Sunday, June 5, 2011

THE MISTRAL CANOE ON CITICO CREEK AND A FEW MOMENTS OF CONCERN

The sweat was literally pouring off my body.  It was a long pull across Tellico Lake to get to the mouth of Citico Creek.

Many motorized boats were plowing up and down the two hundred foot wide channel that connected Chilhowee Dam to the open water of Tellico Lake.  Beyond the two hundred foot safe, navigable channel lay the stump fields where no motor boats go.  At least people with any sense at all won't go there with an outboard motor.
All I needed was a ten minute window of "no boat traffic" to make the dash across the channel to the stumps.  I looked both ways and saw no moving boats.  I was off!





I paddled as hard as I could to clear the channel.  The water was fairly smooth with only residual wakes from boats of previous passing







I found a great place to skirt around the major stump concentrations and avoid any contact with the pesky wooden icebergs.  The water was deeper at this time of year and I could paddle closer to the islands which lay to the right of the protruding stumps.  The water was smooth back here.  I was loving it.




I was heading along that shoreline on the right to it's end where the water follows a cove back around that corner in the center of the picture.  Citico Creek should be there.





The cove opens into a larger bay type area.  Citico Creek should lay to the right side of that little island with the trees on it.

The Mistral was responding to my paddle strokes perfectly.  There is no ballast in the bow for this trip.  The wind was absent on this day and the sun was hot.  Ballast is important, especially on windy days.  The boat was gliding effortlessly along.  The boat is moving exceptionally fast today.  It must be the calm conditions eliminating the need for major correction strokes that waste energy and power that could be used for forward momentum.  She's going straight as an arrow, and very fast.
As usual;  I had to search to find the mouth of Citico Creek.  The foliage and terrain changes annually,  presenting a camouflage that also changes.  It's part of the fun;  this searching for the entrance to the creek.  It's a reason to keep paddling.  The best part is there is no urgency to hurry.





Ah;  this looks like it dead ahead.


No;  that ain't it.  Dead end



We'll give this opening a shot.

That won't work either.  Dead end.


There it is.  I knew it when I finally saw it.  Citico Creek lays dead ahead.








The water is very calm and quiet.  This is a canoeists dream.   The place reminds me of some bayou in Louisiana.










It is beautiful back in here.  I simply wanted to sit on the little sand bar I always stop at. It is where I watched a little baby bird thrash about in the water.  I couldn't get to it in time.   The goal this afternoon was to feel the paddle in my hands again.  Citico was just a destination and a reason to go paddling.
The little sand bar is just ahead surrounded by many fallen and washed up logs.  It's a quiet spot and folks paddling up or down stream can not see back in here.  The opening to this little hideaway is barely wide enough for a canoe to fit through.  Love it!

There it is dead ahead.  The bank is soft and grassy;  perfect to beach the canoe on.
This is a wonderful place to hide out.  The sky has darkened and there is a constant thunder in the distance.  I heard that severe storms were to occur well North of here.  By the sounds of it the storms had a different plan.  Maybe the threat of a storm will drive the boats off the lake and allow the canoe safe passage back to the put-in.
It's pretty neat to be in a spot where the loud hustle bustle of vehicles and people screaming can't be heard.  Calderwood Lake is the best though.  This ain't bad.  Every now and again an exceptionally loud motorcycle can be heard blasting along toward the Dragon road.  Wonder who started the idea that Harley Davidson's needed loud exhaust pipes?
All of a sudden lightning appeared.  It was knifing vertically to the earth.  What's going on now?  This wasn't called for.  A gentle rain started and quickly stopped.  I stood and looked toward the sky to the North and it was dark.  The flashing glow of lightning could be seen high in the clouds.  Wow!  That doesn't look good.  The dark sky was still far away.  I wondered if I could make it across Tellico Lake to the boat launch or not.  I did a quick look around for old times sake and decided to make a run for it.
The Mistral was slid back into the water and I set a quick pace to get back onto the channel out of here..  The thunder was getting louder and all I could think was what the emergency weather guy always says when the emergency station breaks into normal broadcasting to alert the public of impending foul weather.
"There is a severe thunder storm capable of producing golf ball size hail moving West to North East at 50 miles per hour carrying high velocity winds approaching 60 miles per hour.  This is considered a dangerous storm.  Remember;  if you can hear thunder you are close enough to be hit by lightning.  Lightning is the most dangerous element in nature and contributes to many deaths every year.  Take precautions and stay in doors."  That's a pleasant thing to think about out here on this lake. 
The lightning flashes increased.  They appeared as short bursts of orange flash every ten to fifteen seconds.  I was fast approaching the mouth of Citico and would be on the main lake in a couple minutes.
The sky was really dark off to the North.  I was wondering if I shouldn't just stick it out here.  I knew that wasn't an option for me before I thought of the question.  I like a challenge.  I could see a storm was coming and I wanted to beat it.  The surface of the lake was calm and smooth.   That would allow the big canoe to make maximum speed.  I sped through and away from the creek mouth at top speed, whatever that is.   My paddle cadence was very fast and I was putting all I had into the power strokes.  I leaned my whole body far forward and planted the paddle blade into the water and pulled rearward with my entire upper body and ended the stroke with a quick kick out away from the boat with the paddle blade to maintain course.  It was easy and the strokes just seemed to happen without thinking.  The canoe still moved on silky smooth water and her glide was sensational.  A check skyward indicated to me that it would be a neat trick to get to shore before this storm caught me.  No time was wasted.  I skirted around stumps in the stump field and put the boat on a course that would run close to the island to my left, keeping well away from the dangerous stumps to the right.  The sky was coming alive with lightning.  It made me nervous.  I noticed that not one boat was on the water.  What did they know that I didn't?   I never stopped my paddle cadence for a moment, which is a good testimonial to the efficient way this canoe functions.  I wasn't tired in the slightest.  I've come about a mile and a half non stop so far.  A gentle breeze started and I felt the first regrets at not electing to stay back on the safe bank of Citico Creek where I could pull my rain poncho over myself and wait out the worse.  I could even find shelter under the canoe if necessary.  Oh well;  "deal with it,"  I thought.  The canoe broke around the island we were following and the two hundred foot wide navigable channel was just ahead.  A glance to the left, down stream, made me stop paddling for a brief moment.  No;  not that!  Far out in the distance, under the black sky was a thin gray line on the water that extended shore to shore.  It was wind blowing the water into white caps.  I've seen it before.  There would probably be heavy rain associated with that wind.  The whole mess was coming directly toward me.  I remember thinking, "not gonna make it;  not gonna make it!"   I've never paddled a canoe as hard as I did this afternoon, ever.  With every other power stroke I glanced at the gray line getting closer and closer; larger and larger;  and I paddled harder and harder.  If that thing caught me out here it would drive me up stream clear to Chilhowee Dam, two miles away if I didn't get blown up onto the shore somewhere in between here and there.   Almost there.  Almost there.  Only another fifty feet.  The water around and under the canoe was swelling up and receding under the boat, sort of like a big balloon blowing up and immediately deflating.  The white caps were in plain view and almost ready to strike the canoe.  The bow touched the boat ramp and I hopped out as the first wave pushed up onto the ramp, struck the canoe and pushed me back wards where I fell down trying to hold onto and protect the canoe from contact with the concrete.  The canoe wheels were quickly slid over the stern end and I rolled the old girl up to the parking lot where I sat down and thought to myself;  "you idiot!  You damn idiot!"   The rain didn't come.  Only the wind made it's debut.  I loaded the canoe onto the trailer and grabbed the camera for a couple shots.  Note the long log at the water's edge of the boat ramp.  That wasn't there when I hit the ramp.  It came in only seconds after I pulled the canoe out.  Never noticed it coming.  Must have been right behind me.

Remember;  this was the water condition at the start.

Another few seconds and the above is what I would have been dealing with.  I'm sure I could keep it afloat but, I doubt I could control direction----at all.  Close one!
So, thats the day in pictures.   A nice hike with the dogs in the morning to a great paddle trip that ended in a very high degree of excitement.  Whew!    We'll see what tomorrow brings when it gets here.