Fortunately....or unfortunately...I've discovered a fantastic way to cross-train!  Kayaking!  It's fun, cool, and strengthens muscles NOT used in running.  So, running on Saturday morning and kayaking on Saturday evening makes for a perfect day!


August 19, 2008

I’ve gotten quite a few inquires about the Great Kayathalon we did recently and more than a few requests for highlights of the trek. I thought I’d try to put a few things down for those that are interested.

We began preparation on Monday night by loading our new kayak trailer (holds 6 kayaks/canoes easily and makes packing and loading SO much easier) and all our gear. We departed at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning and dropped the kayaks and all kayak gear at Bill Bellis Botel (prearranged with them). By 7 we were at the Catfish Hotel parking lot. Thankfully, Jimmy’s brother, Jackie, was there and preparing to accompany us in a small inflatable kayak on our swim across the river. After a 30 minute wait for a large tow pushing 12 barges to pass going up river, we set out about 7:30 on the swim. The swim was fun, but we did run into an unforeseen peril. About half way across the river I spotted, way in the distance, a tug coming up river. Assuming it was full and would take maybe 20-30 minutes to get to us, I pushed on. A couple of minutes later I glanced again and the tug was bearing down painfully close, a white foamy wall of water plainly visible in front. It was only the tug, without any barges, and it was moving up river as fast as a fishing boat. As we treaded water, trying to decide the next course of action, he veered sharply away….I’m sure uttering choice words for those weird dudes swimming across HIS river!

The remainder of the swim was uneventful and soon we were out on the other shore. We had been pushed about 300 yards downriver by the current in the river. (There were 3 generators operating all day and that created a nice current.) Jimmy’s GPS said .42 miles, which was a healthy….but manageable….swim.

The next order was to change clothes and shoes, and find the spot we had marked for our exit up the sheer bank of the river. Finally we located it and pushed through the high grass until we got to our climbing tree. The tree was easily climbable and one could nearly walk up the tree limbs until able to step out at the top. It took two steps at the top for us to realize we had made a big mistake by putting on our running shoes. The dew was excessive and after 10 steps our shoes were full of water. We continued out through the weeds until we got into The Man’s soybean field, where we took great care not to trample his vines. 10 minutes later we were on the gravel road. We had stashed water and bug stray there and we took a break and hydrated before the run.

Soon we were on the way back to the dam…rather Bill Bellis’. The entire way was very flat, no hills. It was, other than one 200 yard paved section, gravel. The gravel was not a problem as it was rather fine so it didn’t cause foot pain like larger gravel would have. The course was beautiful and very remote. We did not have one automobile pass in the 10 miles. There were fields of waist-high soy beans covering practically the entire bottom and the road cut right through the fields. There was some shade, tunnels of tree limbs making a cool archway between soybean fields. We saw plenty of soybeans, many just bearing their first flowery blooms.

The day was wonderful, especially for August down south. We had stashed water in several places and marked it with tape. However, when I arrived at the first spot I kicked and pulled weeds, but 10 minutes of looking only resulted in me finding a wicked looking fire-ant mound. I left waterless, then blindly ran past the second stash so by the time I’d come to the 3rd stash, I’d run 7 miles in the heat and was thirsty. It had been unseasonably cool as we entered the swim, but mid morning brought hot sun and rising temperatures and I needed the liquid.

The land was so flat I could see the Paper Mill from 3 miles away and I knew I was getting closer. Finally the old barge that houses Bill Bellis Botel appeared in view and the running leg was over for me.

Jimmy’s brother, Jacky, arrived via auto to help stage us for the kayak run, and by the time Jimmy finished his hike I had run an extra mile, taken a swim and laid out a pretty good snack, including a yellow (pronounced ‘yallar’ down south) meated watermelon which we ate by digging the heart out by hand.

Soon we were on the river, pushed along by the current created by the three operating generators and a wind blowing from our backs. That made for a wonderful combination accept that it was very hot….paddling in a vacuum. The river was virtually free of people. We went an hour before we saw the first boat, surprising for a beautiful day in August.

The Tennessee River, particularly that portion between Pickwick and Savannah is wonderful! It’s clean, wide and has a current. It’s an amazing, but highly unutilized asset we have available to us. We just need to find more uses for it.

As we approached Shiloh we spotted a few mussel boats, diver’s air generators puttering along as they grope along in the cold darkness of the river bottom for mussels. Tennessee River mussels have a unique use: many are shipped to Japan, where the shell fragments are placed into farm-raised oysters. The mussel shell fragment is an irritant to the oyster and it generates a covering for it. This, in turn, produces the magnificent cultured pearls ladies proudly wear. I understand that this is the only area of the world where the mussels live that can make this happen.

Soon we were at the bottom of the ladder at the Catfish, having traveled the 8 miles in less than 2 hours. Pretty neat.

We carried the kayaks up the ladder before we ordered our lunch….fresh catfish!!!

It was a fun event. Not terribly difficult, but rewarding. It’s ‘doable’ for sure, although it does take some prior planning. The only unsafe part is swimming the river….and that just carries a risk of danger. I’m not sure there’s a lot one can do to lessen the risks associated with traversing an active and sometimes busy, river by swimming. Therefore, extreme caution is urged for anyone interested in giving it a try.

Thanks for all those that emailed and texted.



Pickwick Dam to Savannah, TN
16 miles 

     The kayak run from Pickwick Dam to Savannah is a great half-day trip.  The scenery is good; it varies from open fields to wooded hills, interspersed river houses of all makes and models.  River traffic is sparse, even on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, I began my journey too late in the day and didn't allow enough time, so I was forced to hurry and paddle hard in order to make my goal before dark.  I did the journey in 3.5 hours, which is too fast to gain the most enjoyment. On my next trip I'll try to coordinate the trip based on the number of “generators” that are operating at the dam.  The more generators active then the more river current to aid in your journey.  I found out after my trip that one can call a number (800.238.2264) and define the information you are seeking (punch 4) and the  particular dam (punch 32)  and you can identify how many generators  are to be open for the next day, plus how long the gates are going to be open.   

     Another thing that's important is to try to locate the portion of the river you are traveling in that has the fastest current.  I tried to travel close to the river bank, on the right side, for safety sake.  However, that was not always the place to ride on the fastest moving water.  In fact, there were times when, with the various action of the river, I was going against the current.   Don't expect too much from the "current" I'm discussing.  I'm talking about the water moving downstream at a leisurely pace, maybe 3-4 miles per hour.  It is, however, enough to help out.  My journey was 3.5 hours of very steady paddling.  I didn't allow enough time for sightseeing, picture-taking, stretching my legs or relieving the stress on my butt…which proved to be my biggest ailment.  I was nervous about making my goal before dark and didn't carry a map, so I was just hoping to avoid a bad situation.   

     The river passes directly under Shiloh Park, (of course the battle was at Pittsburg Landing, so that should give a hint).  This is about 8 miles downriver from the Dam.  This would be a neat place to stop and make a short hike up the hill to park headquarters.  Also, just one-half mile from Shiloh is the Catfish Hotel.  Another fun experience would be to stop there for lunch or an early dinner, then after refueling, travel on to Savannah.  The further away from the Dam, the less current, and the last 4 miles or so was difficult.  By then I was tired, hot, thirsty and hungry, plus I didn't want to take the time to stop and stretch my legs.  Again, I didn't allow enough time. 

     My buddy, Matt Jones, somehow folded himself into my mini-Toyota pickup and shoved me off below the Dam then, 3.5 hours later, was waiting for me at Savannah at the park when I arrived.  He had driven to the Catfish Hotel to watch me pass, but missed me.  Incidentally, there was cell service each time I looked during the journey; it was nice to have the phone for coordination at the pickup stop….and to assure my somewhat dubious wife that I was fine.  Of course I carried my cell in a waterproof case.  Overall, it was a fun Sunday afternoon mini-adventure.


We met  in Waterloo, AL at 7 A.M., me arriving via pontoon boat with kayak on board, and my buddy John, via automobile., from his home in Florence.  Waterloo is a quaint village sitting right on the north bank of the Tennessee River, approximately 20 miles, by water east of Pickwick Dam.  It has much history associated with it.  Read the historical marker below.

The plaque fails to mention that Waterloo was on the TRAIL OF TEARS and there is a small park there dedicated to that tragic event. 

               By automobile, one can reach Waterloo via Hwy. 14 which leaves the Natchez Trace several miles north of Hwy. 72.  Hwy. 14 is a scenic highway that winds for about 12 miles before passing through Waterloo.  For about 3 miles after the highway leaves Waterloo, it follows the shoreline of the lake (river) and is a
beautiful and scenic running route.  With a little imagination, one could imagine himself on Hwy. 1, on the northern coast of California.  John and I had a nice 8 miler, (four out and back).  Four miles took us to an old fashioned country store where we were able to PowerAde-up.   

After the run, we cooled down with a short swim and loaded on the pontoon.  We crossed the river to the Mississippi side to Eastport and had a nice breakfast at a small cafe that is open on weekends.  The restaurant is located on the water at Eastport Harbor.  The food is good and service is excellent.  But it's necessary to find a seat outside and  away from the cigarette smokers.

After breakfast we travel back to Waterloo and John departed.  I took about three hours to explore Second Creek in it's entirety.  It enters the Tennessee at Waterloo and forms a large 'bay' of quiet water.  I paddled under the low Hwy. 14 bridge (see below) and entered the calm waters of the bay.   

I was able to navigate all the way back to where Second Creek enters the bay and then follow the creek several hundred yards.  In the process I managed to disturb a family of Canadian geese that had decided to summer a long way from home. 

I was back in Yellow Creek (summer home) by early afternoon.  This was a nice mini-adventure to a quaint river town. 


OK, you get one hint.....it's in Yellow Creek and it goes under a highway!  Well, that's actually TWO hints. 

But, even if you find it you have to get up your  nerve to lie down on your kayak, because it's too tight to sit, and use your hands pushing against the dark top to propel  through the 150 feet of the tunnel....while you distantly hear a big truck hit its Jake Brake as he runs over the very spot where you are, 20 feet over your head, and you feel the tunnel shake from the vibration and you envision an overweight Mack log truck heading for Counce, logs extending behind, faded red rag tied to the longest pine pole, still at 70 mph, even after he releases his deafening Jake and then you think about Minneapolis and how that bridge, after standing more than 40 years, had to pick that exact instant to crumble and fall and you wonder how many weeks it will take MDOT to remove all the debris and maybe locate your body, because no one in the world knows where you are, then about that time you look up at the top of the long concrete coffin  and see 5 spiders a foot above your privates and every time the kayak moves half a kayak-length there are a dozen more... all looking down at you and debating whether to drop 14 inches and bite you on the nose, or worse, and you have no choice but to continue pushing through using your hands and trying not to touch the spiders.  Then you thank God that the small beam of light at the end of the coffin is suddenly larger and, in a flash  you are out and in the bright blazing sunlight and your first thought is of the Resurrection and then you think...."Hey, that's not so bad....I think I'll enjoy the trip back through". 

Got nerve?  

It's dungeon-dark except for the camera flash


Scruggs Bridge spans the mouth of the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway on Hwy. 25.  It's the new, massive concrete bridge where you can look at the Yellow Creek portion of Pickwick Lake out one window and the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway out the other.  Located just to the east of the bridge, on one bank of the Waterway  is a nice, State-owned  boat ramp and on the other bank is a small day-park.  Put you kayak in at the boat ramp and paddle directly across the Waterway and you will enter the old, original channel of Yellow Creek.  It meanders gently east for a while, with smaller, but highly accessible tributaries going deep into the backwoods.  It's most all tree lined and has nice shade, which comes in handy on days like today, when the temperature reached 103 degrees.  You can paddle for a couple of hours exploring the nooks and crannies of the headwaters of Yellow Creek as well as the various, isolated shallow bays.  And, you don't have to worry about jet boats and wave runners running over you as it's much too shallow for them....which is a GOOD thing! On the far eastern side there is the entrance to Martin Creek, a clear and flowing stream that you can traverse all the way to the highway that leads to J.P.Coleman Park. 

This is a highly-accessible area that you can enjoy for three seasons of the year.    



Another nice day-trip is to motor to J. P. Coleman State Park.  It's located on Pickwick Lake, about 12 miles east of the Dam.  Access J.P.

Coleman by road by turning east off Hwy. 25 between Iuka and Pickwick.  Unload your kayak at the boat ramp then venture out of the harbor and right into Indian Creek.  You will have a fairly long paddle (maybe 30 minutes, one way) before  you arrive at the mouth of Indian Creek.  The water is very clear and you will cover some nice fishing territory  as you travel.                                                               

 Indian Creek is well defined and nice and wide.  However, there are fallen trees that must be maneuvered around.  See how far you can go  up Indian Creek. 

Mayflies are swarming in Indian Creek, so you can assume the bream are biting!


Copyright 2010 Kenneth Williams ALL RIGHTS RESERVED