Please contribute.

This section of the website is an invaluable resource for new and experienced paddlers alike.
Help us by submitting your report to the webmaster.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Dauphin Island - west end
Saturday-Sunday, November 20-21, 2004
by Brint Adams

The forecast for the weekend called for partly cloudy skies, a 5-10 mph breeze out of the southeast, scattered showers with temperatures ranging from 65-70 degrees. Seven hardy souls showed up at 10:00 AM Saturday morning at Ron Jones bayside house on the west end of Dauphin Island. Ron was very kind to allow us to park in his driveway, which looked similar to Buffalo, NY in January. The hurricane moved large quantities of sand around, which was shoveled to the sides of the streets and driveways into ten foot high mounds of sand everywhere. Ron was fortunate to have a house left with only some damage to his garage and storage room under the main house structure. Many of his neighbors were not as lucky.

Under threatening skies, Larry, Bob, Dick, Gene, Gary, George and I set out westward at 10:50 AM, along the north side of the island, heading for the far end about nine miles away. As soon as we got underway, it started to rain, although it was warm as we continued to paddle. About one mile into the paddle, we came across a couple of small cuts through the island which were navigable only at high tide. However, only a short distance farther, we found a large cut and paddled through to the Gulf side. After some of us paddled in the surf awhile, we stopped for lunch along the inside of the cut.

As we continued down the bay side of the uninhabited west end of the island, we began to see a tremendous amount of debris washed up on the shore and well over and into the middle of the island. We found lots of lumber from houses, piers, stairs and decks. We found a hot tub with all of the exterior piping intact as well as an eight foot long propane tank floating near the shore. There was enough plastic deck furniture along the way to have a party for the whole club.

Irregardless of what the weather prognosticators forecast, the wind changed directions and came out of the north or northeast by at least 20 mph, which kicked up the chop to between 2-4 foot waves, which we attempted cross at an angle. The rain started to come down heavily at times, as we fought the chop just off the coast. After a stop along the beach, our group spread out some and therefore some of us did not see Dick execute a deepwater self-rescue without a paddle float. His new kayak proved to be stable in some pretty awful conditions, as he nimbly crawled back in and gladly activated his electric bilge pump. It worked magnificently as he quickly caught back up with the group.

We found our way to the end of the island at around 2:30 PM and practiced our surf landings without mishap. The rain continued to fall intermittently, as we began to make camp. We were able to practice setting up tents in the rain with the 20 mph north wind blowing us all around. There was absolutely no protection from the elements with the island flat, no trees and very little scrub. We scavenged a nice plastic deck table for our food prep area and began to gather driftwood for a fire. George found enough tinder and kindling to go along with the larger sticks and logs we dragged in from all around us, to build a nice fire which lasted through the evening.

The rain held off while we prepared and ate dinner. We had quite a wide variety ranging from chicken casserole, spaghetti with smoked oysters, jambalaya MRE to a wonderful seaweed and egg soup, with a variety of liquid refreshments as well. The wind died down a little after dark, but remained at least 10 mph throughout the night. Around 3:00 AM, we woke up to the sounds of another shower.

Everyone seemed to want to get moving early as we awoke at 6:00 AM and following a quick breakfast, broke camp at record pace and started our paddle back by around 7:45 AM. Actually, Gary could not wait and started out on his own at 7:30, followed by Bob and I, who took the Gulf side back to the large cut-through. The weather was considerably improved with partly cloudy skies, warmer temperatures, a slower north wind and no rain.

Bob and I saw large groups of cormorants and brown pelicans hanging around the beach and scouting out a morning meal, as we paddled about 50-100 meters off the shoreline. The swells were in the range of 2-4 feet and large, easy rollers. It was a welcome change from the tight nerve-wracking chop the day before. We paddled the approximate eight miles to the cut in 2 hours. After a 15 minute wait, the others started to come in separately from along the north shore.

After all of us arrived at the cut, we took a short mid-morning snack break before finishing the final mile back to the take-out point. Although a day late, Sunday morning turned out to be the perfect time for the easy trip Larry promised us. For those looking for more excitement, the easy turned into another of Larry's famous Big Boy paddles, some have come to enjoy or at least come away from with stories to tell for years to come.

Saturday-Sunday, November 20-21, 2004
by Gary Worob

Dauphin Island paddle/the truth is just a lie!

It was unanimously voted upon that I would not be the one to write the trip report. I always, however, have believed that a good lie is worth 10,000 truths and the lies are what we are most fond of (i.e. Santa Claus, tooth fairies, virgins, fair elections, confessions leading to entrance to heaven and that kind of stuff).

The reason I was deselected is that everyone would be afraid that the truth I would tell would invigorate so many to go on the next “big boy” paddle that there would be too many to allow for individuality and not enough room for individual story telling. So I have decided to embellish this report to some extent so that not too many would want to participate, but enough to move the circle of energy forwards. So having set the precedent here is the truth of things:


Once upon a time there were seven seriously demented adults close to senility who embarked on the most absurd of missions: to find the pot of gold at the end of an island that was seriously damaged in a recent hurricane the size of which was enough to make sustainability on that formidable property near impossible. It had now become a permanently shifting bird sanctuary whose only natural resource is droppings, feathers and rubbish.

The seven took off and immediately ran into torrential horrific downpour followed by blistering 100 degree weather only to be followed by 90 mile an hour winds and 17 foot waves with troughs so deep that mere mortals would be lost to the deep eternally. This motley crew knew no fear (or sensibility) and proceeded on by the feverous quest of more debris and bird droppings. After many days at sea with little to no provisions they finally embarked on their dream quest, the isle of wrong, a desolate area ideally suited to the asylum they so sought from wirrings and frivolity of the nonsensical nuances of the Saturday afternoon fever………football!

It was their strongest desire to remove themselves from one of the 7 deadly sins of the modern age and thinking thus they rejoiced exuberantly as they set about building Fort Absurd. It was only a matter of 6 months before the fort was finally finished, complete with running water, wind power and dancing women. The latter were captured from a passing pirate ship that had recently pillaged and plundered a nunnery in the high desert along the coastal front.

Now set for the coming winter the festive crew embarked on more efficient projects that could ensure long happy days of comfort. One of the more creative of the repasts was a recycling business started by brint known as “table topping.” This creative repast led to many festive occasions of luxurious dining and cooking classes, which I must admit I had a serious hand in. Another favorite past time was road construction and sanitary sewer design.

After 6 more months the “motleys” started to notice a serious lack of morale among the crew and were fraught with concern for their safety and well-being. The women all proved to be barren except for a fair haired young extremely warming lass named Alice who proved to be an ample bed partner, but maybe, that is too detailed for this report and should be saved for another journey.

So, early one morning and led by yours truly (the first serious deserter) the crew worked their way back to civilization and found that, in truth, the world had not changed. They were in part relieved to know that there is a constance in the world and that there still was football and beer and lies. And, oh yes, there was a pot of gold there somewhere because the rainbow’s end upon leaving shone right on that site.

You can visit Fort Absurd on your internet:; it has now been taken over by an even more absurd crew.

Egg drop soup!

(sung to the song “four rode on”) Dauphin Island Paddle

7 rode on,

Rode on high

Waves so big you could hardly see

The sky!

The reports will vary,

That’s for sure.

Only the big boys

know the truth…and who’s full of …manure.

There were seven of us

Who braved the squall

And 7 came home

Standing that tall!

It was a weekend

That will be remembered

By the 7 who rode on,

And the truth somewhere will be…long gone.

We rode big waves

And gusts a plenty

Tents flying in the air….

Should have been a documentary.

But it was a testament

To strength,


And endurance.

At one point

I wondered…

Did I have enough


Larry planned this trip

Real well,

It wasn’t his fault

That the weather went …to Hell!

But Sunday brought


Cheers for

My birthday.

And it turned

Out to be a beautiful one,

A great


Thanks to one and all,

For making this paddle



No matter what size

The waves,

And how strong

The wind…

Some of us will remember

This story with a

Snort and

A grin.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Robinson Bayou - Annual Club Fall Picnic and Paddle
Saturday, November 13, 2004

This late afternoon paddle took place as part of the MBCAKC annual paddle and picnic. Gary and Aven Warner were our gracious hosts for the festivities, opening up their home to all, and letting us use their floating dock to launch our little flotilla of kayaks and canoes. They live on Riverside Drive, which is off of Dauphin Island Parkway, west of Brookley Airport.

Their property circles a beautiful point on the south or east side of Dog River looking out to a large island of swamp grasses, and the forest beyond on the opposite bank. It is a surprisingly picturesqe setting in south Mobile. After assembling our many different boats by the ramp, we finally launched about 10 boats with 18 or so enthusiatic paddlers in the water, and were paddling by about 3:30 PM. It was overcast and about 62 degrees with a slight breeze.

We started out circling the point and heading east and south into a narrow bayou. We saw various waterfowl and a few blooming burr marigolds and duck potato, as we tried to keep up with Bob's war canoe and Dick's and Marilyn's sleek new kayaks. When we hit the end of the creek, we reversed course and turned east into Robinson Bayou. This is a beautiful, remote area winding back for almost a mile towards DIP and the southern end of Brookley Airport.

After exiting Robinson Bayou, we crossed Dog River and circled around a beautiful island with a narrow waterway around the north side, and ended back at the Warner's. While most boats were taken out, several paddlers had to try out Dick Becker's new Australian-made 19' kevlar kayak.

With everyone's appetite worked up, we all dug into the wide array of potluck dishes laid out inside. Particular thanks go to Aven for her large homemade rolls, delicious barbequed chicken and pork roast. There were almost another twenty members and neighbors who gathered for the evening of fellowship, lies and storytelling. A good time was had by all.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Rice Creek to Jug Lake Platform
Sunday, November 7, 2004
by Rich & Carol Gajek

We had an amazing paddle on Sunday, November 7th, and the amazement lasted until Wednesday (and probably beyond).

We planned to catch up with Bob on Sunday morning, on his Jug Lake paddle. We couldn't make the campout, but wanted to check out the camping platform. We got a late start getting to Rice Creek Landing, and Bob had already moved on from his campout, so we missed him. The paddle was an excellent adventure, in any case. We had a peaceful picnic lunch on the platform and watched some kingfishers working the lake. We saw only one mosquito the entire trip. The weather was exquisite and I have never seen the Tensaw so calm. The water level was higher than the last time I was on Jessamine Bayou, so there were less snags to avoid. We actually didn't see
anyone from Rice Creek Landing, all the way to Jug Lake and back to the Tensaw. We saw a couple of fisherman on the Tensaw, and that was it.

When we got back to Rice Creek Landing, we noticed Bob's truck was gone, so we figured he took a different route back from Jug Lake. We were mighty satisfied with our paddle, packed up and headed home.

But the story isn't over. Carol had to bring her car into the shop on Tuesday, when she noticed Bob left a card on our car windshield, with his phone number on it. I was curious to know what route he took (especially if Jessamine was open to Bottle Creek), so I called. Well! Was I surprised when during the course of the conversation, he asked if we missed our paddles. I got Carol to check, and indeed we left the paddles at Rice Creek Landing. Bob told me he received a call from Phil Day, asking him if someone had left kayak paddles at the landing.

I called Phil to inquire and indeed, he had our paddles. He arrived at the landing about 30 minutes after we left, and knew Bob was involved with kayaking. He was worried that if he left the paddles there, someone else would abscond them. Phil kindly told me he would drop off the paddles the next morning. When I tried to give him a reward for his trouble, he declined and said "just pass it on".

It just lets you know what kind of paddling community we have here in southern Alabama. It was just amazing that Bob left his card and number, I called him about his trip, Phil arrived just after we left, and knew to call Bob about the paddles left behind!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Rice Creek to Jug Lake platform, Bayou Tallapoosa, Tensaw Lake
Saturday & Sunday, November 6-7, 2004
by Brint Adams

Only the finest of the MBCAKC came out to enjoy the absolutely perfect weather in one of the prettiest spots in the Tensaw Delta. Bob and I started out at different times, but both put in at Rice Creek Landing Saturday afternoon. We found Rice Creek Road is now paved all the way back to the landing, which is a big improvement. The temperature at 1:30 PM was 77 degrees, there was no wind or clouds and the tide was falling.

I went out early and stopped along the cutoff between Briar Lake and Tensaw River to clear away some brush. Bob soon caught up with me and we continued to Bayou Jessamine and were pleasantly surprised to see it was clear up to the fork with Jug Lake. We knew Norman and Tom were coming later to meet us at the platform, so with some time to kill, we decided to continue paddling Bayou Jessamine on to Bottle Creek. After the fork, we were still surprised to see a fairly clear waterway for a good distance. For a while, we thought this area just didn't get much wind damage.

But, our luck changed as we came up against six major falls, one after the other. I cut our way through each, some over, some under and some around. It took us about an hour to go the last half mile, but we didn't have to portage, as we finally made it to Bottle Creek. It was a quick trip back downstream to the turn into Jug Lake. Just as the turn came into view, we came across Norman, who had missed it and was heading towards us up Jessamine.

The four of us leisurely paddled into Jug Lake as the sun started to set. The distance from Rice Creek Landing to the platform is 5 miles, while Bob and I added another 1.2 miles for the afternoon. We set up camp on the floating platform and ate dinner. Norman and Tom stayed around for awhile before heading out after dark to Rice Creek. The night was calm and cool, with the sounds of several owls keeping us company throughout the night.

After a quick breakfast, we packed up and were on the water at 7:20 AM for our second day of paddling. We decided to make a big loop, and were glad we blazed the trail up Jessamine the afternoon before, to make the first part of our paddle much easier.

We made it to Bottle Creek (2.2 mi.) in about 45 minutes and turned north to where it branches out of the Tensaw River. We turned west or upriver against a pretty stiff current and stopped to take a break at the land campsite on the southeast corner of where Middle River forks south from the Tensaw. We talked for awhile with a couple of hunters who were camped there, who had no luck searching for wild boar.

We continued fighting the Tensaw current for another almost three miles up around the curve until we reached Bayou Tallapoosa (4.2 mi. from Bottle Creek @ Bayou Jessamine. There is a large two story cabin way up on pilings on the northeast corner at the mouth of Tallapoosa. About a half mile before reaching Tallapoosa, and without referring to our map, we actually took a false right turn into a creek which was pretty clear and wide, with a good current. We paddled down it for about 0.8 mi., cutting our way through some tree falls and wasting about 40 minutes before deciding we needed to turn back.

Once we made it in Bayou Tallapoosa, the swift current down was a welcome relief after the hard paddle up river so far. Bayou Tallapoosa is a beautiful waterway reminiscent of Jessamine, although it is a little wider, which made it easier to get around the treefalls. We did have to cut our way through a couple, but it is now good to go for kayak trips.

After exiting Tallapoosa, we turned north up the west side of Dead Lake Island on Tensaw Lake for 0.5 mi., to the spot where there are two floating camp platforms. The distance from platform to platform taking this route is just under 10 miles. We stopped for lunch, before heading back down Tensaw Lake and taking the left fork around Richardson Island, down Briar Lake and back to Rice Creek, a distance of 3.2 miles. Our total paddle for the day was approximately 15.2 miles.

Waterfowl watching was plentiful, with numerous sightings of cormorants, wood ducks, egrets and herons, as well as hawks, osprey and many gators. All in all, we had a great weekend of paddling under ideal fall conditions.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

October 31, 2004
by Frank Laraway

Having occasion to attend the annual retreat of the Alabama Sierra Club, held at The Episcopal Church's Camp McDowell, I took along my small Neckie kayak on top of my wagon to take advantage of the opportunities to paddle in the rocky white water of northern Alabama.

The area where our conference was to be held is on the SW edge of the Bankhead National Forest, several miles above Jasper. The camp itself is bounded by Clear Creek on its eastern edge. This creek, and its scenic rocky cliffs, are part of the feature of the camp's religious retreat program. Our Sierra meetings occurred on the northern side of the camp, independent of the church's other activities occurring at the same time. The camp and church sponsor a very intense program of environmental education for families and children, as part of their retreat programs.

Because free time at this weekend conference was at a premium, I arrived early in the afternoon and put my kayak in alone, well before formal activities of the retreat were to occur. Access to the creek by boat is difficult, due to the high cliffs that border it. I was able to get my car and boat to within sixty feet of the river at the south end of the camp, but was forced to make a difficult steep entry down a very rocky bank. The put-in was just below the camp impoundment dam, occurring several hundred feet up river.

Cold Creek is, for the most part, shallow except for behind artificial impoundment dams. Below the dam, it was mostly no more than twelve to twenty-four inches deep, due to the abundance of rocks and hard rock bottom. I paddled down river only about a mile, since the sun was beginning to hide behind the high cliffs on the west. The river area is very consistently scenic with high cliffs on both sides.

Beavers are apparently abundant, but not seen. The usual river bird characters kept ahead of my boat and consisted of mostly kingfishers, herons and wood ducks. The trees that occur above and below the canyon are mainly maples, beeches, big leaf magnolias and a variety of oaks. It was not easy getting back up stream before dark, because the river was so shallow, preventing digging in with the paddle.

Getting the boat and equipment back up the steep, rocky bank and on top of a car rack was a challenge also because of being alone. I was forced to resort to the "Julie System" of getting the boat back on the rack. This consists of putting pads on top the car itself, to temporarily rest the boat on, as one gets it up on the rack. Due to the forward location of my back rack, it is impossible for one person to get the bow of the boat directly on the rack at first. The car was on a hill so the boat even slid off once before getting it on the cushioned mounting pads of the racks.

We had a good two day conference, with very good speakers, giving us lectures on local historical geology, flora and fauna and concerning progress in protecting wild and scenic areas of the state. Other lectures, discussions and concerns were of environmental politics, protection against destruction of habitat, clean water and air.

One of the constant efforts of Sierrans is to protect the state against concentrated animal feeding industries, which produce large amounts of animal waste, that pollute the water and air.

Through the efforts of Sierra and other environmental groups, Alabama now offers the option to buy Forever Wild car license plates, the money going to purchase scenic wild land areas, in order to protect them from development. This income is supplemented with income from the state petroleum gas tax well fund, and has made it possible to acquire much scenic land, especially down here in the delta of south Alabama.

After the conference was over on Sunday, I had planned to drive north into the Bankhead Forest and paddle one leg of the Sipsie. Lacking time, I elected to drive a few miles south of the camp instead, to paddle Smith Lake as I headed for south Alabama.

The park at this western edge of Smith Lake, has good facilities, including a long and steep boat ramp for putting in boats. Smith is located at the south end of the same Clear Creek, and is water that is impounded by Alabama Power Company to generate power. It is, in some places, 300' deep indicating that the river worked for many years, removing rock grain by grain, as it traveled to the Gulf basin. During the Ice Age of over 10,000 years ago, the ocean was at least 40-60 feet lower than it is today.

The lake is bordered all around by the same sandstone cliffs seen further up Clear Creek. Wherever rain creeks fall over these cliffs, with time, the water and ice erode the rock away to form extensive overhanging roofs of rock, creating cliff caves. Some of these caves can be quite extensive and have been shelters for native Americans back through hundreds of years. At each one of these spill-overs and caves, a small bay or creek cut-in is formed in the banks, due to this erosive action, having occurred for thousands of years. These rocky cliffs and woods are so scenic, that it pays to get out of the boat from time to time to hike the borders of the lake.

My planned schedule, forced me to get back to my car at about 11:00 AM to drive south the almost 300 miles, in order to attemd a 6:00 PM Halloween party.

The shortest route to the Mobile Bay area from here, is first to take highway 195 to Jasper, then 69 to Tuscaloosa and its western toll by-pass, to the 20-59 expressway and highway 43 to Mobile. It is four-lane from Thomasville to I-65 and 195 into the city.

Northern Alabama above Montgomery offers interesting options for paddling and camping. However, it is time consuming to drive that far and difficult to find good landings for stream boating. Due to the rock floor of the area, the streams are more rocky, challenging and scenic, so it is worth the trouble.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Phatwater Kayak Challenge
Grand Gulf to Natchez, MS
Saturday, October 9, 2004
Two perspectives by Tom Fink & Brint Adams

Tom Fink writes:

I have never paddled so hard for so long and enjoyed myself so much! In one sentence that is my opinion of this truly great event. Keith Benoist and his volunteers put on an absolutely first class event that serious racers (not me, at least not this year), dedicated paddlers (that's me), and rec. boaters, and even spectators (my wife) could truly enjoy. Well let me back up now and give a view of the Phat from a not yet serious racer.

Several months ago I thought I would practice like crazy and put the paddling world on notice! I even bought a long boat (19'1" according to the specs.) with a name so long it had to be fast, that is the Kajak Sport Avalon Viviane Expedition. When I finally got my dream boat not only was it damaged and with the bulkheads leaking, but by god it did not feel fast. When I paddled it there was no fast swooshing sound, no magical glide....... I am sure it is faster than my plastic Looksha 4 but I could not just feeeeeeeeeel it. Oh well, I decided to fix the bulkheads and after several tries I was successful (over a week with no paddling).

Now to practice. Well I did some, but in the 5 weeks prior to the event I attended the week long International Mayfly/Stonefly Conference in Montana (no Kayaking!), week after was termite work (little kayaking), then a Freestyle Canoe Symposium in Ohio (no kayaking), then a long drive back to Mobile and Slidell from Ohio to prepare two houses for a potentially devastating Ivan. So Ivan caused me to lose about another 10 days of no paddling. Finally I paddled to Horn and East Ship to salvage some of my lost vacation due to Ivan (although it caused small craft warnings for me when it circled back through the Gulf). So the longest "practice" paddle for the Phat was the 11 mile crossing from East Ship to Biloxi. Well by this time if I actually made it to the Phat I was just going to "Experience It".

I almost missed the Phat. I mentally moved it one week after it's true date. When I finally realized my mistake I did not know if I could go. My mother was going into the hospital to graft skin to cover an infectious wound so big it looked like she got into a machete fight in Haiti. She maybe was going to be discharged Friday (Saturday Oct. 9 was the race) or Monday. Well I still thought I would go.....maybe, but arriving home from work the camp house deck in Slidell was flooded from the mysterious (to me) tropical storm Matthew. I cleared the deck but was worried that Ruth's car (she drove in from Mobile) might get flooded while we were away. Well I did not think a wimpy tropical storm would raise the water quite enough to flood the car, so I loaded the boat, we drove to the hospital one last time, then drove to Natchez by way of Baton Rouge and route 61 which parallels the Mississippi. It rained for most of the 3.5 hour trip, and as it turns out one headlight was out.

We finally checked into the Isle of Capri Hotel at 10:30 PM. Ate at the Casino just before midnight to past midnight, and I did not get to bed before 2:30 AM. Wow, this is no way to prepare for the great Phat River Race!!! We never made it to the Under the Hill Saloon, but Keith said we could register at the put-in.

The next morning about 5+ AM we followed a kayaking family from Dallas, Texas to the put-in which they had scouted the day before. It took about an hour to make the drive. Breakfast was a banana that I hoped might keep me from cramping.

Around 6:40 to 7 AM a lot more people arrived at the put-in, and it was truly looking like a big event. You could even then feel the excitement, but at the same time there was a very convivial spirit that everyone seemed to share. Two good paddling buddies showed up from Mississippi, Cy Tandy and Charles. Charles has just built a gorgeous cedar strip tandem, which even included a beautiful cutout of a dolphin on the bow. There were all kinds of boats there: surf skis, K1 racing kayaks, Seda Gliders, canoes (even white water canoes), and rec kayaks that I wouldn't take out of a small pond.

About 7:30ish there was the safety talk by Keith Benoist (the race organizer for every year). I was a little concerned about the commercial barge traffic that he mentioned to be aware of. He also mentioned that there were 12 (I think he said 12) volunteer safety boats. As it turned out they did an excellent job of monitoring kayaks and canoes during the entire race, even offering gator aid and water to us.

We loaded boats shortly after the safety talk into a quiet lagoon like area where you could paddle around and relax. At 8:15 AM the race began! No way was I going to sprint at the start and blow myself up in the first mile. However, the racing atmosphere was so pervasive that you couldn't help but paddle hard, and so I picked up my pace and started picking off those ahead. Of course, the competitive boats got ahead very quickly and it wasn't long before I could not see them.

After about a half hour or 45 minutes (or maybe an hour?) the pecking order was pretty much established, and I chased one boater far ahead for hours and could not catch him. My tandem buddies were in sight for the first 2/3 of the race. Much of the race I paddled alone. The first hour went by pretty quick and amazingly we got to our first major landmark, St. Joseph elevator, which was more than 1/4 of the way through the course. Wow I thought, I am really going to finish this.

The current is really fast. You absolutely do not want to get close to the buoys or any other obstruction in the river or the current could easily wrap your boat around any obstruction with "crunching" results.

Choosing the fastest line in the race is really a challenge. It is not true that the middle of the river is always the fastest. Much of the time it is, but since the water current moves in a straight line when the current comes from a straight section of the river to a curve the water then moves fastest where the current sweeps the curve. I watched my tandem friends take a line around such a curve and though they paddled a much longer distance, they soon greatly left me in the dust. Then later they choose a poor line and I caught them, at least for awhile. The problem in a kayak is that it is hard to tell curves since you are so low. It is also hard to tell islands from sandbars, again due to the low visual angle in a kayak.

The barges were never a problem. Luckily no barge was moving in our direction. That would be the spookiest since they would then be moving faster, and it would be harder to watch them while they were behind us. I only saw about a half dozen barges. I am sure it was not 10-12, but not sure of the exact number. The barges moving upstream were on our river left, and they were easy to avoid. Passing within several hundred feet was really no problem, and their wake was not bad at all.

The Mississippi River is really quite beautiful and certainly impressive. The entire course from Grand Gulf, Ms. to Natchez is heavily wooded along the banks. There are some very nice sandbars and Islands. Since the water level was very high, many of the sandbars were under water.

At two hours of paddling I still felt great, I could not believe it. I can remember while much younger in running races how every step seemed tortuous, but this was not the case here.

At three hours I still felt great.

At 3.5 hours I did not feel quite so great. My arms and hands were getting crampy and I was afraid I would fully cramp up. So I let up a bit, and tried to drink a good amount of my gator aid. I also tried to eat my Mars bars (none of that terrible tasting high energy gel stuff for me) for energy. Luckily at about 4 hours I felt better and picked up my pace. By golly, I could not let the person in back of me pass me. They were steadily gaining while I was declining, so it felt good to increase the pace.

From 4-5 hours the time seemed to go a little slow, but it was not bad. Around 4.5 hours I could see the bend holding Natchez. The point I was aiming for however kept on eluding me, it seemed I would never reach it. At that time the head winds were very strong so I moved closer to shore to try to get some protection.

I finally saw the Isle of Capri Casino boat. I knew the ramp was near it, but not exactly since we never made it to the Saloon near the take-out before the race. So I made a beeline for the boat. I could soon see what looked like a ramp upstream of the casino boat so I then made a new beeline for the supposed ramp. Unfortunately, I had moved so far to the middle of the river that I was worried that I would get swept past the ramp. When several hundred feet from the ramp I could finally see people and I had to paddle very hard to avoid being swept past the ramp. I just barely made it.

At the ramp volunteers grabbed my boat and pulled me up the ramp on a rug. I was a little unsteady for a few steps after not walking for 5hours, 17 minutes and 42 seconds. The wonderful volunteers then pumped out my boat and hauled it up the very steep and long ramp. Amazingly I still felt good, not exhausted like I thought I would. Nothing even hurt, my muscles did not hurt at all. Sure there was a blanket of tiredness, but not an overwhelming one. I really did feel an elation of sorts for finishing the amazing Phat River Race of 2004.

It was really a very festive and again convivial atmosphere at the take-out. Lots of people offered to help with boats. After a quick shower at our nearby Isle of Capri Hotel (a very nice hotel with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River from the windows, all for only $49.00 a night) we went back to feast on the event provided lasagna, salad, and chocolate chip cookies. The lasagna was some of the best I have ever had. There was also lots of beer for those so inclined.

The awards ceremony was a little anticlimactic only because the rain had just restarted (after stopping for the entire race) and the race organizers could not use the great sound system that the Red Bull energy drink company had provided in their bull like truck. Amazingly much of the awards went to paddlers in their 40s to 60s.

In all it was a wonderful day. I think everyone enjoyed themselves, no matter what craft they paddled or what shape they were in. Despite the great length of this paddle it really is doable for all types of paddlers.

To be competitive for the Phat I really think you need a long boat, a light efficient paddle, consistent hard practice for months, and you need to follow the most efficient line through the course. You need to follow the fastest current. To be less competitive you can do a whole lot less, like I did.

After the awards we drove around Natchez which has some wonderful old houses, including some antebellum mansions. We ate that night at the very nice local Magnolia Grill restaurant near the Under the Hill Saloon and near the race take-out.

The next morning we left for Baton Rouge and eventually Slidell. Route 61 between Natchez and Baton Rouge is worth a revisit some day to see the many antebellum mansions which are advertised by signs along the road.

You may direct comments to: Tom Fink

Brint Adams writes:

All I can say is WOW!!! The long, extremely hot workouts on Mobile Bay and in the delta over the past four months were definately worth it. Paddling the Mississippi River was challenging, exciting, exhausting and satisfying with beautiful scenery around every corner. But, since this was a race, the end result was equally important to me. I bettered all expectations and goals set for myself six months ago when I decided to enter and train for this race. When it was all over, I finished in 5th place overall in 4:39:24 and in 2nd place in my boat category.

Linda and I left Spanish Fort Friday afternoon, the day before the race, and traveled I-10 to I-12 to Hammond, LA, north on I-55 and west to Natchez, MS, taking 4.5 hours. After checking in to our motel, we went to the east bank of the Mississippi in downtown Natchez and found our way down to the area called Under The Hill. The check-in was in the Under The Hill Saloon which has a great view across the River and overlooking the Isle of Capri Riverboat Casino. From this point, you can look north straight up the river for as far as you can see. The next day after the race, we found out one can actually see upriver for over 13 miles with a telescope. After checking in, getting last minute instructions for race morning and recommendations for dinner, we left to go back to the motel to rest for an hour.

We decided to try Pearl Street Pasta in downtown Natchez for dinner and it was an excellent choice. I got plenty of carbo loading in preparation for the next day. Afterwards, it was to bed early and back up at 4:30 AM. Without any locking system for my kayak, I decided to put it in our motel room, which was on the ground floor with an outside entrance. So, with the kayak stretching from just inside the door all the way to under the sink, we had to be careful getting up in the middle of the night.

When we arrived to meet caravan heading up to the start near Grand Gulf, MS, we were a little apprehensive about the weather with tropical storm Matthew heading our way. When we arrived at the Claiborne County Port boat ramp a little before 7:00 AM, the morning light started out very dim and gray. It was very breezy with a misty rain and threatening skies. After hearing safety instructions, all boats were put into the small bay, where we warmed up and waited for the start. At about 8:15 AM, the gun went off for about 50 boats of all varying sizes, shapes and colors. There were surf skis, a couple of real K-1 racing kayaks, tandem kayaks, plastic rec kayaks, along with several canoes. The most popular boat on the water was the same as I had, the Seda Glider.

We got off to a pretty safe start, knowing we had a long way to go, with no need to get into a sprint mode right away. It was obvious from the start that without any mishaps, there were three boats out in front,who were going to fight for the top places. Following them was Richard Savoie, the champion from the past two years. The next group of four paddlers including me, tried to keep the frontrunners in view for as long as we could. I knew with all of the experience Richard had on this course, he was who I wanted to focus on as long as I could keep him in sight.

After the first several miles, I still had Richard in view, with Keith Benoist, the race director, starting to pull ahead of me. Just behind me were two others, with a large gap ever lengthening back to the next group. The surface of the water was fairly flat at the start and was not bothersome. It was difficult to gauge how fast we were going until we passed the large buoys. It amazed me to see the water rushing past them, and then how fast we went by. I just got into a good paddle rhythm and concentrated on my breathing rate. I went into my mind state where I counted strokes per breath, which reminded me about every half hour to drink and/or eat a GU gel packet.

As we paddled downriver, we passed river lights on opposite banks about every two miles as well as about 7-8 sets of pile and stone dikes around the curves for shore protection and to maintain consistent boat navigation. The idea was to stay away from the dikes, as they caused turbulence and slower current. So, I tried to stay near the navigation buoys where the water was swiftest, but out of the way of the barge traffic. We encountered about 10-12 large barges, the largest was five wide by about ten long, with a huge tug boat pushing it upriver and causing some large turbulence and wake action. In the lower half of the course, the wind increased and pretty well came straight out of the south and directly in our faces. Fortunately, the rain held off during the whole race, and with the heavy cloud cover, the 72 degree temperature never was a factor.

At about this point, I pulled away from the other two paddlers who had been right with me up to that point. With about ten miles to go, I started to close the gap with the one paddler still in sight. He decided to get closer to the east bank, trying to get out of the direct wind and the wave action coming upriver towards us. I stayed out in the middle of the river where the current was swifter and ever so slightly pulled ahead of him. We were still neck and neck as we could see the river bluffs of downtown Natchez about five miles off in the distance. This is where I decided to really pick up my stroke pace a little more and took the more direct route rather than closer to the east bank. We were probably about 100 meters apart horizontally, while I was maybe only 10-20 meters ahead. With the water moving so rapidly downriver, I made sure I aimed towards the shore well upriver from the Natchez Under The Hill boat ramp. As it turned out, I aimed well and did not overshoot the finish line. In one of the closest finishes, I was able to beat the next guy by 40 seconds, after following him for most of the 45 miles.

When I hit the finish line, I was pretty exhausted and barely able to get out of my kayak. I stumbled around and needed some help just to get my balance before I could walk up the hill to the saloon. It was definately a sweet finish to a great day of paddling on such an awesome river.

Once all of the boats came in, taking well over 6.5 hours, we had the awards ceremony, which by that time took place in a light rain. The top finishers were as follows:

1st - 4:22:02 - Win Nouwen, Memphis, TN (from Holland)
2nd - 4:26:08 - David Bartell, Montgomery, TX
3rd - 4:32:46 - Richard Savoie, Des Allemands, LA
4th - 4:35:59 - Shawn Wilber, New Orleans, LA
5th - 4:39:24 - Brint Adams, Spanish Fort, AL
6th - 4:40:04 - Keith Benoist, Natchez, MS
7th - 4:49:00 - Jeb Berry, Gulfport, MS
8th - 4:49:23 - Chris Marmande, Houma, LA
9th - 4:49:39 - Don Chesler, Edmond, OK
10th- 5:01:20 - William Reitzer-Smith, Addison, TX

1st - 5:19:19 - Ann Reitzer-Smith, Addison, TX

You may direct comments to: Brint Adams