Word of a good thing travels fast. Bob and George talked with Bill about last years trip and it wasnt long before Bill was hunting up a canoe. Mad Max, who grew up in Goodwater but is no relation to anyone in our group, called George one day out of the blue and asked if we had ever been down Hatchet Creek. George told him that we had and that we were planning to go again in a few weeks. Mad Max said he would be there and bring his son, Little John.
We all assembled at Georges house at 7:00 AM except for Bill, Mad Max and Little John who would meet up with us on day two at Cat Den and start from there. Mary took us to Shorts Bridge pulling our new canoe trailer that George and I built since last years trip. The trailer would carry seven canoes and was light enough for one man to push around if needed. This addition to our gear sure made the job of hauling canoes easier.
George and I loaded up into my red Coleman and Steve and Bob went in Steves green Coleman. The same trees were still blocking the creek as they had in years past. We started catching pan fish right away. George and I stopped for some reason next to the bank. Im not sure what happened but we both wound up in the water in a blink of an eye. The canoe rolled, we fell out and so did our stuff. It is embarrassing to have to explain the wet clothes to the others, especially since we were sitting still in only 6 inches of water when it happened. If we had been shooting rapids or hooked into a big fish and turned over, it could be easier to defend. But there was no explanation so we just had to put up with the chuckles and head shaking.
The weather was good to us that day and we had enough fish by lunchtime to feed a crowd. We paddled under the train trestle and through the backwater of Hatchet Creek dam. George and I went around the dam on the right side like we always do. Steve and Bob decided to go around the left side. It is a shorter path to take but the potential is the same. That means that they had a steep descent down a rock bluff to the creek below the dam. It looked like they had to unload their gear from the boat and portage everything across the dam and down the bluff. Everyone finally made the portage around the dam and began fishing the waters under the falls. We usually pick up a few good-sized bass here. The mist off the waterfall assembled into a thin cloud below the dam and the sun made a rainbow while we fished.
After loosing a few $3.00 lures and picking up a couple of fish, we paddled away from the dam and floated to our takeout spot at Cat Den. We stashed our boats behind a brush pile and drove back to town for a fish fry. Bill had already brought his Wenona canoe to Cat Den and left it in the weeds next to the dirt road. He borrowed the canoe from one of Bill Jr.s friends named George. The canoe was practically new with no dents or scratches in its hull. It was made of a composite material impregnated with aluminum.
George, Steve and I cleaned the fish on Georges back porch steps. Mad Max and Little John stopped by and watched us. I had really never met Mad Max before, I knew of him and I knew his Father since he worked for the Alabama Power Co. in Goodwater. We exchanged small talk while finishing up the fish cleaning. The fish supper was fixed and we all had plenty to eat. Bob had a prior commitment and would not be joining us for the rest of the trip. I knew I was going to miss Bobs personality. He has a way maintaining an elevated level of humor that guaranteed no dull moments.
Steves 4X4 Blazer was loaded with two days worth of camping gear and pointed toward Hatchet Creek. Mad Max and Little John had a ton of equipment to load into their aluminum boat. Mad Max had so much stuff it was hard for him to keep up with all of it. He told me to be sure to bring his water jug when I came. Well, I forgot about his jug. When Steve and I drove up at Cat Den Mad Max met us and asked me where his water was. I told him that I didnt bring it. He wanted someone to drive back to town and get it but decided against it when he saw that George had a 5 gal. GOTT water cooler with him. After the photo session starring Mad Max, we finally shoved off and headed down the creek. This was the first time Mad Max, Little John and Bill had paddled a canoe and were naturally cautious at first. After sticking their boats a few times and wading out in the water a few times, they loosened up somewhat. Mad Max and Little John had an aluminum boat and were sticking fairly often. Bills boat slid off rocks like a plastic boat. Bill paddled like he had been doing this sort of thing all his life. Mad Max started out with whooping yells and propping his feet up on the gunwales of his boat. But after colliding with a few rocks and almost sliding out of his seat, he got serious about trying to read the current. After 100 trips in and out of a boat, lots of pushing, shoving, snatching, falling and barking of shins on sharp rocks, reading the current and maneuvering your boat becomes the most important skill of the day. Some people learn quicker than others, but some people never learn.
We ate lunch at Dunhams Bottom, hunted arrowheads, fished and talked about paddling canoes. Something was missing that was here before. It was Bob and his sharp wit. I enjoy carrying on and listening to Bob carry on with Bill and everyone else.
Everyone concentrated on paddling for the rest of the afternoon. The campsite where we stopped last year seemed to take forever to reach. For some reason, the creek seems different each time I go down it. Nothing worth remembering happened till we finally reached the hidden sandbar where we camped. The sky became overcast and a light mist was falling. The temperature was at a comfortable level and things werent too bad. A giant pine tree had fallen across the upper end of our sandbar. This caused the water to be diverted in such a manor that a large hole had been gouged out of the creek side of our sandbar in front of where our tents would go. We set up our crowded tents and made a lean-to shelter out of a tarpaulin. After everyone had settled down, Bill brought out an unopened bottle of Famous Grouse Scotch. Everyone surrounded Bill with cups in hand. The bottle made a continuous glup-glup sound as cups were filled satisfying aaaahhhhhssss followed. Bill had just finished pouring his drink and was putting the Scotch back for safe keeping when the serene moment was abruptly dashed by the angry sound of breaking glass and the eruption of an endless string of choice words. Disappointed OHÕs by onlookers with slowly shaking heads added to the unfortunate scene as some of us held Bill back to keep him from licking the rock that was now covered with Famous Grouse and broken glass. Steve must have said man, what a shame, about ten times. The only rock on the whole sandbar just happened to be under Bill. That was just pure bad luck.
Everyone started gathering firewood and piling it up handy to our campfire. Steve climbed out onto the big pine and was breaking dead limbs off as Little John watched from below. Steve was wrestling with a limb and lost his balance. He fell and landed square on his back with a deep thud. He didnt seem to be hurt but slowly made his way towards his tent. I kept dragging up firewood and sat down under the lean-to. Someone asked where Steve was and I said he was in his tent and must have fallen asleep, although I didnt actually see him go inside. About an hour later it started to rain as darkness crept over the camp and frogs started tuning up for the night. All was quiet when suddenly Steve emerged out of the dark drizzle from the woods with a sack in his hands and a smile on his lips. He had gone into the woods instead of his tent and hiked all the way out to US 231, hitched hiked into Rockford, bought a bottle of Cutty Sark Scotch, and made his way back to camp. It was like one of those TV commercials where the Swedish Ski team parachutes into a remote site with cases of beer, except this wasnt quiet the same, but the effect was similar.
We watched thunderheads light up like pinball machines all around us. I expected a thunderstorm to drift over any time and thought about the tall pine tree under which we were camping. But that never happened although the sky was overcast and the air was cool the next morning.
George woke up that morning with a splitting headache and wasnt looking forward to fighting the creek under those conditions. Over breakfast we discussed getting out at US 231, getting to a phone, and calling someone to come pick us up. Mrs. LeBrons lived in a house built on a cliff overlooking the intersection of Socapatoy Creek and Hatchet Creek. I said maybe we could stop by there and ask her to call Mary and tell her to come to the bridge.
We began breaking camp while Little John burned plastic and other garbage in our cooking fire. The smoke and smell was enough to give everyone a headache, but young boys tend to do these sorts of things. However, Mad Max seemed to be getting a thrill out of it too.
Boats were loaded and shoving off into a creek covered by a thin layer of fog hovering just above waters surface. Mad Max and Little John launched their canoe and immediately drifted onto a rock causing Mad Max to have to get out and get wet.
Everyone picked and scraped their way through the shoals that lead to Mrs. LeBrons. Pulling up to the base of the rock bluff, Steve and I said we would climb up to the house and see if anyone was home. It didnt take long to make our way up the cliff and onto the front porch of Mrs. LeBrons house. I had never met Mrs. LeBrons, but I knew of her. She was a somewhat famous artist and had some of her paintings hanging in the state capital in Montgomery, Al. I knocked on the door and after a few minutes it opened up and there was Mrs. LeBrons. I introduced myself as did Steve and was in the process of asking her if she could make a call for us to have someone come to the bridge and pick us up. I never completed the request because she ushered us in while I was talking and started giving us a tour of her house. Steve and I looked at each other and followed her while she talked about her paintings that covered every wall in the house. I brought up the subject of using the phone again and she said, Oh sure, but she never showed us where the phone was. She kept leading us around and telling us that her husband was asleep down stairs, but we knew he died years ago. The whole thing started seeming like a dream where you have a simple objective to achieve but you seem to never get there. However, we probably seemed to her like the realization of the nightmares she must have had about strangers emerging from the creek, climbing up the cliff and appearing at her doorstep in the early morning hours. Steve and I both were unshaven and probably smelled like plastic burning. She must have been carrying out what she rehearsed over and over in her mind, for the moment had at last confronted her. Finally, I spotted the phone on the wall in a bedroom. I said to her, If we could just make a call we would be on our way. She said, Oh sure, so I speed dialed Marys number hoping she would answer. She did and the arrangements were made, I hung up, and Steve and I made our way to the front door. Mrs. LeBrons was following us still wanting us to look at more paintings. Once on the porch, we thanked her again for the use of the phone and for the tour of her fabulous paintings. She didnt seem to realize that we were leaving because she turned and started the tour over again as if we had just arrived. We quietly pulled the door to and headed back to the creek after filling out canteens at a water spigot in the yard. We noticed what looked like a grave in the woods not far from the spigot
Since Mad Max was running low on water, we suggested that he take this opportunity to fill his canteen too. He said that he would just drink some of our water, but we let him know that that was not an option. He said that he would just do without.
We arrived at US 231 bridge a few minutes later where Bill was climbing out of his boat and up the steep mud bank. He started sliding backward and landed flat on his back in the bottom of his canoe. He was not hurt but it was clear what he thought about getting out at this place.
I swapped canoes with George and was glad to get into my Coleman. It was refreshing to get back into a boat that would slide over rocks without sticking. We helped carry the boats up the grade to the highway and said good byes to Bill and George. Back in the water again, Steve, Mad Max & Little John, and I headed down stream. To the best of my memory, we made it through the broken dam with no problems. Further down, we started spreading out. Steve and I gained about half a mile on Mad Max & Little John while going through the wide shallow shoals since we were able to ride in our boats as opposed to them having to drag theirs. It was no time before Mad Max and Jon caught up with us. They must have paddled at a feverish pace to cover that much ground.
Lunch was eaten on a sand bar on the left side of the creek just below Kings bridge. The conversation was slow and the air was cool. Little John and Mad Max took out a .22 cal. target pistol and started shooting at the drink cans they just emptied as they came floating by.
We packed up and started out once again. We came to the standing wave in the middle of an eddy that Steve and I had eaten lunch at two years ago. Steve and I surfed in the wave and paddled into the trough parallel to the wave. Mad Max and Little John decided to try it in their canoe. They fought hard to place the canoe in the trough between the two waves. They were there about as long as it takes to shift weight in a canoe before the left gunwale dipped into the upstream wave and immediately sunk the boat. Mad Max jumped out and scurried onto a rock in the middle of the creek. Little John floated off in his life jacket while the canoe made its way to the bottom. I paddled after Little John and hauled him into my boat. He was cold, scared and crying. His Father was standing on a rock waiting for Steve to get close enough to take him onboard. I could see their canoe under the water, small bubbles coming from their clothes bag as water replaced air. I was able to reach the bowline with the handle end of my paddle and pull it up to my boat. A sunken canoe has the inertia of a small automobile. Pulling it to the bank with one hand and paddling with the other was not easy. Steve and I managed to get the canoe floating again while Mad Max tried in vane to find Little John some dry clothes. I felt sorry for Little John because I knew he was cold. Trash bags just dont make good watertight compartments. It is worth investing in good quality dry bags, because dry clothes are worth plenty in a situation like this.
Mad Max wrung out what clothes he could and Little John changed into them and shivered. We kept up a good pace from there to Kellys Cross Road and Little John paddled to keep warm. Once at Kellys Crossroad, we had to wait about an hour for Mary and George to get there. As soon as they did, Mad Max and Little John jumped in the Suburban and said, turn on the heater! Steve and I loaded up the all the boats and gear and we drove back to Goodwater.