Day 38 – Saved by the Tow!

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I really don’t know how I messed up the distance estimates for yesterday’s run. I had Bobby’s Fish Camp to the Jackson spot at 28 miles, and for some reason I had in my notes that the paddle from there to Mt.Vernon would be only 20 more – a long, but manageable 48 miles.

That this didn’t send alarm bells off in my head when I glanced at the map on my iPhone and wondered that it was funny that it looked like the distance from my Jackson spot to my Mt. Vernon spot looked double what the Bobby’s Fish Camp spot to the Jackson spot did is a mystery to me. I guess it was indeed wishful thinking overpowering reality. I had been eager to do the long distances while I could because of the lousy weather forecast for the upcoming week. It’s been my goal to shorten the distances I paddled in ’09 on the Mobile Bay/Dauphin Island stretch where I’d be on the intracoastal and subject to rougher conditions with a less than desirable forecast.

So it’s kind of a mystery how I didn’t catch my goof. Not that it would have mattered-there were no options for a host in Jackson and no good camping options either. So it really was pretty much Mt. Vernon or bust anyway. Although, if I actually realized the distance – some 60+ miles! – I probably would have tried harder to find an alternate landing.

Fortunately for me, the network of those who love the Alabama rivers and see their value to tourism and recreation is strong enough to have landed me in the lap of a retired trucker and lover of rat terriers and the river- Brent Taylor. The guy is golden with a bigger heart and sense of adventure than the 18 wheelers he used to drive. First off, he offered, through this “river rat” network, to host me. Then he didn’t mind that I was bumping up the date I’d be arriving at his doorstep. Oh-another clue that I ignored that this was going to be a long paddle was his offer to “tow me” to Mt. Vernon, this historic place where, “Hamilton” lovers please take note,  Aaron Burr was arrested.

After having done a bunch of these distance paddles since ’07, I’m kind of used to folks being skeptical of my abilities as a slow gal with a fast boat to cover these distances. Such doubts have kind of become like water off a duck’s back. They don’t stick in my conscious.

Unfortunately, all these clues should have stuck in my head. The paddle from Jackson to Mt. Vernon is indeed about double what it is from Silas to a Jackson. The paddle in its entirety was over 60 miles. Without starting at slightly before the crack of dawn, and without a hold up at the last lock, I’d be paddling through the night in a once again very twisty section of Tombigbee River. I definitely had NOT started at the crack of dawn and especially was in no rush as I had watched a south bound tow make its way to the lock & dam. It was also unfortunate that there was a long wait as another tow was heading north so of course would occupy the lock before me.

All I can say is thank God for Brent and his sense of adventure and big heart. He took his boat up the 40 miles or so from the boat launch in Mt.Vernon to meet me in the water. He caught up to me after I’d gone I don’t know how far past the Jackson spot, I do know I had been paddling for about two to three hours past that point.

Brent took my heavy gear and I paddled in his bow wake for a stretch. When the grim reality finally dawned on me that my distance estimates had been horrifically off, I accepted a beer and a tow. It was actually kind of fun for the first 15 miles, for the remainder, sleepiness set in and it was a constant battle to stay awake and steer the canoe in the  bright full moon.

I really would have been hating life if it weren’t for Brent and his big heart and kindness and pontoon boat, which he had, in addition to beverages and cold water, stocked with absolutely fantastic fried catfish.

We actually even ran aground once on a sand bar, but Brent took this all in stride and we were both happy to finally be at the boat ramp before 2am. He didn’t seem to be bothered even with pulling the pontoon boat off the sand bar in the moonlight, despite the both of us seeing a huge alligator. It floated eerily high in the water like a giant inflatable toy before sinking out of sight to the depths of the river.

I can’t believe he burned through all that gas, either. Hopefully he will come to NJ so I can host him and show him the sites, feed him, and return the kindness. As it stands now he wants me to wake him up and he’s thinking of following me to Blue Gill, where I’ll be meeting Justine of Mobile Baykeeper. That’s a for real 35 mile paddle-Carl even did the distance for me. Let’s hope the storms hold off! The forecast looks kind of grim, but perhaps I’ll bail at Hurricane Landing if need be. Unfortunately it’s already not going to be a super early start but after such a late night it’s as early as can be hoped for.

So now I’ve got coffee on and soon I’ll make the push to Blue Gill Restaurant. Or at least Hurricane Landing! I am in as much awe of the kindness of these strangers now turned friends I’ve met here in Alabama and elsewhere along this journey, as I am in the beautiful rivers I’ve been so lucky to paddle.

Oh! And good news! Apparently President Obama has set aside another area to be granted “marine reserve protection” or was it monument status? I kind of missed the details when Helvarg told me on the phone, and didn’t get a chance to ask after having a rare and wonderful chance to chat with Roz Savage, the famous ocean rower who was speaking at the event.

Inching my way to NOLA!

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