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Rivermen of the Cumberland Chapter 3
By Chris Bennett
Chapter 3: "Day One, Creelsboro to Burkesville"
On Saturday June 2nd, I worked at the music store until 2:00 pm. That morning I checked the river elevation and flow on the Internet. I made the decision not to start at Wolf Creek Dam; the water levels would be just too low. Winfrey's Ferry became my next choice. It would have deeper water, but I would loose about 14 miles of beautiful river scenery, including "The Rock House". I didn't have a choice boats need water to float, and I didn't want to jeopardize the trip, over 14 miles.
Columbia's resident adventurer, electrician, and author Chris Bennett's series is now available in the softcover book, "Rivermen of the Cumberland."
It can be purchased from Amazon.com or ordered through your local bookseller with ISBN 978-0-557-05263-9.
For fastest home delivery, order online today at columbiamagazine.com/books, where it is available both in softcover book form or formatted as a PDF for instant downloading to your computer or portable book reader.
Charles and I drove down Hwy 55 south to the crossroads of 379 to meet Neal and his wife. They said their newlywed goodbyes; I think they had been married three weeks at that point. We started down 379 to our launching point of Winfrey's ferry. Charles was telling me stories about my Grandfather on my mother's side, and we were talking about our expectations of the trip.
At Winfrey's Ferry we found a very different river
When we reached the waters edge we found a very different river than the one I was so accustomed to. That day the river was more shallow than I have ever seen it. With a little reserve I launched my boat into the river and said goodbye, to Charles and thanked him. I fired the engine and we slowly headed downstream at approximately 3:20 pm, starting our trip at river mile 444.
We must have looked like hobo's leaving out on our journey. We put our luggage and shoes in a black garbage bag, to keep them dry. We had a lantern tied on the back of the boat. Neal had his tent tied on the side of the boat, it actually hung over the side most of the trip. Up front we had a cooler, a five-gallon jug of gas, a gallon of oil, and the trash bag containing our luggage. Charles told me on our return, that the folks around the ramp all ask him what we were doing? He told them "They just going to the Mississippi River".
The day was absolutely beautiful, deep blue sky, clean crisp air, and big puffy white clouds. The average temperature for that day was 76*; it was perfect river traveling weather. The water temperature gauge on my boat was reading 71* this was a first. I had never seen the water temperature that warm. The high temperature must have been caused by the shallow water, and low flow from the dam. The normal temperature for that time of year was around 50*. I knew water that warm would be hard on the Trout, because they are fish that need cool water with high amounts of oxygen to thrive. In warmer water they become lethargic, and do not bite very well.
Mantra was "document, document, we must document the trip..."
Neal took the first photo of our trip, at 3:30 it was a photo of buzzards on the shore next to the water about a half-mile from the boat ramp. All along the trip I continually said "document, document, we must document the trip with photos, or no one will believe us". So that is exactly what we did, although we missed a few great opportunities for photos. Sometimes we were caught up in the moment, or just too weary to take photos. I took four memory cards for my camera, about six gigabytes worth. My camera had a rechargeable battery that I charged at night.
The river near Winfrey's Ferry is very remote, a few houses have been built up and down the banks in the last few years, but it can still be considered a wild and remote part of the Cumberland. Because of the shallow water, large boulders, and submerged trees we limped down the river at about three or four miles per hour. I knew if I got the motor too fast, the possibility of hitting something with the prop would be greater so I took my time.
Wildlife is abundant up and down the riverbanks
It is very common to see all different sorts of wildlife up and down the riverbanks. Raccoons and Beavers are very common, along with Deer and Wild Turkeys. After the Buzzards, the next wild creatures we saw were Wood Ducks, a mother, and several ducklings. As our boat floated closer to them, the mother and her babies swam to the cover of some fallen trees on the side of the river. We next came upon a flock of at least 15 Canadian Geese. I hoped there might be a chance of seeing a more exotic animal, such as a black bear, but I knew that was doubtful.
Mouth of Crocus Creek was first major landmark
The first major landmark we came upon was the mouth of Crocus Creek in Cumberland County, located at about river mile 434. It was about ten miles down river from our starting location. Moving down river, Crocus is located on the right descending bank, a concrete bridge crosses the creek right before it runs into the river. Normally the amount of water that flows down the Cumberland keeps fallen trees, and driftwood washed to the sides of the river. Because of our drought last summer, and the reduced lake levels due to the repairs being made at Wolf Creek Dam this had changed. On this day there was an unusually large amount of driftwood piled in this area, along with the usual large sandbar at the mouth of the creek.
This major obstacle seemed almost impassable, the channel ran to the left, but it was full of logs and driftwood. The river was running very swift because of the bottleneck effect caused by the sandbar. All I could do was to run the boat into the swift water, and hope for the best. After heading into the fast running water, I shut off the engine, and raised it, in the hope it would not hang on anything. Using our hands and a long push pole we guided the boat, scraping passed the driftwood, and over the partly submerged trees.
Boat ran upon a log and stopped
Then, all of the sudden the boat ran upon a log and stopped. The swift water was pushing the boat against the obstacle that had us pinned, unable to go anywhere. We were trapped! I didn't know exactly what to do! I looked closely at our circumstances, and I knew I must act. I lowered the engine back into the water, started it up, and put it in reverse. Neal, using the push pole, pushed the boat to the right as I took the pressure off with our engine running in full reverse. The boat gently slipped off the log, and I immediately shut off the engine to keep from hitting anything with the prop. The boat floated through the rest of the maze without peril.
Storm was coming up with three miles to go to Burkesville
Around 6:10 pm we reached the mouth of Renox Creek located about mile 430. This told me that we were only about 3 miles from the public boat ramp in the middle of Burkesville. The western sky was becoming very dark, and I knew a storm was coming fast. As the water was deeper near Burkesville, I accelerated the boat in the hope I could get further south, and maybe I could even beat the storm, before it crossed the river. Then we saw it, the first streak of lightning to the west, then another. I counted in my head, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, until I felt the rumble of the thunder cross my chest, 2 miles away, maybe I could do it!
As the storm grew closer I could see the rain coming, "it looks like we are going to get wet" I yelled over the sound of the outboard at "Action". (Neal's nickname is "Action Jackson") Our location was straight in line with the storm, The lightning was getting more and more intense. Huge droplets of water began to slowly fall from the sky; they stung like bees as they contacted my face. I felt that at any moment, the sky was going to open up, and the heavens would release the water it had been holding all summer.
I came upon a dock, which lies to the rear of the motel, located in the downtown area of Burkesville. In my mind I was thinking, that it would be a great place to dock and get a room for the night, sleeping in a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm just didn't seem appealing. I had only traveled a few miles, actually less than 20. Although the storm was becoming more intense, I decided to push on toward Tennessee. This split second decision could be a disaster if the weather did not cooperate.
'We had won the race!
I passed the city boat ramp in Burkesville; next we passed under our first major highway bridge of the trip, the 90 bridge south of the Burkesville courthouse. The river crooked around to the right, the storm now seemed to be at our rear, we had won the race! The storm had crossed the river behind us.
The time was now around 7:30, the sky was now darkening for reason other than Thunderstorms, and soon it would be night. I started looking for a good place for a campsite. I decided on a place south of the highway 61 bridge, where the river was wide and shallow. On the right descending bank lay a wide sand bar that I decided would be a great place to stop for the night. I trimmed the engine up, shut off the ignition, and slid the boat gently into the sand bar, "Houston, the Eagle has landed."
Our daylight was leaving fast. "Action Jackson" started setting up his tent, as I fired up a small charcoal grill. I got the lantern ready to light, anchored the boat, and prepared it for our overnight stay. I put night- crawlers on the two fishing poles, and cast into the deeper water. I hoped I might catch a fish or two while I was waiting for the charcoal to turn white.
Supper of grilled Johnsonville Brats, 'Heaven on a bun,' and a cell call from Tim Loy
Neal chose a level spot on the river's bank for his tent. I decided to sleep on the boat. By the time Neal had his tent put together, and the charcoal was ready for cooking our daylight had abandoned us. I put a package of Johnsonville Bratwurst on the grill as we watched the shadows move around our campsite, and we talked about our trip so far. I set the lantern about 40 feet from our grill so we could see to walk around, and the bugs would leave us alone. We were close enough to Burkesville that we had cell service. I got a call from a good friend Tim Loy, I could tell from the sound of his voice that he would have loved to be there. Family and work commitments had kept him from going with us.
I hadn't eaten any lunch that day, and I was getting pretty hungry. The smell of those Brats cooking over charcoal was getting me in the mood for some supper, and an ice-cold beverage. It just so happened that we had brought along a bottle of French's classic yellow mustard for our brats and that night they were as they say, "Heaven on a Bun". Neal had brought a box of Little Debbie cakes and that was the first gourmet meal of the trip.
By the time we were finished eating, and had everything wrapped up including our unproductive fishing, it was about 9:30. Now it was time for bed. Neal walked several hundred feet up the shoreline to his tent and sacked out. I decided to sleep on the boat, under the "big sky". I got my sleeping bag out of dry storage, and rolled it out on the casting deck. I used my backpack as a pillow and I kept a flashlight near me incase I needed it.
The night was a little cool but not bad at all. I had the boat floating in the river with an anchor thrown out to keep the boat from drifting off. The night was very clear and all the stars were visible, I started picking out different constellations in the heavens. Off in the distance, I could hear some coyotes howling at the night. The crickets and frogs were singing their songs with festive delight. Occasionally I could hear a fish jump to the right of left of me. I saw lightning flashing in the distance, but it was so far away I never heard any thunder. In the eastern sky, I saw a shooting star, that in its self "made the night".
Inherited love of fishing from Grandfather Ray Bennett,
childhood experiences Noreen Rosenbaum's farm pond at Fairplay
My Grandfather, Ray Bennett took my sister and me fishing when we were young. He would come to our house on the Fairplay road, and drive us to "Downtown" Fairplay, where would go fishing in Mrs. Noreen Rosenbaum's farm pond. We caught bluegill, catfish, bass, and a turtle or two. I think it is from his genes that I inherited my love of fishing, and boating in the great waters of the Cumberland. A boating accident on the Cumberland had almost taken his life many years ago, a fact my Father reminds me of anytime I talk about a fishing trip to the river. I lost my Grandfather in 1990, but on this night I thought about him, and how I wished I could take him on just one more fishing trip.
As sleep crept upon me, in my mind, I took a final survey of the days events. We had only traveled about 3% of the total planned distance of our trip, but it seemed to me that we had already had a great adventure. With the exception of Neal's excessive snoring off in the distance, it was a perfect night. Now I know that some folks get their "religion" in church; others find it in "their own place". I get mine in the wilderness, setting in a duck blind watching the first glimmer of light dance across the horizon. Watching a deer grazing in a field late in the evening, or seeing a flock of Geese landing on the water.
Lying on that boat, that night. I felt as if I was one of the luckiest people on earth. The excitement of the anticipation of the next day's journey hindered my much-needed rest.Sunday my goal was to reach Celina TN, but little did I know that would be one of the hardest days of my life.
INDEX to Rivermen of the Cumberland By Chris Bennett
The story is being carried in 9 mini-chapters. They will go online as they are written. Just click on each chapter title, underlined and linked, as it is posted, to read it.
Chapter I. "Why would any one take a river trip" tells my history on the river, and what inspired me to go on my trip.
This story was posted on 2008-09-07 10:38:29
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