Mulberry Fork
16 February 2002
by: Susan Herring
On Friday morning, Jim and I weren't sure if this trip would have any takers, but by Friday evening three people had called or e-mailed for trip plans. At the put-in the number of paddlers quickly multiplied. By the time we hit the water we had nine boats - six kayaks and three canoes. Kayakers included Kerry Appleton, Doug Brewster, Richard and Norma Brown, Johnnie Shue, and Birmingham paddler Jerry Hogan. Canoers were Nancy Shue, Kerry's friend Mark Duplisea, and myself. Jim drove our shuttle vehicle from the put-in and met us at the takeout at the end of the trip.
It was a perfect day for a river trip - sunny and warm -- and with just over one foot of water there were lots of play spots without intimidating the less-experienced paddlers. We did suffer one injury in the flat section above Clark's rapid, when Kerry tried to stretch her feet and locked up her back muscles. Despite being in evident pain, she decided that she could finish the trip as long as she didn't move. I think I saw her take one or two strokes at Lunch Stop, but other than the occasional have-to move she did her best to make this the ultimate float trip.
Dan-O (Training Wheel) provided our first excitement. At this level, the drop offers both a smooth front-surfing wave and a good-sized side-surfer. With a level of confidence well beyond his four months of whitewater experience, Mark tried side-surfing in his Fantasy and discovered first-hand the physics of a shallow-vee hull in a backwash. Fortunately, he was wearing a dry suit and the
water wasn't quite waist-deep on him, so it was easy for him to climb back in his boat. Doug also tried side surfing here and, heeding the shouts of "Lean downstream!" and "Low brace!" had a great ride. The grin stayed on his face for the rest of the trip. Four other kayakers joined us for a while at this point - Gray Biggs from Gadsden, one from Tuscaloosa, and two from Mississippi. Between them and Richard, we had a wealth of kayak advice and encouragement for Doug and Johnnie.
After lunch, Mark practiced his side-surf recovery moves again at Mary's Hole. (I saw him sliding into it, but figured he needed the practice.) Richard and Norma demonstrated some beautifully smooth 360's at 80 Centimeter Falls. Eric Baker and Phil Foti showed up at that point and paddled along with us to the race rapid. Mark saw Richard surfing Coffin Hole and decided it looked like fun,
but quickly learned that it's a lot grabbier than it looks. As usual, the hole was reluctant to give up his boat after it spit him out. With Mark back in his boat (again), we all made it safely to the bottom. Several of us joined the boaters playing in 5-0. Phil Foti and Mark switched boats for a while, and while Mark spun downstream exploring the mysteries of the Skeeter, Phil demonstrated that the Fantasy really can side surf quite well. Finally, back in his own boat, Mark had his last close encounter with the river bottom and decided it was time to call it a day. Warm and dry, most of the group went to the Top Hat for barbecue, a good ending to a good day.