Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sailors on a sea of fog.

"There is nothing half so much worth doing as mucking about in boats."
-The Water Rat, Wind in the Willows.

Imagine a great, grey beast travelling through grey mist. Imagine a wan sun through grey scudding clouds. Imagine Houston lost under a blanket of fog. Imagine the hum of tires on pavement, the squeeks and whistles of a canoe tied to the roof of the vehicle, the beep of a gps guiding us through blindness.

Imagine mud and the smell of a river. Imagine paddling between concrete pillars disappearing up into the fog. Can you hear the traffic roar a hundred feet above you?

Imagine a river with no banks leading to a lake with no shores. Imagine a cypress swamp, all Spanish moss dangling down and gnarled cypress knees clawing upwards out of the murky water.

Imagine two sailors adrift in a sea of fog...
fogclark fogsailor

Driving through Houston in the blinding fog was interesting. The freeway signs were invisible and we had to rely on my GPS unit to get to the boat launch on the Trinity River underneath the I-10 bridge (N 29^o 50'15.6" W 94^o 45' 45.4"). We made it there without any major incidents, though one guy driving without lights almost ended up with a canoe in his backseat. What an @$$-O. We had been to Lake Charlotte before, but this was our first time launching on the Trinity river.

It was a easy paddle upstream from I-10 to the Lake Pass canal. This narrow canal cuts through cypress, pines, and oaks on its way to Lake Charlotte. Smaller streams branch off it leading to assorted smaller lakes or just dead-ended in a swamp. A beaver swam along side the canoe for a bit while chewing on a stick, but dived when I pulled out the camera.
roots LakeCanal1

And I, I took the path less traveled...
twopaths

Fog changes things. As exited the channel weird white spots could be seen on the lake ahead. As we glided closer these spots took flight, giant, ghostly pelicans soaring away through the mist. We cut along the shore into the cypress swamps, looking for a good place to stash a geocache.
LakeCanal1 swamp1
swamp3

After an hour of paddling through the swamps the fog began to burn off and the perfect spot was found. Rising up from the muddy water like a grasping hand was a circle of cypress knees. Red nylon rope became a bracelet around this hand and a treasure-filled bottle was clipped to the rope and placed in the hand. It's there if you want to try and get it.
cache cache

By the time we finished setting up the geocache (aquacache?) the fog had been burned away. The last time we had been here the swamp was dark and creepy even in the bright summer sunlight. Now it was winter and the trees were bare, letting shafts of light burst down through the skeletal cypress canopy.
sunswamp

Fish were leaping around us as we headed across the lake. Along the western shore we could see two kayakers, but Clark and I prefer our binary solitude so we steered far clear of them. At the northwestern corner of the lake Mac Bayou leads to a large channel which cuts east to an abandonned industrial complex and west back to the Trinity river. We paddled down the bayou to the channel and headed east to the remains of the industrial site. Seeker's Fate was beached by some railroad tracks which disappeared into water. Around us were the barest remains of docks and loading areas.
dock fallen
tracks2 SeekersFate

We wandered around a bit to stretch our legs and poke around. The area had weird mounds, leaking pipes, and assorted long horned cattle, so we didn't stay long. A picture of Clark next to a giant Ponderosa Pine and we were back in the canoe.
BigTree

Launching again, we headed west down the channel. The sun was high in the sky making it was nice and warm. Clark and I weren't the only ones enjoying the sunshine. Along the bank alligators were soaking up the sunshine. Luckily, they were still pretty of lethargic from the cool morning, otherwise counting coup would have been a lot more dangerous.
gator1 gator2

The original plan was to spend most of the time exploring Lake Charlotte and the surrounding swamps, then have an easy paddle downstream along the Trinity river. Nice plan, too bad it didn't work. The wind was roaring straight up the river and we had a little under three miles to go against it. The waves were a foot high and white-capped. The gps told us our speed as we struggled. Against the worst winds we we barely going 2.5 mph, but when the wind dropped we made it up to 5.2 mph! It was a long, hard slog back to the launch site but we made it in a little over an hour. All told, we were on the water seven hours and covered approximately 15 miles.

It was so awesome!
LakeCharlotte2

Adventure! Fog! Alligators!

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