Last Sunday, October 30th, Frank and I took a very enjoyable trip down the Wolf River. Frank owns a kayak. Well, it is more like a canoe, but Frank uses kayak paddles and prefers to call it a kayak, so I’ll call it a kayak, too. Regardless, the boat handled very well.
(In trying to figure out what is the difference between a canoe and a kayak, wonderful Wikipedia reminded me that I had an interest in finding out more about foldable kayaks, such as the one used the Paul Theroux’s excellent book The Happy Isles of Oceania, where he paddles one all over the South Pacific. Finally, I was lead to a great website on folding kayaks, where I finally found a group of suitable candidates. Imagine being able to buy your own water transportation that you can bring with you anywhere in the world. Now imagine being able to fit it on the back of a bicycle. With a collapsible bike, you could just keep traveling on water and land with nothing to stop you… OK, more on that in a later post…)
Frank invited me to take part in the Wolf River Conservancy Fall Color Wolf River Trip, which leaves from the landing south of La Grange, TN, and floats you to the take-out point at Bateman’s Bridge, south of Moscow, TN. While I expected a leasurely trip down river, much like trips I took on the Buffalo and Spring rivers in Arkansas, nothing prepared for the technical skill required to help navigate a kayak through the narrow openings of trees and other obstacles. This was truly the most challenging canoe trip I’ve ever taken, and the sights along the river were definitely worth the effort.
Anyone living in Memphis is familiar with the Wolf River; it flows into the Mississippi River north of Mud Island, bisecting the city on the route to its mouth. However, few Memphians know much about the origin of the Wolf River, or where it flows before it enters Shelby County. Heck, I still don’t know all that much about it. If you are interested, read on here.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the Wolf River is called the Ghost River section, the section covered during the Fall Color trip. What makes this section of river so compelling is that, during a 5-6 hour ride, you travel through four distinct ecosystems, each quite different from the one before it.
The first 1/3rd of the trip takes place in a hardwood forest, with a somewhat narrow river channel and a clearly defined river bank. There are plenty of obstacles, above and below the water, and you have to stay sharp in the rather shallow water so as to not take a wrong turn and have to back-track. This is a very smooth part of the river, quiet and majestic, with towering, moss-ringed trees on both sides as you glide by.
Eventually you reach the beginning of the section that gives the Ghost River its name, a shallow, broad section that flows through a hardwood forest, filled with giant trees and knobs, sometimes with only a few feet between them. Even for a narrow kayak on the approved canoe trail, squeezing through some of the trees proved to be a real problem, especially given the fact that current often runs against the direction of the trail. The canopy above masks the light, and even in the middle of the day, everything gets just a little more spooky. The edges of the bank are usually still in sight but much further away, not that you have time to contemplate how you would get to the bank in your constant struggle to stay on the water path. Think swamp with moving water.
Eventually, the Ghost River Canoe Trail opens up to what is referred to as Spirit Lake, a broad section of the river with fewer trees, a slightly calmer current, lily pads everywhere on the edges of the channel, and more light. The river meanders through the more open forest, allowing a break from the constant struggle to steer experienced in the Ghost River section. In the Fall, this is the section with the most leaf color and other beautiful scenes. You can see beaver dams off in the backwater areas, large birdhouses built for birds of prey, and stands of thicker forest in the distance. The trees all around you remind you of how high the water can rise, with dark moss rings circling all of the trunks at same height.
The final section before taking out at Bateman’s Bridge resembles an alpine mountain stream. The banks draw in closer together, the river grows deeper, and the current increases quite a bit. Grassy banks leap from the edges of the river, and meadows appear on either side. If you didn’t know that you were on the Wolf River, you might think you were in Colorado in the middle of summer.
All in all, it is wonderful trip, and we are already scheming about how to pull it off with more canoes, um, I mean, kayaks, next Spring. Many thanks to Frank for the invite.
For more images of the Ghost River trip, click here to view the photos I snapped along the way.