Saturday, May 28, 2011

Warded off by Drunken Hillbillies

After much planning and scouting, on Friday, May 20, several friends and I set about running the Cahaba from the Highway 26-Riverbend Rd put-in in Bibb County to the Cahaba River Historical Park in Centreville. The run was a little over 8 miles by the river, with the plan being to camp on a sandbar off Harrisburg Rd and run the 13 miles from Centreville to Harrisburg Rd on Saturday.

Although the water was low fairly low (about 380cfs according to the Centreville gage), we had a nice paddle on Friday. There was not much current, and we were in no hurry despite our late start. We did the run in a little over 3 1/2 hours, including regular stops along the way. Most of the run is flatwater, but the last two miles or so include regular shoals that can be fun and break up the monotony a bit. We also ran across some bow fishers, who didn't appear to be having any luck.

Paddling the Cahaba near Centreville from Jeremy Richter on Vimeo.

After finishing the run about 4:30pm, we collected our boats and headed off down Harrisburg Rd to set up camp. Although the Cahaba River Historical Park has some nice camp grounds (which require making a reservation through Centreville City Hall, and a $10 site fee), we were looking for something a bit more secluded. And boy, did we find it!

Where the Cahaba passes under Harrisburg Rd is far removed from any form of civilization. Yet it is not beyond the reach of idle adolescents in possession of spray paint. The Harrisburg Rd bridge bears many names, messages, and pictures, most of which involve the male reproductive organ. We were not deterred by this, though perhaps we ought to have been.

Following some dirt trails almost to the river, we parked and began setting up camp. The tent went up, and shortly thereafter, a fire pit was created along with a precariously-arranged set of bamboo sticks to hold up the grill top. The chicken went on shortly after that, followed by still-husked corn.

With dinner wrapped up, we were beginning to wind down, planning to head to bed early so as to be ready for our long paddle on Saturday morning. The fireflies and frogs were out, but so too were some drunk locals. The Harrisburg bridge was about a quarter mile from our campsite on the sandbar, and we heard a big truck rumble up to the bridge and stop. Doors opened and closed. Voices and flashlights. "Hey, there's somebody on the sandbar!" Then the shouting was directed our way, as were the beams of flashlights, though we were out of reach. A couple of large-ish sounding things were then thrown into the river. Truck doors open and close again. The loud loping sound of a V-8 commences, and then the truck is riding around somewhere out of sight but behind us. It was then that my cowardice prevailed: "Fellas, it's time to go." With a consensus, we began to pull up camp at a much more frenetic pace than it had been set out. Impressively, despite the darkness and hurried state of affairs, we left nothing behind.

With all things properly loaded and battened down, we left bouncing out way through the dirt trails through which we had come. But then...a wrong turn was taken. A truck bottomed out. A gunning engine and low first get it through, but it begins to make a terrible sound. Once we get to the road, we hop out to see what the noise is; the bed has come off the frame, and the wheelwell is rubbing the tire. With some lifting and pushing and pulling, the frame falls back into place. But the truck won't start. The battery cables were jostled loose; nothing a socket wrench and some luck can't handle. Finally, we're off, and this before our hillbilly cohorts return to harass some campers on the sandbar, or perhaps with more malevolent intentions.

With no other real options available, we made the long trek home. The paddling trip of the following day, postponed for the indefinite future.

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