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

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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.