with the maze of islands down at that end of the lake.

Entering the maze of islands where the Elk flows into Woods Reservoir

Entering the maze of islands where the Elk flows into Woods Reservoir

I didn't know turtles were such good climbers

I didn't know turtles were such good climbers

Because I don’t often get on the water this late, I didn’t have any clear idea how much daylight remained to me. I paddled down the Elk, past the small refrigerator that serves as a channel-marker, its door open and empty. Keeping left, I paddled to a shallow place, got out, and inflated the hip pads I’d forgotten to inflate when I launched. Climbed back in and continued. I saw three bird-boxes on posts in backwater channels and along the shore. I saw a fist-sized turtle clinging to the branch of a fallen tree. I saw duck blinds. Heard two sonic booms occurred one quickly after the other; these sounded, if possible higher because their shockwaves were not very intense. I saw herons and three or four ducks.

These red leaves attracted my attention

These red leaves attracted my attention

On the water only an hour and forty-five minutes or so, I didn’t feel like I’d had much of a workout. I drove out Prairie Plains Road to Miller’s Crossing with the low mountains of Grundy County ahead and to my right.

Dabbs Ford to Bluebell Island, and Back Again

After paddling as far upstream on the Elk as I had the patience to paddle, I turned downstream, and below Dabbs Ford Bridge picked up this rider

After paddling as far upstream on the Elk as I had the patience to paddle, I turned downstream, and below Dabbs Ford Bridge picked up this rider

This morning, I was on the water by 7:20. I wasted some time poking around the shoreline just upstream from Prairie Plains Road Bridge, or, as I think it is more properly known, Dabbs Ford Bridge. Paddling backwards out of one narrow place, the rudder banged against a submerged log or stump, and would not straighten out. I flipped it up, still turned ninety degrees right. I paddled back to the put in, got out of the boat, got the rudder unjammed, then headed upstream again.

My ambitious goal was to reach I-24. Tommy Rogers, at the TSRA forum, said he didn’t think I’d make it even as far as the Tyson plant at Highway 50/64. Too many fallen trees blocking passage, too many shallow rocky places. He said he tried it last year, became frustrated, and turned back.

Tommy was right. I made it upstream to a point where I could hear, or thought I could hear, traffic from the highway. Getting that far, however, involved getting out of the boat in three or four places pulling it behind me like a child’s wagon, and in one place dragging it over fallen trees. I made less than 10 miles today, but it took about five hours, round trip. My photos are here.

On my way back downstream - working hard, not smart.

On my way back downstream - working hard, not smart.

A couple of times conditions had me wishing for an aluminum canoe, a can of gas, and a chainsaw.  I think I would’ve been more likely thus equipped to persist in my exploration.  Not too far from Dabbs Ford, I met a couple of guys with a cooler and fishing poles paddling toward me.  First time I’ve met other paddlers on the water anywhere on or around Woods Reservoir/Elk River making purposeful use of a boat.

I waded a lot, this trip, and was mindful of foot placement around driftwood and submerged logs afraid of losing a toe to a snapping turtle. The E68’s tough PVC hull did fine, and the keelstrips appeared no worse for the abuse at day’s end. When I returned to the put in, I checked my car’s clock (I’ve lost my watch), and it said 12:00.

Too early. I got back in the kayak and paddled downstream to the lake. On the way, I picked up a butterfly that rode with me until I took the boat from the water for the drive home. Car-clock said 1:00 as I drove back toward Miller’s Crossing on Prairie Plains Rd.

Dramatic bow of Campsis Radicans

Dramatic bow of Campsis Radicans