Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trip Week

Pay attention.

There is some non-frivolous information about the trip here. In lieu of another meeting, all the logistics are set out out below. If you don't read the whole thing you won't know where to meet. And you could end up in "The Whirl."


#1 Even though this trip was advertised as a one-nighter, there is a movement to camp at the put-in on Friday night. It's still fine to meet up with us Saturday morning, but if it's anything like the Stones River in '04 you'll spend the rest of the trip hearing all about the difference between "Friday Guys" and "Saturday Guys."

The put-in is just off I-40 at Exit 143/"Hurricane Mills," about an hour west of Nashville. From Nashville, turn left off the interstate onto Highway 13 and go a mile south. Turn right onto Cuba Landing Road at Hot Rods & Cadillacs (more on this later). Go down the hill, take your first left and you'll see the bridge. Easy.


#2 Here is a close up of the put-in (and Friday campsite) at Blue Hole Bridge. I-40 is a mile north up that black and white road. We'll be camping right under the "idge" of "Blue Hole Bridge."

The owner of the land also owns "Hot Rods and Cadillacs," a friendly biker bar just up the road. You'll pass it on the way to the bridge. If we're not at the campsite, we'll be at HR&C. In fact, you might want to just stop there first.

You can't miss it.


#3 We will meet for breakfast Saturday morning at 8:00 am at Loretta Lynn's Country Kitchen back on the interstate (same exit). We're eating at her kitchen so we don't have to unpack ours. If you're camping Friday night, you're on your own for dinner. If you're not camping Friday night, better be at Loretta Lynn's on time Saturday morning.

Here's a map that shows all three places:

1. Put-in/first camp (Friday night)
2. Hot Rods & Cadillacs (Friday night - Saturday morning)
3. Loretta Lynn's Country Kitchen (Saturday morning, 8:00)


#4. On the river Saturday morning, we'll have 9.5 miles to get to our Saturday campsite. Perfect distance! As mentioned earlier, it will require some paddling through the big slow pools, but there are some riffles as well. The first major landmark will be going under the interstate itself. Remember, we're traveling south to north on these maps.


#5. Continuing north, we'll pass through Cherry Bottom.

No comment.


#6. Our Saturday night campsite is on river right just above Wherry Lake. We are going to have at least fifteen boats on this trip and there's a good chance we'll get stretched out on the river. So if you are out in front and get to the campsite first, set up on the downstream end of the gravel bar (the highest point).

There is always the possibility that our spot will be occupied. Big bars like this one are an attractive nuisance to the locals on Saturday nights. They may even be under the impression that it belongs to them. If someone's on it, go around the bend and wait for the rest of us at the next nice place to pull over. We will make a decision when we're all together. There are lots of other good gravel bars downstream. In fact, there's even one or two with nice riffles in front of them that we might like better.


#7 Sunday morning is a four mile paddle. Also perfect! The first major landmark is "The Whirl." You can just think about that for awhile Saturday night and learn what it means all by your hungover self on Sunday.


#8. Surprisingly, for the last two miles or so the Buffalo will be zipping right along in a continuous series of riffles. Then we'll hit the confluence with the Duck River. Paddling through a confluence is kind of an awe inspiring thing thing to do in a small boat and the Duck is huge at this point. We will be only a few miles above where it runs into the Tennessee River and it (the Duck) will have 200 miles worth of water behind it.

Here's the tricky part. When we hit the Duck we will turn UP stream to get to our bridge. So turn right, not left. Repeat: upstream = bridge; downsteam = Gulf of Mexico.

Now you know why all the rain last week was not necessarily a good thing. It's only about a half mile paddle from the mouth of the Buffalo up to the bridge, but the operative word is still "up." If the Duck is flooded it'll be sugar for sugar and salt for salt.

The Mighty Duck (bridge is visible if you click on the picture)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Le Menu

Here it is. Yet another masterpiece from Camp Cookie and The Pot Wrassler. All we have to do is get them to the gravel bar with a few hours of daylight left to start a kitchen fire.

The kitchen fire is an art:

Goodbye to a River, pp. 163-164

Wood . . . I went roaming with the honed ax among the piles of drift, searching out solid timber. Bleached and unbarked as much of it is, you have a hard time seeing what it may be, but a two-lick notch with the ax usually bares its grain enough to name it. Cottonwood and willow slice soft and white before the first blow, and unless you're hard up you move on to try your luck on another piece; they're not serious fuel:

The fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burnt. Is it meet for any work?

But the river is prodigal of its trees, and better stuff is usually near.

If food is to sit in the fire's smoke as it cooks, any of the elms will give it a bad taste, though they last and give good heat. Cedar's oil eats up its wood in no time, and stinks food, too, but the tinge of it on the air after supper is worth smelling if you want to cut a stick or so of it just for that. Rockhard bodark - Osage orange if you want; bois d'arc if you're etymological - sears a savory crust on meat and burns a long time, if you don't mind losing a flake out of your ax's edge when you hit it wrong. For that matter, not much of it grows close enough to the river to become drift. Nor does much mesquite - a pasture tree and the only thing a conscientious Mexican cook will barbecue kid over. Ash is all right but, as dry drift anyhow, burns fast. The white oaks are prime, the red oaks less so, and one of the finest of aromatic fuels is a twisted, wave-grained branch of live oak, common in the limestone country farther down the river.

Maybe though, the nutwoods are best and sweetest, kind to food and long in their burning. In the third tangle I nicked a huge branch of walnut, purple-brown an inch inside its sapwood's whitened skin. It rots slowly; this piece was sound enough for furniture making - straight-grained enough, too, for that matter. I chopped it into long pieces. The swing and the chocking bite of the ax were pleasant; the pup chased chips as they flew, and I kept cutting until I had twice as many billets as I would need. Then I stacked them for later hauling and went to camp to use up the afternoon puttering with broken tent loops and ripped tarps and sprung hinges on boxes, throwing sticks for the passenger, looking in a book for the differences among small finches, airing my bed, sweeping with a willow branch the sandy gravel all through a camp I'd leave the next day . . . .

But the social fire is performance art:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lots of Room, With a View

Here's a first look at our intended stop on Saturday night.

It's about the size of Fenway Park which is good because it looks like we're going to have enough paddlers for two full size baseball teams - so we can reenact game 7 of the Series.

It's big enough for two kitchen fires and any number of auxiliary, social fires.

Although it's high enough to ride out a flash flood, this trip was planned for a drought and in fact it is only possible in low-water conditions. We will explain why - along with other curiosities of this particular section of river (like "The Whirl") sometime prior to the trip. In the meantime, don't assume that all of this rain is a good thing.

We'll also get a rare panoramic view right from the river...

Goodbye to a River, p. 126:

A river has few "views." It seeks the lowest line of its country, straight or crooked, and what you see when you travel along it are mostly river and sky and trees, water and clouds and sun and shore. Things a quarter-mile away exist for you only because you know they are there; your consciousness of them is visual only if you walk ashore to see them. For a man who likes rivers, most of the time that is all right; for a man who seeks sharp solitude, it's special.

But sometimes, too, the shores close in a bit as room walls will, and you crave more space. . . . Now, without having thought about doing so, I clambered up ledges, hoisting the pup at spots, to the top of the bluff.

"Standing Rock" on the Buffalo River

I was out of breath when I got there, but it was a fine spot and worth the climb. As you stand there on weathered solid stone, the lowlands roll south and east from below you to the horizon; your eye can trace fifteen miles or so of the river's course as it meanders over sand, slower and flattened, between tall bright cottonwoods and oaks and pecans, and where you can't see it you can guess it, and can guess too the things around it, knowing them.

View to southeast from "Standing Rock"on the Buffalo

Though it's nothing much in comparison to the vistas you get in real mountains, after a week in the Brazos's winding trough, it dizzied me a little; it made fun of what I had been doing. Heights have that kind of humor.

Buffalo River, river mile 17.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Buffalo River

It's almost certain we'll be heading to the Buffalo. Mixing up drinks with mixed feelings.

We paddled the Buffalo before, in October of 2000. It was the weekend of October 7 and it hit 28-degrees. That trip was also notable because it was the debut of the Big Daddy Skillet. The menu was Prince's Hot Chicken over a lunch fire and Osso Bucco for dinner. Some slept by the fire and Stuart still has the glove with pieces of exploding river rocks embedded in it.

Does anybody have pictures from that trip? If you do, find them and send them in.

The Buffalo's watershed is on the western edge of the Highland Rim.

It's that little sminchy river between the Duck (which it flows into) and the Tennessee River (which the Duck flows into). So it counts as one of the rest of them rebel rivers.

The Buffalo flows due west, then makes a sharp right turn and goes due north. It's probably the most popular canoeing stream in the state, but almost all of the crowds are on the middle sections, especially near or just upstream from the big bend. It can get crazy on the popular parts during the summer. Check out the Annual Memorial Day Buffalo Canoe Trip, kind of a modern take on the Bushwings All-Airlines Trip on the Brazos. Even with the gallery of "Buffalo River Canoe Babes," their version will never match the Bushwings - a bunch of pilots and stewardesses in the late 80's that have had as much influence on the RRCC as "Goodbye to a River."

Dave Parks, Lucky Petrokowski....legends.

But we won't see any of those crowds on this trip. For one thing, it will be November. And for another we'll be way, way downstream. North of I-40 on one of the very last sections.

That is where you go to find navigable water during a drought.

The deep, wide pools may mean you actually have to set your beer down and do some actual paddling.

But it's way better than having to set your beer down and do some actual wading and dragging, especially with 300 pounds of cast iron in your boat.

Besides, you will be surprised how much current and quick water there is between the pools...

And gravel bars galore...

We will not be sleeping in a field like we did on the Elk.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Finding Water

One of the very few business items covered at the meeting: every week that goes by without rain eliminates another river from consideration.

With only 25-Days-Left-For-Mike-Delevante-To-Back-Out, we won't get any long lasting change in water levels even if we get a bunch of rain between now and then. There are still three or four rivers that will always have canoeable sections during a drought, but the lower Buffalo is going to be most like the rivers we are used to floating - good current, blue-green water, killer gravel bars...

Last section of the Buffalo, just before the confluence with the Duck.

Last hour at Brown's, just before the smoking ban.