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Archive for June, 2009

After an unplanned excursion in the wrong direction on Carters Lake, Bonnie Putney "corrected" her event T-shirt.

After an unplanned excursion in the wrong direction on Carters Lake, Bonnie Putney "corrected" her event T-shirt.

The planned paddle route this year was 92 miles, but thanks to a snafu of navigation and an interesting dose of group think, some amongst our 300 strong paddling posse logged an additional four miles of paddling, and that episode probably rendered the week’s best lesson, but more on that later…

A day after packing everyone home from Ellijay and Rome, it’s time to reminisce and celebrate what we’ve accomplished.

The numbers we will document. Years from now that will be the “official record” of the trip. Some 350 paddlers participated, including almost 300 that paddled all seven days. The most successful Paddle Georgia to date, paddlers generated more than $16,000 for Georgia River Network, Coosawattee Watershed Alliance and New Echota Rivers Alliance through our Canoe-a-thon.

But these numbers can’t tell the rest of the story. They’ll never account for the experiences logged, the lives changed, the friendships made, the lessons learned.

Leaps of Faith

The plunge! A rope swing offers diversion on the Coosawattee River.

The plunge! A rope swing offers diversion on the Coosawattee River.

My goal for the week was to find something to jump from every day–a rope swing, a cliff, a tree–anything that would make me feel like the 16-year-old boy jumping from the Palisades on the Chattahoochee where I first learned to love a river. Thankfully, the Coosawattee and Oostanaula did not disappoint. 

There is something primal about jumping from high places into water. It is more than just a simple rush of adrenalin. It’s leaping back to where we came from–water–and leaping into an uncertain future–trusting that something bigger than us will land us safely whereever we go. Every leap is a lesson in the proper prosecution of life.   

Amidst the shoals and rapids of the Upper Coosawattee, we found a deep hole with a rope swing and tree. I couldn’t pass it up, and soon, my daughter Ramsey, and her friend, Jessa, followed. They hesitated on the bark-covered brink of the leap, “This is so scary. I can’t do it.” But, with coaxing and faith in their fathers that the landing would be safe, they jumped, emerging from the surface of the river yelling, “that was so much fun. Can we do it again?”

And, that is how life is supposed to be lived. We cannot experience joy and exhiliration without first overcoming our fear. Nothing worthy of our time and attention comes without that leap of faith.

Alan Crawford manuvers through the whitewater of the Upper Coosawattee.

Alan Crawford manuvers through the whitewater of the Upper Coosawattee.

Among those on the trip this year was my friend, Alan Crawford, who I have come to know through his volunteerism at the Coosa River Basin Initiative. Alan grew into something of a rock star on the trip, interviewed by countless media types wanting to tell his story. Alan became the first paraplegic to participate in Paddle Georgia. On the river, you wouldn’t know Alan is a wheelchair user–the river levels the playing field for paras.

That said, the consequences of a spill in whitewater are amplified for paras. Able-bodied paddlers are told to get their feet up in the event of a capsize in rushing water to avoid a dangerous foot entrapment, but that simple manuver is difficult to apply to paras. As Alan joked, “If I capsize, you can change my name to “Bob””

"The Crawford Crawler" in action. A specially-designed boat launch and friends helped Crawford enter and exit the river each day--even in locations with very steep banks and no boat ramps.

"The Crawford Crawler" in action. A specially-designed boat launch and friends helped Crawford enter and exit the river each day--even in locations with very steep banks and no boat ramps.

Throw in the challenges of getting on and off our shuttle buses, launching his kayak from less-than-desireable locations, and taking care of rudimentary daily chores in unfamiliar surroundings, and you have enough ingredients of the unknown to bake a pound cake of fear.

But, Alan, with the determination of a 10-year-old staring at a 15-foot plunge into the murky waters of the Coosawattee, leapt.

Crawford shows off a bass caught on the Coosawattee.

Crawford shows off a bass caught on the Coosawattee.

In his plunge, he found his own fortitude–stroking through the whitewater without a spill and paddling all 92 miles of the trip. He found friends like Rob Garber and Josh Noe–helping to lift him on to buses each morning and evening. He found a river–welcoming him with its refreshing water indifferent to his ailment. He even found some dance moves–joining the heel-kicking throngs of paddlers with his spins and turns during the Contra dance. He found fish and hooked them, and, seven days later, I think he’d overcome fear and found a little joy. 

Funny how a man that cannot leap showed us how to do it properly.

 

 

Lessons for the Directionally Challenged

Dan and Carol McNavish finish their traverse of Carters Lake at the damsite.

Dan and Carol McNavish finish their traverse of Carters Lake at the damsite.

Day 2 of our trip dawned bright and clear, guaranteeing a steamy day of paddling across Carters Lake. A first for Paddle Georgia, the prospect of lake paddling had me concerned about motorboat traffic, strong winds and lightning storms. I never would have envisioned what proved to be the biggest challenge of the day.

We shoved off from the cove which most of our floatilla had paddled into the previous day and headed for the main river channel determined to lick the lake before the mid-day heat sapped us and afternoon thunderstorms arrived.

I had paddled this same course just a week earlier and knew it well–hang a right at the main channel, paddle around the next corner and enter the main body of the lake. Simple. But when we arrived at the main channel the entourage of canoes and kayaks was moving steadily east–to the left–not to the right.

Ramsey Cook and Jessa Goldman drift along in a tube behind our canoe.

Ramsey Cook and Jessa Goldman drift along in a tube behind our canoe.

I did a double take–looked right and for a split second thought I was entirely lost. Why was everyone headed into the sun? Did I miss something in my previous scouting trips? I inspected at my map again, and confirmed the unthinkable–dozens of boats were headed in the wrong direction. How many? And, had they reached the rapids where the river spills into the lake yet?

I yelled at the top of my lungs, “You’re going the wrong way!!!!” A few heads turned, the message was relayed up river and those within earshot righted their wayward wanderings. As I passed them paddling up river to collect everyone, the bleating of sheep and jokes about lemmings jumping off of cliffs rang from the vessels along with grumblings about maps, the lack of distance markers and the deficiency of directions.

Despite a wrong turn on Carters Lake, Dan McNavish still found time to find a shaved ice treat from a lakeside vendor.

Despite a wrong turn on Carters Lake, Dan McNavish still found time to find a shaved ice treat from a lakeside vendor.

Carol McNavish, in a speedy touring kayak, paddled nearly three miles up river turning back the tide of wrong-way paddlers. I followed in hot pursuit in my lumbering canoe. Together, we collected dozens of misguided adventurers.

In their defense, the lead boats in this snafu did not paddle this section of river the previous day, opting to use the six-mile take out on Day1. Having not seen the terrain the previous day, it’s easy to see how they strayed. The same cannot be said for the boats that followed:

“We argued about it. I thought we were going the wrong way.”

“We looked at the map, but everyone else was heading that way so we just followed.” 

“I was just following the herd. I figued they knew where they were going.”

At the front the leaders shrugged, “We weren’t sure if we were going right, but when we saw everyone follow us, we figured we were on the right path.”

And, from this came the trip’s most poignant lesson.

Dave & Jessa Goldman battle wind and motorboat wakes on Carters Lake.

Dave & Jessa Goldman battle wind and motorboat wakes on Carters Lake.

Watching the paddlers trudge back across water they were seeing now for the third time, I was reminded of a nugget of wisdom attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “If everyone is thinking alike then no one is thinking.” In fact, world history is wrought with stories of charismatic leaders leading whole countries to ruin–see Adolf Hitler.

Of course, there are also stories of “group think” leading in more postive directions. In fact, the experts will tell you if you want to illicit certain behavior in people, the most effective way to achieve your goal is to show them other people doing the same.

Want people to recycle?–show them a neighbor taking his to the curb.

Want people to conserve water?–show them a friend installing a low flow toilet.

Want to clean up a river?–let your neighbors hear you on in the six o’clock news telling a legislator to pass a law protecting our rivers.

Let Go!!!! And let yourself take a leap of faith into creating stronger communities and a cleaner rivers!

Let Go!!!! And let yourself take a leap of faith into creating stronger communities and cleaner rivers!

Change begins with individuals. Just as two wayward kayaks led an entire Navy astray so too can two strong voices change the course of our communites or our rivers.

This is a lesson that will sustain our efforts to keep Georgia’s rivers flowing clear and clean long after Paddle Georgia’s Canoe-a-thon money is spent on projects to clean up the Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers.

Thanks to all of you who participated in Paddle Georgia 2009. I hope you return to your homes determined to make a difference in your community and in your watershed.  Generally, all it requires is thinking and leaping.

And, mark your calendars for Paddle Georgia 2010 June 19-25 on the Broad and Savannah rivers.

Joe Cook

June 28, 2009

And, now a parting shot…

GRN Executive Director Eaten by Kayak-Car Amalgam

After securing 300 paddlers safety across Carters Lake, Georgia River Network Executive Director April Ingle gets taken by man-eating kayak-car amalgam.

After securing 300 paddlers safety across Carters Lake, Georgia River Network Executive Director April Ingle gets taken by man-eating kayak-car amalgam.

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Carters Dam dwarfs paddlers. It is the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.

Carters Dam dwarfs paddlers. It is the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.

Only 12 days remain before Paddle Georgia 2009 kicks off in Ellijay June 20. The Georgia River Network crew and I are feverishly working to get everything ready to go. Tonight, I am feverishly working, for I am burnt from head to toe–the consequences of a 15-mile kayak circumnavigation of Carters Lake. It seems the kayak paddling position exposes different parts of the body to the sun than does the canoe paddling position! And, it should also be noted that there is no escape from the sun in the big open water of Carters Lake.

That said, as lakes go, Carters is a beautiful one (so long as you don’t dwell on the beautiful whitewater and canyon that is buried beneath the 400-foot deep reservoir). The banks of the lake are undeveloped. There are no private docks and homes crowding the shore. The water is clear and inviting. The views are spectacular–to the northwest looms Ft. Mountain and the Cohutta Wilderness.

This tiny island on Carters Lake is home to two heron nests.

This tiny island on Carters Lake is home to two heron nests.

Today my route started at Carters Dam and our take out for Day 2. I paddled up lake to our Day 2 launch site and then back again, checking out the amenities–a marina store with AC and goodies, a beach with a shaved ice vendor and even flush toilets–a rarity for pit stops on Paddle Georgia.  I explored Flat Creek and Tails Creek, tributaries near the lake’s backwaters that gave glimpses of the type streams that filled this area prior to the impoundment of the river. I felt Liliputian in the shadows of the dam and the mountain that was blasted to make way for the turbines and powerhouse. I rocked with the motorboat waves. And, now, I am quite exhausted…both from the paddling and the sunburn.

The good news is that the jaunt across the lake should be enjoyable. It took me just three hours to make the seven mile paddle from Ridgeway Boat Ramp to Carters Dam–and this with a few stops along the way. This should give us plenty of time to explore the lake, swim along its shores, venture on to its islands, buy a soda at the marina and, perhaps, a shaved ice at the beach.

The Corps of Enginners' Harris Branch beach makes for a nice stop at mid-lake.

The Corps of Engineers' Harris Branch beach makes for a nice stop at mid-lake.

In general, river paddlers rarely venture on lakes–I think we are inherently lazy that way. Why work to get from point A to point B when the river can do it for you?  

The lake does no work for you–aside from piping electricity into your home. To move, you must paddle. I found the rhythm of the strokes and the rocking of the water almost hypnotic and when I closed my eyes I could feel myself nodding off. It reminded me of my family’s paddle down the Etowah when Ramsey was just three years old.

Through 160-miles of travel on that 26-day trip, Ramsey fell asleep in the canoe just once…on Lake Allatoona. On the river, there was always something to entertain. The landscape, the sun, the wind changed with each bend. On the lake there is only the monotony of miles of water–the landscape changes at a snail’s pace and our native river critters are few and far between.

Drifting down a river, you float on a living creature, snaking its way to the sea. Muscling your way across a lake feels like traveling across a corpse. But, maybe that’s just me–I’m partial to flowing rivers.

Tails Creek spills into the lake. Accessible via canoe and kayak, the mouth of Tails Creek gives us a glimpse of what this area looked like prior to the impoundment of the river.

Tails Creek spills into the lake. Accessible via canoe and kayak, the mouth of Tails Creek gives us a glimpse of what this area looked like prior to the impoundment of the river.

We chose to paddle the length of the lake this year to illustrate what’s lost (and what’s gained) when we dam free-flowing rivers. I know river paddlers, especially whitewater enthusiasts, will balk at paddling the lake (that’s one reason I paddled solo today–“the lake?” they asked when I offered, “uhhh, I think I’ll pass.”) but part of the mission of Paddle Georgia is to show our rivers in all their various forms.

That’s the beauty of the paddling extended distances. For even in its pent-up form behind Carters Dam, the Coosawattee spills out across the land, swallowing hollows and draws and the acres of water is beautiful in its own right.

But, a word to the wise…if you are paddling tandem, make sure your partner doesn’t nod off to the rocking of the water.

In other news…

Helmets–Some 230 helmets have been ordered through our sponsor, The Outside World. As we venture down the Coosawattee June 20, we will, indeed, look like a Navy–all with matching hats.

Canoe-a-thon–More than $8000 has been raised through the Canoe-a-thon thus far; it’s shaping up to be a record year! Participants should know that the Canoe-a-thon grand prize this year is an Old Town Camper 15 with Royalex construction and a retail value of more than $1400. Take a look at it: http://www.oldtowncanoe.com/canoes/generalFamily/camper_15.html And if you haven’t started raising money yet, it’s not too late. Go to www.firstgiving.com/garivers and set up your fundraising page now!

Bald Eagle Sighting–On Saturday, June 6, during a scouting trip with Georgia Canoeing Association members on the Upper Coosawattee, our group was treated to a visitation by a bald eagle. We chased it down river on two occasions. It finally decided against further flight and held its ground in a tall pine while we drifted by admiring it. It seemed unimpressed with us.

See you June 20

Joe Cook

June 7, 2009

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