Last week, we put our hiking boots aside and climbed into kayaks.
Since I recently began offering short, 10-minute or so pieces on getting outside in Chattanooga via the local NPR station, WUTC-FM, I’ve had reason to look even more than I naturally would for fun, accessible outdoor activities here. In Chattanooga, there are almost too many great choices. But when I saw an item in the Chattanooga Times Free Press‘ weekly “Fresh Air Calendar” about an REI-led, July 3 guided kayak outing five miles down the Tennessee River to where the city’s “Pops On The River” fireworks show would happen at dark, I knew that was for us.
Did I mention we would be watching the fireworks from the water, sitting in our kayaks? Yeah, baby!
The 12 available spots sold out–but not before Bill and I got ours.
REI shuttled our group, kayaks and gear from a downtown parking lot across the street from Ross’s Landing. That’s where we would eventually end our paddling adventure, after putting in few miles away, on the downstream side of Chickamauga Dam.
We got several minutes of instruction on how to fit our life jackets, adjust our seats and foot placement in the kayaks, how to paddle properly, and about how the guides would signal for us to stop, to gather up or to pull over to shore.
Then we began carrying the kayaks to the water to push off.
Since it was it was about 6 pm on July 3 and big doin’s were happening downtown at dark, a lot of ski boats and recreational boaters already were on the river. Several fishing and ski boats were launching and coming out of the river, in fact, at the ramp we were using. I’ll admit I was a little tentative as we got started. All the commotion had a good bit of waves rolling around and my kayak bobbing along with me in it. I just wanted to ease out without incident. And maybe even more, I was hoping that for Bill, since the adventure he’d agreed to go on was my idea.
Nary a stray splash. We both relaxed and realized these “touring kayaks” we were in–see, we’d already learned about the differences between ours, whitewater and sea kayaks–were made for stability.
Everybody who’s ever seen anything about kayaking has seen how they can be rolled over, how expert whitewater kayakers can even raise themselves and their kayaks upright after overturning. I want no part of that. My adrenaline meter doesn’t go high enough to navigate whitewater. Flatwater kayakers, that’s what we are.
Our five-mile distance was very do-able. We went at a leisurely pace and, from Chickamauga Dam to downtown, you’re riding downstream, which makes it even easier.
We pulled onto shore a couple of times and took short breaks. Once we got downtown, we circled Maclellan Island—a wooded strip of land that rises up to one of the landmark bridges—and we pulled up beside the island just floating a bit and taking in the scene.
We could look up and see people were standing shoulder to shoulder on the large Walnut Street pedestrian bridge overhead. People appeared to be tailgating in a few places on the shore. Other people were out on their balconies and decks—everybody was queing up for the fireworks, and it was a magical scene.
The show ended about 10 p.m., and we began paddling the rest of the way to Ross’s Landing. In about five more minutes, we were there. The fantastic REI guides took care of everything–hauling the kayaks and gear back to their trailer. All we had to do was mosey back to our car a few hundred yards away.
We were so fortunate. A perfect maiden voyage, good exercise, great weather and watching fireworks from the most unique and very best seats on the water.
I can’t believe it took me so long to give kayaking a try. I’ll be trying it again soon, and often.