Day 17 – into Paducah, Kentucky


The town of Paducah, KY is definitely a must stop for anyone paddling or boating up or down the  Ohio river, or anyone doing a tour of the country. Their sea wall, which keeps flood waters at bay, has a mural the details the city’s rich history in which the maritime aspect plays a robust part. At this point on I’ll be going up the Tennessee River, with a major big lock at the Kentucky dam, before a nice, long, lock-less stretch on Kentucky Lake.
Getting here from Joppa you go over, or through, one aging lock. Definitely not as an impressive bit of infrastructure as the Olmsted lock downriver. I was looking for a big structure and was surprised to see what looked like a rusty barge dock. As I paddled toward this aging lock (built in the late 20’s I think I heard, tho it could’ve been two decades later), I heard a tow operator repeatedly try to get the lock operator’s attention, calling several times for lock 52 over the marine radio. I turned my radio off after awhile, to conserve battery, so I’m guessing at some point the operator answered him, but I never heard a reply.

When I called the lock operator, and when he eventually answered, he told me to take the “riverside chamber and go to the markers.” I saw markers, but they were off to the Kentucky side, and if I went  for them, I’d clearly have to paddle over the dam. That’s a ton of rushing water to go over, and it was highly unlikely I could do it. I paddled closer to the lock chambers that were closed as a motorboat zipped by and gunned himself over the dam. I radioed back, “hey, I’m sorry to be so stupid here, but do you want me to go where that motor boat just went?” “Yes, that’s right,” was the reply. Needless to say, after paddling about three miles in place I bagged it and called Chelsea to see if she could call the lock operator and figure out a portage option. But I wasn’t ready to quit yet, so I told her to just call and I’d  call her after I made one last go of it my way. I put my boat in the whirlpools going along the chamber and inched my way up and past the lock. Sweet victory. I called Chelsea back to say, hey I made it through. She told me the guy, who was laughing when she called, offered to possibly meet me out with a boat. I’m glad I didn’t need his assistance, but I wonder why the heck he told me to go over the dam like that. You trust these operators to help you with good advice, not try to get you killed. Well, at least I maybe have him something to laugh about. Maybe that was the brightest part of his day.

I got over my annoyance at the lock experience, tho in retrospect it was pretty funny. I was able to laugh about it more when I paddled up to the boat’s final resting place for the night-at a dock at Ingram Barge. Captain Phillip Hamm, who pilots the M/V Arthur J Carson, had arranged for dockage for my canoe and the use of the showers. Chelsea and I completely appreciated the safe spot for the canoe-you can’t beat the security there-and the brand spanking new showers. What bliss to have a real hot shower!

I told Aaron, our contact there as Capt. Hamm was on the water, about my experience at lock 52. He kind of got a chuckle out of it, saying that lock 52 was kinda the worst post to get if you are a lock operator. It’s due for an upgrade and will probably take a decade or so to complete. I hope they put in portage options. More people should paddle this amazing river-especially when Paducah is on the route!

You simply cannot pass by Paducah. Both Aaron and a wonderful guy Chelsea met, Tony Cain, pointed us in the direction of Paducah Beer Werks (  for good beer and good food. We found plenty of both and stuffed ourselves silly. We also met up with Tony there-Chelsea had met him at the dollar store-he noticed the feather in her hair and gravitated toward her instantly-he likes hippy chicks! We had the best time hanging with him, he gave us the tour of the wall, let us do laundry at his home, and we swapped stories of our memories growing up, music festivals, shared music and talked about Stuckies pecan log rolls. It was a great time, his happiness and love was infectious.

Meanwhile, my VHF-marine radio was charging back at Paducah Beer Werks. We had to go back to grab that, plus the bar owner was going to host us for the night. While we were getting ready to leave Tony got a call-it was Todd Frederick Blume, the owner who depends on clean water for his business of making outstanding beer-he had instead arranged for us to stay at this brand spanking new hotel in town- the 1857 hotel ( . It’s only been open for eight weeks!  This hotel was a restoration and resurrection from whatever it had been previously back in the 1800’s, the name being the year this place was originally built. It’s awesome and Chelsea and I feel like we’re in the lap of luxury.

My list of places for my family to come back to is getting longer. Paducah, KY, my first Kentucky experience, is definitely one of those places. Once again, I’m paddling through history, and once again, I’m seeing how a town that accentuates and draws people to its waterfront thrives. This place just rocks. Chelsea and I are so lucky to have met so many wonderful people here.

Meanwhile, back at home- People get upset about their drinking water getting dirty.


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