It’s so dark I don’t see the nun buoy until I’m a few feet away. How odd. The red, nun-shaped marker on Parks Bend conjures an instant flashback to angry Sister Mary Library chasing me and Doug Hamilton around book shelves with a paddle, hoping to put a hurtin’ on us after we’d glued alarm clocks under all the library tables at St. Anselm High School. The clocks were set to go off at 2 minute intervals. Sister Mary Library turned her wrath toward me and Doug as the library erupted into something akin to the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Time.” I guess our howls of laughter gave us away.
I paddle past Sister Mary Library, crossing the main channel of Fort Loudon and pointing my bow downstream.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been out before sunrise. Giant fish, veritable leviathans, loll along the surface of the water and slip back into its blackness. I wonder what type of fish they are, rising slowly to greet the day. My nifty new head lamp reflects off the Steeler-gold kayak. I’m hoping it will stop me from becoming a speed bump for bass boats. But this morning, there are very few boats out as the sun starts to chase blackness to silhouette. A Chris-Craft yacht lumbers down the main channel at idle speed, perhaps heading up to Knoxville to join the Vol Navy for tomorrow’s game. Its wake adds a bit of roll to my forward motion.
I pass a pair of bass fishermen, the first boat I’ve seen since the Chris-Craft.
“How many horsepower is that thing?” the angler asks, shaking his head as I paddle past.
“One. Barely,” I tell him. “I promise I’ll watch my wake.”
We laugh. I continue.
Herons watch warily from their perches on the shore, some brave enough to hold their ground, most lurching skyward in a series of croaks, leaving occasional dimples on water grazed by wings struggling to be airborne. An osprey’s white belly flashes overhead. A kingfisher cackles in the pines lining the shore.
When I reach the osprey nest at the mile 604 daymark, I look longingly at the Loudon Lock and Dam, another mile or two downstream. I’ve wanted to get that far for as long as I’ve been paddling Loudon. But this isn’t the morning to do that. It’s time to turn the kayak. Head back across the main channel to the north shore and make my way back to Duck Cove. That will give me a 12..5-mile dose of morning bliss.
Squinting into the risen sun, I paddle with aching arms. I think about James Dickey’s “Deliverance,” which I’ve been re-reading and re-watching for reasons that I’m not completely in tune with. I’m not thinking about purty mouths or piggies squealing. I’m thinking about the book’s core themes. The impending harnessing of something wild. A raging river that’s about to be tamed behind a dam, just as this lake was when TVA impounded it in the 1940s. And how this middle-age kayaker makes his way past lakefront fortress estates where fat suburban Labradors pant from bush to bush, futilely trying to mark the world in fits of canine conquest.
Google Earth/GPS of my route: