Today is Monday, August 21, 2017

Getting muddy in Bledsoe Creek

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I couldn't contain my desire to run the rapids in Bledsoe Creek after that five-inches-in-one-night rainfall. I just knew that conditions would be perfect for the adventure which, in all reality, could only happen perhaps once a year. This is because there is so much fall (downward slant of the land) that a lot of water flow is needed to float your canoe. Plus, there is the fact that the temperature has to be such that if you get wet (almost a guarantee) it won't be life-threatening. Can you say hypothermia?

Linda and I drove the Mt. Juliet and Gallatin countryside looking for hail and wind damage the next day after the big storm. We did see a few limbs down and standing water in the fields, but in Gallatin, when we crossed the Bledsoe Creek Bridge on Highway 25 where there should be still water, there was a torrent of muddy flow coming under the highway. About five miles upstream, we encountered the main creek body and saw evidence of water washing into the fields on both sides of the road. By this time, the water had receded back into the confines of the creek banks but was still high and quite muddy. I knew that by the next day (which happened to be my day off) the water flow would be ideal for the whitewater trip. There are many factors which have to come together to make this kind of trip happen.

I was crestfallen when Linda said that there was no way that she would run the river with me the next day, citing the dangers involved with the flooding stream. So I placated myself with a less-than-dangerous birdwatching journey on the plateau.

Then, that night, we had another rain episode which would mean the creek would keep its high water flow for possibly another day, and I jumped at the chance by asking my son, now also off-call, to go with me and possibly bring along the grandchildren.

Another miracle transpired - he didn't have anything already planned for the day, and the two boys would be out of school. So we loaded up the canoe, two kayaks and a bicycle for a short drive to the Castalian Springs area. Putting the bike out at the take-out ramp next to the bridge, I regretted not having brought along a fishing pole to give them something to do while I would be biking back to the car on Greenway Road about five miles away.

We found an easy put-in spot and didn't even have to walk through the weeds because the high water flow the day before had pushed them down. Once on the water, my anxieties settled back to the challenge at hand of avoiding the downfallen creek-side trees that tried to trap you in the current flow. We passed bend after bend, most with some class one whitewater and obstacles to avoid. Bill and Noah were doing better in the canoe than I had done with my grandson on a previous float. I couldn't keep his attention on the water since, like me, he wanted to chase turtles and bugs. James and I saw a bald eagle but could not make the others hear us as we tried to alert over the noise of the roaring rapids. Other birds we saw were common ones like cliff swallows and a family of Canadian geese. This time, the two adult birds didn't attack the boaters as they paddled close to the hatchlings.

I knew ahead there was a stretch of class three rapids that had tipped me over on a run with Bobby Capers a few years ago. When I heard the churning water noise, I braced myself for a challenging paddle. Going back and forth from side to side, I picked the best water flow and motioned for the rest to follow. A three-foot waterfall splashed me on both sides, then I straightened out to see another one with a boulder funneling the flow across my path. Turning with the current, I straightened out just in time to get the nose downstream for the fall to the next level. A few more bumps, and I was in flat water. Looking back I saw James, the 14-year-old, following in my path and was surprised to see that he was still upright. Then Bill and Noah came in the canoe, which was reticent to make the tight turn at the side stream boulder, and they hit it broadside. Just before the canoe, now filled with water, could wrap around the rock, they bailed out and floated the rest of the churning water in the classic feet-up, bottom-down position (as I had done on my previous trip).

I was able to collect a paddle and help dump the water out of the canoe before organizing the group for the remainder of the downstream travel where we would encounter several other rapids but none as demanding as this one. To my delight, the water didn't seem at all that cold, and the sun was out in full force to dry us off. In three hours, we got to the boat ramp, and Noah had managed to catch a turtle, and James had forgotten about his video games - at least for a little while.

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