Sunday, October 30, 2011


Group I (Friday Morning). Departure is 8:30 am. Currently that includes the following seven people: Skip, Rob, Vernon, Phil, Kirly, Jim and D. Fox. I will provide canoes for the first five. Jim and David, bring your canoes over sometime this week if you can and leave them beside the trailer.

Group II (Friday Afternoon). The other Jim plans to leave Nashville early afternoon in time to get to the campsite before dark and will get to the put-in by himself with his own canoe. If anyone in Group I can't make the morning launch, we can leave a canoe for you on the trailer at the put-in.

Group III (Friday Night). Jack and Josh will pick up Stuart at 8:00 pm and will drive straight from the airport to the put-in with the trailer and the truck. They should be at our camp site by midnight. Both Jack and Josh have now been fully trained on how to ride the Mule. They passed the driver's portion of the test this afternoon which requires trailering the boat to Cleece's Ferry boat ramp on the Cumberland, motoring one mile upstream to Rock Harbor Marina and successfully returning with a 12-pack of Bud Light. They also learned how to raise and lower the motor during the shallow sections and how to safely smoke a ready-roll sitting on a 6-gallon tank of gas.

Saturday Mule Riders. The advance kitchen team of Rob, Kirk and Phil will take the jon boat Saturday. The rest of us will float all day and arrive at our second campsite to find a roaring fire, stacks of firewood and the prime rib turning on the spit. Or all three of them passed out on the gravel bar.

Which reminds me: this trip is strictly B.Y.O.B. Plan accordingly.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Duck Season

Turns out Vernon's ancestors have history here too, so this Duck River trip is going to be like one big family reunion. In the meantime, everybody who doesn't give a crap about our personal genealogies still needs to get oriented - because it looks like there will be at least three different put-in times. There's no guarantee you'll be paddling with one of us natives.

We're on the middle part of the Duck River.

We will be paddling all the way around Greenfield Bend (et tu, Jeff?) from Williamsport, Tennessee to just below the Natchez Trace Parkway which is a total of about 17 miles.

Our put-in is a first class, honest to goodness public boat ramp at the Williamsport bridge. It is exactly 3.0 road miles east of the Natchez Trace on Highway 50. It is open 24/7 which is important for our multi-stage launch, and true luxury for a club that is one trip removed from 24/7 trespassing.

Our take-out under the Natchez Trace bridge would have required a lot more effort - and a lot more trespassing - until Vernon secured our alternate spot a mile downstream. We don't know if there will be trailer access there, but that's no problem because there is another public boat ramp at Littlot Bridge a mere 8 miles farther. Which is nothing for a Mule.

Meanwhile Josh, a diligent map gazer, noticed we will be paddling right past Jackson Falls in Greenfield Bend.

As previously mentioned, the falls are named after Andy Jackson when he took a little bacon and he took a little beans, and fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans. However, every single thing ever published about Jackson Falls uses the word "intermittent" in the description which means on a November canoe trip it's probably not going to look like that picture. Plus, it's not visible from the river.

So, Josh, it still might be worth setting your beer down to hike up the outlet stream to see it, but it's not like you'll be doing this again:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Before My Time But I've Been Told

At-a-vism. n. (ă't-ә-vĭz'm )
[French atavisme, from Latin atavus, ancestor : atta, father + avus, grandfather; see awo- in Indo-European roots.]

1. The reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes.
2. The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.
3. Same as my daddy and his daddy before.

We've gone back to the Duck River more times, by far, than any other river. Maybe there's a reason we hadn't thought about much before - especially on this section.

Great-great-granddaddy Felix K. Zollicoffer (the first Confederate general killed in the Civil War) grew up on the Duck River in Maury County just upstream from our put-in at Williamsport:

He married great-great-grandma Louisa Pocahontas Gordon (supposedly descended from her middle-namesake) who was born and raised right at our take-out:

At river mile 98, at the mouth of Fattybread Creek:

Louisa's father (therefore another great-etc.-grandfather) was John Gordon. He built that house that is now a rest stop on the Natchez Trace:

Gordon House on Natchez Trace Parkway

(So shouldn't we rightfully be able to just sleep there Saturday night?)

John Gordon also ran a ferry across the Duck River there, and, among other adventures, ferried Andrew Jackson and his men across the river. Just before they passed Jackson Falls on their way to the Battle of New Orleans.

For some reason there's a big plaque for him hidden in plain sight in front of the Custom's House in downtown Nashville. It gets about the same number of hits per day as his great, great, great grandson's blog.

But the best explanation for why we keep going back - whether we knew it or not - may be in General Zollicoffer's official biography:

A granddaughter who was reared by Mrs. Gordon wrote an interesting account of her early life at Gordon's Ferry. She referred to her grandmother as "the widowed young wife with a family of eight children, battling and struggling among the canebreaks, with no neighbors save the Indians." She spoke of learning her ABCs from between the lids of the family Bible, and of the children playing with their dusty companions, the little Negroes, hunting chestnuts and scalybarks with which the woods abounded.

Years later the Gordon home, a brown brick house said to have been one of the most elegant in Hickman County, became a mecca for the grandchildren who returned each summer to spend their vacation at Grandma's. Here, both young and old rode horseback over the Indian trails, paddled up and down Duck River in "Uncle Scip's" canoe and swam at the shaded beach where Fatty Bread Creek flows into the river.

The Zollie Tree, Raymond E. Myers, pp. 18-19


In general, I think Davis Birdsong likes the changes that are taking place. He hasn't been fenced off from their fruits. The old way was cob-rough on him and his, back through his parents to his old grandmother, who was another thing and had seen The People in the time before the cedar. . . . He recalls years when his wife had to make her housedress out of flour sacks, and the milk for his kids was short. That's past now. He prospers reasonably from the change, and his razor-minded son will go to college.

And yet his gaze can turn back, too. Not long ago he and I went to look over a lost 140 acres on a dry creek, far back in the cedar. After the road to it played out at a wash, we left the pickup and walked, and along the way we came on a place with junk scattered around and a concrete well curb and the tumbled fire-blackened stones of a foundation and a fireplace under a pecan tree. Davis stopped, and grunted.

"What?" I said.

"Nothin'," he answered, and leaning over stared down the dark eight-inch tube of the well, crisscrossed at its mouth with ragged spiderwebs. Davis said: "Went dry."

"You can't tell just looking like that," I said. "It might be a deep one."

"Used to run over like a sprang," he said. "Hit was artesian."

"You knew it."

"I reckon," Davis said. "I growed up where you see them rocks. . . ."

We walked on parallel to the dry creek, ascending, but the ghost place had reached him and he felt like talking.

"We didn't have nothin'," he said. "I mean, nothin'. Two mules and a wagon to rattle into town with ever' two weeks haulin' a load of posts. A ridin' horse, wind-broke. Some old pieces of arn you could farm with, a little. Choppin' cedar. Putt coal oil on ever'body when they got hurt or sick. Coal oil on a cut. Coal oil on a rag on your neck if you tuck down with flu . . . But you know somethin'?"


"We didn't live bad," he said. "They was a garden patch under that artesian well and it'd grow might near anythang. I mean. And we kept a cow most of the time, and hogs. Good house. Plenty of wood to burn in winter. And old Maw she kept thangs right."

He lingered. He said: "I bought Louise a warshin' machine last week."

"Save a lot of work," I said.

"Yeah," he said, but kept looking around on the crumbling white soil beneath the cedars.

"God damn it!" he said finally.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothin'. Just God damn it . . . "

Goodbye to a River, pp. 269-73.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Traveler's Advisory

Reservations for the late night sailing of the Green Mule are now CLOSED. All seats are taken and then some. It's already going to be pretty crowded.

The rest of us are putting in EARLY that Friday morning, so if you cannot make it then we will leave a canoe on the trailer at the put-in and you can paddle down in the afternoon. Allow three hours to get to the campsite and make sure you arrive with plenty of daylight left. The sun sets at 5:49 pm on Friday, November 4. Fortunately, Daylight Savings doesn't end until Sunday, November 6 this year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

River Runner

We just found (and bought) (but have not installed) at least part of the solution to our shallow water problem.

Because we plan to go "where no prop has dared!"

It also protects manatees in case we run over one on the Duck River.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Grizzly Spit for Dinner

The Saturday night menu is shaping up, as it usually does about this time before a trip. The portable rotisseries just arrived for the prime rib. Check out the video but don't get Rob started about Sue...

Possession of your own, personal sharp knife is mandatory for the prime rib and just for showing your face on any RRCC trip for that matter. We'll also have Minnesota wild rice and mushroom casserole, smothered green beans, cornbread and dutch oven cobbler.

Friday lunch: smoked whitefish and cheap champagne.

Friday dinner will be our traditional brats on rolls over the grill.

We need ideas (read: volunteers) for both breakfasts and for Saturday lunch. Step right up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Under Thirty Days

Time to turn our full attention to the business of the fall trip.

As far as the menu, the central dish is going to be something on a slow rotisserie over the kitchen fire - a method we have surprisingly never tried before.

The original plan was to go whole hog.

But then we realized all we really wanted was to be able sit in our camp chairs and hypnotize ourselves watching it turn all day. That can be done just as easily with a size XL cut of meat without having to ride down the river with a giant pig head. So it is going to be prime rib on Saturday night cooked on the "Grizzly Spit Camp Rotisserie System," shown here complete with hypnosis chair:

The paddle Saturday is not long so we'll be setting up the rotisserie early afternoon and settle in for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Actual Canoeing Part of the Trip

Obviously tonight is about the jon boat but it will probably also be our only pre-trip meeting so here's a map of the section of the Duck we're doing:

It's 16 easy miles from the Williamsport Bridge to the Natchez Trace Parkway. You can click on that map to expand it.

Notice the excellent Paddle-to-Drive ratio of the shuttle. Mile for mile it has got to be one of the best in Tennessee; maybe even better than the Narrows of the Harpeth although we'll have to run that comparison through the RRCC computers.

The take-out at the Natchez Trace is "dodgy" (pronounced in the Ian way) and, depending on your tolerance for trespassing sometimes requires a rugged "portage" (pronounced in the french way). Our tolerance is high, especially when it means avoiding a portage. But Vernon claims he has a friend who knows someone whose second cousin once met someone who has another friend that might have some river property a couple of miles downstream from the bridge and he (Vernon) is going to point it out to us on the map tonight. That wouldn't even count as trespassing under RRCC rules.

5:00. Sportsman's Lodge. See you there.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Boats to Build

October 5 is National Jon Boat Day in Franklin and we are all geared up.

Be at the Sportsman's Lodge in Williamson County at 5:00 sharp on Wednesday and be ready to drink and wire.

If you look carefully you will notice The Mule has been to The Lodge before.

That's because The Lodge is on a straight line between its old home in Columbia, Tennessee and its new home at the RRCC.

It makes us happy knowing it came from Columbia because the Duck River runs right through downtown. That means we at least know its suitable for the fall trip, since that's probably the only river it's ever been on.

And we like this about it too: