Harold Banks launched his canoe barefoot in these slimy, soggy conditions. | Submitted

Archived Story

Harold Banks: Day 7

Published 1:29pm Thursday, August 23, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to The Outlook

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

April 7, 2012 – Day 7

High 76, Low 52 – Clear

Saturday night – Mile 146 – Bogue Chitto landing

I had worried about the dew in Till’s cow pasture, but when the bird calls woke me at 6 a.m. it was worse than I thought.  A river fog had settled in so thick I imagined I could see it inside the tent.  I eased back into the sleeping bag for another 30 minutes.  As the sun rose, visibility improved somewhat, and I couldn’t wait any longer.  By the time I fixed and ate my breakfast, the fog was starting to thin.  Everything outside was as wet as if there had been a torrential downpour.  I stuffed everything into my waterproof packs except my dripping wet tent which I crammed into a net bag I brought along for such occasions.  I loaded my canoe and slid it down a muddy slope.

I launch barefooted in these conditions, so only my feet get muddy.  I then dangle my feet over the side of the canoe after I put in and wash before I let them in the boat.  I have been on multi-day canoe trips with others who are amazed several days out that the inside of my canoe is clean enough to eat off of while theirs are full of mud and crud.  For me at least, accumulated gunk and grime on gear and person makes a camping experience more miserable than necessary, and the only way to prevent it is to remove every speck of dirt as soon as it appears where you don’t want it.

The air is dead calm and the glass-smooth river is still shrouded in thick fog, wisps of which curl around my canoe as it knives through the low cloud.  It is a beautiful, mystical scene.  The fog gradually clears, and the day turns out perfectly clear without a hint of cloud the rest of the day.  For two overcast days, I have avoided the dreaded sunscreen, but my fair Irish skin burns under a full moon so now I slather it on.  It is an expensive brand, and the tube says “non-greasy, ultra light, clean feel.”  So why do I feel like a greased pig and can hardly grip my paddle?

I come to some enormous white bluffs called, imaginatively, White Bluff.  These amazing cliffs continue for several miles.  It is a fine Saturday, and many more fishermen are out.  Some are in small aluminum jon boats quietly catching fish under the shade of overhanging trees.  But more conspicuous are the slick fiberglass bass boats with glitter paint in race car colors and 250 horsepower motors roaring up and down the river at 60 miles per hour, chasing very fast fish I presume.

At lunchtime, I’m lucky to be at Elm Bluff Public Use Area that has a picnic ground near the boat ramp.  I spread my wet tent out on a picnic table, and it dries quickly in the wind and low humidity.

At the end of what is called Middle Bend, there is an imposing mansion with enormous columns facing the river.  I have not seen anything approaching this grandeur so far, but when cotton was king, such sights were not uncommon.

I finally come to Bogue Chitto and must paddle up it a mile and a half to my primitive camping spot.  The lily pads, cattails, reeds, and cypress remind me of some portions of the Okefenokee Swamp and soon I spy a big alligator.  I am able to snap one quick picture before he makes a sudden thrash and disappears.  I am camping at a seldom used boat ramp and pleased that even though it is Saturday no one is here and there are no boat trailers parked.  I had hoped for a swim to remove some of the slick sunscreen, but the water here is less than inviting, and I don’t really want to paddle back down to the main river.  But at least I didn’t sweat much today, and I can get by with a sponge bath.

After I eat my supper of beef teriyaki with rice, I remain outside and try to write in my journal as I watch a pretty red sunset, but the mosquitoes are so bad I must retreat to my tent.  Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.