I don't typically post much in the Off Topic or read it that often. But I thought some that followed the Kayak builds might like to read the story of one of our latest adventures. At least that is what I like to call it, you may call it something else......
Neither Rain, nor wind, nor Dark or even White water
January 10, 2009.
This weekend was supposed to be the monthly moonlight paddle from Guntersville Dam to Ditto Landing. For the third month in a row it was going to be canceled. We have had deluges of rain in the past week so the river below the dam is in flood stage, plus the weather wasn’t cooperative, either. And the trip organizer had a family member in the hospital, too.
So I offered to lead a trip above the dam instead since we didn’t have the current to deal with. The weather forecast was for rain, ending around 4 PM, about the time we leave. This was enough to keep everyone away except for one other hardy (maybe just foolish) soul, David May.
Since it was just the two of us, we decided to go to the State Park and paddle Short Creek. This is one of my favorite places and I had wanted to paddle it at night for a long time but no one wanted too. I arrive at the ramp around 4PM and David is there waiting on me. It had been sprinkling but it looked as if the rain was now gone.
We shove off with about an hour of daylight left. We had not paddled far before we hear what sounded like a big waterfall. Since it was still daylight we decide to do a little investigating. As we paddle closer there was a very large sandbar extending out from the bank and the sound is coming from in the woods. Obviously that much sand meant there had been a lot of water coming down the mountain. We are looking around but are not seeing where all the water we are hearing. We get out of the boats and take a short hike into the woods. What we find is a very disapointing small stream that is making a whole lot of noise as is tumbles over and around the rocks. We are both disappointed and surprised!
It’s been about 15 minutes and we are back in kayaks and paddling toward the head of Short Creek when we hear another waterfall on the mountain. Before long we hear still another and this one is close to the bank. Because of the clouds dark has come early and we can’t see anything. I start to search the bank with my good flashlight and I find another small creek but this one has a 3-foot high waterfall. Once again I am amazed how much noise such a small stream of water can make. Just like the last one, we are expecting much more water for all the noise. We hear several more of these draining the water off the mountains into Short Creek before the night was over.
There has been no more rain or drizzle but it is still overcast and despite the full moon, it is very dark. I can’t see more than just outlines of things in front of us. We can usually make out the shoreline but the tops of the mountains silhouetted against the sky are the only things we can see clearly.
Even though I love paddling at night, it’s always a little unnerving. As you paddle along it is inevitable that you will bump into something that you never see. Sometimes you hear it as it bumps down from the bow to the stern of your boat and you think it’s a tree limb or piece of wood. Other times you hit something and then it’s gone. Either way, it never fails to get your attention and your imagination dreams up strange and unusually large scary things under your boat.
Another half hour or more has passed and we are now rounding a bend in the creek when David says, “What am I hearing?” I listen and I hear it too. It sounds like a large waterfall. We go a little further and it becomes obvious whatever this is, it is very large and very loud. We keep paddling but a little slower. Finally we realize we have made it to the head of Short Creek and what we are hearing is the rapids, but we can’t see a thing.
Even though I know there is nothing to worry about, the sound is still intimidating in the dark. We keep moving forward and I look around and David is no longer beside me. He is slightly behind me. I ask, “Are you trying to make me go first?” and he replies, “Yes! The man with the biggest flashlight goes first.” I think David has a bigger imagination than I do.
I keep paddling forward but I start to think to myself, “Self, it might be a smart idea to see what I your headed into.” I put the flashlight under the deck lines and use it like a headlight. Of course the water is reflecting the light off it so it’s not much help. I spot that big rock barely sticking out of the water just in time to know I am going to hit it.
Finally we can see the white water at the rapids. Relieved we paddle around a little, exploring the area with our lights being more cautious than normal. While it’s fun paddling the current at the end of the rapids and quite a different experience in the dark, neither of us wants to practice our rescue skills tonight. We have been here about 5 minutes and we figure that’s enough. No sense pushing our luck, so we turn off our lights and start paddling back the creek into the darkness.
As we paddle along we are talking about how much fun this trip has been. We glide silently across the water with hardly a sound. On the way up we had seen flashes of light in the sky and thought it might be lightning, but we didn’t hear any thunder. Latter on we did hear thunder but we were way up the creek and there was a long gap between the lightning and the thunder. It was obvious it was way off so we are not concerned. Besides, there wasn’t anything we could do about it.
It starts to sprinkle again. Because of the cold temperatures of the water I wear a dry suit to protect me if I were to go for a swim. My head is not protected so I put down my paddle and pull out my favorite wool felt hat and put it on to keep my head dry. Across the darkness I hear David say, “That sounds like a line of rain coming at us.” I look to my left and I can just make out something in the air that sort of looks………..well, white. A minute later it’s raining.
Another minute has passed and now it is really raining. We are paddling along joking about it and now it REALLY starts to rain! It is coming down so heavy I am losing site of David who is just a few feet from me. The rain is hitting me in the face so hard I can barely see. I look again to my right and now I can’t see David. I shout, “Get closer to me and lets head toward the shore.”
We get beside each other and paddle so we are just in site of the shoreline. I pull up beside David’s boat and we hold our boats together as the rain gets harder. There isn’t anything we can do or anywhere we can go, so we sit and wait. I am dry and comfortable in my dry suit. Neither of us can see enough to know what direction to paddle, that bank has no disappeared so we just sit here and laugh about it. It doesn’t take long for the rain to slacken enough we can once again see and I agree with David I would rather be moving than just sitting here, so we start paddling.
It’s been maybe 10 minutes and the rain is gone just as suddenly as it appeared. There is still some lightning and thunder but it is behind us and it sounds like it is getting further away. The rain had to be part of a cold front because the wind has picked up and air temperature has dropped noticeably.
We are now paddling into a moderate head wind. In the dark we can’t tell if this is slowing us down because there is little to judge my speed by. But with the small wind driven waves coming at me when I watch them there is the sensation I are speeding down the creek.
It doesn’t seem we have been paddling very long and we are now in site of the causeway and I can just see the lights at the Rangers Station. I have had so much fun that I am thinking about paddling under the bridge out towards the main channel. The rain and lightning are now gone, “Why not?” I think to myself. Almost instantly there is a flash of lightning quickly followed by thunder. “OK Lord, I get the hint!” I tell David, lets head in and get these boats loaded!