Where the rivers flow: A special voyage
by Bettie Marlowe
Jul 23, 2014 | 912 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rolling on the river!
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BEGINNING his 900-mile trip, Bobby Lewis, right, launched the boat in Celina on the Obey river. After dropping him off, his wife and boys headed to Cleveland to spend the week with family. Left is Barkley Resort in Kentucky.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Bobby Lewis has chronicled his 900-mile boat trip through Tennessee, and parts of Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi in his daily blog. His journal entries are presented here with minimal cuts and editing. He finished his journey on July 12 in Charleston.

Day 1

Launched the boat this morning at about 9 a.m. in Celina on the Obey River. After dropping me off, my wife and boys headed to Cleveland to spend the week with family.

The Obey River is the tail waters for Dale Hollow Lake. I read that trout fishing is excellent on this section. Needless to say the water was ice cold.

I entered the Cumberland river a mile or two beyond the boat ramp. The Upper Cumberland River is beautiful. The banks are lined with sandstone cliffs and the water is cool and clean. It’s a very remote area, I did not see another boat for almost two hours. No houses, no docks, nothing.

An American bald eagle flew out in front of my boat this morning. He disappeared quickly into the bluffs. I tried to get a photo but missed the opportunity. Very fitting for the Fourth of July.

Exiting Cordell lock, I was relieved to make it to the lock. For this lock you must have a 24-hour reservation. I was scheduled to go through at 1 p.m. and it was 70 miles from where I put in. Everything went perfect and I arrived at 12:45 p.m. Rest of the day was more laid back.

I continued down river for another 70 miles to Cherokee Steak House and Marina in Lebanon. They are supposed to have the best ribeye around. I believe it. After dinner I found a cove to anchor in for the night.

I could not have asked for better weather today! It has been in the lower 80s and sunny. I traveled a total of 145 miles today and seen some beautiful scenery. Hopefully tomorrow I will have a WiFi connection and be able to post my GPS tracks.

Day 2

This morning is chilly. Never even considered it would be cool in July. This is the “private” little cove that l spotted on the map yesterday and decided to anchor in.

I was planning on going to the marina for breakfast but after getting out on the water, I just couldn’t stop. No boats, no wind, smooth as glass. I had to take advantage. I was off Old Hickory Lake by 9 a.m. and on my way to Nashville.

Staying in Clarksville tonight. 254 miles traveled so far. Clarksville has got the whole riverfront thing figured out. So many towns along the river provide no access. This place has greenways, parks, pavilions, marina, boat ramp and so forth — really nice riverfront.

Day 3

Woke up to another beautiful morning.

I love being out on the water in the morning. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more tugs, so far only seen three the entire trip. I imagine once I get on the Tennessee River, that will change. If you meet one at a lock they have priority over a recreational boat. The wait is three to four hours for them to get through. So far I have been fortunate.

After about 65 miles on the river, I’ve arrived to my destination. I am staying at Lake Barkley State Resort Park (Kentucky) tonight. After two nights on the “hook” (sleeping in the floor of the boat in coves) I am ready for some modern amenities. A shower was first priority after checking in! Next, I had a good meal at the restaurant.

Today was a shorter leg, I traveled about 65 miles. I wanted to get the park early so I could enjoy the facility. I did get my first taste of big water today on Lake Barkley. Usually I see a balance of ski boats, pontoon boats, big yachts, runabouts — not today. I was amazed by the number of bass fisherman on this stretch on the trip. At any rate, this is my first time boating in Kentucky and I am just taking it all in.

Day 4

Wow. It has been a long day. I woke up early this morning, packed up all my gear in the boat. I went to the restaurant and had breakfast as soon as they opened. I knew I had some big water that I had to cover today so I wanted to get off to an early start and try to get some miles in of smooth water. Plan worked great on Barkley Lake, then I went through the Barkley Canal to Kentucky Lake. Man that’s a big lake.

Kentucky like has two channels — a primary and secondary. The secondary hugs the western shore line and is typically used by smaller boats. So I headed over to that side and after about 10 miles, the chop became big rollers. At that point, I decided the grass was greener on the other side, so away I went. Once I got over to the primary channel, I was experiencing the same thing. I had headwinds that were 14- to 17-miles per hour. There was no place on that lake that was going to be smooth today. I traveled for a several hours going 6 or 7 mph just plowing along. I was planning to anchor somewhere around New Johnsonville, which is where Kentucky Lake turns back into a river. Once I made it there, the winds were dying down for the evening so I kept going.

The rest of the evening has been smooth water — beautiful scenery. I’m staying tonight along the riverbank just outside of Clifton. I ended up traveling about 50 more miles than I was planning today.

Day 5

Most rivers flow north to south, so if your going down stream then you are heading southbound and upstream is northbound. This is important when communicating with the lock masters at dams. I have been calling ahead on the marine radio about 3-4 miles before arrival and letting them know that I am approaching. Sometimes they can start preparing the lock for you, or if other boats are going through they may wait until you arrive. Today was unique for the fact that I was heading south from Kentucky towards Alabama and I had to request a northbound lockage. This is because the Tennessee River starts up around Knoxville.

Another thing I’ve had to get used to is that on the Cumberland River, I was traveling downstream so all the green buoys would be on my starboard or right side and red buoys on my port side. Well now that I am on the Tennessee River I am traveling upstream so the buoys have changed sides.

This morning I was taking my time sipping coffee and drifting down the river when I started noticing some clouds moving in. I quickly started heading down the river attempting to outrun the front. About five miles later, it started raining. Clifton Marina was just a few minutes away. I stopped in and was greeted by a friendly employee. After waiting an hour or two the rain cleared out and I was back on my way.

Today I have passed six or eight loaded barges. About six miles before reaching the lock, there were three in a row. This could mean hours, upon hours, of waiting. Needless to say I put the pedal to the metal. Yep, I beat all three of them! I flew up to the lock in entrance and requested a northbound lockage. The lock master calmly replied, “You need to pull over to the auxiliary lock.” None of the locks have been through so far have auxiliary or smaller locks adjacent to the main lock. All that rushing for nothing.

I was planning on camping tonight, but with scattered thundershowers in the area, I decided to get a room at Pickwick Landing State Park. This also gave me an opportunity to do some laundry, get a good meal and just chill.

Today I only traveled 55 miles. This has been the shortest leg of the trip so far. I am south of Savannah near the Alabama state line.

Day 6

The forecast were calling for scattered thundershowers and when I left Pickwick State Park this morning. As the day when on, the sun came out the temperatures were in the low 80s. It turned out to be a really enjoyable day on the water. Not a drop of rain all day!

I really was hoping to go into Muscle Shoals, Alabama, today. I had watched a really good documentary recently on Netflix about Muscle Shoals and the music recording studios there. Unfortunately, there was no access.

On the other side of the river Florence, Alabama, They had very nice marina. But when I called the lock couple of miles up river, they told me I’d had better hurry that there was a double barge about to go through. So I was unable to check out Florence.

I traveled through two locks today I had been looking forward to the first one: Wilson Lock, located in the northwest corner of Alabama, the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains with a normal lift of between 93 and 100 feet!

Tonight I’m staying at Joe Wheeler State Park in Alabama. So far this has been my favorite state park of the trip.

It has enough dockage in front that you can tie up and walk to your room. Today I traveled approximately 75 miles. This makes 625 miles so far. I feel like I’m getting in the groove!

Day 7

I left Joe Wheeler State Park this morning headed for Guntersville Lake.

Decatur, Alabama, was my next stop. The stretch of Wheeler Lake from Decatur up to Guntersville, Alabama, was a trip highlight — can definitely tell I’m getting back into the foothills. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous.

I lock through onto Guntersville Lake without delay.

One of the things I have noticed about Guntersville Lake is all boat houses have doors — it must be some kind of code.

My brother-in-law Evan came down to Scottsboro, Alabama, and met up with me today. (I’m) excited to have a copilot for the remainder of the trip. He and I don’t get to hang out as often as we would like. We are staying at Goose Pond Colony Resort.

I traveled 100 miles today. When Evan arrived, we ran back down river 20 miles and had dinner at a popular seafood restaurant in Guntersville.

Day 8

We left Goose Pond this morning headed to Nickajack Lake. I still can not believe that the weather has been this good for this many days. It was great having a co-pilot today enjoyed catching up. I think I have became a true river rat.

The river really changes once you get up on Nickajack.

Nickajack Reservoir extends 46 miles upstream from the dam to Chickamauga Dam. The reservoir offers wide expanses of water and the spectacular scenery of the Tennessee River Gorge, known as the Grand Canyon of Tennessee.

Nickajack is the sixth step in the stairway of TVA reservoirs and locks that carry barges up and down the Tennessee River.

Today we traveled approximately 65 miles. Close ... Real close ... Tonight we are staying in the Tennessee River Gorge about 25 miles south of Chattanooga.

The Chickamauga Reservoir is named for a tribe of Native Americans that broke away from the Cherokee Nation in the 1700s. They lived in villages along North Chickamauga Creek, which joins the river just below Chickamauga Dam.

Before TVA created Chickamauga and other reservoirs above Chattanooga, the city had one of the most serious flooding problems in the nation. Now the river that often threatened the city contributes to its economy as a major artery for barge traffic.

Day 9

We were on the water a little after 7 a.m. headed for Charleston. Most days I was more spontaneous and less focused, but today I was on a mission — I was ready to see my family.

The Tennessee River Gorge just outside of Chattanooga, in my opinion, is the most scenic section of the Tennessee River. You have Signal Mountain on one side and Lookout Mountain on the other.

Downtown Chattanooga has the most beautiful and accessible riverfront of all the cities that I passed through on this 900-mile trip. You can dock your boat at the courtesy docks and with a short walk, you can be at the Aquarium, museum, restaurants and shops.

Today we traveled roughly 75 miles. We turned off of the Tennessee River on to the Hiwassee River at mile marker 499.

The Tennessee River continues on to Watts Bar Lake and then onto Fort Loudon. I have been on these lakes numerous times so (I) ended my trip on the Hiwassee River.

Thank you so much to all my family members who were awaiting my arrival in the scorching sun this afternoon. I was surprised, to say the least. Thank you!

Speaking of surprises. It only rained one day out of the nine on this trip. For July in the south, that is rarer than rare. Of the nine locks I traveled through on the Cumberland in Tennessee river, my longest delay was 45 minutes at Pickwick lock. With all the commercial traffic it takes place up and down these rivers this, too, is rarer than rare.

The end ... Until next time ...

(To read the complete story of Lewis’ 900-mile trip and view numerous photographs, visit his blog: http://8dayrivertrip.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/the-dream/)