Archived Story

Banks paddles past alligators to take break in Mobile Bay

Published 9:02am Saturday, September 8, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the 17th installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

April 17, 2012 – Day 17

High 75, Low 57 – Rainy early then partly cloudy

Wednesday night – Mile 359 – Baron’s Inn, Fairhope

I paddle my canoe from the pier at Meaher State Park and pull into the last mile of the Blakeley River.  Interstate 10 is dead ahead.

There are lots of reeds and weed beds in the lower part of the Mobile/Tensaw Delta, and in the next mile and a half I see more alligators than I’ve seen in the rest of this trip combined.  There are oodles of busy aquatic birds including some I’m seeing for the first time on this trip such as little green herons and bitterns.  I take some good pictures of a reddish brown crane-like bird and hope someone can identify it for me later.  An osprey pair building a nest in the top of a stunted bald cypress screams at me as I intrude in their territory.

Entering big Mobile Bay for the first time in a canoe is a humbling experience.  Looking to the south southwest is nothing but water as far as my eyes can see.  About six miles to the west, the skyline of the City of Mobile looks ghostly through the morning haze.  But the wind is gentle from the east and that has laid the waters flat along the Eastern Shore.  I could not have dreamed such ideal conditions for my first venture into the bay.  I resist the temptation to take a straight-line course and hug the shoreline as close as possible.  I know winds here can be fickle, and after all this should be my shortest paddling day of the trip.  I should easily arrive at my destination before predicted storms move in this afternoon.

There are a lot of very long piers along this heavily developed coastline, but many of them have been mostly destroyed by past storms, leaving only the pilings, which are coveted perches of the seabirds.  There are not enough perches to go around, and there is constant squabbling over possession of the taller pilings with the best view.  Gulls squawk angrily when I get near, but the pelicans seem almost tame.

About 9:30 a.m., the wind picks up a bit and becomes more southerly.  By 10 a.m., there is a worrisome chop in the bay and ominous storm clouds are building to the west.  I am thankful I don’t have too much farther to go.

At noon, I arrive at the pier of American Legion Post #199, located at the south end of Fairhope.  The post commander graciously allows me to store my canoe under a pavilion at their nice private park on the bay, and I walk directly across the street to check into a small motel.  This will be the first night not spent in a tent in 17 days.

I check in for two nights because I am one day ahead of schedule, and tomorrow’s weather forecast does not bode well for canoeing in the bay.  Something else I do for the first time in 17 days is look in a mirror.  Yikes!

I’m shocked at how gaunt I look.  Although I tried to include a lot of calories in my meals and snacks, I’ve obviously been burning a lot more than I’ve consumed.  Constant exposure to wind, sun, and physical strain also shows on my face.

Well, I intend to have fun making up for some of that calorie deficit over the next day and a half.

Although rain looks imminent, I make the almost two-mile walk to downtown Fairhope for a good restaurant meal and to buy a few odds and ends I would like to have.  I get back to the motel just as the rain begins, and it continues for hours.  I could not be luckier to have canoe, gear and self out of the weather, but I am bored.

I spread out my gear over every square inch of the motel room and clean, sort, organize and plan for the two days of paddling I have left, the two days that have concerned me most from the start.

I have a great Italian supper at nearby Gambino’s Restaurant and finish it off with a big slice of cheesecake.

I think I could get accustomed to civilized living with a little practice.  I don’t set my alarm before I slide under clean, crisp sheets for the night.

Tomorrow is rest and relaxation day, and I can sleep as late as I like.