Paddle Bob

Autumn paddle on Melton Hill Lake

Melton Hill LakeI took advantage of a shimmering autumn afternoon yesterday to paddle Melton Hill Lake. I put in at the dam and headed upstream, pausing to paddle up Hope Creek. Fall colors still were clinging to a few trees along the shoreline, but for the most part the woods had receded into their winter attire. This is part of the Pellissippi Blueway, which I’ve been paddling a section at a time. I saw a lot of blue herons and kingfishers along the way. The highlight was a glimpse of a pilated woodpecker as he flitted from one dead tree to another. I paddled to the rhythm of his thumping as I continued upstream

I really like this stretch of the lake. Much of it is TVA land and isn’t developed. I saw only a few clusters of homes and docks as I made my way upstream. It’s very different from Loudon, which is a sprawling suburb of a lake, bristling with lawns and houses and other attempts to impose order on nature.

I also took a side trip up Hope Creek, where I saw a great crumbling dock. I’ve been thinking about embarking on a mission next summer to start photographing these artifacts of lakeside bliss.

Today, I’m paying the price. I got carried away and put in almost 13 miles of paddling yesterday. It didn’t help that a  headwind came up while I was paddling back toward the dam. The final few miles were a slog. But it was worth it.

Here’s a GPS image of the route I paddled. More images are here.

GPS image of Melton Hill Lake paddle

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Nuns with paddles

Lake Loudon sunriseIt’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: