Monday, March 12, 2012

Harpeth Overnighter

Six kayakers from three states convened at the Harpeth River on Saturday for a 30-mile, overnight float. Because of heavy area rains, the river had crested at 7.76 feet, started down, and then started back up again. We watched the hydrologic graphs with some trepidation, fearing the river would shoot up to the predicted 10+ feet. Thanks (we think) to the friendly guy down at Cheatham Lock, the river never got that high, and by the time we hit the water at Newsom's Mill, the Harpeth level was under 7 feet. It was still high and moving briskly, but not nearly as "flooded" as the folks at Tip-A-Canoe would have us think. Our ultimate destination on day one, 20+ miles downriver, was the Highway 70 bridge and the campground at Tip-A-Canoe.

Right out of the gate, Mike tested the muddy brown waters and pronounced them cold but fit for paddling. Fortunately, we had a temperate day perfect for an outdoor excursion. The sun was shining, trees were beginning to put on spring foliage, and critters were stirring. Wildlife sightings on the first day included ducks, geese, a fox, the occasional leaping fish, a couple of red-tailed hawks soaring on an updraft, numerous turkey vultures, and a lost brown bat that apparently thought it was nighttime. At about the 13-mile mark, we took a short island break for lunch, which included deviled ham wraps with Cheez Whiz and drive-through condiments. Julia Child, eat your heart out.

Our small cadre of kayakers included Mel, a first-time paddler from east Tennessee who pretty much smiled the entire day. "It's like having a recliner on the river," she noted in between grins. Mel paddled both days like a champ, taking whitecapped rapids in stride. In the video below, she's the last paddler deftly handling some rougher water.

We got to our take-out about an hour before dusk, and Kay decided to make sure the waters were still okay. Still cold, she determined. But nevertheless fit for navigation. The Tip-A-Canoe camp site held a good fire ring but not enough room for all our tents around the fire. So Moose and Mel pitched a tent nearby while the rest of us set up on the flat road entrance to the site. Thereafter, Moose worked hard at scavenging driftwood from a nearby pile-up, and Randy, Mike, and I hauled the wood up to the fire ring. We wound up with a sizable blaze, and after waiting an hour or more for coals to develop, Moose cooked up some excellent ribeyes for a few of us. Other table fare included tinfoil hot dogs and Kay's tasty pasta dish with olives and sun-dried tomatoes. As with any good campfire, we shared stories till exhaustion set in, occasionally pausing to ask, "Hey Mike, you want some corn liquor? It's strawberry."

Harpeth Overnighter Day One

Above is the GPS capture for day one. With the river up, we averaged almost 4 miles-per-hour, even with stops. Also notable is the roughly 9-mile stretch between Hidden Lakes and Highway 249. I had never paddled that section before, and while its subdivisions and I-40 crossings are not my favorite parts of the river, the portion does complete a personal 50-mile river consecutive run—from a put-in down by Old Natchez Trace up to the Harris Street bridge. On day two, my GPS crapped out after an hour. (Note to self: you get what you pay for with $1/pack batteries.) But our route, Highway 70 to Harris Street Bridge, was already familiar, and with its impressive cliffs that loom over sections of the river, it is still my favorite section to date.

Toward the end of the trip, while paddling in the lead, I totally spaced out and zipped past the entrance to the Montgomery Bell Tunnel outflow. While Randy and Kay veered into the creek-like detour in time, the rest of us beached on a sandbar downstream, and Moose, Mel, and I chose to paddle back upriver thirty yards or more against considerable current. Once again, kudos to Mel, who showed considerable moxie in her upstream paddle. It helped that she thought we'd missed our take-out! The reward? Some bragging rights and few shots near the Narrows waterfall, which I captured up-close in some video below.