June 23, 2006
This is where I went today — paddling up the creek from the Corinthian Sailing Club, under Mockingbird Bridge and into the north beyond. There, I saw plenty birds as I paddled a wayward little (9' feet long) fireplug of a pressed foam kayak north into the wild area I've always wanted to see from the water.
I paddled ever northward, under the pair of low bridges under Northwest Highway, and the one after that, deep in a green, park-like area I've driven through often but never knew its name, near where the horse farm is.
My trip was made possible by the local Hobiecraft kayak and canoe dealer. Anna set up our participation in the event held every Thursday evening, because she wanted to try their pedal-flipper-powered sit-on kayak (a mere $1,400) after we'd been looking at inflatable $300 kayaks. Now, after this evening's ordeal, flip-flop power sounds pretty good. But there was only one of those there and someone had already RSVPeed it, though Anna wants to reservate it for next Thursday.
I wanted to try some sort of boat I could take in close to birds more in the wild than me standing along the edges of the lake. That much worked.
Trouble was, I got what I asked for after I concentrated too much on the notion of stability. My ultimate purpose was to see if I could risk my new dSLR on a boat into this and later other "wildernesses." No. Not this boat, that's for sure. Not without protection. It was a wet, uncomfortable and pitifully inefficient ride. But a dream come true, all the same.
We lit out by the Corinthian Sailing Club, where I chose the little red kayak over a longer, thinner white one, thinking (or not thinking) it would be more stable a platform. Anna's back hurt, so she didn't paddle. The red one was her first choice. I'm not sure why. She would have hated it. It was wide, so stable. I had no trouble with stability. Even when I floated directionless out in the big middle of a windy, choppy lake near exhaustion after that first mad paddle, there was never any doubt of the little fireplug's stability.
Direction, however, was another issue, and speed was nonexistent. Because of its wide beam and keel-less hull, each paddle stroke brought a new direction in a maddening long series of wasted energy across the lake. Somebody there said I'd need at least 16-feet of length for steady direction and speed.
At my fastest, hauling ass, high-speed paddling stroke, stroke by steady stroking paddle dip and pull, it would have been faster to get out and walk. Until I got off the lake and up into the creek. There, was smooth paddling. Still inefficient, wobble and yawing all over the place, but easier and smooooooooth.
The group plan, which I did not know since I hadn't spoken to anyone and only went along for the ride (and what a fine ride), was to paddle over to the DeGoyler Estate for the Thursday Evening Concert.
Except my fireplug ride was hell fighting over the swelling waves. I kept up with the other paddlers for awhile, waiting for instructions or iteration of the plan. Of which I got zero until after I brought the plug back a couple hours later into the set sun and falling light of night.
Sans instructions or any idea where they were going except way over thataway. I turned into the wind and waves again and paddled where I'd always wanted to paddle. First, through Tom Orr and Frances Bagley's White Rock Lake Water Theater pipe installation behind the Bath House Cultural Center, where I very nearly was when I decided not to follow the group. Hardly any birds there, as usual for summer, but a lot of stark verticals to gymkhana through.
I'd always understood those poles contained solar-powered light-emitting bulbs. But they're just painted night-glo paint with dark rust and total degradation stripes circling under. Elegant from a distance. Nasty foul up close.
Then turn around and cross the wide rough water lake center, on past where we have often sighted a Great Blue and other herons and egrets on the shore along the west side of the Singing Bridge too near the dog park ...
I just have to do my own map of White Rock Lake. The one I've seen stacks of at The Bath House and other places around the lake is years out of date and too small to show the details. Besides, I have my own names for things, and that one is selling something, I forget what.
Then in quick succession under the Singing Bridge and the Mockingbird Bridge, where I tried to subtly approach an egret I've seen fishing there often. But I wasn't up to subtle paddling yet. That might take a few months of steady practice, though I got a lot better that long, arduous day.
I circled the big white egret, and it flew around me, stopping on a succession of branches in our concentricking circles, then finally flying low (maybe 15 feet) over me and up the creek.
Which is where I wanted to go. Have wanted to go for years. Did, finally go today.
Up the wide feeder creek (I've seen smaller rivers — the Sewanee, for instance — "how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old ...), past the fisher persons lined along under the Mockingbird bridge and into the mild green yonder beyond.
The only other boater I passed was swimming his two big dogs, off leash not far up into that area. It looks and feels like a river, though a short one. I don't approve of running (or swimming) dogs in an area where I'd rather watch birds feel safe and content, and it is illegal, but there's an independence among kayakers I began to appreciate.
Even I, who could barely paddle my plug in a single direction, managed to pass Dog Boy & The Mud Puppies as I headed inexorably north. I kept wishing I had a waterproof camera. I'm going to have to get one or something like it. No way I could take my Nikon along on a ride as wet as this one. No way could I change lenses in that dusty-moist place.
There may be a better boat for my photographic purposes. May. Be. Or perhaps I should adapt my photo acquisition unit. One of those image-stabilized super-zoom prosumer digital cameras may work. Before I got my Nikon D200 that's what I was lusting for — a camera with a 35mm - 420mm, super long zoom lens I could hand-hold even at full telephoto.
Put that in an Ewa Marine Underwater Camera Case — a big plastic bag with a glove-like innie for twisting the zoom and a big, heavy ziplock seal. I want a boat that's easily self-powered, safe and maneuverable in sometimes very shallow water. Today was my first real step in that quest.
I was shocked when I just discovered that Ewa's bag for the D200 is $2,500! Yeesh! That's more than the camera, making it more likely I'll get a superzoom in a cheaper bag — or maybe settle for a smaller camera with a shorter zoom that's already fully waterproof. That choice would be easiest to handle. Several of those are available for under $500. And the whole idea for boating is to get closer to my subjects.
I'd read about kayaks in a beginner's magazine. I let that information settle, then I had to try it, even though I was already tired before today's two and a half hours of paddling. But I'm so glad I risked it, although I'll probably hurt tomorrow (didn't). The blisters will remind me (do).
The water turned flat and smooth once the plug and I passed the two big bridges where river/creek started through where the wild things grow. Much easier for the plug, which may be perfect for a large swimming pool, but useless on a lake and not at all pleasant on a placid creek.
The plug's unadjustable seat sucked, stayed loose and at the wrong back angle. I watched as they zipped and adjusted a woman into a much better boat when they were divvying them out, and I was wondering which boat I'd get and what I'd do with it.
The ridges forward in the shallow indent I sat in, on top of the boat, not down in it, along either, in, side where my feet were, were uncomfortable and insecure, and my wet shoes kept slipping. The "Deluxe Seat" had minimal butt or back support and kept slipping, slumping forward, adding to the inefficiency of powering the boat. I could never maintain a position of any strength.
I wish I had photographs to show what I saw on this trip up the creek with a two-handed paddle. But these images, taken of some of the same places more than two weeks earlier will do. That access road is now closed.
Some of what I saw up there included three Great Egrets, magnificent white along the dark edges of the creek; four Black-crowned Night-Herons (at least two of which were not the same one again); one Great Blue Heron, elusive as ever, leading me into the jungle but not giving me much viewing time, whooshing through the dense foliage ahead, always well ahead; and one Little Blue Heron under the fourth bridge up, who let me get within about fifteen feet — the closest I've ever got to one of those elusive creatures. And one Golden Palomino.
With my new cam dry I could have got many wondrous photos. Without it, I could see individual feathers and the reddish purple rough along the Little Blue's neck, but by then in my wet journey, my big cam would have been too soggy to even beep.
I got faster as I paddled. Eventually, my hands remembered how to flare the paddle and dig it deep, close along side the red pig's busy, knuckle bumping sides. On the smooth water through the Cottonwood dripped scum shining in the late afternoon sun, I got going pretty fast. One more bridge, I promised myself, and when I got under that one, I went for the next.
Long dotted trails of invisible fish hurling themselves out of the water in tiny curls of splashy momentary flight flanked my route. Herons would appreciate those, as I'd long assumed they did.
Green, green everywhere that wasn't bright sun light, then full shade with evening's cooler breezes. I slogged north and north under more bridges. Five in all, if I count both NW Highway ones. And I could have, maybe should have, gone even further till I couldn't paddle the shallows I know are up there where the fisher persons gather into the night.
But at my last bridge, I turned around under it and headed back. I knew the rough lake surface beyond the big bridges would give me attitude across the wide bay past the Lesser Boat Clubs and lots more evening fishers in bright tones and colors. But I'd saved energy in the comparative efficiency over the flat creek and thought I could, thought I could, thought I could.
And did. I'd hate to have to do it again. And walking pulling that plastic turd would have been faster and fathoms more efficient. But I huffed and puffed and moaned and loudly groaned my weary way back to Corinthian. There, I solo hauled that plug out of the lake and carried it on my back (grunt, moan) back to the trailer trucking today's unused kyaks
Then I rested, barely able to walk. Hardly able to talk (!) till I got my breathing back and that last iota of energy. I'd toted Anna's canteen the whole way and only sipped twice but I upended it now, drinking deep, not caring the sog dripping down my front, the cool clean agua.
I'd watched the sun and noticed the light and wondered how much later than everybody else I'd finally arrive, vividly replaying more than 40 year old motorcycle memories. My college best friend Jim D'Avignon had a friend with a then shiny, new. Pristine Electroglide In Blue he let Jim drive around the block, then told me I could take it as long as I wanted.
And as I struggled across the windy water going the other way bay, my body savored me sliding through space and time to Lake Dallas and around and places I didn't know where was and on and on and two hours later pulled up to where they were standing in Jim's back yard.
This dream tour paddling the Upper Creek, well past the big flag on Flagpole Hill, deep into the wet forest, under all those bridges, through all those birds and bugs and bogs. Oh, oh, I liked it so well. I worried I stayed too long at the fair. But.
I was the first back. Anna had meanwhile driven circles around the lake following the group's progress to DeGoyler and the free concert — I saw her drive under Mockingbird as I paddled furiously out into the scramble of waves and wind, but I could not turn around in that squat tub and dared not slow the speed I needed to slip the surly bonds of wind and wave.
When Our Fearless Leader arrived 20 minutes later, apparently never noticing either I nor the red plug he'd hoped to sell wasn't along for his shorter less eventful ride, he said my private foray was "not a good idea" although he did not elaborate.
I told him if I'd had instructions I might have followed them, but once I got my chance to fullfill my long-held dream to paddle up the creek, I never looked back.
All text and photographs
copyright 2006 by J R Compton.
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specific written permission.