Tuesday, May 02, 2006

13.37 miles in a $20 raft...

Evidence of an area being inhabited by gators include alligator slides onshore (these are markers where the belly of the gator has slid down the bank into the water).

I had left the signs of man behind several hours ago. What had my attention now were the occasional bare patches along the riverbank. When one is floating down an unspoiled South-Texas river in a flimsy vinyl raft alligators invade the mind. I had never actually seen an alligator in Spring Creek, but according to different sources it was possible. Every publicly-accessible bit of water around here has big, yellow signs warning not to leave pets or children unsupervised for fear of becoming Purina Alligator Bits...

I had been wanting to do this trip for a long time. Clark has been too busy to go out adventuring for months so Seeker's Fate has been sitting unused. Even if Clark had been free the drought gripping Texas would have prevented any runs in her through the borderlands.

But Friday it RAINED. And Saturday it RAINED. And Spring Creek rose. It was time.

I was up checking the flow rates Sunday morning at 6am. They had peaked at 400 cfs during the night and were now dropping. The most recent measurement was 298 cubic feet per second! Spring Creek can't be navigated when the flow rate drops below 150 cfs. On the other hand it becomes too risky above 400. The current level was perfect. It was time to go!

I had inflated the Kon Texi the previous night. The sun was breaking the horizon as I headed down the sidewalk to the railroad tracks on the edge of our neighborhood. Once on the tracks I had to walk another 1.13 miles (aren't GPS's wonderful?) to my designated launching spot. It was stunningly beautiful. The chill morning air caused streamers of fog to float up from the river. Birds called, the wind whispered, the raft hissed, and the river burbb...HISSING SOUND?!!

NO! DO NOT LEAK! NO! NO! NO! AAAUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!

Oh wait, the hissing was just some insects trying to score bug booty. Whew!

I had an unknown amount of water ahead of me. My goal was the canoe launch at Jesse H. Jones Park. I didn't know if the raft would make it. I doubt the manufacturer had this sort of usage in mind when they made her. Mucking about in a swimming pool or small pond? Yeah, sure. Spending five and a half hours paddling down an untamed river (possibly containing alligators)? Uh, probably not.

I put the raft in the water. I put me in the raft. Several gallons of water came in with me. It was not a promising start. Rearranging myself brought in even more water.

This definately was not a promising start.

I bailed out the water (ALWAYS have a towel with you when on an adventure) and took stock of the situation. It was 8am, the day was beautiful, the river was flowing strongly, and whenever I tried to get comfortable water poured into Kon Texi. Do I give up three miles downstream at the Riley-Fuzzel bridge or push through moist adversity?

You can't imagine how pretty Spring Creek was. I took lots of pictures with a waterproof 35mm camera and I'll put the photos up once they are developed. You'll just have to take my word for it, it was stunning. Strands of fog, golden morning light, colorful birds, dark forest... It just doesn't get any better than this.

According to the GPS if I didn't paddle the river would pull me along at about 2.5 miles per hour. Since at the time I didn't know how far I had to go I paddled. I had some fear that I'd still be on the river at nightfall. Via roads Jesse H. Jones park is twentyfive miles away from our house. Spring Creek forms a hypotenuse to the road's right angle but it is a very squiggly hypotenuse. I thought it might be 18 miles or so...

Paddling got me up to 3.9 mph for short stretches. That seemed likely to get me to the park on time, so I paddled. Even so, the raft was quieter than the aluminum canoe so I was able to sneak up on assorted wildlife easier. I couldn't real manouver worth a darn, but could go sneakily in random, barely controlled directions.

It took me an hour to get to Riley-Fuzzel. The canoe would have made it in half the time. Do I push on or stop here? And what is that funny crashing-roaring noise?

OH CRAP!! A WATERFALL! PADDLEPADDDLEPADDLEPADDLE!!!!

They are building a new bridge at Riley-Fuzzel and to make the job easier the apparently decided to put in a (hopefully!) temporary dam! Water was rushing over it's three-foot drop onto large chunks of concrete and rebar.

PADDLEPADDDLEPADDLEPADDLE!!!!

I made it to shore ten feet from the dam. The bank was ankle deep goo mixed with construction debris and I slogged through it dragging the muddy raft. On the other side of the dam the Spring Creek was flowing fast. A branch tossed in quicked shot downstream. Kon Texi was still intact. According to the GPS it was about ten miles straight to the landing. Spring Creek doesn't flow straight though. It was 9am and I was still within an easy walk home. If I continued I'd be trapped on the river to it's end if anything happened. I looked East, downstream. The sun was breaking through the trees and making the river glow.

There was no turning back.

To be continued...

begining-pt2

Adventure! Excitement! Moist Adversity!

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