Daily stats
Start: 7:00 AM - 35 miles north of Memphis, TN
Finish: 1:30 PM -Memphis, TN
Daily dist: 35
Total dist: 523 miles
Weather: Hard rain and strong wind
I woke to the sound of a hard rain driving against the roof of my tent. I only had 35 miles to paddle today so I wasn’t in a huge hurry to break camp and get on the water so I took my time wrapping up the bits of gear in the tent. After my morning routine ran itself out I the rain had not let up so I had no choice but to pull down in the rain and get on the water. I slithered into my mostly wet thermal layers and donned my paddling clothes to protect me from the rain as I loaded my boat. The last step was to strike the tent and stuff it’s soaked bundle in the front hold of the kayak as well. Then I was off.
My camp site selection below a large clay bluff served its purpose in protecting me from the 15 to 20 mile per hour winds that had developed over night. The draw back was the constant bombardment of mud balls I could hear falling off the cliff face into the bushes a hundred yards behind me. As I eased into the river and rounded the first bend I was greeted with a blast of wind which was to be a precursor of what I was to experience for the rest of the day.
Still smiling early in the day
I’ve been sea kayaking for about ten years now almost all of that time on the ocean. In that time I’ve paddled quite a few great places in a wide variety of conditions. None of that compared to the pounding I took on the river in that kind of wind. For the initiated please picture San Francisco’s Yellow Bluff tide race on a big day with the 2-3 foot short period bouncing waves… that went on for miles. Next add driving rain, 20 mph winds with gusts half as much more, a hard driving current, 40 degree water, a boat loaded with camping gear, barge traffic, wing dams, and an already tired body from a night camping in the rain. It wasn’t constant, thank heaven, only where a curve in the river put the wind blowing straight up stream or where a wing dam would push me out of the lee and into the chaos out in the main channel.
I’d been warned about what can happen when the wind blows straight up stream. I thought I’d seen something yesterday but it paled in comparison to what I dealt with today. As my kayak crested a wave it would hover for a second before driving into the next sending the bow under a cascade of ice cold water that would wash over my deck. Thankfully the boat rides high enough that it would shed most of the water off to the sides as it raced toward me but often enough a curl of water would smash into my chest and splash my face. All the while the force of the driving wind and rain threatened to tear the paddle from my hand and slowed my progress, even with the current, to only what I could pull with all my might. From time to time I’d spot a flat spot in the wicked water ahead and my first thought was always “thank god a break” but those flat spots were created by water flowing over (and being pushed up by) wing dams. The momentary reprieve the upwelling provided from the roller coaster ride gave me just enough time to gain as much speed as I could to try to pierce through the chaos of swirling eddies, now mixed with wind waves, that lie just down stream. Even when I wasn’t heading straight on into the wind and waves the beam wind was so strong I found myself literally leaning into the wind to keep from getting blown over the other way. I was grateful for every ounce of training I’ve had and so very happy with how my boat and gear performed in those conditions. I never felt threatened just frustrated with my slow torturous progress down stream. It was all jus something to be dealt with. It did take its toll and if it wasn’t for the thought of friends waiting to pick me up down stream I know I would have sought refuge on shore and set up camp in the rain to wait it out.
A bit worn out afer a long day
My arrival in Memphis (photo by Elmore Holmes)
Words can hardly describe how grateful I was to see Elmore waiting in the rain on the dock to take me home and dry me out. Probably the best Christmas present I could have received. I’d just met Elmore last Saturday when JJ drove me to Memphis looking for replacement gear. I had borrowed a life jacket which of course I didn’t need. He and his wife Martha offered the invite to stay with them if I came through over Christmas and that’s exactly how it worked out.
After hanging up my gear in their basement and taking a wonderfully hot shower I got dressed in my “street clothes” and went to Christmas Eve services with Martha. I don’t know if it was from the trials of late or the stress of the day but I must say that the Idlewild Church in Memphis and the service last night were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. All day long to settle my nerves I sang Silent Night out loud to myself, (me alone in a little yellow kayak in the wind torn waters of an upset river.) Call me over emotional if you will, (and I’m not even all that religious) but when the choir and congregation filled the church with the sounds of that song last night I had tears in my eyes.

A Christmas Eve i will never forget.
Idlewild Church


03/22/2010 6:10pm

I must have missed this one....hmmm don't know how. But now I'm all teared up !
Makes me think of your quote about rather being on a mountain thinking about God than sitting in a church thinking of being on a mountain.


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