Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Since this is our first three-nighter there are some things to think about before getting on the river.

Ice is #1.   There will be no opportunity to replenish along the river so you should take some extra steps to try to preserve it.  The main thing is to pre-chill your beer.  Surely you know that - it doesn't make any sense to use the same ice you want to last for four days on the river to cool down warm beer.   You should also pre-chill the cooler itself.  If you ice everything down in the cooler a day ahead of time then replenish on the way to the river you can accomplish both. 

Loading of boats.  We have more gear than usual (scary to think about) so let's take it slow at the put-in and pack the boats intentionally.  That will help get the canoes trimmed right from the beginning and will avoid having any duplication of gear.   We'll have a very nice launching situation with a drive-down gravel bar and good weather so let's take our time. 

The good weather will not last, however, so pack for rain on Friday and Saturday.    Thank goodness.  It would have been terrible if our 25th trip wasn't "one you remember." 

See you at the put-in.   Under my feet, baby, the grass is growin'. 

It's time to move on, time to get goin'.   

Monday, October 10, 2016

Trip Week Details

Ok, here we go!

Canoes are loaded and every spot on the trailer is taken and then some.  

We have 13 rivermen going and here are the canoe assignments 

Rob H:   Dagger  (trailer)
Skip:  Bell  (trailer)
Tim:  own boat  (trailer)
Mullowney:  own boat (will bring to river)
Cronin:  own boat (trailer)
Myers:  Delta Dawn (Mullowney will bring to river)
Chris Sands:  own boat (will bring to river)
Vernon:  Grumman (trailer)
Phil:   borrowed canoe (will bring to river)
Stuart:  Josh's canoe first two days (trailer)
Josh:  own boat when joins on Friday
Roy:  Folbot (trailer)
Pete Feldman:  own boat (trailer)

We should have good carrying capacity for gear because we'll have so many solo canoes.   We will only have one tandem starting late Friday afternoon when Josh joins us.   Notice Pete Feldman is listed under "own boat."   He obtained that status as of this morning when we picked up his brand new used Old Town in Madison, Alabama.   That's quite a commitment for someone who doesn't even live here.

We are planning to depart my driveway at 8:00 am Thursday.  However, a lot of people are making their own way.   If you're planning on driving separately, it's a 90-minute drive so accounting for ice stops, etc. meet at the put-in at 10:00 am.   Here's what I currently understand to be the logistics for getting to the river:

Skip, Phil, Roy and Mike:  leave at 8:00 am with canoe trailer
Rob H.  - will join the caravan on our way out west
Tim will pick up Stuart at airport and will join us later at the put-in when they're 100% sure all the work is done
Myers, Mullowney, Vernon, Chris Sands will meet separately at the put-in at 10:00 am
Pete Feldman will be camping in a rental car somewhere south of us but within range to meet at the put-in late morning
Josh will join us on Friday at a downstream bridge


Take I-40 West to Loretta Lynn's Kitchen
Take Hwy. 13 south 22 miles to Linden, Tennessee

That's it.  The put-in is right in downtown Linden under the "Old State Hwy. 13" bridge which is also South Mill St.    Just turn left on Mill Street after Hens & Hogs BBQ and you'll come to the bridge in a quarter mile or so.  There is a large, driveable gravel bar on the downstream side of the bridge.   That's our put-in.   Here's the map (note there are two bridges in Linden so don't go to the wrong one):

Our river miles each day are:

4 miles - Thursday
9 miles - Friday
9 miles - Saturday
2 miles - Sunday

Josh will join us at the County Road 438 bridge Friday at 3:00 pm which is about 6 miles into our 9 mile float that day.   There is no real access there so Josh will either be bushwhacking or be the first Jew to talk his way into the Perry County Country Club next door.  

Our take-out will be at Buffalo River Resort at another Highway 13 bridge 24 miles downstream. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

#1. Goodbye to a River

He said:  "If there's any salvation she's in this book."

I said it was a fine book. 

He said:  "Crap!  Hit's the only book they is!"

Goodbye to a River, p. 178.

Old Man Willet was talking about a different kind of scripture, but for us Goodbye to a River is the only book they is.  It's our reference, inspiration and final authority on the way you're supposed to do this.  We actually didn't set out to do it just like John Graves, and I like to think most of it comes naturally, but he lays out our purpose and our style perfectly, in a way we never could.  

The characters in the book serve as examples to us, or - more often - as cautionary tales.  The places and things are part of Club vocabulary.     Hale, Jesse Veale, ser sta gros, the old man from Weatherford, Choctaw Tom, Robert Neighbors, ready-rolls, blue Northers, Charlie Goodnight, Bose Ikard (colored), philosophers in bib overalls, Sam Sowell,  Bigfoot Wallace, Port Smythe, M.D., Martha Sherman, Old Man Willet, Hale, Big Bill Briggs, "jessies," catfish grabblers, Epp and Ira, Cooney Mitchell, the parent Potts, Davis Birdsong, M. Ratineau the French ambassador, The People, the Red Gods. 

His genuinely humble approach and open-mindedness about hard issues like hunting, Indians (good ones and bad ones), Anglo Ams (good ones and bad ones), the building of dams and other kinds of "progress," lifestyles different from his own, respect for history and land and personal origin should be models for everyone, not just the RRCC.   But since it's all set on a river, in a canoe, with a dog, while camping on gravel bars with old but treasured camping gear....we get to claim him as our own.  

Personally I have honored Graves with a respectful obsession.   I bought the same model antique wood and canvas Old Town canoe he used.  I went to Texas and paddled his section of the Brazos.  People give me copies of G.T.A.R. like neckties.  I have a signed copy and a book called "The Making of Goodbye to a River" and I have the original paperback that Frances Niarhos gave me in 1995 bound, appropriately, with duct tap along the spine.    I'll probably have a wiener dog like the Passenger someday.  

The book has been quoted often here.  It's just so easy.  Every time we do something there's a passage that's on point.  Trust me, it's in there you just have to go find it.  What is not choosing just one passage that captures the essence of the Club and the book and why it is so important to us.  

I'll go with this one:

A quick sweeping shower wetted us.  Chilled, we passed under the east face of the Chick Bend mountain, where they once bushwhacked an old warrior at dawn while he stood guard for his companions, and to the right around the Dalton Bend, named for Marcus Dalton, who settled there.  Once after the War, not for the first time, Marcus Dalton took a herd to Kansas and sold it.  When he was back in his own county again, headed home (home for him now was up the river a way) in a wagon with two friends, the Comanches killed them and scalped them and looted their baggage, but overlooked $11,000 in cash in the toe of a boot.  Dalton's little dog that had gone all the way to Kansas and back with him (sleeping in his bed roll as they camped?) was still alive to yap at the whites who found the mess.

It showered yet again.  I knew that around the next curve, a mile and a half below, I'd be able to see the Dark Valley bridge, and knew too that that was the place to quit.  But the river was pretty where I was - wide and clean and even-flowing, with curious, arching, limestone overhangs along the right shore** - and after the rain had stopped I dawdled, reluctant, only steering in the current, wondering if a house I remembered near the bridge would have a telephone, or if I'd have to hitch to Palo Pinto.  On those country roads the first car along usually give you a lift.

Except that just then, with the abrupt autumn changefulness that I'd just about quit believing in, a big wind blew up out of the southwest and cleaned the clouds from the sky in a scudding line, and all of a sudden everything was the way it was supposed to be.  The pale green of the willows came alive; big frost-golden cottonwoods flared where I hadn't noticed them . . . A cardinal flew dipping and rising across the river, read as a paint splash in the washed sunlit air, and five feet under the canoe I could see stone by stone the texture of the bottom as it slid past.  The passenger came out of his hide-hole to climb up onto the tarp and growl at a Hereford cow and her calf, dubious-eyed, who watched us move by.

There was no guarantee the weather would stay good; I doubted that it intended to. . . . We rounded the curve.  The new bridge was there beside the creek, skinny and tall on its concrete piers.

(It was up Dark Valley that settlers saw the last of 600 good stolen horses in one bunch, pointed north to the Territory ahead of the big band of Indians who had hit the Landmans and the Gages and the Browns and the Shermans, cruelly hard.  But that story goes later, if it goes at all.  You can't get them all in.)

I said:  "Hell, bridge."

The Bridge said nothing.

I said:  "Passenger, are we going to quit?"

The passenger construed it as an invitation to play, and came scrambling back to gnaw on my pants cuff.  There is a big rapids under the bridge, an ugly one.  It has old rusty car bodies sticking out of it, and crashes straight in against a rock bank before veering left into a long shallow chute.  Smart boatmen don't run it when the river's high, but walk the gravel bar on its inner curve, letting the boat down gently by a line. 

But I had the feeling that if I stopped there, I might be obliged to quit, and dawdled still until the sucking funnel at the head of the rapids caught me.  Because my stupidity didn't deserve good luck, I had it.  We flicked the jagged remains of a Ford and then I was pulling deep and hard on the right, the paddle spring-bending in my hands, to bring the bow left and clear of the stone bank at the turn, and did bring it left, and rammed the paddle head-on against the rock to keep the stern from hitting, and yelled aloud as we straightened into the long run.

Then I was ashamed in the way that you're ashamed when someone else hears you talking to yourself.  A man and a woman were fishing at the lower end of the chute; those are the places the countrymen drop their lines, the places where the big catfish feed.  They watched me slide down toward them, and as I passed the man tossed his head in resentful greeting.  They were alone and liked being alone, and hadn't liked my crazy shout.  I resented their being there, too, and so respected his right. . . .

Hungry, I stopped on a gravel bar and made bouillon on the little alcohol stove, and with it ate crackers and cheese and slices of onion.  The sun bit warm into the knotted muscles of my back as I ate, and relaxed them.  The sky and the water and multicolored chert gravel of the bar shone with a brightness that I'd forgotten, and made me a little sleepy.  It was payment for three bad days and I took it so, and lay down for a while, and threw pebbles up into the air and heard them fall in the current, and drank coffee and smoked.

Goodbye to a River, pp. 43-46.


** One of the few existing photos from Graves' trip (before he dropped his borrowed camera in a pool of water while looking for an Indian rock shelter up a canyon creek) is of those "curious, arching limestone overhangs."  

Here's a picture I took of them when I took the same trip 50 years later.


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

#2. Big Daddy Skillet

Every religion has a relic. The Shroud of Turin, John the Baptist's head, Buddha's tooth, the Nun Bun, etc.

As previously mentioned, we got serious about getting organized at Mrs. Cooper's pavilion, and later the trailer legitimized us as a canoe club.  But the real origin of it all can be traced back to when we bought the Big Daddy Skillet on impulse in Duluth, Minnesota the summer of 2000, came back to Tennessee and decided to go camping with it.  

Here's the proof...


We've bought a lot of equipment since then, but the skillet was the first and it is no exaggeration to say we built the club around the idea that it would be fun - and funny - to haul this gigantic frying pan down the river in a canoe and cook something good in it.  It turns out Big Daddy was good at cooking, and the rest just kind of fell into place after that. 

A lot of artifacts, like ships, are named after women.  There is no gender identity problem here though.  Big Daddy is a mannish boy.  A full grown man.  A natural born lovers man.  A hoochie coochie man.  

With all the new cooking devices we've acquired since then, with all kinds of modern improvements and made out of lighter material, you would think Big Daddy would feel insecure about his place in all this. 

Does he look worried to you?










Tuesday, October 04, 2016

#3 and #4. Two Nights / Twice Per Year

Here's the thing.  All these beloved pieces of gear aren't worth much if they're not being used.   Our canoe trailer is nowhere near as sexy sitting in someone's driveway in Green Hills.  You cannot, by definition, have a tradition if you don't go out and do it repeatedly.  

The only thing that really matters is getting together, getting out of town, and getting on a river.  So it did not take us long at all to figure out that a year was too long to wait for the next one and we soon added a fall trip.   Later we started leaving on Friday afternoon and spending the first night somewhere locally near the put-in.   Now the extra night is almost always on the river.   At some point we looked up and we had doubled, then quadrupled, our paddling and camping time and what could be better than that. 

Since it's the adventure itself that really matter, here's a thumbnail tour of all 24 Rebel Rivers Canoe Club trips so far.  They represent 375 miles of paddling, roughly 900 riverman days on the water, and 600 riverman nights in tents.  We're still running the numbers on cans of beer and sticks of butter. 

Spring 2004, Stones River

Spring 2005, Duck River

Fall 2005, Duck River

Spring 2006, Piney River

Fall 2006, Elk River

Spring 2007, Green River

Fall 2007, Lower Buffalo River

Spring 2008, Dale Hollow Lake

Fall 2008, Sequatchie River

Spring 2009, Chicago River

Fall 2009, Yellow Creek

Spring 2010, Upper Buffalo River

Fall 2010, Eleven Point River

Spring 2011, Big Swan Creek

Fall 2011, Duck River

Spring 2012, Current River

Fall 2012, Duck River

Spring 2013, Upper Duck River

Fall 2013, Lower Duck River

Spring 2014, Red River

Fall 2014, Piney River

Spring 2015, Buffalo River

Fall 2015, Buffalo River

Spring 2016, Duck River