Flint River Splash For Trash!

Bill Found Some Trash

Bill Found Some Trash

I got back in the kayak this past weekend, but if you’ll read my Week From Hell post, you’ll see why this one is late.  The Splash for Trash was really a fun event, one worthy of a write up.  So it may be late, but here it goes.

I convinced my buddy Bill into going along with me for this altruistic excuse to paddle down my favorite river.  I don’t really need an excuse, but I had one this time and it was a good one.  The Splash for Trash is an event where a bunch of boats float down the river and collect trash they find along the way.

Bill was a trooper, and went down the river in my Old Town Guide 147 canoe without me.  A youngster named Josh joined him and they made quite the hall.  I took my yak, a Old Town Voyage 10XT, and didn’t collect as much as help out those who had bigger boats in which to toss stuff.  Which was fine by me, since I didn’t want too much junk in my boat.  Bill and Josh got lots of trash in their boat, and eveyone found a bunch of tires.  Tires in the river pisses me off.  There is no excuse for it.  Cans and bottles might be an oversight, or perhaps lazyness.  Some things, like the deck chair we found, might have washed into the river due to recent floods.  But tires?  No, that was a deliberate attempt to pollute.

Our Guide From NACK

Our Guide From NACK

We started at highway 72 and floated down to Little Cove Road.  I personally find this stretch of the river my favorite.  You start on a rocky bottom portion of the river, float past 300 foot cliffs and end at the muddy plains.  About mid way through is a cave that is fun to explore.  This time around we had a guide from North Alabama Canoe and Kayak, and I wish I remembered his name.  He was awesome and he knew that cave point better than most.  He showed me a hole in the ground that he’s put kayak’s down and explored an underground lake.  Of course, now I so want to do that as well.

But we did get to climb up into the cave, which was cool.  I’d been to the cave before, but never gone very far into it.  This time we did explore it deeper, and I’m glad for that.  It turns out that the cave is really a switchback, and you climb into it a bit, and just before it gets too dark it flips back and you climb out on top of the entrance.  We didn’t find much trash in it, but we did find a good time with some good people.  Following are a bunch of pictures from the cave exploration.  And we all swear we were looking for trash.  Really.

The tail-enders explore the cave

The tail-enders explore the cave

Bill on top of the cave

Bill on top of the cave

Me, at a cave

Me, at a cave

From the cave, the river goes on down into the plains and there is a high tension power line that crosses at a series of sharp bends.  I call it Three Wire Pass.  The river actually goes under the straight wires three times, and the water flows fairly quickly.  I got there first, and found my way into an eddy so I could turn around and take pictures as these canoes full of trash and tires tried to make the turns.  Okay, so I was hoping someone would lose it and I’d get pictures of them spilling all their trash into the river.  Sue me.  But it didn’t happen.  At least not there.

Bill and Josh shoot Three Wire Pass

Bill and Josh shoot Three Wire Pass

A little while later, just after Three Wire Pass, the river runs shallow and fast through a wooded area.  Normally there are two ways around this section, but not on this day.  The western most section was dry, and the eastern most section had a tree down.  That three caught one boat, but I wasn’t there to get the picture.  I did get pictures of other boats attempting to pass under the tree.  It was fun to watch.

The fallen tree that tossed trash back into the river.

The fallen tree that tossed trash back into the river.

I had absolutely no trouble passing under the tree in my kayak.  I just glided right under, unlike the other boats that struggled through the pass.  So I found it enjoyable.  Except for the older couple that showed up as we were unloading boats to pass under the tree.  I helped them get under the tree, and they ended up passing us heavy loaded junk canoes.

I also, for the first time, found it difficult to keep up in the kayak.  As the canoe’s got heavier, and they were all longer, they moved faster and faster in the water.  Me, staying light and short I suddenly had trouble keeping up.  Plus I was going back and forth from the front of the group to the back of the group.  So I pretty much paddled the river twice.  I was tired, but good tired, by the end of the trip.  It was a most enjoyable day on the water!

Picking Up Trash on the River

Picking Up Trash on the River

More Eyewitnesses Including My Own!

I’ve finally seen a North Alabama Gator!

Unfortunately not in the wild.  But nevertheless, here is PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF of a North Alabama Gator!

Finally, a North Alabama Gator

Finally, a North Alabama Gator

On Labor Day I took the family to a local safari park… you know the kind, where you drive through and look at free range animals in their, well not NATIVE environment but at least free range.  The exception to the free range rule was the Alligators.  As the only predators in the park, the gators were all kept behind fences and away from the other animals.

The picture above is one I snapped as we drove past.  This particular gator is, I guess, about 6 feet.  Nice and fat and I’m sure does just fine during the winter months. (In fact, I know he does since I asked.  They only collect the smaller gators and their one caiman.  And they had one very small crocodile as well.  But they don’t do anything special with the big gators to keep them healthy over the winter.  Once it gets cold, they stop feeding them, and when the weather warms up and the gators get active they return to feeding.

Better yet, they’ve successful BRED these gators.  They had a two year old in a tank inside the “Planet Reptile” exhibit.  This wonderful park is Harmony Park, and it is my new favorite family fun place in North Alabama.  For $6 a person, you get up close and personal with LOTS of animals.  And I do mean close!

An Emu sticks its head in the car

An Emu sticks its head in the car

So I highly recommend that you take your kids, your date, or whatever to the park.  Click on the link for directions and hours, but the park is closed November to March.

My daughter finds someone slower but not uglier than her father!

My daughter finds someone slower but not uglier than her father!

But I also got another comment about seeing a gator in the wild here in North Alabama.  This one really excites me because its late in the season AND in an area I know.  Here’s the comment form Charlotte.

Just last night around 9pm, we were at the boat launch on Sharp Ford Road in Morgan County and spotted a 5 foot alligator. It was under the bridge appearing to be trying to hide until we shined the light on it. We then watched it as it swam around like we were not even there with the light shining directly on it. There are here. We were considering gigging some frogs but that quickly changed our minds.

– Charolette, September 7th, 2009

Now I know where the boat launch on Sharp Ford Road is.  Clearly they were there at night, which I’ve been told is the easiest time to find a gator because their eyes reflect light so well.  So I continue to get eyewitness reports of gators here in North Alabama.  Here is a map of where the boat ramp is.  It’s the bright white square just north of the road and east of the water.   I’ve actually put the boat in close to there.

So I’m still not sure if I’ll ever see a wild North Alabama Gator, and with my current run in a play, my weekends are sorta full. till the end of September.  So it is unlikely that I’ll make it this season unless September remains unseasonably warm.  But gator hunting 2010 sure looks promising.  And I’ll leave you with some more photos of gators from Harmony Park.

A "little" gator

A "little" gator

There are two gators in there, hard to see in the picture.

There are two gators in there, hard to see in the picture.

More Eyewitnesses and a little help!

So I posted this YouTube video from my first trip in my new kayak this summer.  I got an interesting comment on it today:

dude i fish out there all the time you look like you are out at arrowhead. I see tons of gators back there you just arent in the right spot. the second week in April is the best time to find them they are out in the open getting there first meals. Cool to watch.

guitarshredder849 via YouTube

Besides checking out his shred video on YouTube, it seems he spins a rod as well as shredding guitars.  So he’s given me a place and a time to look for the elusive North Alabama Gator.

But this shows me that this cryptid is clearly not elusive to the locals.  In fact, it seems that it is a nuisance to them, which is a shame.  I got another comment here on the blog that made me quite sad.

I have seen several gators at wheeler NWR. I have seen several babies 6-8″ long and one about 8′. one about 5′ and a couple about 3′. Flint Creek on the south side of the River is a good place to look as is Limestone cove near Mooresville. Part of the problem is that the locals shoot them whenever they get the chance. So if a gator is not shy it is quickly dead!! Gators are sneaky and will lie at the surface with just their eyes showing. I found two babies that were dead with their tails missing.

-Tom via WordPress

If locals really are killing the gators, I’m quite upset.  These are still federally protected critters, even if they are out of their “normal range.”  If you’re caught killing a gator in Alabama without a tag, and there are NO tags given for hunting them in North Alabama, the fine is pretty high and is a felony under federal law.

I think what Tom is calling Limestone Cove is what I’ve come to call Limestone Bay.  It is a large backwater near Mooresville, Alabama.  I’ve not tried Flint Creek yet, it’s an extra 30 minute drive or 60 minute paddle from my home base, and since I often just get a few hours, I haven’t gone there yet.

Now guitarshredder849 speaks of Arrowhead, and that’s the boat launch on Limestone Bay/Cove.  So that’s two people who’ve given me tips to try that area.  Earlier this summer, I got this:

Hey just stumbled on your blog and can tell you with certainty that there are gators in the limestone bay area. Somewhere around 2001 or 02 I caught one while fishing in Limestone bay at night. It was a farily small one about 2 feet at the most. I hear about some others but that it the only one that I have actually seen personally. Blackwell Swamp is also said to have some but I have yet to see one there even after a lot of hours canoeing over the years there. Good luck with finding one.

-Matthew via WordPress

There’s that Limestone Bay area again.  I’m liking Limestone Bay more and more for my future gator hunts.  But that’s not the only tips I’ve been given.

Wheeler is where they are. I am an avid kayaker with wheeler in my backyard. Cotaco creek off upper river road in somerville is where i see them the most. Day or night. You can also access the remote parts of the creek from AL HWY 36 in Cotaco. I know for a fact a 12-14 foot gator stays there.

-Jansen via WordPress

I’m not familiar with Cotaco or Somerville, so some time with Google Maps is in order.  But I do know where HWY 36 is, so I think I might have a general idea where he’s talking about.  I’ve tried emailing Jansen, but haven’t gotten a reply so far.  I’ll hit him up again and see if he can give me better directions.

I also got this one:

I know for a fact there are aligators in north alabama. My family and i have been camped out in Mallard Creek camp ground and saw a gator. The manager of the camp ground warned us about feeding the ducks because he had spoted a gator between 10 to 12 foot long. Try the areas around mallard creek and fox creek in Lawrence and Morgan county

-Meagan via WordPress

I’m even less sure about Mallard Creek than I am about Cotaco.  Funny, I’ve lived in Madison County, Alabama all my life, but I’ve learned more about the local geography since getting my canoe.  And I’m learning even more since getting interested in gators and getting the kayak.  Life is funny sometimes!  Plenty of leads and new places to look!

But the weather here in North Alabama has clearly shifted.  While it is still getting a bit warm late in the day, the temps have fallen enough that I’d imagine the gators are starting to go dormant for the winter.  I may get lucky and find an active gator over the next couple of weekends, but I doubt it.  Not that I won’t try!  I’m thinking a trip to Cotaco or Arrowhead is in the offing for this weekend. (No gator hunting trip this weekend.  I’m also in a play, and seems our technical director won’t be in town to build the set on the stage.  Just been drafted to do that instead of something I want to do.)

Last weekend I went out to “the bottoms” where another commentator had sent me a picture his wife had taken of an estimated 10 foot gator.  I looked for a while from shore, but I wasn’t as lucky as they were.  I’ve yet to spot a gator there, but I tell ya what…  if ever there was a spot that SHOULD have a gator, that’s it.  It looks like something in Louisiana instead of Alabama.

Gator Hunting Winding Down

Mike on the RiverLooks like I’m going to have to give up on finding a gator is 2009. Weather is turning cooler earlier, and with the nights now normally going well below 70 degrees, gators will be hunkering down for the winter. Finding a sleeping and hiding gator isn’t going to be easy… but it isn’t going to stop my hunt. There are other reasons to hit the gator area’s this time of year.

Migratory birds are starting to arrive. That could be good for gator hunting as well as just for the pleasure of looking at the birds. Over the next month, Canadian Geese will be arriving in massive numbers as they migrate south. They stop over in Wheeler by the tens of thousands. Me and my kayak will be floating among them as often as possible, and if the day is warm and has been for a while, you better believe I’ll keep my eye open for an active gator that takes advantage of a goose dinner.

Also, I’ve taken this year as a chance to explore and figure out the Refuge. Having never explored it before, I had no idea how extensive the area was. I ended up on the Tennessee River proper more than once thinking I was in a backwater, and was on a flooded swamp thinking I was crossing the river. I’ll be investing in a kayak-worthy GPS system this year to help keep that from happening. (Ya hear me, Santa?)

I’ll keep writing up my Flint River excursions. Even my mistakes like the recent twilight trip through the most technical part of the Flint. (Bad idea, don’t suggest it to anyone!) And if I get out on the Refuge, I’ll be writing about that too.

Stay tuned for Gator Hunt 2010. It should be a fun one!

Twilight isn’t just for Vampires anymore.

Got a text during church from my usual canoe buddy about taking the boats out today. So I got permission and cleared it with everyone and went out, perhaps a little latter then I like.

Did the stretch from Ryland Pike down to Little Cove Road. Normally I do the stretch from 72 to Little Cove Road, but adding Ryland Pike to the trip only adds a little over a mile. That’s like 20-25 minutes. So we added the extra little bit. And that extra little bit was pretty much our downfall.

First, a little over the mile, AS THE CROW FLIES, is more like 2 miles on the water. So that’s 40-50 minutes. And then as we passed Highway 72 we stopped to talk with some other kayakers and canoers. A little kid there fell in the current and banged himself up, and since I NEVER go on the river without a first aid kit, so I had to help out. Then we left there, and we had the river all to ourselves… cause no one else was stupid enough to be on it that late.

So on the other end, the scariest portion of the river in my opinion, we ended up paddling in the dark. Now I’d gladly paddle a LAKE in the dark. I’d even paddle a nice slow wide river in the dark. I’d like to get a water proof headlamp and actually do that sometime, as some commentators have mentioned, it’s easier to find gators that way. This isn’t a scared of the dark complaint.

The last quarter mile of the river on our chosen route is a pretty quick moving section with lots of snarls. Nothing we haven’t done before, but I’ve had plenty of trouble here too. I’ve flipped a few times, nearly flipped more times than I care to count. Last time Jim and I did this section in the canoe, we got sideways against a log. The current was fast and strong and rolled over the side of the canoe. Jim is quick to point out we didn’t flip, but that didn’t keep us out of the water.

So we get to the danger zone, and the suns behind the mountain so it might as well be dark. It’s that stupid twilight time when you can’t see for crap. And yet we’re running down the river dodging logs and trying to keep from rolling over a log, rock or snarl. It wasn’t fun. Okay, it was fun. But it was pretty darn scary.

And thankfully uneventful. Couple of close calls. I got hung up a time or two, Jim ran the canoe into a sticky spot in a place I couldn’t help much. I’m still not sure how he did it. In some freak way he got the front of the canoe hooked around the branch of a tree in a weird way that I still can’t wrap my head around. And the current was so quick I couldn’t get back to help. Somehow he freed himself and we got the boats pulled out of the water.

So for the first time in a couple of weeks I got the boats wet. And it was good. If scary in the end. But hey… scary is good too.

More eyewitness testimony

Seems my gator hunting antics have brought commentors out of the woodwork and I’m getting more eyewitness accounts of Alligators here in the North Alabama area.

The first was from Matthew who responded to my post, Gator Hunting in North Alabama.   Here’s what he had to share:

Somewhere around 2001 or 02 I caught one while fishing in Limestone bay at night. It was a farily small one about 2 feet at the most. I hear about some others but that it the only one that I have actually seen personally. Blackwell Swamp is also said to have some but I have yet to see one there even after a lot of hours canoeing over the years there.

I’ve been in both Blackwell Swamp and Limestone Bay hunting, thus far with no success.  But its good to get more conformation that I’ve been looking in the right places.  I’ll keep looking in Limestone Bay, as I’ve gotten the most reports of gators in that area.

Maegan had this to say in a comment to the same post:

I know for a fact there are aligators in north alabama. My family and i have been camped out in Mallard Creek camp ground and saw a gator. The manager of the camp ground warned us about feeding the ducks because he had spoted a gator between 10 to 12 foot long. Try the areas around mallard creek and fox creek in Lawrence and Morgan county

I’m not familiar with Mallard Creek or Fox Creek, but you can be sure I will become so.  I’m getting more and more willing to go farther and farther afield in my search.  I’ve been a somewhat lazy kayak/canoe person, having mostly confined myself to about a 20 minute radius of my house.  I’ve certainly expanded that this summer.

Not a comment to the website, but I’ve been given a clue as to where a few nests might be.  On Sunday I got caught out on the Tennessee River during a thunderstorm.  (This is the great story I alluded to in this post, and I’ll post more about it as soon as I get the pictures off the camera.)  As a result, I ended up taking shelter in a cave just off the river.  I hid out in this cave with a few locals who were also out and about in a kayak and a canoe.  They had just found what they believed where two alligator nests near that same cave.  I got a good description of how to get to the area, but couldn’t investigate this past Sunday because of the weather.

Friends and family have also been talking up my crazy idea of Alligators in the area, and I get more reports from people I know.  It is clear that the majority of the reports are in the Wheeler area.  (I suspect that Mallard and Fox Creeks are too.)

So thanks to everyone reporting in on their gator sightings and sharing your gator stories.  I hope this trend continues!  And for those of you who canoe or kayak, let me know!  If you’re in the area, maybe we can paddle together!

Photographic Proof

I now have photographic proof alligators in North Alabama. Unfortunately the photo isn’t mine.

That is a photograph sent to me by a commenter on this site, taken very near to my first kayak trip on Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. Here is the comment he left me:

“Runwolf, If you really want to see a pic of a North Alabama gator, I have a couple that my wife and I took of about 10 footer on June 25 of this year. I’ll gladly send them to you if you leave me your e-mail address.”

I wasted no time emailing Mr. King asking for the location and a copy of the photo. He sent me the above picture, credited to his wife. He also gave me permission to use the photo here. He was, however, not interested in giving me the location.

I can understand this. The Kings are nature photographers. And they jealously guard there locations like fishermen. I get that. So I asked him again, in a more general way, for information. Here is his response:

“Mike, I don’t normally give out specific locale info but you seem like a cool guy with a lot of enthusiasm. You can’t be too careful these days. They are magnificent creatures and I just want to be sure they are not harmed in any way. I hope you understand. I enjoyed reading your blog. Sounds like you have been in the right spots. I think some days they are probably more visible than on other days. I have definitely heard from reliable sources that the east side of Limestone Bay has a population of gators. Just keep looking. The two gators we have found personally have been a place this blog owner has redacted. One was in the creek that flows through there. The one we found a few days ago was actually swimming in that tupelo tree stand. We have photographed a lot of cottonmouths from there too, so keep an eye out for them. Just please don’t kill any. Did I mention we are snake lovers? LOL.”

Now my first trip via canoe into the Refuge was in Limestone Bay. I was in the Northwest, so I will be going east next time I visit. This is where I think I saw a year old gator but can’t prove it.

As for the place I’m not telling you about until I get a picture there, I was in that stand of trees not two days after the Kings took their picture! Two days! I very well could have been within hundreds of yards of that very gator!

***UPDATE***  I was NOT there two days after the photo.  I was there four days BEFORE the photo.  My mistake.  Two days after I was dealing with a different kind of wildlife in Tell City, Indiana.  I’ve been working on a post about that and will have it up sometime this year.  But it has very little to do with Alligators.  ***END UPDATE***

Mr. King estimates that gator at ten feet. I have a very good idea of exactly what ten feet looks like. It is how long my new kayak is. While clearly not a monster gator, it is nothing to mock. Let me show you what a ten foot gator looks like.

That’s my son sitting in my ten foot kayak on the floor of Gander Mountain just before we bought the kayak. I think it provides a nice image of what a ten foot gator looks like.

I have no doubt that the camera used by the Kings is far superior to my own camera. I keep my gear light, small and waterproof. I use a small Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP waterproof camera with a 3x optical zoom. (Mine’s that cool green color) At full zoom it is the equivalent of a 105mm lens on a 35mm camera. I suspect that I may have to get a bit closer to get a similar shot.

And gators aren’t just willing to wait around for their picture to be taken. Mr. King didn’t mention how they arrived at their spot but I suspect they hiked. As I am a paddler, I suspect my boat may be making my efforts harder. I’m sending vibrations through the water at speeds greater than sound warning gators of my presence long before I arrive.

In fact, this same gator may have heard me, submerged and been within a dozen feet of me and I wouldn’t have known it. And gators can remain submerged for a long time. 10-15 minutes is easy. 2 hours is possible.

So patience, Runwolf. Patience. Go slower, stay longer. Plan better. Your goal is out there.

And to Mr. King, I promise to leave your precious snakes alone. As long as they stay out of my boat. Then, all bets are off.

And thanks for the picture. Now to get one of my own.

First Attempt At Gator Hunting

This post is about a week late.  No, it’s exactly a week late.  This is the story of my first attempt at hunting for the elusive North Alabama Gator.  It took place on Sunday, 14, 2009.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve decided to track down the North Alabama Gator.  Rumor has it that the gator can be found in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, but there are few pictures available, if any.  And no pictures of active nests.  In fact, since the gator release in the 70’s, only one nest has been found and that was in 2001.

Limestone Bay at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Limestone Bay at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

So I went looking.  My first attempt at finding the gator was to try the backwaters of Limestone Bay. I put in at Arrowhead Landing, but that may not have been the best choice.  Everyone claims the gators are in the various backwater swampy sections, so that’s where I wanted to go.  Arrowhead Landing, however, is a long paddle to the backwaters.  Over a wide bay that can be quite windy.  But I made it to the backwaters and explored as far as I could after the long slog.

Water Lillies in the Backwaters of Limestone Bay

Water Lillies in the Backwaters of Limestone Bay

Actually, I was willing to explore more, but my GPS wasn’t working at the time, and I came to a point where I wasn’t sure I could find my way out if I continued.  So I turned back instead.  Quite disappointing for the first time out.  But the trip wasn’t wasted, as I learned quite a bit about myself and my abilities.

One of the interesting things I learned is how and why eyewitness testimony in the search for cryptids isn’t the best of evidence.  I was on a channel where I’d heard rumor that gators had been seen.  I was coming up on a log, and thought I saw a turtle sunning itself on a branch.  As I reached for my camera, the “turtle” jumped off the log.  Only as it left the log and I got a better, if fleeting, glimpse of the creature I realized it wasn’t a turtle.  Now I can’t swear it was a gator, but it sure looked like one.  It had the typical markings of a young gator, with the yellow bands found on the very young.  But it could have just been a typical turtle and I could have had “gator on the brain” and seen what I wanted to see.  Without the picture to identify the critter, I basically have nothing.

Take a look at this picture of a young alligator:

Yes, these two cuties are on the back of an adult gator, but you can see the color difference between the big one and the very young.  You can really see the yellow stripes in this picture.

Now look at a common turtle in the refuge:

I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone confuse these two critters.  They are clearly different.  But think about a quick glance as it slips off a log to disappear into the water.  Add to that the fact that you’re looking for a gator, and trust me, you can get them confused.  So I don’t know what I saw.

(BTW, I shamelessly pirated those pictures off the web.  Bad researcher!)
This is the area I think I may have seen a baby alligator.  Maybe.

This is the area I think I may have seen a baby alligator. Maybe.

Now I do know this, if it was a gator I saw, Momma wasn’t far away.  The American Alligator is one of the very few reptiles to care for their young.  It is thought this is a throwback to the dinosaurs, which really the American Alligator is a modern version of a dinosaur.  So if it was a gator, I was damn close to my ultimate goal of seeing and photographing a North Alabama Gator.  Frustratingly close.  I didn’t see momma anywhere, so I’m leaning toward believing I saw a turtle.

I didn't come up completely empty.  I managed to anger this momma mallard.

I didn't come up completely empty. I managed to anger this momma mallard.

But I clearly had gator fever.  Every splash, every rumble and every log was thought to be a gator by my brain.  It was completely infectious, I was convinced I’d see one around the next bend.  It got me to wondering about field research into mystery animals.  I can see how someone could easily get Big Foot Fever when out in a camp for the purpose of finding Big Foot.  How ever sound, every falling acorn, could become the creature you’re looking for and how hard it would be to stay objective and watch for real signs of your quarry.

So I learned alot about this project of mine.  Not all of it just about looking for Gators.  I learned using a kayak paddle in a canoe isn’t a good idea.  There is a reason canoes use canoe paddles and kayaks use kayak paddles.  I got that.  And I got to test out my new waterproof digital camera.  I’m pleased with the results, and the video isn’t half bad.

And now, I’ll leave you with a video of the point where I decided it was time to return to my car and slog back across Limestone Bay!

Catching Up On The Flint

This one may be a long one, since I’ve got three trips to catch up on from last weekend!  So bare with me here, I’ll give you the shortest version I know how.  (Hey you! Stop rolling your eyes at my long windedness!)

Trip 1: June 5th – Highway 72 to Little Cove Road

The Remains of a boat on the Tennessee River

The Remains of a boat on the Tennessee River

One of my regular canoe buds met me at Little Cove Road straight after work.  Jim and I had done most southernly sections of the Flint River together in the past, and had done this particular section before.  Other than the rather tough take out at Little Cove Road, I didn’t expect this trip to be difficult at all.  And starting around 5pm, I didn’t expect it to last very long either.

I was half right.  It wasn’t very long.

We did this section in under 2 hours.  That’s better than the last time I did it with my other canoe regular Bill.  Although that time was in early January and we had a log flip us.  We spent a good deal of time drying off and warming up on the bank on that trip.

Jim and I handled this section with relative easy, keeping an eye out for trash on the river since the next day was a major clean up effort spearheaded by the Flint River Conservation Association.  We saw some interesting things along the Flint that day, including two Raccoons living on the bank at a group of riverside homes.  They were fat and happy, no doubt raiding the homeowners trash for some easy food.  We also saw a Coot living in the same area.  We found plenty of deer sign and raccoons sign, but never saw a deer.

As for trash, the only thing of note was the remains of a wooden dingy we found and photographed from various angles.  Not sure why it impressed me so, but I rather liked it.

A wooden Dingy

A wooden Dingy

As for our troubles, we had a bit within sight of the take out, or at least the bridge over the Flint at Little Cove Road.  We got caught up in a snarl that didn’t look bad, but turned out to be.  The problem was our inability to swing the canoe around the log, and instead getting astride it.  Normally that isn’t a big issue, but this time the current was too strong and we were quickly swamped.  Now my canoe floats fine full of water, but not with two men in it.  So we bailed out, and Jim stood up in less than a foot of water.

I wasn’t so lucky.  I was in a deep hole and went quickly downstream.  Both Jim and I had the foresight to grab the bow and stern ropes respectively, so I didn’t go far.  As soon as I reached the end of the rope, I managed to get to shallower water and stand up.  Unfortunately it was also fast moving water.  Jim and I stood there a minute trying to decide our next move and WHAP! a log clipped me and I went with the current again.

No damage to me from the log, except an unexpected dunking.  Again.  We got the canoe emptied and made it the 100 yards or so to the take out with no more difficulty.  From there it was a simple matter of pulling the canoe up the steep bank and getting it out of the water.  We quickly put it on Jim’s car and headed under the bridge to change clothes.  Of course, that’s when a family of fisherpeople decided to show up.  Oh well.  Hope our flashing didn’t scare them too much.

Weirdness of the Surgical Glove

Weirdness of the Surgical Glove

One other odd thing.  When we arrived back at 72 to pick up my car, there were a bunch of surgical gloves blown up and tied off lying on the ground behind it.  Don’t know if that means anything.  Maybe it was part of some voodoo ritual that left me cursed for floating the flint or something.  Weird, but I left them there since the clean up was the next day.

Trip 2: June 6 – Highway 72 to Little Cove Road

My Canoe, Floating, June 6, 2009

My Canoe, Floating, June 6, 2009

For the Flint River Cleanup, I did the same section of the Flint as the day before.  Only this time I did it solo.  Other than tooling around a bit in very sheltered coves I’ve never attempted a solo trip before.  I was a bit nervous.

I hadn’t planned on canoeing at all that day.  The intention was to go take the family to one of the sites for the clean up and help on land.  We got to Little Cove Road and while there were tons of cars, no one was there.  So we cleaned up the landing the best we could, and while doing so a scoutmaster showed up.  He was waiting for his troop which had started at Highway 72.  We got to talking and it turned out his troop had left about 30 minutes earlier.  A quick calculation in my head, knowing the first portion of the Flint there was pretty simple, and I figured I could catch them easily and hang out with them through the tough stuff.

We scooted over to 72 to put me in the water, and I jumped to it, unloading the canoe (which hadn’t been unloaded the night before) and getting it ready to go.  In no time I was prepared to leave when suddenly from upriver there came a canoe.  It was going a bit fast and nearly missed the take out, so I pitched in and pulled them ashore.  Next thing I know the landing was covered with little kayaks.  Seems the canoe was leading a bunch of folks from an upstream put in that I didn’t know about, and had been on the water for a little over an hour.  All in all I’d guess there was 20 boats in that group and they weren’t there for the clean up, just a group that did things together including hiking, kayaking and riding their Harley’s.  I guess they were a biker gang of sorts, but cool in that “I’m retired now, I’m gonna have fun” kind of way.

So as they pulled out to eat lunch, I learned they were going to do the next leg of the Flint too.  I figured if I couldn’t catch the scouts, then surely if I had trouble these folks would help.  So I set off solo with the intention of catching the scouts or waiting for these folks before attempting the scary part that Jim and I had trouble with.

Surprisingly I found the Scouts really quickly.  They were goofing around and taking there time, and collecting a goodly bit of trash.  But they left a good 45 minutes prior to me, and I caught up to them in 15 minutes, just around the first bend.  I hung out with them for a while, but damn they was slow.  So I soon took off on my own, heading down the river and getting cocky that I was having so little trouble solo.

At about the half way point, I saw two canoes at the campsite area Jim and I had noted the day before.  We liked it because it was up a high bank and it was near a cliff.  Well protected in the event of a storm.  I thought maybe they were cleaning the area since if Jim and I thought it made a good campsite, surely others did as well.

Very cool Cave found on the Flint

Very cool Cave found on the Flint

Turned out they were looking at a cave that you couldn’t see from the river.  But Jim and I nailed it about the campsite.  There was a prepared camp there.  Someone had built a fire ring and had ground cloth stowed away.  I don’t know who owned the land, but it was accessible only by the river, so I doubt the owner had the camp set up.  More likely some hunters since it looked long disused.  But I took the time to explore the cave, at least a little since it was rocky and I wasn’t really prepared for a spelunking trip.

As I got ready to leave, I saw kayaks headed my way.  Surely the scouts had finally caught up to me!  Nope, it was the kayakers from 72, lunch finished and they had passed the scouts themselves.  Well, great!  I’d just float the rest of the river with them.

It was a peaceful float, and I chatted with various folk.  They had passed me by the time I got down the bank and back into the canoe, but my 14 foot canoe had no trouble catching the 9 foot kayaks.  (longer is faster)  As a passed through the group chatting, I had a good time.  By the time I got to the front, we were approaching the snarl.  I noticed a cross cut that Jim and I hadn’t seen, one that would take us around rather than through the snarl.  So I took that, making sure the lead kayaker saw it.  As he waited to pass the word, I floated on down to the takeout with no worries.  The only bad part was the fact that by avoiding the snarl, you arrived on the far side of the river and had to cross a swift current to get to the takeout.  But arrive I did, and the scoutmaster was still waiting.  With his help I quickly had my canoe in place out of the river.

I waited around and helped the kayaking biker gang out of the water.  It was a hoot.

Trip 3: June 7 – Ryland Pike to Highway 72

As I mentioned, the biker gang put in farther upstream at a put in I was unaware of.  Ryland Pike crosses the Flint about 2 Miles north of 72.  I called up my other canoe buddy Bill and we headed up to do that short section on Sunday.

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Cool remains to an old bridge

There’s not much to say about this section.  I moves quick and there isn’t much to see.  You do go between the remains of an old bridge, which was kinda cool.  And under a railroad bridge, which is loud if you arrive as a train crosses.  You’re in the flight path of planes leaving Moontown Airport, which was neat.  But all in all, a very quick fairly peaceful float.  No close calls to talk about, no limboing under anything.  Clean, nice easy and fun.  Bill and I had a good time looking at the various things along the way, but nothing really stands out as cool.  Hardly worth loading up the canoe just to do that section of the river, but its yet another new section for me to knock off my list.  (and again, the canoe hadn’t been unloaded from the day before, so it wasn’t like I loaded it up JUST for that trip!)

Summary

A Train Bridge north of 72!

A Train Bridge north of 72!

A very busy canoe weekend with what totalled out to just under 20 miles of river tripping in just over 7 hours total time on the river.  I had a good time, saw a new section and managed to take both my canoe buddies AND a solo trip.  A good weekend all around.

The only complaint is I rubbed a mole on my back to the point of bleeding and hurting.  For the next week, that damn mole hurt and every time I moved it seemed to get tugged on.  It was right over my spine, and hurt like you wouldn’t believe.  But on Saturday, June 13th I finally saw a doctor and they removed it.  So no more worries there.

Back on the Flint, An Exercise in Tree Avoidance

Loaded Up and Ready To Rumble

Loaded Up and Ready To Rumble

Living in Huntsville, Alabama is a great treat.  Everyone says so.  One of the things that makes Huntsville a great place to live is the easy access to so many recreational activities.  Including my favorite, going out in a canoe.

About ten minutes east of Huntsville is the Flint River.  It runs from just north of the state line to the Tennessee River, making it almost exclusively a Madison County treasure.  And at one point or another I’ve floated just about all of it.

Raccoon and Deer Tracks

Raccoon and Deer Tracks

Today I had the chance to redo what was once my favorite section of river.  I don’t think it will be my favorite section anymore.  The recent rains monsoons have brought down far to many trees and I spent the better part of the trip avoiding them.  From zig-zaging down the river to get around them to actively going under, over and through them.

I talked my normal canoe partner, Jim, into going with me on this odessy.  The wife and kids had other plans so they dropped me off at the Little Cove Road canoe landing.  Jim parked at Hays Nature Preserve and while I readied the boat, the wife ran and got him.  Then we headed out around 5pm.

The Little Cove Road landing is an interesting one, and not in a good way.  Usually there is about a 6 foot steep drop from the parking lot to the river.  Right now it’s about 3 foot as the river is still up pretty high from all the flooding and rain.  And right at the landing is a huge fallen tree that blocks the exit.  To get around it, you paddle upstream under the road before turning quickly and going downstream.

The early part of this 7 mile or so paddle is a fairly deep hole, and even with the higher water the going was pretty slow.  Jim and I felt little urgency, we’d done this section of the river in under 2 hours before, so we didn’t feel much pressure despite the late start.  We figured we’d be at the take out by 7pm and at dinner up the road by 7:30.  And the wide clear start of the trip only re-enforced this feeling.

Oh how wrong we were.

Ultimately the trip took 2 hours and 40 minutes.  The reason was trees.  Lots and lots of trees.

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A wide hole on the flint river

Now you may think that avoiding trees in a canoe isn’t much of a problem.  Trees typically don’t grow in the middle of a river, so what’s the big deal, right?  Wrong.  They do grow in the middle, on lots of little islands, that get saturated in all the recent rain and then they fall over.

Lots of them fall over.

Many completely crossing the river.

This tree completely blocked our passage.  We had to lift the canoe over the tree.

This tree completely blocked our passage. We had to lift the canoe over the tree.

About an hour and a half into the float we hit our first magor obstical.  A tree completely blocking the way, and large enough we had to get out of the boat and lift it over.  While not overly hard, it wasn’t a peice of cake either.  Some fancy footwork between Jim and I, along with some interesting rope work, got us up and over.  Luckily it was the only one that we had to portage over.

From that tree, things continued to be interesting.  We limbo’d under several, once passing the boat under while going over the tree ourselves.  Once I had to lay down in the bottom of the boat and PUSH the canoe down to get it clear.

The author, With Canoe

The author, With Canoe

In the end the trip to Hays Peserve was wonderful, if a little full of trees.  We stopped only once to stretch (not counting all the limbo stops) and found both Raccoon and Deer tracks.  We saw one heron, a woodpecker, an otter (we think) lots of signs of turtles, a few larger fish, and ducks (I’d never seen mallards on the Flint prior to today’s trip).  Blessedly we didn’t see any snakes.  We didn’t beat sunset, but still had plenty of twighlight to load up by.  And then we hooked up (late) with friends and family at a mexican place up the road.

Chips, salsa and a good canoe trip.  No wonder Huntsville is #1.