Archived Story

Banks travels from Selma

Published 12:19pm Tuesday, August 21, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

April 6, 2012 – Day 6

Hi 74, Lo 52 – Mostly cloudy

Friday night – Mile 124 – Till’s Landing

The Selma City Marina area was as I feared—way too public.  In addition to being the only decent boat launch facility for miles, it is the local youth cruising spot.  Nobody intentionally bothered me, but until well after midnight, cars came prowling through playing what some people consider music at full blast, always with a reverberating, tooth-loosening bass rhythm going “thoomb boom ka choomp, thoomb boom ka choomp,” repeating ad nauseum.  I’m just glad I wasn’t there on a Saturday night.

The fishermen started showing up before 6:00 a.m., but that was OK because I was ready to get up and leave as soon as I could see.  I did take time to cook a good breakfast though before packing up and moving gear and canoe down to the boat ramp.  Just as I was getting ready to depart, a nice man who had taken the time to talk to me yesterday about my trip stopped by to watch my launch.  He bid me bon voyage and said he wished he had brought his camera.  I wish I had been more thoughtful at the time.  I should have asked for his name and address so I could send him some pictures and a copy of my journal.

It is much cooler now that the front has moved through, and with rare winds from the west northwest, I will actually have a tailwind most of the day.  After about six miles I come to the end of a fishhook bend and what was once called the Selma day use boat ramp.  But the river has reclaimed that ramp and most of the paved road that led to it.

I am now in a very remote area, but see some sort of monument on river right, not far downstream from a large sandbar.  There is a cross set in concrete and a similarly set sign that reads:

SHANA COLE

11-19-66   6-22-08

“GOD’S MERMAID

IN HEAVEN”

WE LOVE

&

MISS YOU

Glued to the top of the sign is a plastic porpoise.  The sign caption leads me to believe that poor Shana Cole is still at the bottom of the Alabama River, and I paddle solemnly for a while in honor of her and the family that obviously loved her.

I see a lot of pretty great white egrets, but they are camera shy and know just when to fly every time I try to zoom in for a picture.  I come to the Corps of Engineers Six Mile Creek Campground and stop to have my lunch at a picnic table, an upgrade from my normal lunch dining facilities.  I steal the opportunity to also go to the bath house for a quick hot shower and shave.  Bliss!!!  Are humans the only animals that can’t stand their own odor?  How odd that is when you think about it.

Another five miles and the Cahaba River runs into the Alabama on river right.  I paddle up the Cahaba and stretch my legs on the ground of Old Cahawba that was Alabama’s capitol from 1820 to 1826 and for many years was an important distribution point for cotton shipped down the Alabama River.  The Confederates housed a large number of Yankee prisoners of war here, and many of the ones freed at the end of the war were on the steamboat Sultana when it exploded on the Mississippi River, killing 1,600 men.  Cahawba became a ghost town shortly after the Uncivil War, and for many years the old buildings and monuments were scavenged for their marble, bricks, and lumber, leaving little to see today of what was once a thriving antebellum city.

As I reenter the Alabama River, I see a red-bellied water snake swimming next to shore.  To many people, any snake in the water is a water moccasin, thus leading to the unnecessary end of many a harmless water snake. One way to identify a cottonmouth or water moccasin at a glance is to see if the ridge of the back and the head are entirely out of the water.  That is the usual case of cottonmouths but not so with other water snakes.

Mid-afternoon, I arrive at my camping spot for the night, and I must say it has been a very pleasant and easy 21 miles.  To a long distance paddler, having overcast skies, cool temperatures, and a moderate tailwind is equivalent to picking the trifecta in a horse race.  It is sweet when it happens, but don’t count on it very often.

My overnight spot is a cow pasture owned by Buddy Till who graciously allows Alabama Scenic

River Trail paddlers to camp on his property.  It is easy access, though a tad muddy along the shore.  I set up camp on a level spot at the edge of the pasture under a thick canopy of trees.  This is many miles from any major road or significant habitation, and I am assured of a much more peaceful night than at the Selma City Marina.  I leisurely go about my camp chores, have a delicious dinner of beef stroganoff, and get a fantastic weather report for the next few days when I make my 6:00 p.m. call home.  The sky is now perfectly clear, the temperature is dropping, and the wind has died completely.  That means there will be very heavy dew in this pasture tonight.  Hopefully, the tree canopy will keep me a little drier than if I were in the open field.

As twilight ebbs to darkness, I hear some of my favorite night sounds of frogs, crickets, and owls, along with an occasional moo.

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