Monday, July 18, 2011

30th State Paddle–Tennessee (July 18, 2011)

Here’s what’s special about Tennessee… my ancestors lived here.  I’ve spent a few weeks in local archives here trying to learn more, finding old deeds, studying maps and identifying where they might have lived.  My hope was to get out there and paddle near, or over, the land of my forefathers.


Leaving North Carolina, I am tired of family research and NEED to get back on the water and off my fat fanny.  Heading down out of the North Carolina mountains, I followed the French Broad River, a route travelled by my ancestors in their migrations from Tennessee to North Carolina and back during the Civil War era.


Very few places to pull off the road, but this was a public pullout/overview, that had a house built on it.  A lady was in front of the house, I asked it if was a public lookout and if I could park.  I’d never seen a set up like that before.  That deck area… she said was a place people used to pull their cars out onto to work on them.  There was nothing underneath… just DOWN.  Nice looking down onto the French Board River Valley from there.


In conducting my family research in TN/ NC/ TN/ NC etc., and so forth, I must have crossed this river dozens of times.  An amazing amount of water.  I should have kayaked the whole river.



The landscape is dotted with an amazing assortment of old buildings, most of which I could only get fleeting shots of… as I drove past… just no place on most of those roads to pull off and take the photos I wanted to take… so I figured anything I got was better than nothing.  Sorry for the quality.  What I was after in doing this research and driving these areas was a feel for what life was like for my forefathers who lived here.  I think I got it!  A couple more shots I lived… the river again, and Kudzooo!



You thought I’d never get to it right?  After studying the maps, I had decided to put in on the French Broad downriver from the land I thought my ancestors owned and paddle up to it.  Thought it would be about three miles.  Another boater was putting in the same time and I asked… “How far to the mouth of the Nolichucky River?”  3 miles?  He replied, “Oh at least three miles or more, a lot more!”  I told him that’s where I was headed and that I didn’t know if I could make it as I hadn’t kayaked in six months, but was kayaking all 50 states… and would gonna try.  So off I went.


Top left: looking downriver.  Top right: the launch site, the SwankieWheels and KaJack!  Bottom Center… looking up river in the direction I was heading. Rankin Bottoms is my goal.  More than 4 miles away.


Amazing.  There are so many birds here… including “Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret (often 200 or more), Black-crowned Night-Heron, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plovers, Least, Semipalmated, Western, Pectoral, Spotted, Solitary, and Stilt Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, and several species of swallows.  Regularly occurring but less numerous species include Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Peregrine Falcon, Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, American Avocet, Willet, Spotted, Solitary, Baird’s and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Caspian Tern. Rarer species seen include American White Pelican, Reddish Egret, Wood Stork, Glossy Ibis, Piping Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Marbled Godwit and Ruff.“ 


I AM a “Happy Camper”…. errrrhhh, I mean, a Happy Kayaker (before I knocked the tooth out).  I’ve dreamed of this day, this paddle, this place for a very long time.


I flushed a couple large heavy birds out of a tree… that had a high pitched screech… I think they were osprey, but I’m not sure.  I could not get a better shot of them.

RANKIN BRIDGE:  Rankin Bridge, which crosses the French Broad River, is 0.3 miles south of the junction of Rankin Hill Road and Hill Road.  Park at the east end of the bridge and walk back to the middle of the bridge to scan the river.  As the lake level drops, many shoals become exposed in this area.  Scan for cormorants, herons, egrets, and Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers.  Large numbers of Cliff Swallows nest under the bridge and Ospreys nest on the old railroad bridge a short distance downstream.  Fisherman’s paths run along the east bank of river through mature hardwoods. From:

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My ancestor lived in this area… and I fantasize that they might have lived in a grand house like this one… but in reality I think they had a more modest home.  Who knows?  I didn’t learn enough to  know.

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Paddling on… in search of a ferry landing that my great great grandfather owned 1/2 of… hoping I can find it… and more birds.

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Just some random shots of the shoreline.   Rough rough country. In the olden days:


Cocke County (Tenn.)? Wild boar hunting. Guide Bud Graves shows Dr. G.J. Budd his stand in Toby Gap. 1938 February.

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There, in the distance, is the railroad trestle I was heading to… geeze it looks a long way away.  But I can do this.  I’m getting close to my goal.


The view looking upstream from the U.S. Highway 25 bridge across the French Broad River and the Southern Railroad near Wolf Creek (Cocke Co., Tenn.). 7/3/1952


A young woman was swimming with her mom and son… near the old train rail bed… a place I had thought about parking/putting in… but didn’t know if it was wide enough for me to turn around it… hence the longer paddle.  She said it looked like a lot of fun.  Needing to stretch my legs, I offered to let her try it.  He son was not having of that “being left out” deal… so he got to try it too.  They had a lot of fun, said she was getting a kayak, and I got to stretch my legs.  Nice break.


Deeds show that John Henry C. owned 1/2 of the Ferry Landing in this area.  There is it… I think that is where I old ferry road used to be.  What a hoot… to think my ancestor owned that land.  I searched the shoreline and saw no other spots that I thought would have been suitable… of course, the ferry itself would have been below this current water level… as the Douglas dam has flooded the original site.


My laugh of this Paddle… looks like an ostrich?


Top left… cave like openings, bottom center… a trail leading down to the water… what a beautiful home for some critter?



The tower is at the mouth of the Nolichucky River…where it enters the French Broad River.

Grandma said:  Her grandfather John Henry C. might have owned a tobacco plantation on an island in a river between TN and NC.  I believe these could be the islands.  Son Wilbur Fisk C. lived at Rankin’s Depot… which would have been right here where the train when through.


Aerial view of Rankin Bottoms from the west at a lake elevation of about 982 feet. The active railroad (labeled A) is at the bottom of the photo and the area access road (labeled B) runs parallel to it until branching off towards the northeast in the lower left corner. The old, partially submerged railroad bed (labeled C) is above (east of) the active railroad bed and passes under the old tipple (labeled D). The junction of the French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers (labeled E) is at the top center of the photo.


Leaving the mouth of the Nolichucky, I turn toward Rankins Bottoms.


Oh how I wish I had put in at the old railroad bed… so I could have paddled through all these islands and explored even more.  But my hands ached… and I had already gone over five miles and wondered how I was going to get all the way back to the van.


I never heard of a TRIPPLE before. The old railroad bed and adjacent mud flats (left) and the old railroad tipple and nearby ponded area (right).  From:


Some kayakers were able to paddle under the Tripple… but I couldn’t.  Just as I took this photo, a raccoon walked across under the arch.  Well, Tennessee has been conquered, now to work my way back to the van.

Odd I didn’t take a photo of this… but I had to get towed back in the last mile… as my arms and hands stopped working.  That kind man who put in the same time I did, pulled up behind me and asked me how I was doing.  I asked for a tow.  He said he didn’t have a tow rope… but I told him I did.  So he towed me back… and at one point it looked like we were about to be attacked… about a dozen power boats came toward us at the same time, some with skiers in tow… and just split going on both sides (HEY you guys… what part of “a kayak under tow” can’t you see?????)…. but having learned to kayak in Monterey Bay, their little wakes didn’t phase me much.  I was just so glad to get towed in… I didn’t really care.  Just ashamed to admit I didn’t make it the whole way.  Too out of shape.  Sure wish I had taken some photos of all that now.  Oh, and then the embarrassing part about knocking a front tooth out????

Back on land… and on to Johnson City, TN where I met up with vandwellers Marshall and Alley, and then followed them on to Bristol TN… heading north to kayak West Virginia. (Got to drive through a bit of Virginia to get there.  Also, had to drive into Virginia to get my tooth glued back in my head.)


Bristol, TN is actually in TN and VA both… right on the border.  This Guitar is right on State Street, which is the border.  Interesting archway and train station.


O.K. for thirty states I have looked for these wind visors for my van.  Ordered a pair once online and they arrived cracked.  Finally, 30 states later, I found them, and the day after payday.  I was as thrilled as a kid at Christmas.  (between paying the dentist to fix my tooth and buying the visors… I blew my budge already… and I just got paid.)  But personally, I think these visors are an absolute MUST for vandwellers.

So, payday had finally arrived and all I could think of was to drive as fast as I could and kayak WV and PA and get on into OH before I ran out of money again.  If I get stranded again for a month, I’d like to be were I know people… Indiana being my goal after WV, PA and OH.  Grew up there… chance to catch up with family and old friends… and wait for August check.

Sketches anyone?  I’ve done five, have three more on order… and need more work.  I’m waiting for permission to post the five sketches so you can see my work. Thanks to all my supporters for gas $ donations.  SSD isn’t enough to make this adventure work… and it’s all I’ve got.  I have to make it work.  So, thanks again.

Who is Swankie?

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Anywhere, USA, Full-Time USA traveler, United States
In 2006, I was shopping for a wheelchair. By 2007, I had new knees, better health and by 2008 a kayak. In Aug 2013, I kayaked my 49th state, Alaska, at the Holgate Glacier and in May 2014, I kayaked Hawaii, my 50th state, to celebrate my 70th Birthday and the finale to the wonderful adventure of Kayaking America? Next up... Solo Hiking the Arizona Trail, 820 miles? Maybe. Still healing from shoulder and trying to decide.