Travails with Mark D'… Continued
By Dave Curry
The seemingly endless quest goes on. All week the rain gauges are watched, the topographic maps are studied, watersheds are outlined in the Gazetteer, put ins and take outs are carefully marked on the maps, and commitments from fellow travelers are solicited. The preparations are incredibly detailed and no stone is left unturned. Those lucky enough to get to tag along must be ready to paddle at the drop of a hat; the perfect level on the perfect stream waits for no one.
The quest has uncovered some gems, but we have also had our share of "burns, busts, bummers and rip-offs." The careful planning has sometimes produced a trip to a creek with too little water, a five-hour drive to a flat-water creek with one rapid, or a seemingly never-ending series of portages through impenetrable briar patches. The bad trips don't by any means mean the quest is not worthwhile, it just means that the "strap hangers" have to put up with some disappointment for the privilege of being part of the occasional "first descent" of a pristine creek somewhere out in the hinterlands.
Ironically, on March 3, Mark and I uncovered a gem by accident. We were on our way to what turned out to be a boring five-mile near flat-water paddle on the Upper Cahaba when we both noticed Gurley Creek, a small creek that crossed under Highway 79 near Massey Line; for those who don't know where that is, it's close to Remlap. Mark carefully studied the Gazetteer while driving at 65 miles per hour down a congested two-lane road and determined it had some potential. While we paddled the Cahaba, we discussed a possible second run of the day. We didn't dawdle; after a quick, but mostly boring paddle, we packed the boats onto my car and headed straight for Gurley Creek.
We were not disappointed. Gurley Creek proved to have about two miles of near nonstop Class III whitewater. At the end of the whitewater section was a near perfect river-wide 1½ foot wave that even I could surf for hours. We did have about one mile of flat-water to paddle to the take out, but near the end was an eight-foot dam that Mark just had to run. The water on top of the dam was very shallow; he scraped, got slowed down and made a Dave Branham "pencil point entry." A second attempt produced the same results.
For those willing to take the challenge and become part of the quest, there are some important rules that must be adhered to. These are:
1. Departure time is early: 7:00AM is good, 6:30AM is preferred.
2. Return time is always unknown. If you are going to the symphony that night, be prepared to go without showering and maybe even miss the overture.
3. Check the put in and take out points carefully. It would be bad to paddle all the way to the Gulf of Mexico looking for the take out because you misread the map and put on the wrong creek.
4. Be prepared to get mud on and in your car and all over yourself.
5. Be willing to help tow cars out of the mud.
6. Be willing to drag boats through endless briar patches.
7. Be prepared to wear a dry suit all day long. Multiple runs in a day are mandatory and there is no time to be wasted on changing clothes.
8. Don't be squeamish about putting onto a creek right next to a sewer plant or hog farm.
9. Take a boat that you are willing to get scratched up a bit. Some of these creeks can be really destructive on your hardware.
10. If there is rain in the area, be prepared to hit the road at the drop of a hat. The "good stuff" waits for no man.
11. When on the creek, be ready for anything. There is no telling what might be around the next bend: It could be a waterfall, a 500 yard long Class IV rapid, the church of Mother Angelica, or just a massive garbage dump.
There are those who say the quest is fruitless, that all the good stuff has been discovered and already run. I, for one, find it to have at least some hidden vestiges of nobility, and, like the Holy Grail, the undiscovered perfect creek may still be out there.