Thursday, January 20, 2011

Trip Log: Lost and Found on Pelahatchie Creek

BY B. Keith Plunkett

A friend and coworker has spent the last year and a half listening to me tell tales of paddling all over Mississippi. He finally had enough of it and purchased himself and his wife a couple of Wilderness Pamlico 120’s in December. We scheduled a rendezvous at Pelahatchie Creek. The creek enters Pelahatchie Bay from Rankin County to the East, which in turn feeds into the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

It was a close central meeting point for us, he coming from Brandon, and I from Flora. I had yet to paddle Pelahatchie and had been hearing good things about it being a great afternoon in and out spot. He was anxious to get his new boats wet.

Weather forecasts had been warning for almost a week of an impending ice and snow storm that would shut down everything. Anxious to get in some time on the water prior to the doom of the Snowpocalypse, Sharon and I bundled up and prepared for a cold January paddle. His wife joined us, too.

Launching from Pelahatchie Trading Post we paddled 3.5 miles before the setting sun forced us to turn back.

We launched from the boat ramp behind the Pelahatchie Trading Post at around 2:00 that afternoon. The GPS showed the trip to be one longer than we could complete in the short daylight hours we had left. So, we decided to make it a leisurely trip, get as far as we would, and then turnaround and come back.

Paddling East under Highway 471 we passed by a few fisherman hunkering down in the well protected areas at the mouth of the Creek. The wind in open areas wasn’t terrible, especially with the sunshine, but the fishermen we spotted appeared less concerned with a catch than with just being there. For the first three or four bends we rounded in the creek we spotted fishermen, all said they had caught nothing.

Golfers were out playing the adjacent course of Bay Pointe that abuts the creek for about a half mile. Mississippi’s winter 2010-2011 has been tougher than in most years. This day was hardly good for golfing, but folks accustomed to being outside can only take so long before cabin fever begins to set in. There was no look of seriousness to any of the play, but you could tell people were happy to have a day of sunshine.

It is easy to see this is a favorite paddle spot for day-trippers. Downed trees that could have likely caused problems were eaten away in spots from some previous visitor’s chainsaws. The creek is loaded with logjams, but they are obviously cleared with great regularity. And, it’s a good thing. There are no sandbars, at least in the short 3 and a half mile run upstream we did. So had we run into an impassable jam, the choice in most places was to turn around and call it a day.

At around the 3-quarter mile mark the open golf course to our right disappeared and we were swallowed up by the surrounding trees. As we meandered upstream, I prepared for a quick couple of shots with the camera. I allowed the others in my party to paddle ahead, as I still have a hard time talking to a camera with others around me. A few shots here and a few there and I began paddling to catch up with my crew.

The only opening I would see again in the heavily forested creek would be immediately surrounding Highway 25. But as quickly as I descended from the woods, once crossing underneath the bridge there and I was just as quickly back into the thick of it.

At this point, I should have caught up with the other three paddlers. But, I had not. I thought to myself that maybe during my few months of not paddling as frequently I was not in as good shape, but surely I hadn’t lost that much. Even though I’ve been in a couple of kayak races, I’m a touring kayaker, not a true racer. Still I could easily sustain speeds in excess of 5 miles per hour and, unless my GPS was really bad off, I had hit 6 miles per hour on a few bursts. How could they have gotten that far away so quickly?

I rounded bend after bend, nobody. Just me, the woods, the water and an increasing number of deer and squirrels.

As I was trying to decide whether they had turned off the main route, or whether I was just crazy. I began to see wildlife, lots of it. How could I be spotting deer and squirrel that undisturbed had my cohorts already been through here? How could they have turned off so easily? The creek is fairly easy to track.

At that moment, a big splash jolted me out of my deep thought. River Otters! I had seen them before on the Chickasawhay, but these guys were close, two of them. They were much more playful and curious too. I scrambled for my camera once again forgetting about my paddling companions.

After playing with the Otters, my thoughts began to focus again on finding my wife and friends. It seemed obvious that they must have made a wrong turn. I had noticed several cuts that crisscrossed the creek. But they weren’t big enough to mistake for the main creek. Were they?

I sat silent.

I paddled ahead a short distance.

I paddled back a short distance.

I began to worry.

My wife is going to being ticked off!

And then, there they were. The signs had all been there. The animal’s I was seeing was an indication they hadn’t been this way, and they hadn’t. They had made a wrong turn. Sure, it was easy for me to keep on the creek, I had the GPS. And they, well they didn’t. I took my wife’s not so subtle irritation like a man.

Yes dear.

I do get lost in my thoughts out here. But, that’s part of the allure.

We paddled a little farther upstream, before turning back. We loaded the kayaks just as the sun and the temps were dropping fast. We’ll be back to do the whole thing, and next time I’ll try to keep up with my crew.

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