July 4, 2019

The Sluice

  • 7.74 miles
  • 2:57 duration

I celebrated July 4 with a paddle on the South Fork Holston River with good friends Cache Cracker Jacks (Tom and Dori) and LakeBum (Rob). It is a rare occasion to be able to paddle with Tom since our work schedules are so different, but this would mark the second time this summer. It would also be my last chance for a while to paddle with Dori since she is headed off for an exciting new life adventure soon.

We checked the generation schedules and learned that TVA would begin running one generator at Fort Patrick Henry Dam at 9:00 am. We decided to start at 11:00 to give the water plenty of time to get ahead of us. I met Rob ahead of time at the Riverfront boat ramp to leave my truck. we then met Tom and Dori at the Wesley Road boat ramp where we would begin our trip.

The skies were partly cloudy and the temperature a warm 82°. It would be a great day to be on the water.

A rainbow of boats, ready for action.

We enjoyed a lazy float along the first two miles of the trip. While the water seems to be moving very quickly past the boat ramp, once you are on the river it is a gentle but steady current. We paddled some, but mostly just floated along, enjoying the day.

Nothing better than paddling with my peeps.

The river is wide here, lined with forests on both sides. It is a peaceful journey. I enjoyed conversation with my friends, and watching the water fowl fly back and forth overhead.

Vegetation threatens to overtake the railroad bridge.

After two miles, we arrived at the entrance to The Sluice and turned left into it. Here the river narrows and becomes faster. All along this stretch are small rapids that provide a little more excitement than the slow float we had been doing.

Dori and Tom in one of the calmer sections of the Sluice

It is at this fork in the river that you also get your first glimpse of “the Eastman” as it is known locally. Eastman Chemical Company has been a major part of the area economy since it was established in 1920. The main plant site covers 900 acres and consists of more than 550 buildings. It employs around 7,000 people locally, including several of my friends and acquaintances.

Tom in the foreground, “the Eastman” in the background.

Continuing straight along the main channel of the river allows you paddle through the heart of the plant. However, we typically chose to take the Sluice as it is more scenic and allows you to avoid portaging around the weir dam that crosses the river on the main channel.

Dragonflies were out in large numbers along the Sluice during our trip. At one point, I spotted several of the small blue dragonflies hovering a still section of the water near the shore. I paddled over to join them and was soon surrounded by dozens of the magical little creatures. I tried to capture photos of them, but it is hard to see them in photos unless you are very close. One lit on my arm so that I could take its photo.

Lots of beautiful dragonflies.
One came for a visit.

As usual, I paused along the way to take photos of some of the bridges we passed under along the Sluice. I don’t know how many photos I have taken over the years of the abandoned truss bridge, but it is so picturesque that I can never resist another.

My favorite bridge.

The mimosas were still blooming along the way, and I enjoyed the sight and smell of them. Dori said that she had read somewhere that they were an invasive species. Later research shows that she is correct. Native to the Middle East and Asia, the tree was first brought to the United States in 1785 by the French botanist Andre Michaux. The seed pods that the mimosa produces spread and will sprout new trees anywhere that they find a little soil. I still love them, though.

Mimosas in bloom.

After paddling for an hour and forty minutes, we stopped for a break on a rocky island. The temperature had warmed up to 89° so I could not resist getting in the water. I waded upstream toward the small rapid we had just come through, planning to body surf through it. However, I had second thoughts since it was quite shallow, and I didn’t want to drag bottom.

Instead, I just laid back in the water below the rapid so that it could carry me back downstream. Tom had the video camera ready on his phone, but the ride was so slow that there wasn’t much excitement to share. At least I had cooled off. Rob and Tom also took advantage of the opportunity to wade into the water.

Rob contemplates the meaning of water.
Thumbs up for cool water.

Back in the boats, we continued downriver. High atop a power tower we spied a huge bird nest. There seemed to be a bird sitting in it, but it was very hard to see since it was so high. A woman on the opposite bank had a camera with a huge telephoto lens. Hopefully she was able to get a better view.

Interesting place to build your nest, Mr. and Mrs. Bird

Many times along the trip a large red dragon fly swooped in for a brief visit. It finally landed on my paddle long enough for me to take a picture.

The elusive red dragonfly

As we neared the bottom tip of Long Island, Dori and I discussed doing cannonballs into the water. We stopped at a spot she has visited with her dog Garmin where he likes to jump in. It appeared to be just deep enough for us to jump. My spot was the perfect depth. I think hers was a bit too shallow, and she hit bottom. It was nice to cool off again, though.

Click play for some cannonball action.

The last .75 mile of the journey is a hot, slow paddle. Once past the tip of Long Island the river is very wide and the current is slow. I was wishing I could jump back in the water.

As we finally approached the boat ramp, I could hear loud music seeming to come from the woods on the opposite bank. I finally remembered that the Ridgefields Country Club is directly across from the ramp. Apparently they were blaring music on their patios. It was a little annoying for me, but I’m sure even worse for the people who wanted to peacefully fish from the banks of the river.

I backed my truck down near the boat ramp so that we could load all four boats in it, leaving plenty of room for folks to go up and down the ramp. When we were nearly finished securing all of the boats, a man in an SUV towing a speed boat arrived and started backing his boat down the ramp. We were a bit amused by his maneuverings, and the fact that he was in such a hurry to get on the water that he couldn’t wait too more minutes for us to finish and move.

When he had his boat in the water, he got out of his SUV and said loudly, “THAT’S why we don’t crowd the ramp!” We all kind of look at each other in surprise and Dori said, “Awwww. Somebody needs a hug!” We decided he must have been envious because we were all together having fun and he was going to be alone on his expensive power boat.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a holiday than to spend time with friends on the river. I’m going to miss my Sole Sister Dori, and look forward to the time we can adventure together again.

I love my sole sister!

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