Archived Story

Wild hog trail leads to deep wilderness campsite

Published 12:07pm Monday, August 27, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to The Outlook

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

April 9, 2012 – Day 9

Hi 80, Lo 52 – Clear

Monday night – Mile 194 – Pursley Creek

Thus far, I have known exactly where I was going to stop for the night, but this morning I leave for my first unknown camping spot.

In two miles I come to Miller’s Ferry lock and dam.  It takes well over an hour to lock through because the lockmaster has to reverse the lock.

It would have taken less than half that long if the water inside the lock had been level with the upstream pool.

Though I hate the long wait, it sure beats having to portage around.

As I leave the lock, I pass by dozens of gulls, terns, and other seabirds flying and feeding below the dam.  The Gulf beckons.

I am soon churning out the miles with ease.  After nine days I am approaching the paddling condition I should have been in to start this trip.

Although my arms and shoulders have certainly had their strain, it has been my knees that bothered me most.

My solo canoes only paddle efficiently from a kneeling position, and I foolishly went over 6 months without paddling before I started training in March.

I was then shocked to find I could no longer kneel more than five minutes without excruciating pain.  In aboriginal and many eastern cultures, adults are able to kneel, squat, and sit on the floor comfortably well into their 90’s.  They sit on cushions or mats instead of chairs and eat at very low tables.

American and European adults never squat, kneel, or sit on the floor and because they only sit in chairs, they lose the flexibility in their joints.

I resolve never to let that happen to me again.  I wonder what Amy will say when I saw the legs off of our dining room table.

The river is fairly monotonous in this stretch, wide with low banks and vegetation extending to the waterline.

I pass a boat landing at AL Hwy 10 where I had originally planned to camp, but John Hayes, who has paddled this route, advised that it might not be a pleasant site so close to this heavily traveled, rural highway.

Not far below Hwy 10 I see the first large sandbar suitable for camping that I have seen in days, but I want to go a few miles further.  I hope that sandbar is a sign of things to come.

For much of this trip, access to suitable camping ground other than at boat docks and ramps has been difficult due to muddy shores, and often when I can get up the banks, I find the woods to be an unwelcoming, tangled jungle dominated by poison ivy.

Five miles further downstream I start looking for a camping spot in earnest.

Just before Pursley Creek I see open ground that looks like it might do.  I pull ashore and find that this is a dirt bar rather than a sandbar, and it looked open primarily because it has been so heavily rooted and plowed up by wild hogs.

I don’t want to pitch my tent in the mud and pig poop, so I follow a pig trail, literally, to the top of a low bluff and find a site that looks good.  A dense canopy of mature hardwoods has choked out the undergrowth and there is level leaf-covered ground.

I haul gear up the bluff and pitch my camp in what feels like deep wilderness untouched by humans.

After a supper of chicken with rice, the temperature cools as the sun sets, but the mosquito activity heats up.  I suddenly realize this is my ninth day out and I haven’t built a fire yet.  What kind of camping is that?

I build a small fire and occasionally throw in a punky piece of wood that makes a lot of smoke.  By sitting near the edge of the drifting smoke, I can write in my journal without skeeters buzzing in my ears.

On this bluff in a V between Pursley Creek and the river, the numerous night creatures announce their presence with vigor as twilight fades to dusk.

First the birds publicize their roosting spots, then the spring peepers and tree frogs start singing.

Later, bullfrogs add bass notes against a drone of chirping crickets and other noisy insects.  Several different owl species are hooting, chuck-will’s-widows are calling on both sides of the creek, and I hear a distant coyote howl.  This is a lively place.

By 8 p.m., it is fully dark, and the cheerful evening noises begin to abate.

I soon crawl in my sleeping bag and wonder what else might be wandering in these remote woods.

From experience I know that very late at night, most of the familiar creatures become silent.

That is when I am most likely to be startled awake by something unusual – the crashing of something heavy in the undergrowth, the yowl of a bobcat or some unidentifiable rumble that seems strange and sinister – the sort of sounds that spark legends and scary stories.